A Fettered Faith
There is a common strain in modern Christianity that looks to break away from the archaic institutions and cumbersome structure of Christianity past. I recall reading an article about a man (proclaiming himself a Christian) who had had it with the church and was leaving. Entitling his blog post "My Emancipation from American Christianity," he no longer needed the divisiveness and the close-mindedness of the Christians. He was done being tied down to old fashioned beliefs and people that have lost relevance to our world.
His alternative: It would just be me and God. No more church. It is broken and can't be fixed. What about truth? I can discover that on my own, with my own personal relationship with God. He says it better himself:
Now the purpose of this post is not to address his argument, which I think is pretty leaky, but to address this modern sentiment that structure (both ecclesiological and theological) is essentially worthless in comparison to the vibrancy and freedom of a personal relationship with God. Personal experience supersedes that stuffy theological structure that condemns and excludes others. I will find my own path to God. And it is a path of love. And it is very Spiritual.
Now that all sounds well and good. And it is common in our day and age to view theology as a "bad word" that is more correlated with drowsiness than with true religion. Honestly, who enjoys reading doctrinal statements? Why would anyone spend time hearing someone else's interpretation of the Bible, when I can interpret it myself thank you very much? I would prefer the freedom of "me and God" than that stifling religion. Such sentiments flow strongly in the current of the age.
There is one problem with emancipated Christianity. It's not Christianity. Emotionalism and buzzwords devoid of truth is in actuality a false religion. An unfettered faith is an apostate faith. Like driftwood from a ship's wreckage, this sort of "faith" has stripped away its foundation and has no place left to stand. There is no anchor to hold secure, nor is there the accountability of community to keep its adherents on the path. The archaic doctrinal statements are not taken away for good, they are replaced with whatever your personal whims and desires fancy.
This is what happens when Christianity is married with post-modern individualism.
But, think for a moment about how differently Paul's writing to Timothy (in 1 Timothy 4) sounds from the so called freedom described above:
Instead of an unfettered faith that is free from the restrictions of bigoted theology and backwards interpretive communities, Paul urges Timothy to have a fettered faith. One that is devoted to the Scriptures and their proper teaching. One that is persevered in at all costs. Why? Because without doctrine we have nothing. Without doctrine the gospel message can no longer be communicated, and if that message cannot be communicated how can it ever be believed (Rom 10:14)? That is why Paul writes with such intensity to Timothy, "guard the deposit that has been entrusted to you" (1 Tim 6:20) because that deposit can be lost. And if we lose that deposit we lose everything.
Similarly, in Jesus's high priestly prayer, His final discourse with the Father before crucifixion, Jesus focuses his prayer on his church; on those he has come to save. He prays for unity: both vertical (the Christian to God) and horizontal (the Christian to Christian). And smacked in the middle of this glorious prayer, Jesus prays for his disciples a short but powerful statement:
"Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth."
Sanctification is the growing process in which the Christian man or woman is perfected. It is a gradual process, something the Christian life is devoted to. What Jesus says in this statement is that sanctification (growth) can never be divorced from truth. Truth is the vehicle by which we are sanctified.
And what is truth? Where can we find that truth that grows us and makes us like Him? Jesus continues on: "your word is truth." Not personal experience is truth or cultural sentiment is truth. But "your word is truth." In essence what God has revealed is truth. The word he has spoken, the word that we possess--and the ultimate Word that came into the world--that is the revelation that sanctifies. Apart from being shackled to that truth there can be no growth, and there can be no Christianity.