Saturday, October 19, 2013

Pastoral Concern Requires Theological Clarity

Suppose that I were to tell you that I knew of a physician who was providing some of his patients with treatment that had no sound basis, and, as a result, some of his patients had either died or suffered permanent harm. Now, those treatments don't have the same result for all patients, nor do all of his patients receive the same treatment program, and some people would swear that he has done the...m great good. Nonetheless, it is clear that he has caused death or severe physical harm for some.

Ah, you say: he is guilty of malpractice. He should be reported to the state medical board, or sued, or something should be done to stop him from harming patients.

All true. But it leads me to a question. If we rightly become concerned about a rogue physician causing harm to people's bodies, should we not be even more concerned with renegade preachers who destroy men's souls?

Oh, someone will say, that preacher helps some people, or you are causing division among Christians. So be it. Pastoral concern should motivate those who care about their sheep to call out theology or doctrine that destroys souls.

Now, of course, not every doctrinal disagreement is about soul destroying theology. In such instances, respectful disagreement is not out of bounds. Indeed, it is a way of sharpening our own thinking, trying to better understand the ways of God, or, in some cases, trying to convince a brother that our view is better. All of these things are valid.

Theology is destructive of human souls when it compels people to look inward rather than outward to Christ, when it drives people to guilt without providing liberating freedom from guilt in the Gospel, when it encourages self-righteousness, when it drains us of energy without offering rest in Christ, and when it causes fixation on this world, rather than a healthy longing for the world that is coming, or when it promises things that God has given us no right to promise.

Some of these things, paradoxically, grow churches while destroying souls, causing people to burn out, to feel manipulated, to question shallow solutions to hard questions, or to decide that it doesn't work.

Perhaps I will get into more specifics at a later time. Differences in doctrine can be minor or of only tangential importance. Sometimes, they destroy souls, and those who care about souls must call them out.

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