So there has been a lot of discussion lately on Facebook about right and wrong doctrine, which doctrines are vital and which aren’t, and whether any of this matters when it comes to the real question: how do I get to heaven?
I just want to make a few things clear:
Right and Wrong Doctrine
Logically speaking there can only be one truth. For example, a shape with four equal sides and 90-degree angles is a square. That is the truth. It is not a triangle. It is not a circle. It is not a triskaidecagon. It will never be a triangle, a circle or a triskaidecagon. Even if you think it is a triangle, it does not make it one.
God exists as a Trinity (sorry Jehovah’s witnesses, but its true) even if you think he doesn’t. Allah doesn’t exist, even if you think he does. Jesus Christ is entirely God and entirely man, one person, two natures, even if you think he isn’t. With that said, there is one truth about God. Perhaps there are many ways of interpreting certain passages of Scripture, but that certainly does not change the truth about God. Just because I read John 1 and see that the Word was made flesh and believe that God is a fleshy being that physically looks like the letters W O R and D, does not make him so. Similarly, just because I believe that the Eucharist is a symbol, does not make it so. Just because I believe I do not need to go to Confession, does not magically make it so that I don’t. There is a right and wrong when it comes to doctrine.
Vitality of Doctrine
Rupertus Meldenius, a 17th century Lutheran theologian once said:
“In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in everything charity.”
Unfortunately he didn’t leave us a list of what was essential and non-essential. Neither does the Bible. Some of us believe the differences between Protestant and Catholic beliefs on Holy Communion are non-essential. I believe that they are very essential because we are talking about the difference between a piece of bread and JESUS CHRIST. I’d say that’s a pretty big difference and very important. Some believe that Baptism is unimportant. Most Christians believe that Baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation, that it is the first moment in which the forgiveness of sins is bestowed on a soul. That’s essential.
It is thus the urgency of correct doctrine becomes evident. There is hardly a doctrine out there at least one person wouldn’t call it essential. Trinity, Sacraments, Faith/Works, Morality, you name it, someone is arguing over it. These things ARE important whether we like to think so or not. So if they’re so important, how do we know what is true and what isn’t?
In all of this there is one answer: authority. Most of us claim God as the ultimate authority. Many of us claim that he exercises that authority through a book, that all one must do is read that book and they will know the truth. The only problem is that none of us, as I showed above believe the same things about what this book says. Can’t you see that this is a problem, a huge problem?! These differences in opinion can mean the difference between heaven and hell!!! So now what do we do? Who is right?
“Well I’m right.”
“No, you’re reading it wrong. I determined that if you set your clock three hours back, rip two pages out of the calendar and find the square root of pi multiplied by the number of hours between the Babylonian captivity and the birth of Christ, you’ll determine that answer is 52, which means playing cards is immoral.”
“No silly, you only rip one calendar page out, which makes the answer 2, which means that the Holy Spirit isn’t a part of the Godhead, duh!”
You see everybody thinks that they are right. WE ALL MAKE OURSELVES OUR OWN POPES!!! We say that we have no authority but Scripture, but really we have no authority but OURSELVES!!! We say that we hate the Pope and that he isn’t authoritative, but its only because we would rather pontificate from our own kitchen table than listen to another pontificator.
THIS doesn’t work. We can’t do THAT. Clearly God is much smarter than that. He didn’t just leave this book for each of us to decide for ourselves. He left a Church, a group that began as 12 men to lead the faithful into the truth. He vested in them the power to bind and to loose. He promised them that hell would never overcome its gates. He called it the pillar of truth. He gave one of those 12 men the keys to his kingdom. These men chose other men to join their ranks, such as St. Paul. They also chose men to replace their comrades who had died, mostly from martyrdom. As Christianity spread, these men appointed more men to lead the expanding flock, while all still submitting to the FACT that Jesus gave only one man the ultimate authority among mere men: the key to the kingdom, the key to that narrow gate. Jesus gave Peter the keys, all men would come to Jesus through the teachings of this man. When Peter died, the Apostles gave those keys to Linus, then Cletus, then Clement, then Aristus, and so on until they have currently settled in the hands of Benedict XVI. It is by the teachings of this man and all the Bishops whom are in union with him that we shall pass through the gate. We know what is true because this man has the keys that Christ himself gave out so very long ago. We don’t have to WORRY about pontificating because Christ has given that burdensome task to another. All we need to worry about is submitting to the truths about Christ that the Church has taught us.
As soon as we leave the only authority that Scripture suggests to us, we have no choice but to set ourselves up as our own personal authority. And that will lead us on the broad way which gets us nowhere worth going.