A lot of people I know will, in the same breath, say that it is by grace through faith that we are saved and then go on to list certain doctrines that are required to believe in order for someone to truly be saved. Which is it? I’ve come to see a relationship with Jesus (salvation) and doctrine as two different things. Here are some of my opinions. And please remember, they are just that. OPINIONS.
Salvation is an experience. It is encountering the Messiah. It is about being transformed by the Holy Spirit. It is about placing yourself in the grand narrative of God’s redemption of all things. It is about entering into the Kingdom of God. It is about becoming a part of God’s big family. It is about a life that is marked by Christ-likeness. It is experiencing everything that Jesus accomplished on the Cross. It is not mental ascent.
Doctrine is something totally separate from the experience of salvation. Doctrine is rooted in the Bible, history, and tradition. It is about affirming the things that the Church universal (which one is a part of once she comes to faith) has always affirmed. It is about being as faithful to the dogmatics of the Church. It is about seeking to exegete the Scripture, in light of context, history, etc., as accurately as possible.
Yes, there are some doctrines that are extremely important, and these are usually the ones on which the universal Church agrees (the Trinity, divinity of Jesus, topics mentioned in early creeds, etc.). And then, there are some on which there is major room for disagreement.
However, let us not mix our call to uphold sound doctrine with questioning someone’s personal salvation. These are two different matters because they involve two totally different things. Correcting doctrine is that: correcting doctrine. It is a discussion that involves biblical interpretation, hermeneutics, exegesis, tradition, history, and much more. You can lovingly and graciously approach someone with understanding and point out possible points in their doctrine that may need correction, without attacking them and their salvation.
Their salvation is something that they have experienced. Something that God has done in their own lives. Whether or not you think it is legitimate is not relevant. When you humbly approach someone as a brother or a sister in need, watch them respond a lot better than they would if you approached them openly and humiliatingly as a heretic that needs to be proved wrong.
Just some thoughts.
I would say we must make a distinction between our intellectual reasoning (doctrine) and our heartfelt response (experience) to God’s invitation to be saved.
However, I would not say that doctrine is totally separate from the experience of salvation, because the mind cannot be chopped off from the heart or experience—the two interact and affect each other.
But still, Blake makes an excellent point here. Just because someone may be doctrinally in error does not mean we should judge that they are not in God’s friendship and being saved.