I suppose we have all done it. Every believer in Christ is at times tempted to major on the minors. But some Christians seem to have made a cottage industry out of it.
The Christian church around the world agrees on the nature of God and the nature of the Gospel. Groups which get God wrong, or the Gospel wrong, are outside of Christianity.
That's not to say there aren't plenty of other important doctrines of the faith. But some doctrines fall into that "gray area" where biblical Christians disagree with one another on debatable issues.
A "pet doctrine" is a doctrine in this gray area that is being pushed, and driven, and promoted to such an extent that it starts to dominate the discussion. It also has a way of dividing believers. If nothing else, it creates a niche where some Christians decide to "rally the troops" around their pet doctrines. Oh they would probably say they are "Gospel-driven" rather than "pet-doctrine driven," but their actions regularly belie their declared intent.
So why do some Christians seem to make this methodology such a prominent feature of their work? And what consumes them to keep driving so hard on their pet doctrines? Here are 7 reasons why they do it, and remember, we have all been guilty of it to one extent or another.
1) A lack of spiritual power in the soul.
Only the Gospel message and God Himself can fill our soul with a deep love for Him and a sincere love for others. When we are being consumed with God's love, we don't get driven to the fringes of Christian experience where the pushing of pet doctrines is the norm.
2) A lack of spiritual discernment.
Believers who are discerning realize that what Christians have in common is far greater than our differences. Come on. We are in the same family. We are united by blood. And if the love of Christ and His cross is not consuming your heart and mind, you will tend to go off on a tangent and become consumed with your pet doctrines. Each of us has given into that temptation at times.
3) Spiritual pride
We all have to battle the flesh. By nature, we tend to think we are superior to others. When a person is born again, his sinful nature will still tempt him to place himself above the rest of the Christian church. It's only natural. But that pride is not coming from the Holy Spirit. It is not a supernatural reality, but just a lowly example of self-aggrandizement. "Our group is more right than your group." Says who? "Says the church leaders and the seminary professors of our group. So there."
4) Blind spots.
"Oh I could never have a blind spot in my Christian life and doctrine. And neither could my denomination, or group. We are blessed to have the perfect interpretation of Scripture on all matters, unlike the rest of the Christian church which is lagging behind our group." Oh really? You don't say. I wonder why some of the other Christian groups feel the same way about their theological system as you feel about yours.
5) A lack of interaction with other believers.
When we isolate ourselves in our own little group, we tend to become extremely narrow in our understanding of the Christian church as a whole. Can't you just hear the Holy Spirit saying in those instances, "You really need to get out more." If our only knowledge of other Christians is what we read about them, we won't see the ways in which the Holy Spirit is using them just like He is using us.
6) A lack of insight into church history.
Just look at the history of the Christian church. Look how God has saved millions of people through the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. And what have all the pet doctrines done to save anyone? What have the denominational differences on secondary issues done to save even one soul? That's not to say we shouldn't have our particular beliefs on those matters, or that those doctrines are unimportant. But we need to understand how God has worked in history. And it certainly has not been limited to our little group. Just think how many people would have missed out on eternal life if that were the case.
If I have a denomination or some ministry to prop up and "keep going," I might be tempted to push our pet doctrines as a way of trying to keep our folks in our little pasture. This tribal attitude is one of self-interest rather than an attitude of grace, such as what we find the apostle Paul exhibiting in his letters to God's people in the New Testament.
Paul's passion was for the Gospel and for unity among believers in Christ's kingdom. He wasn't perfect, but the Lord used him to teach believers how to avoid these pitfalls: a lack of spiritual power, a lack of spiritual discernment, spiritual pride, blind spots, a lack of interaction with other believers, a lack of insight into church history, and their own self-interest.
So take an honest look at what is happening within your own religious environment today. Is your group producing rigid tribal "spibots" (spiritual robots)? Or are the believers loving, fluid, well-fed disciples of our Lord? Is the spiritual atmosphere heavy and harsh due to a pushing of pet doctrines, or refreshing and flexible as a result of the wellspring of God in your midst?
It's one thing to teach the secondary doctrines of the faith. It is another thing altogether to harp on them and use them as a wedge against other believers. Try to remember that those other believers also have strong biblical reasons many times for the positions they take on those secondary issues. After all, their entire denomination or group was likely formed with those secondary doctrines largely in mind.
That's about it I suppose. But now putting this into practice will continue to be our challenge as Christians until the Lord returns.
When He gets here, will He find His people pushing pet doctrines, or wisely spending our time teaching the whole counsel of God and truly encouraging one another in the faith?