|Pen and Ink Reflections
Does doctrine divide? I sometimes hear that these days. Indeed, I have even heard people say they do not believe in doctrine at all. That, if you think about it, is quite a contradiction in terms. For anything you believe in, or do not believe in, is itself a doctrine. Doctrine, after all, really just means teaching. So, if someone says they do not believe in doctrine, are they really saying they do not want teaching in our world? Are all viewpoints, from flat earthers to conspiracy theorists, really equal? I suspect that what people really mean is that they do not believe in dogma: understood as authoritatively claimed beliefs which are essentially simply imposed, and resistant to questioning, reason and experience. Modern law and science are not, in that sense, dogma, but they are forms of doctrine: guidelines or teaching which enable us to live, and, hopefully, grow together. The same can be said of doctrines of faith. Like law and science, they can be used to divide. However, if they are open to development, they can be vital as a means to enable us to live, and grow. This is core to our Gospel passage this morning (from Matthew 16.13-20), which both contains powerful and particular expressions of faith in Christ and also an abiding invitational question; ‘but who do you say I am?’ It is, I believe, in that creative doctrinal tension, that Christians best live and thrive…
What do we make of traditions - those of our own and others? Today’s Gospel throws up that question vividly, although it is but one of several significant scriptural texts related to traditions. All of them, not least this one from Mark chapter 7, need to be read in context. Let us come to that in a few moments. Firstly however, we might reflect on what each of us understands by the word ‘tradition’ and on what traditions have shaped us (pause)…. What do each of us have to share together?...