I get it when people point to the misuse of doctrines and creeds through history. It is true that there have been and still are problems. But I don't get the abject hatred and bitterness toward those who hold to these. Moreover, I don't get the failure to see similar abuses on the part of those who do not proclaim to hold to doctrines or creeds. And, as Carl Trueman rightly notes, we all have these whether written and well articulated or not:
"Christians are not divided between those who have creeds and confessions and those who do not; rather, they are divided between those who have public creeds and confessions which are written down and exist as public documents, subject to public scrutiny, evaluation, and critique; and those who have private creeds and confessions which are often improvised, unwritten, and thus not open to public scrutiny, not susceptible to evaluation and, crucially and ironically, not subject to testing by scripture to see whether they are true or not." ~ Carl Trueman
Mostly however, I'm shocked when I find professing Christians claim that our faith is not one of doctrines and that Jesus was the antithesis of these. Interestingly, I read the following last night in Bloodlines by John Piper:
One of the best historical illustrations of the way the gospel of Christ transforms persons and sustains structural intervention is the life of William Wilberforce (1759–1833) and the Clapham Sect. One of the most important and least known facts about the battle to abolish the slave trade in Britain two hundred years ago is that it was sustained by a passion for the doctrine of justification by faith alone—which is at the center of the gospel of Christ.
Wilberforce was a spiritually exuberant and doctrinally rigorous evangelical. He had been personally transformed by the gospel and was carried along by a passion for the glory of Christ and the good of his fellow men. He battled tirelessly in Parliament for the outlawing of the British slave trade. And though most people do not know it, the particular doctrines of the gospel are the power that sustained him in the battle that ended the vicious trade.
The key to understanding Wilberforce is to read his own book A Practical View of Christianity. There he argued that the fatal habit of his day was to separate Christian morals from Christian doctrines. His conviction was that there is “perfect harmony between the leading doctrines and the practical precepts of Christianity." He had seen the devastating effects of denying this: “The peculiar doctrines of Christianity went more and more out of sight, and . . . the moral system itself also began to wither and decay, being robbed of that which should have supplied it with life and nutriment.” But Wilberforce knew that “the whole superstructure of Christian morals is grounded on their deep and ample basis.”
This “ample basis” and these “peculiar doctrines” that sustained Wilberforce in the battle against the slave trade were the doctrines of human depravity, divine judgment, the substitutionary work of Christ on the cross, justification by faith alone, regeneration by the Holy Spirit, and the practical necessity of fruit in a life devoted to good deeds. Wilberforce was not a political pragmatist. He was a radically God-centered, gospel-saturated Christian politician. And his zeal for Christ, rooted in this gospel, was the strength that sustained him in the battle.
At the center of these essential “gigantic truths” was (and is) justification by faith alone. The indomitable joy that perseveres in the battle for justice is grounded in the experience of Jesus Christ as our righteousness. “If we would . . . rejoice,” Wilberforce said, “as triumphantly as the first Christians did, we must learn, like them, to repose our entire trust in [Christ] and to adopt the language of the apostle, ‘God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of Jesus Christ,’ ‘who of God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption’ [Gal. 6:14; 1 Cor. 1:30].”
In other words, the gospel of justification by faith alone is essential to right living—and that includes political living. Astonishingly, Wilberforce said that the spiritual and practical errors of his day that gave strength to the slave trade were owing to the failure to experience the truth of this doctrine:
They consider not that Christianity is a scheme “for justifying the ungodly” by Christ’s dying for them “when yet sinners”—a scheme “for reconciling us to God”—when enemies; and for making the fruits of holiness the effects, not the cause, of our being justified and reconciled.
This was why he wrote A Practical View of Christianity. The “bulk” of Christians in his day, he observed, were “nominal”—that is, they pursued morality without first relying utterly on the free gift of justification by grace alone through faith alone on the basis of Christ alone. They got things backward: first they strived for moral uplift; then they appealed to God for approval. That is not the Christian gospel.
And it will not transform a nation. It will not heal the racial wounds of a nation. It would not sustain a politician through eleven Parliamentary defeats over twenty years of vitriolic opposition.
The battle for abolition was sustained by getting the gospel right: “The true Christian . . . knows . . . that this holiness is not to precede his reconciliation to God, and be its cause; but to follow it, and be its effect. That, in short, it is by faith in Christ only that he is to be justified in the sight of God.” When Wilberforce put things in this order, he found invincible strength and courage to stand for the justice of abolition.
I pray that the gospel of Jesus Christ will have this kind of effect on many today. May it be spoken and lived by millions of true Christians in their daily lives. May it impel them into greater pursuits of racial diversity and harmony. May it awaken in some a passion for a public life of engagement in the community and the political arena. And may it conquer Satan, guilt, pride, hopelessness, paralyzing feelings of inferiority, greed, hate, fear, and apathy. In that triumph, may Christ be magnified and peoples of every race and ethnicity find harmony in him as their supreme treasure.