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The danger of lacking doctrinal purity

Hapax Legomena has a post putting forth what, in my view, is one of the most destructive- if common- notions of the day among Christians: the idea that a concern for doctrinal purity can be "dangerous," or that to insist upon it is somehow to be deficient in charity.

In fairness, the post comes out in favor of a concern for doctrine. What I quarrel with is its suggestion that breaking fellowship or otherwise reacting negatively to persistent false teaching after reasonable attempts have been made to resolve the issue is a bad idea.

First,"doctrine" is literally nothing but a synonym for "teaching." Jesus said that we're His disciples if we continue in His Word, not if we're all warm and fuzzy and make nice-nice!

Just how much of what Scripture teaches is unimportant enough not to worry about, anyway? Do you want to be the one to tell God that this or that in what He says in His Word is unimportant?

Confessional Lutheranism is one of the few Christian traditions (Roman Catholicism being another) which follows the Scriptural and historic practice of restricting admission to the Lord's Supper- according to Paul, a confession of Christ's death- to those who actually agree with the celebrating congregation in what they confess about Christ's death. We also do not permit preachers who believe other than what we believe to be the truth of God's Word to preach in our churches (nor, for that matter, laypeople, or anyone else who lacks what the Augsburg Confession terms "a regular call"). In this, we simply take the integrity of the Gospel seriously. No amount of sentimentalism will change the fact that in this day of vagueness and compromise, both of these historic positions of the orthodox Christian Church are vital if we have any ambition to proclaim the Gospel we've been given by the Lord, and not a strange and alien one warped by the culture.

Nor will it do any good to point out that human beings are sinners, and that their theology is therefore imperfect. It's not human theology we're discussing here. It's the teachings of God's Word. Again, if you want to complain that God is insufficiently clear in His Word, you can be the one to tell Him that He messed up.

This is an age in which the Church is hemorrhaging integrity from every pore. The sad and sorry state of American religion- and that emphatically includes what is laughably called "Evangelicalism-' demands more concern about purity of doctrine, not less.

Luther was right: if we sin, we have doctrine to tell us where to find forgiveness. But if we lose sound doctrine, we are utterly lost. Life is never perfect; doctrine must be. To the extent that we disagree with other Christians in matters of doctrine, we must continue our dialog with both respect and integrity. But we dare never compromise our teaching for the sake of making nice-nice.

C.S. Lewis also was right: if the day ever dawns when the Church regains its visible unity, it will be because of those who stubbornly resisted the temptation to compromise its teachings in order to bring that day closer.

When I attend a wedding or a funeral in a Catholic church, the one moment in which we are closest is the moment at which they celebrate Communion, and I am not invited- just as they would not be welcome at my own Lutheran altar. Integrity doesn't divide. It unites. And in this day and age, it unites even the most diverse people into a small. courageous band of confessors in the face of a raging tsunami of relativism.


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