What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. —A.W. Tozer
Few things about the church (body of Christ) are more important than disciplined thinking and a clear understanding of God's Word.
A pure and consistent theology is a necessary foundation for a healthy and growing church. A church based on anything but a solid biblical theology is an incredibly dangerous enterprise.
And yet at the same time, when a group of believers descend from healthy debate to hurtful division, we have lost the purpose of Christian theology based on a redemptive God of love and grace.
The good news is that we (churches in general) are making progress. There was a time not so long ago when churches would split over issues like theology, worship style and political agendas. That is still a reality today, but less and less.
The body of Christ as expressed through the local church is moving in a good direction. We know we need each other. We know the world will not be attracted to Christianity if we can't get along among ourselves. If the body of Christ is divided, how can it be salt and light?
What you believe about God determines what you practice for God. We can choose an approach that is helpful or hurtful.
Helpful is a result of knowing what we believe but focusing on a person's spiritual growth over a particular agenda.
Hurtful is a result of majoring on minors (in relation to the overall mission), rather than keeping our theology focused on the big picture.
No matter what your background, passion, academic training or personal bias, I believe we can all agree that the redemptive work of Jesus is the center of our theological belief system.
So, let's start there.
3 Guidelines for Practical Theology:
1) Focus on the Gospel
I loved my academic training, and I respect biblical theology professors. That training provided me with the underpinning to think with a biblical worldview, make decisions accordingly, and lead better overall.
With that as the foundation, there are many circumstances in which my particular theological bias does not help, and in fact, might hinder someone's spiritual progress.
For example, if I'm meeting with a new Christian and I make a more subjective theological issue the main point, I'm not helping them. Even if I'm personally passionate about it, I may be confusing them, rather than helping them live a Christ-like life.
It's better to help them become grounded in the basics, and let them rise to the point of maturity where they can decide for themselves on the finer points of interpretation.
If a small-group leader, for example, does the same thing with someone in their group, he or she is not leading for the greater good and progress of the group. The group can get stuck or even divided on an issue rather than focusing on how they are actually living their life for Jesus.
From preaching to counseling and everything in between, if we focus on Jesus as our foundation, we can be sure to be biblically on track and leading our people well.
2) Diversity plus maturity equals strength.
The larger the church, the greater the tendency to gather people (congregation and staff) from a wide variety of theological backgrounds.
This does not infer a lack of depth or a dumbing down of theology. Nor does it suggest that smaller churches don't face this same issue and do a great job handling it. It does suggest, however, that larger churches have a more significant spotlight on this issue and therefore have been forced to adapt and make decisions accordingly.
My leadership of staff in two large churches has been blessed with a wide variety of theological backgrounds such as Mennonite, Nazarene, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, Catholic, Wesleyan, Baptist, Non-denominational, Assemblies of God, and oh yeah, did I mention Baptist? (I know, you Baptists are smiling, 'cause you know you are everywhere and strong!)
What I've learned is that maturity is the great ally of any team.
However, immaturity promotes division, lack of alignment and sideways energy.
I've learned so much from my colleagues who have a different theological background; together we are stronger. It works because we are aligned and focused on the gospel.
3) Don't pick a fight.
There have been many times over the years when someone met with me solely to talk about their theological bias, with the intent of presenting their case and why the church should follow suit.
My response is the same: "If you've come to pick a fight, you've come to the wrong place. We're not going to fight. We're too busy helping people. However, if you want a conversation to discover where we agree and help us reach people for Jesus and mature in their faith, we're going to be a great team!"
Most of the time those conversations go well, are productive and result in mutual learning and strengthening of faith.
The position not to fight does not remotely suggest a passive stance on doctrine or lack of biblical training on our team. It's all about your intensity of focus on life transformation by keeping the main thing the main thing: new life in Christ.
Dan Reiland is the executive pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as executive pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as vice president of leadership and church development at INJOY.
This article originally appeared at danreiland.com.
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