Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Why the Idea of Church Doctrine/Theology Bothers Me

Glendalough  - Celtic cross

As my readers know, I'm a Christian and my views on Christianity are greatly influenced by my Quaker beliefs.  Living in what I consider the buckle of the Bible belt (we produced both Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson), I'm often looked at as a "heretic" because my views don't line up with those taught in the numerous conservative/fundamentalist/evangelical churches in this part of the world.

I'm not a theologian by any stretch of the imagination but I have a hard time with accepting "church" teachings by professional theologians.  Why?  Because it's almost like rooting for your "team" rather than seeking truth.  And because those who consider my views heretical, don't see their team as being a small drop in the bucket compared with Christendom; that is, the entire body of Christ worldwide.  There are almost too many Christian denominations to count, and most (but not all) recognize a "head" or expert theologian(s) that they are to follow.  Here's an example by denomination and the numbers of adherents (data from Wikipedia):

  • Catholic Church (includes more than just the Roman Catholic Church) - 1,666 million
  • Breakaway Catholic churches - 25 million
  • Baptist churches (includes at least 40 types) - 100 million
  • Lutheranism - 75 million
  • Methodism - 75 million
  • Reformed churches (includes Presbyterianism) - 75 million
  • Anabaptism and free churches (includes Amish and Minnonite churches) - 5 million
  • Quakers - .4 million [we're a very small group]
  • Waldensians - .05 million
  • Modern Protestantism -includes Pentecostalism and non-denominational evangelicalism) - 274 million
  • Eastern Orthodox churches - 230 million 
  • Anglican churches (includes Episcopal churches) - 85 million
  • Oriental Orthodox churches - 82 million
As you can see from the Wikipedia listing, many of these groups are further broken down into subgroups, other denominations that have their own leaders and teachings.  In addition, I would venture to guess that most American Christians have never heard of the vast majority of these denominations, especially those in other parts of the world.  The teachings of these churches/Christian leaders are often diametrically opposed.  (Just look at the different opinions about correct baptism between the Southern Baptists and the Episcopalians.)  Sometimes pastors/priests even choose to disregard the teachings and doctrine of their own leaders/denomination.  Additionally, usually (but not always) the person who is considered the head of the denomination is well educated.  Now you see why I have a hard time understanding theology.  After all, I assume all of the leaders are sincere individuals, spending time in prayer, reading the Bible, studying Greek and Hebrew, and reading commentaries by scholars.  Yet all of the experts have vastly different answers.

I recently had someone mention the concept of interpreting scripture "incorrectly."  When you consider all the independent bodies of Christendom, I note that it is often the case that one small group believes all the others are wrong in scriptural interpretation.  So the question is, how does one determine who is right?  For most people, it is the group that you were raised that has all the right answers.  And all the others are wrong.  "Team" mentality.

1 comment:

EcoGrrl said...

Really strong piece and it hits right at what I'd referred to in my reply to your comment re: easter the other day, and why i reject organized religion. It seems they all have a blind faith 'my way or the highway' attitude which to me seems the opposite of the innate goodness of the people who inspired many of the world's religions. Quakerism, as some family friends were, is one of the few that I've seen as of a more accepting group, with tenets that to me often seemed more common sense - like buddhism in a way. For me, organized religion has implied you have to commit to everything they say, that you have to believe literally in all the stories that are in the book, and usually worshipping a person which goes against all instincts for me. That and the constant references to "he"...