Doctrine – Fortress or Palace?

Every religion has doctrine. “Doctrine” simply means “teaching.” For many Lutherans, our doctrine is a fortress. When you live inside, it feels safe and comfortable. Learn the words. Learn the meanings. Learn the teachings and you are safely ensconced in the “truth.” Stay in the fortress where you are “right” and keep a sharp eye out for people attempting to leave the fortress… and tackle them.

I hate that view of doctrine. As though something as profound as creation, as deep as God’s love or as mysterious as the Trinity could be completely and accurately formlated for all time in human language. 
For me, doctrine is a palace. It’s a structure for me to explore. Two thousand years of study, prayer and contemplation in which to wander around. The Trinity is like a tower to be climbed. What can you see from these high windows? It’s amazing! God is a complete unity, yet God is a swirling vortex of relational love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Wander through every room and you will find evidence of love expressed in some form, whether it is the disciplinary love of the guiding parent or the sacrifical love that calls out the deepest sacrifices on behalf of the beloved. There are plenty of mysterious passages, too. There are a few rooms that are built and decorated in ways that I may never understand. (I’m thinking, for instance, of hell, which is very hard for me to come to grips with.) But even those rooms are places to wander through.
One thing I know. When I think of doctrine like a fortress, it feels cold and stuffy and boring and like I am constantly in danger of being slapped for coloring outside the lines. When I think of doctrine as a palace, a structure full of wonder with unexpected architecture, amazing views from newly discovered (or made) windows and some rooms that need repainting because somebody didn’t have all the information they needed to choose a beautiful color, I don’t mind it so much. It doesn’t feel like someone is trying to stuff me into their box. It feels more like a gift that gives some structure to this mysterious and amazing life.
So, that’s what crossed my mind tonight.
  • That post made me think of a computer programming framework or language. For instance, a program that interacts with a database and displays info on a screen, actually is translating a bunch of machine language that is almost impossible for humans to understand into a set of tools we can use to get a meaningful result. Similarly, a doctrine can be used to help translate a picture of reality from something unfathomable into something we, with our limited senses and experience, can relate to.

  • Michael,
    Thanks for your comment. I like your analogy. I also sometimes think of doctrine like a trellis, a thing you tie growing plants to. It gives some structure to the growth.
    – John