Doctrinal Convictions and Spiritual Growth

In my years of listening to Christians, I have become aware of a fascinating phenomena: One person’s heresy was another person’s life-giving doctrine.

Let me illustrate.

Not long ago I saw a couple of Christians rejoicing in their Calvinism. They both claimed that they did not see the power of the Gospel until they were taught Calvinist doctrine. Since that day their faith blossomed.

I also know other believers, myself included, who say that ever since they were shown the errors of Calvinism and were taught non-Calvinist doctrine they saw deeper beauty in the Gospel and their faith blossomed.

I have seen this with churches–one group claims massive spiritual growth due to their church, while other people found growth by leaving that church.

I have seen this with adhering to a pastor or professor or author. I’ve seen this with Charismatic experience and deliverance from Charismatic experience. I could go on and on. Each side worked growth for opposite groups.

So, what gives? Here are some possible answers, solely based on my experience and observation of the phenomena.

A) Neither group actually grew. When a person makes a major life-altering choice, they tend to look for confirmation bias that they were right. If you made a choice to drop Calvinism and then your life tanked, and confusion and rancor ruled, you might double-think your choice. The reason you stick with your choice is because it seemed to work out for you. We like to pat ourselves on the back when we make decisions, especially daring ones, and make sure everyone knows how special we are and how right we are, because look at how happy and wonderful everything is now. None of which may be true, but you can’t tell because you are not looking for non-confirming facts.

B) Your opinion of your spiritual growth proves little. The fact that you are growing spiritually can be rather subjective. The Bible says spiritual growth is demonstrated by the exercise of spiritual gifts that build up other people. The fact that you are happy, or have put to rest theological turmoil in your brain, doesn’t mean anything really. Maybe you found a nice pat-answer to console your conscience, but this is not evidence of spiritual growth. Are you becoming more like Christ, or more self-righteous? A soothed conscience is not to be confused with spiritual growth!

C) It might be part of the process. Spiritual growth is a process. I have changed theological opinions on a lot of things over the years as I have gotten more information. It very well could be that a church, or speaker, or doctrine massively helped you. It might also be that dropping that church, speaker, or doctrine 20 years from now might massively help you. Problems arise when you think you have it all figured out now, I can just stay put. Growing implies laying aside childish things. Wrong doctrine can help you grow if it drives you to the Scripture and gets you thinking. It might be a necessary step to getting right doctrine.

D) Success aint always what it seems. True spiritual growth will be uncomfortable. It will hurt. It’s a putting to death of the old way of life. It might cause fighting in your family and isolation from previous friends. Jesus came to bring a sword, remember. I always get leery when someone’s proof of spiritual growth is how happy they are now.

E) Group mentality. We want to fit in. We want a group and an identity. Since everyone else in our group is saying how great it is to be us, it must be great to be us. We console ourselves that our group is so awesome, we must be doing awesome too. Rather than spiritual maturity, we’ve just nailed conformity to our group.

F) We might all be wrong. Consider it for a second. Maybe we’re all nuts and no one has any idea what they are talking about!

In the end, we should tone down some of our hostility to other doctrines. It’s fine to hash things out with people who are trying to help, but arguing and bashing doctrine can do a lot of damage to people’s growth.

Speak words that edify the hearers. Maybe borrow a little of Paul’s attitude that when with those under the law he became as one under the law. When with Calvinists, why not just back off on Calvin bashing? When with non-Calvinists, why not drop Pelagian charges?

Instead of bashing doctrine, do things that edify. I hope your erroneous Calvinism is growing you into Christ! I hope you hope my erroneous non-Calvinism is growing me into Christ.

A true sign of spiritual growth is humility and a desire to grow other people into Christ. If your celebration over your doctrine takes you further away from this, you aren’t doing it right. Your spiritual growth may not be all that spiritual nor growy.

Examine yourself more than you examine others. Watch, pray, and be sober. There is an enemy trying to destroy your growth. Fight the right fight.

Yes, there are theological and doctrinal battles that should be fought. When seeing someone’s life be destroyed by false teaching, there is a point of intervention. But don’t forget love. Are you doing it out of love, to help? Or is it out of anger, self-righteousness, desire to travel to the ends of the world to make a proselyte, or some other twisted reason?

Right doctrine doesn’t make people jerks. Following Christ looks like Christ.