A few days ago I wrote on my observation that many church-goers are ignorant of the most basic aspects of the Christian gospel. One of the issues that comes up now and again is the idea that doubt is somehow virtuous. It is a very common idea – something I have observed in over a decade of interaction with people on the web. But it is obviously common among many – real people! – who may or may not access the internet.
I wanted to expand on this problem of doubt. I think there are probably three categories of doubt that I can see:
- doubts about what God is doing in one’s life. This is to do with God’s providence – how he manages the affairs of our lives. As one person rightly commented in my last post, this is common through the Bible. For example, a common cry through the Psalms is, “How long O Lord?” in the face of adversity, expressing a desire for things to change. Often in this situation we must simply wait.
- doubts about doctrines taught in a church. One may not understand a doctrine and be confused by it. However the answer to this doubt is to be taught, to learn and come to a conclusion. If you come to a conclusion that is at odds with the teaching of the church, you have a choice: either stay in the church, but submit to the eldership and not disseminate your differing views; or if you cannot do that in good conscience, then you need to find another church which is more in line with your views. If you have not come to a conclusion, then your task is not to spread seeds of uncertainty amongst other church members, but to seek further teaching from the elders.
- doubts about the person and work of Jesus Christ. In a sense this is a subset of the previous category, but it is a vitally important one. What I am talking about here are the basic statements defined in the ecumenical creeds such as the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed (381AD) and the Definition of Chalcedon (451AD) (i.e. the full divinity and humanity of Christ, his eternal pre-existence as the Son of God, the virgin birth, the death of Christ as a ransom for many, burial, his literal bodily resurrection, his ascension to heaven, his expected return in glory ). To be consciously and deliberately outside of these is to declare that one is not a Christian (yet). I have met too many people who are members of churches, go regularly but are quite happy to entertain doubts about these matters.
It is this last category that most concerns me. The first two are areas that can be dealt with as pastoral matters in the church. The latter is about what in essence Christianity is and what a Christian is. What you make of Christ determines everything for the enquirer. All of this truths mentioned above are found in the gospels and it is notable that the gospels were written to encourage people to believe certain essentials about Jesus Christ. For example John says,
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31, ESV)
Doubt about the person and work of Jesus Christ is not an option for a Christian. Yes there were some who doubted, but they were encouraged to believe. As Jesus said to Thomas,
“Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:27b-29, ESV)
Knowing and being sure continues to be vital for the Christian life. Later John writes to Christian believers in his first letter,
And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:11-13, ESV)
From all this we have to conclude that there are certain matters about which we have doubts: what God is doing in everyday events, how to understand some doctrines. But about this we must be clear: Jesus and his Apostles wanted their hearers to be absolutely certain about the basic doctrine of Christ, to have him, and to walk through life with him in the sure and certain knowledge of eternal life.