Forward or back?

"... contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God's holy people." Jude 1.3


When faith meets culture doctrine is the result: the formal expression of a worshipping community's belief. And doctrine, like everything else in life, is dynamic: it moves, it doesn't stay still. However much we like to think that our faith is the same as our forebears', it isn't. The root might be the same but its expression develops over time. If you want proof, consider the development of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount into The Apostles' Creed. Or the almost immediate divergence of Luther, Calvin and Zwingli's doctrine of Communion following the Reformation. Or the plethora of doctrines which distinguish Protestant and Catholic denominations today: Roman, Orthodox, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Pentecostal...


Can we ever get back to our doctrinal root: "the faith once delivered"? That prospect is as unlikely as turning back the clock or repelling the tide. And for the compelling reason that God has made time progressive and not regressive. Yet the prospect of doctrinal unity is not lost. It's just that it lies in the future and not in the past. Have I gone mad or, worse, heretical? I hope not! Because the way ahead is the theologically respectable way of truth. If right doctrine is about perceiving and expressing and practicing what is true, then we haven't missed the boat, nor have we taken the wrong track - because ultimate truth remains a future prospect. We're not there yet.


The most immediate challenge facing us is that contemporary western culture has turned its back on ultimate truth, in favour of the post-modern pick 'n' mix alternative. But that does not mean those of us who think and believe otherwise have to go along with it. To insist on relative truths, as opposed to what is universal, is like pretending we can all invent our own reality, it's a recipe for chaos. Once we have come to our senses and realise, as we are learning through the current pandemic and the more serious crisis of climate change, that we are all in this together, we shall find ourselves back in the doctrinal pursuit of ultimate truth and that is where ultimate unity is to be found. Christianity maintains that it will lead us into the arms of Jesus, who is the very embodiment of truth...

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