I have seen it claimed that there are in excess of 40,000 Christian denominations. Almost all of the people in those denominations would claim to have some experience of, or fellowship with, God, despite the fact that they all believe many different things – although of course they have many beliefs in common. And He chooses to work through those people. Now, if those people claim fellowship with God, what gives me the right to doubt them, just because I have ‘other ideas’ about correct beliefs; about what is a ‘good doctrine’ and what is a ‘bad doctrine’? If God chooses to work through these people, who am I to argue with that, just because they don’t necessarily fit with ‘what I believe the Bible says’, or, more presumptuously, ‘what the Bible clearly says’? Each of those people has arrived at their current faith position through a multitude of different factors: geography, upbringing, literacy, education, family background, church background, whatever. And yet, they claim, God touches these people all the same, irrespective of belief or doctrine.
Some would argue that they definitely have God’s ‘seal of approval’, because of the ‘signs and wonders following’ that confirm the Word. In Mark 16:20, the Scripture says that, “Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it”. What we see in terms of miracles, helping the poor, and other visible Christian fruits, is therefore seen as God’s ‘approval’ of what we believe in.
But we must remember that the ‘word’ being preached is Jesus – the Word become flesh. The signs and wonders confirm Him, not Us! They testify that the Kingdom of God is at hand (Mt 3:2, Mt 4:17, Mk 1:15) They testify as to God’s immense goodness and love.
They do not mean that you’ve got it all right and they certainly should not be interpreted as God ratifying, approving, subscribing to, endorsing or otherwise confirming your doctrines. In short, He does His miracles not because we are right, but because He is right! He does it because, despite our imperfections, He wants us to experience the fulness of His Kingdom. It’s all because of Him.
I therefore consider that actually God does not mind all that much about what we actually believe – or say we believe, which is often different – but actually, ‘as the Bible clearly says’, God looks on the heart (1Sam 16:7). And He rewards those who earnestly seek Him (Heb 11:6). Nowhere does it say that He rewards those who hold ‘correct doctrine’.
In fact, all that the Bible says about what is necessary in order for us to experience the fulness of His Kingdom is that we believe in Jesus. Christianity is an ancient, broad faith, whose 40,000-plus denominations, encompass a vast spectrum of different beliefs on all kinds of peripheral topics such as Hell, homosexuality, the authority of Scripture and many, many other things. But still, central to each denomination’s faith, is the Person of Jesus Christ. It is completely unreasonable to expect that any one of these denominations has everything just right; all their ducks lined up. It is also therefore folly to believe that God somehow expects us – all of us – to be right all the time. Jesus is what it all hinges on, not a) our beliefs nor b) correct doctrine.
And so, my dear readers, please take encouragement. Carry on questioning, probing and thinking – because God made you to do that. Not necessarily to ‘find the right answers’, but simply to find out more about God’s goodness.
Only those with the control issues; those who will only tolerate their own doctrines, will have a problem with this.
“When the Spirit comes, He will lead you into all Truth”. He has so much more He wants to tell you…(Jn 16:12)
This piece is a companion essay to two of my previous posts on the same sort of issues, this one from two years ago and this one from eighteen months ago. Read in conjunction with this piece, they might be quite enlightening…