Have you ever wondered where doctrine comes from? The really big ones came from what are called the Ecumenical Councils, a term that is a little misleading today because these councils were called ecumenical not because different denominations participated in them (there was only one Church, the Roman Church, for most of them) but rather because “the entire Church” participated in them. What that really means is that most of the bishops got together to decide some question of faith. Actually they argued and fought about some question of faith, usually in response to what many of them believed was a heresy, and eventually took a vote to see who was right. Once the vote was taken and a winner declared, the winners promptly excommunicated the losers if they wouldn’t recant (and sometimes even if they would recant). Since the Church had declared itself the spokesperson for God, whatever they said was thought to be what God said. In reality, though, it was a vote held by human beings. Once the doctrine or dogma was definitively declared it could never be challenged. These decisions couldn’t be challenged because it was believed that the Church could not err, and also because it was believed that God had stopped revealing Godself. In short, all we would ever know about God was already known.
Wow! Even if that was true, even if revelation was complete, for doctrines to be definitively declared it would also mean that humankind had learned all it was going to learn about God. All we have to do is investigate if there is any field in which we haven’t learned anything in the last, say, two thousand years. Of course there aren’t any. The truth is that we can definitively declare whatever we want and make all the fuss we want about how it will never change – and things are still changing all the time.
One of the core teachings of Buddhism is called “impermanence.” Impermanence teaches us that everything is changing all the time, no matter how much we want it to stay the same, and that we suffer precisely to the extent that we resist that reality. In Christianity we have said that God is unchanging, and I believe that is an accurate assessment – God is by definition exempt from impermanence – but we humans and the created order are not exempt from impermanence, and neither are our beliefs!
You may say, “That’s all fine, but the [Catholic] Church cannot be in error because the Holy Spirit keeps the Church free from error.” The only problem with that assertion is that it doesn’t appear in scripture, it is a self proclamation made by the Catholic Church in the absence of any external evidence that it is true. I could, for example, tell you that I am seven feet tall and that God has told me that I am seven feet tall so that settles it. That wouldn’t make me seven feet tall.
When questioned about his alleged claims to be from the Father, Jesus responded by saying that if he were to testify on his own behalf his testimony would not be valid. Apparently the Church has more credibility than Jesus…
It’s time we get much more real about doctrine and dogma. Here are some basic tenets around doctrine and dogma for the Christ Enlight movement:
1. Doctrine and Dogma are always exclusive. The whole purpose of doctrine and dogma is to exclude those who do not believe in them and comply with them. For this reason, Christ Enlight is dedicated to keeping doctrine to an absolute minimum.
2. Doctrine and Dogma are the product of fallible human beings, and are therefore always open to revision and/or elimination.
3. People are more important than rules.
4. Doctrine and Dogma are rules.
5. There should never be a rule without a reason for the rule. When we discover such a rule, it must be eliminated.
6. God reveals Godself all the time, for God is not bound by time and exists in all times simultaneously.
The truth is that any healthy spirituality encourages free investigation, encourages and enables growth, requires radical inclusion and moves us toward freedom on every level. Does doctine ever do these things? Or do doctrine and dogma limit us and put us in a box so we can be controlled and forced to rely on authority to provide us with access to God?
I think it would be fair to say that for the Christ Enlight movement the only Doctrine required is, “God is.”
Let the discussions begin!