Dogma can be misused

DAY 14 REFLECTION: Dogma can be misused

Dogma, by definition, is not provable by independent parties as literal truth. But it can often point to spiritual truth. Dogma is also not the foundation of the Christian faith, even though many leaders claim that it is. It is how churches define their brands and control their congregations, much like the religious elite used “the law” to define and control Jews in the New Testament. Dogma is an unproven set of beliefs laid down by religious authorities and treated as incontrovertibly true using supernaturalism. It is used to separate inside groups from outside groups, and bind denominations, congregations, and church members. When church leaders are hateful, the way they use dogma tends to be hateful. When they are loving, the way they use dogma is loving. 

With religion and politics, it is easy to see the flaws in someone else’s dogma but difficult to see and admit the flaws in our own. Even within Christianity, Protestants can easily see the flaws of Catholics, Baptists of Episcopalians, Pentecostals of Methodists, etc. Sometimes the dogmatic differences are small, and in other cases, they can be significant. The use of dogma can run the gamut from providing inspiration to encouraging pathological behaviors.

A characteristic of dogma that can make it dangerous is that it does not change with new information. Since dogma is required to be accepted as incontrovertibly true by church members, often even attributed to God, church members who question dogma must either stay and believe, quit and be shunned, or join new groups with different beliefs. Adaptation has occurred in a few cases within denominations, but usually at a price. For example, there have been significant splits within the Baptist and Methodist denominations. It also occurred in a significant way through the Protestant Reformation more than 500 years ago and inspired the formation of the early Christian church more than 2,000 years ago.

Christian dogma is used in several ways. It is used to recruit and keep members, to clearly differentiate and separate themselves from competing organizations, and to generate revenue to support for their causes. Leaders typically insist that only their dogma is truly biblical. However, their dogma is always the product that they are selling and the source of their livelihoods.

Christianity without dogma can be more honest, because basing the faith on unprovable dogma makes ignorance its foundation. To base our Christian beliefs on dogma is to build on a foundation of sand, not the rock of what Jesus said was most important, love, which is Christianity’s greatest commandment.(36) Love needs no dogma and is, as Jesus said: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”(37)

36. Matt. 22:37–40
37. John 13:35, NIV