Why Does Theology Matter?

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I have a predicament. I was recently having a discussion with another individual who grew up in the CRC church but now attends a church in another denomination. We had discussions about how this church may require adult baptism and what that would mean in relation to them being baptized as a child, but not having done profession of faith in the CRC.

This proceeded into a discussion that could probably be boiled down to "Why does the church's theology matter? Both churches [profess the creeds] so who cares what they believe past that." Do we have a response to individuals that find theology constricting and do not think it is applicable to their lives?

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This is, of course, a familiar predicament to a significant number of Christians who move to different parts of the country at one time in their lives or another. They will not always find a CRC there. When that happens, what are the options?

 

Some elect to drive great distances on Sunday to be able to attend the nearest CRC. While there is a certain comfort in maintaining familiar traditions and upholding teachings that are consistent with things we learned in our family of origin, there is also a price. Undoubtedly, the opportunity to fully engage in the life of the congregation will be greatly hindered by the physical distance from where most of the other church people live. No joining a midweek Bible study. No serving on committees or task forces that require regular physical contact. Hopefully, the CRC pastor appreciates his Reformed heritage, or else you would do a lot of driving for something you could find a lot closer.

 

I am familiar with at least one couple who elected to worship closer to home, and join a different denomination, in fact, one where adult baptism was a requirement for full membership. The husband had been CRC all his life, and an elder many times. He did not take the transition lightly. I remember him telling me that he could relate a bit to Ruth when she told Naomi: “Your people will be my people, and your way of serving God will be my way” (TPV) He saw his re-baptism as a symbolic gesture to respond graciously to the warm welcome he and his wife had received in the new non-CRC church. He eventually served on the elder board in the new church as well, and was able to engage other members in fascinating conversations about theological differences they never would have had otherwise.

 

A key issue is what you value most about your church membership. If you need the regular face time with real live people who share your love for the Lord and can encourage you on your journey with God, you may be able to get past some theological differences, especially if there still is significant agreement on the things that matter. John Calvin himself distinguished between essential and nonessential points of doctrine.

 

If, on the other hand, your faith is particularly nurtured by your study of the finer points of Reformed theology, it may be harder for you to listen to a pastor preach weekly from a non-Reformed perspective. If your Reformed world-and-life view has taught you to see Christ, and Christians, as agents of God transforming culture, you would be less comfortable being told from the pulpit that Christians must separate themselves from culture and live as far away from the temptations of this evil world as possible, as is the view of many Anabaptist congregations.

 

I trust you are aware that these days you can have the best of both worlds. Worship and fellowship with Christians who love Jesus, close to your home. And study God’s word to your hearts content with fellow Reformed believers on the internet. When opportunities arise to compare notes with non-Reformed fellow worshipers at your non-CRC church, you may be able to contribute new insights for their understanding of their faith, even as you may be able to see some things in ways you never saw them before. And God will smile on both of you!

 

Upon re-reading the question I would like to add the following:

 

And a man went up to New York from McBain and upon arriving in that great city he entered into a famous 5 star restaurant. It being Tuesday he ordered what he always ordered back in McBain on Tuesday: a hamburger with fries.

A teacher of the law happened to see him ordering the hamburger with fries at the 5 star restaurant, and said unto the man: Do you not know what great delicacies are available here for the asking, prepared by the great masters of culinary art?

And the man replied: If they are anything like the liver and onions they serve at the diner back in McBain, I’ll pass. Besides, it’s Tuesday, and on Tuesday I always eat a hamburger with fries.

 

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I've found that it has helped some people when I point out that theology (literally "God-Words") is simply the choices we make when trying to communicate about our God. We are well aware that the reality of God far surpasses our knowledge of Him. We ought to also be aware that our relational knowledge of God often surpasses our own ability to express that knowledge through words, art, or otherwise. So we do our best to make choices that will best reveal what we can of God to the person(s) we're communicating with. Over time Christians have learned some very insightful ways of speaking of very deep things about God. We should respect that while recognizing that sometimes words that mean one thing to me might mean something very different to another person - especially those raised in significantly different cultures or circumstances. Also, God has chosen not to give every person the exact same experience of Him. So, for instance, the irresistible grace of TULIP speaks closely to my experience of God - for someone to deny that simply makes no sense to me, I have experienced it to be true. Moreover, I know that many others have had a similar experience, and that people passionate about it have dug deeply into the Scriptures to see if God has revealed Himself as acting that way (and He has!). 

So, everyone has a theology. They have experiences and beliefs about God that they would talk about in a certain way - that is essentially what theology is. A wise person learns to broaden their own experiences of God by seeking out others as well, and their theology will grow. 

Sometimes I think we need to back down a little from trying to assess between denominations what is "right" language versus "wrong" language, and deal instead with "is this Scripturally appropriate language?" There are other Christian theologies I admit to being Scripturally appropriate even though they don't jive nearly as well with my own experience and may therefore be hard to conceptually reconcile with Reformed theology (which does fit my experience!). 

For me, theology is a kind of grounding.  When I think about the Heidelberg Catechism, it draws Scriptural truths together to show what the Ten Commandments, the Apostle's Creed and the Lord's Prayer mean for our everyday lives.  It keeps us focused on what church is about so that we don't just glide along with whatever culture throws at us.  

Theology is literally the study of God.  In many North American churches, the emphasis is on the individual and how he can find success and answers to prayer.  How can we worship One that we do not know?  How can we be a community of faith that builds each other up?  The answers come in our understanding of God and subsequently our understanding of who we are in relation to Him.

Hi Adom, I think you are asking a very important question.  As you must realize there are hundreds of different Christian denominations.  There’s Baptist, Reformed/Presbyterian, Lutheran, Catholic and the list can go on.  Any one of these may look at a Bible teaching (or doctrine), like baptism a little differently from the other.  As Reformed Christians we may poke holes in the Baptist perspective on baptism, just as they may poke holes in our perspective.  Our perspective is a Reformed theological perspective.  And by our perspective all the bits and pieces of theology, or the Bible’s teaching, fit together consistently.  But the bits and pieces of Baptist theology or Catholic theology don’t fit well into our Reformed perspective.  Each perspective makes the overall teaching of the Bible consistent within its own perspective.  Pastor’s go to their denominational seminary to be trained in the Bible’s teaching according to their particular denominational perspective or point of view and way of understanding the Bible.  That way we can claim that the Bible is perfectly consistent, as long as we stay within our Reformed perspective.  So you could say that theology is an important key for having a consistent interpretation on the Bible.  If you go to a Baptist church you will be looking at the Bible’s teaching from the Baptist perspective (and there’s a consistency within that system). The same will be true of each different denomination.  Maybe you just have to pick the perspective that you like best.

The big problem is, why are there so many different points of view, in understanding the Bible?  Why isn’t there just one perspective, the right perspective? Of course, each denomination claims they have the right perspective.  It doesn’t seem as though the Holy Spirit has done a very good job of leading the church in all truth.  There is so much seeming inconsistency within the Bible that it’s like a maze by which we need a particular theological perspective in order to get through this maze without becoming hopelessly lost?  Well that’s what a particular theology does for a person, it helps him/her to get through the many twists and turns of the Bible without becoming thoroughly confused.  That’s my take on the importance of theology.