How Important are ‘Correct Beliefs’ to God?

Many believers think people who claim to be Christian but stray too far from ‘correct beliefs’ are not Christian at all. And the corollary is that they are going to hell—just for not getting their beliefs right!

I used to think much the same way. I accepted some other denominations as Christians even though I considered them seriously misguided; but others were heretics whose beliefs went far beyond what was acceptable for Christians.

Someone invited two Mormon missionaries to an informal gathering at my Christian college. At the end of the argumentative session a student wished them ‘Godspeed’. I replied, ‘No! I will NOT wish them God-speed!’–because they were the enemy. Their beliefs disqualified them from being Christians.

Christians burning Christians by Myasoyedov

Christians burning Christians, Grigoriy Myasoyedov [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Right Beliefs through Christian History

Right beliefs have been important to Christians since early times. The Gnostics had ideas completely incompatible with ‘orthodox’ believers, and orthodox believers appropriately exposed their ‘errors’. But the Gnostics did follow Jesus, so in my opinion God did not reject them.

The Arians are an even better example. The mere fact that they did not consider Jesus co-eternal with the Father brought outrage and persecution from others in the Church. I don’t think there is any doubt that the Arians were Christians. The Father loved and accepted them as much as any other believer.

From early on, believers have excluded other believers from the church; and, after the Roman Empire accepted Christianity, Christians even began executing other Christians for their beliefs. My own ancestors came to America to escape the persecution and killing of Protestants in France.

Protestants were not completely innocent, either; remember that John Calvin approved Servetus being burned alive for denying infant baptism and the orthodox view of the trinity. I have no doubt that Servetus was a genuine Christian—he just disagreed on certain doctrinal points.

Right Beliefs in Today’s Church

I was raised in an environment where Catholics were not considered Christian because of their many ‘false’ beliefs. I remember we were very troubled when Kennedy was elected president, and as a 7th grader I celebrated his assassination.

Jehovah’s Witnesses were another group not accepted as Christians; they did not believe in the trinity (a common reason for opposing many ‘heretical’ groups), they did not believe in hell, and they also had weird views about the end-times (We were dispensationalists!).  But Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in Jesus. Why would having different theological beliefs cause God to condemn them to the hell they did not believe in?

I don’t think God judges us because of our mistaken beliefs.

Beliefs are important because beliefs influence our actions, and some bad beliefs lead to really bad consequences. But our problem is we don’t have enough information to establish the ‘correct’ belief on practically any theological point. I wish God had given us clear, proper doctrines and practices, but he didn’t—despite what some people say.

I don’t think God judges us on our beliefs

The resources we do have are the words and actions of Jesus (and Jesus was often quite cagey in sharing doctrinal specifics). He teaches us to love a loving God and to genuinely love EACH OTHER–not to reject each other because of differences in beliefs.

Yet many believers restrict other believers from the very thing that represents our unity as believers with the practice of closed communion, meaning that communion is closed to those outside their tribe. I am happy to have enjoyed taking communion with a large number of tribes in order to express our oneness as believers.

Beliefs should NOT be a barrier to accepting other believers as genuine followers of Jesus.

When Beliefs Really Do Matter

From Jesus and the New Testament writers, I believe that religious beliefs are not the most important thing in following Jesus. And the fact is, no two believers believe all the same things.

Quote - If two people agree on everything

Instead, we are to follow Jesus’ teaching and example in caring for one’s self and other people. Love, empathy, compassion, and care is what we learn from Jesus and his earliest followers. This is also how we spread the kingdom of God on earth—by living in love, sharing the good news of Jesus, and caring for people instead of hurting them.

And that brings me to the serious subject of harmful beliefs; some beliefs lead to hurting people, which is contrary to Jesus’ teaching. There are many points with which I disagree with other believers but they are not worth fighting about.

But I do focus on the most harmful ones. In fact, I talk about them all the time. Essentially, this is what my blog is all about: to help people struggling with harmful beliefs. It is a terrible thing when our beliefs actually hurt us and others.

Here are some examples:

Six Signs You May Be Lugging Heavy Religious Baggage

Some believers have all sorts of very harmful beliefs. But I would never deny that they are Christians. Who am I to say they are not genuine believers? Who is anybody to say? We all follow the same Jesus, and not only do we share that in common but Jesus’ only commandment is for believers to love each other as he has loved us.

So, while I will warn against harmful beliefs, I will still love all believers and not reject them as fellow followers of Jesus. Beloved, let us love one another.

***

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45 Responses to How Important are ‘Correct Beliefs’ to God?

  1. Dr. Chastain says:

    Hey dad, FYI, when I clicked “Read more of the post” in the email sent out from your website, it went to the website and says “Page not found”. I was able to get to the right page by clicking the “URL” in the information below that. Not sure if you’re aware of this or how to fix it. Cheers! ~ drew

    ________________________________

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Regarding the error in the announcement of todays post | Jesus Without Baggage

  3. sheila0405 says:

    Reblogged this on …..temporary…. and commented:
    Wow. This is so very well written!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. tonycutty says:

    This is a great post. I personally believe that correct beliefs are not as important as knowing God; He does not reject me because I am honestly questioning things I have been taught. My take on this subject has already been blogged here:
    http://www.flyinginthespirit.cuttys.net/2015/05/16/coping-with-different-views/
    http://www.flyinginthespirit.cuttys.net/2015/09/10/signs-wonders-fruit-doctrine/

    As an aside, I know an old man whose daughters are both devout ‘real!’ Christians of the same ilk as you and I. However, despite their strongly-held beliefs, and obvious spiritual fruit in their lives, he’s taken to inviting the Jehovah’s Witnesses to his house for a once-per-week ‘chat’. For JWs, of course, we all know what that actually means (Bible study!!) but it’s quite interesting what effect it’s having on him. From being a cantankerous, curmudgeonly old misery-guts, he’s (gradually) mellowing; I think from being exposed to the Bible – even the JW Bible – no matter how ‘doctored’ I might consider it, I am absolutely sure that God can speak through it. And I think that’s bearing fruit. For a Bible-believing (mostly) born-again like me, accepting that the JWs and their New World Translation might just have something to say is quite a jump. But I am willing to accept that God can indeed work through ‘christian’ groups like the JWs, even though they deny what are to me pivotal concepts such as the deity of Christ. I know that John’s letters warn against those who ‘deny that Christ has come in the flesh’, but they don’t really deny that; they just deny that god has come in the flesh. It’s a fine line, and who am I to judge when this has been crossed?

    However, it remains to be seen whether or not the JWs can ever come around to accepting that other Christian groups as being valid. As a group, they have a *very* large amount of baggage to lose before that can happen!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Good point, Tony. We cannot force other believers to accept us as fellow-believers. But, fortunately, accepting them is not dependent on their accepting us. And by ‘accepting’, I do not mean believing their doctrines, of course. I just mean acknowledging them as followers of Jesus.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Chas says:

      Tony, God can always work through those of us who are willing, because He can give us words to overcome the arguments put forward by those who oppose Him. It follows that He can make use of the various translations of the Bible to provide us with some of those words. I have known several examples where preachers have used the words that occur in a particular translation to see, or to support, a point considered to be of importance.

      Liked by 1 person

      • tonycutty says:

        “…examples where preachers have used the words that occur in a particular translation to see, or to support, a point considered to be of importance.” – I have to admit that I too am guilty of that! It’s the reason that whenever I go to my housegroup, I take along my 1978 NIV and my 1939 KJV. Reading them in parallel not only helps me stay cross-eyed but also gives useful information on how the translators have decided to render certain Hebrew or Greek words into English..

        The thing with the New World Translation, though, is that I personally feel that some of the words have been twisted – to be frank, I feel mistranslated – to support certain doctrines; this is not quite the same concept as picking words from different translations to get a balanced viewpoint. In fact, for JWs, looking at other translations would (probably; I am no JW and never have been) be verboten. But I’m not here to knock others’ deeply held beliefs; I’m just using that idea for illustration. You make good points, Chas 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Alan Christensen says:

          Tonycutty: You may be aware of this, but maybe the biggest way the NWT translates to support its doctrines is that they render “kurios” in the NT as “Jehovah” when it suits them. I wouldn’t use it for serious Bible study either. But ON THE OTHER HAND I agree that God is more interested in what’s in the heart than whether our Christology or soteriology or whatever is correct. At least I hope so! I think it’s interesting that in the judgment scene in Mat. 25 both groups address the Judge as “Lord” and they’re judged on their actions rather than on beliefs. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see some “heretical” JWs or Mormons in heaven while many “orthodox” Christians are . . . not.

          Liked by 2 people

          • tonycutty says:

            Mmm, yeah Alan I agree with you. I have had many a Christian argue with me when I’ve declared that idea out loud 😉

            Liked by 1 person

        • Chas says:

          Tony, while many people have learned much from the old KJV, and many people prefer it to other versions, because of what they call its ‘poetry’, the now obsolete language in it is a barrier to understanding. It is also a barrier to it fluent reading. I once heard a passage from one of Paul’s obscure letters being read from it and it was so difficult for the reader, who hesitated and stumbled so much during it that I suspect most of the listeners lost the thread at some point.

          Liked by 1 person

          • tonycutty says:

            I tend to agree, Chas. Fortunately for me, the older language is not a barrier to my understanding, having been fortunate enough to receive a classical education at a British Public School. So I’m used to the Olde English, and don’t have much problem in understanding it. However, even then I have to look in a more modern translation to understand certain words. And it’s on only very, very rare occasions that I would inflict it on others in a public meeting! (Having said that, I did indeed do this last week at house group, but only because the Daniel 7:13ff passage we were studying isn’t that hard to understand in the KJV.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Chas says:

            Tony, no doubt you did plenty of Shakespeare from a similar era too! (Although I greatly agree with someone’s recent statement that you really need to see a Shakespeare play performed in order to fully ‘get’ the meanings.)

            Liked by 2 people

  5. newtonfinn says:

    I agree with the inclusive position with regard to doctrinal beliefs (for me, a Christian is simply one who is caught in Jesus’ net, however one may understand the fisher of men/women), but are we attempting to define THE way to God and eternal life (Jesus), or ONE way among other spiritual traditions, including secular humanism? Jesus’ vision of the final judgment, where the sheep are those who acted compassionately without express religious motives, and the goats are those who failed to so act but did other things in Jesus’ name, presents a paradox, does it not? Belief in Jesus (who he is or what he means) would seem to have nothing to do with eternal life, yet it is Jesus who renders religious doctrine irrelevant for salvation and sets the sole standard of compassion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Newton, you ask an important question, and one with a suggestion that brings an outcry form some believers: that other spiritual traditions are equal to following Jesus. I stand between the positions that Christianity is the ‘only way’ and that all spiritual traditions are equal.

      I respect other traditions, and I do not think they are invalid; the teaching of the Buddha, in particular, have influenced me. On the other hand, I do think that Jesus is unique as the source of eternal life (after life), however in my opinion this does not mean that people of other traditions must identify with Christianity (what heresy is this!). I suspect that all will be invited to accept the gift of eternal life at some point–even after death–without embracing the Christian tradition.

      Regarding the parable of the sheep and goats, I don’t think Jesus was revealing anything about some future judgment, but was expressing to certain Pharisees that loving and caring for others is far better than their detailed attention to legalistic compliance. I do, however, think that attitudes of empathy, compassion, and care for others is very valid even if they are not in conjunction with ‘Christianity’.

      I believe Jesus had an additional important objective other than our loving others though, and that is the expansion of the kingdom of God on earth, an invisible, pervasive Jesus-oriented movement of peace and reconciliation throughout the world. This is not identical with the institutional Church. And it is an aspect of the good news that many good people, including ‘Christians’ are missing.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Chas says:

        Tim, your comment here has brought something to my mind, as I find that I often tend to look at things in a different way. Much of the emphasis in Christianity and the Gospels is on the alleviation of suffering, but it is also important for us to avoid causing suffering. As an example, a very common cause of suffering is bullying, in its various forms, yet this is very important, because it can lead to very serious consequences. An example has been the UK joining the war against Saddam Hussain in Iraq. Tony Blair showed all the classic signs of being a man who had been bullied during childhood. As a result, he submitted to and tried to ingratiate himself to someone whom he saw as a more powerful bully – Bush. He therefore agreed to go to war as Bush’s ally and he himself used bullying of people in the same position in regard to him, in the process of hoodwinking the UK parliament into supporting the war against Iraq.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Chas, I agree that any kind of bullying is domination and is very hurtful, and I cannot see how bullying is consistent with Jesus’ message and example.

          Regarding Iraq, I believe it was a war that should never have happened, and I am sorry that Bush bullied other countries into being involved.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Chas says:

            Tim, it wasn’t this country that he bullied, Barak Obama had the effrontery to try to bully us in the run-up to the recent referendum on withdrawal from the European Union. The response was annoyance that he thought he could bully us. The result showed that he failed, along with numerous other politicians who also thought that we should do what they wanted us to do, rather than them doing what their electorate wanted them to do.

            Liked by 2 people

  6. mandibelle16 says:

    30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[a] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] There is no commandment greater than these.”

    This is what I grew up believing, to be the most central aspect of Christianity along with believing in Jesus as Gods son who died on the cross to save us from sin and give us eternal life. Pretty much any denomination that holds these beliefs true are considered Christians.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Mandi, I would say that is a pretty good statement!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Chas says:

      It is such a pity that the first of these Great Commandments is so ignored.

      Liked by 2 people

      • newtonfinn says:

        I quite agree. But here’s a story from the Network of Spiritual Progressives website (told by Arun Gandhi) which indicates that following the second of the greatest commandments leads to the following of the first.

        “In the mid-1930s when the leader of the “untouchable” caste, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, threatened to leave the Hindu religion and adopt a new one, scores of Christian and Muslim missionaries flocked to India hoping to convert some 160 million who were condemned to the lowest status in life. They stood on street corners and denounced Hinduism and offered equality and respect to those who would convert. A few did, but a large majority shunned these overtures. Several weeks later a Christian missionary, a close friend of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, asked him why the lower caste did not accept this offer. Gandhi’s reply was prophetic. He said “The day you stop talking about how good Christianity is and start living it, everyone will be willing to convert.”

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Newton, this is a good story; thanks for sharing it. I think there is a telling hint in it that might not be immediately apparent: The Muslim missionaries said they would offer equality and respect TO THOSE WHO WOULD CONVERT. Why not offer equality and respect to all of them?

          Christians often need to answer the same question.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. Charlotte Robertson says:

    Thank you so much for your writings. Where I live nowadays are many fundamentalist Christians. Even the Tesco delivery man is preaching at me. All from the goodness of his heart, but one feels judged and found wanting. I agree so with Mandi. This text was read in our church in Amsterdam every Sunday and it has stayed with me as the most important of all, because it encompasses the Law and the Prophets.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Charlotte, I know what it is like to be surrounded by fundamentalists because I was one myself until I began to see things differently. The other fundamentalists did not, and I was still surrounded for a long time.

      I am glad you find the writings helpful; my whole purpose is to help and support those battling doctrinal baggage.

      Like

    • Chas says:

      Charlotte, I like that ‘preaching at’, rather than ‘preaching to’. So much said in one word!

      Liked by 2 people

  8. mark says:

    If we listen to Jesus with our heart and not our head,…we will see that He taught us to do what is right instead of following the edicts from the Seat of Moses. Where is virtue in telling a person to be blessed and well fed while you do naught to help them. We must be doers and not pew sitting hearers.
    I see His message based on action and natural law as opposed to written law. And so by that, many will have a very different opinion than others on what they hold to believe..
    While this is not a “works” salvation…..it requires action from the hand as opposed to fine tuned theology. To me its the “Spirit” of the law and not the Letter” of the law that counts.
    But that after all is just my opinion among many

    Liked by 3 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Mark, you say that this is ‘after all is just my opinion among many’, but I think it is a solid opinion and one that more believers ought to embrace. I agree that Jesus taught us to do what is right and did not ask us to develop a fine tuned theology.

      Theology is useful and even necessary to some point, but it is not our central task and should not be a tool for rejecting fellow-believers.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks for this, I started out on a journey of questioning all my long held, 50 years of Evangelical and Pentecostal beliefs a couple of years ago. It is a long and painful journey undoing so much of what I have been taught to accept without question and I am sure that the process will continue for some time yet. Correct “theology” becomes something to hide behind and thus becomes the main focus of many churches, I actually cannot remember the last time that I heard it preached to “love the Lord your God ….. and Love your neighbour as yourself”, which was Jesus’s simple message to those who He called to follow him.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Andrew, I am glad you are on your journey, even though it is long and painful. My journey contained some very painful times as well. But we cannot ever become mature believers by accepting what we are taught to accept without question.

      I hope you are feeling stable now in your direction, but always feel free to bring up questions here if you think we can be helpful. And always feel free to express yourself here.

      Like

  10. Samyaza says:

    I was also like that. I believe people who don’t believe in trinity are heretics. But then I found a Jesus Christ fb page (which was liked by almost everybody), continuously preaching about hell, non stop. I found it so abhorrent, because I live in a pluralistic society and Christians were minority. I seek alternatives and I found progressive Christianity. I found that many of the beliefs to be unconventional. But I just know that this is the right thing, even though some progressive Christians don’t believe in the trinity.

    When I think about it, all this war and violence happen because that thing called hell. Because if I believed eternal hell existed, I’d be obliged to save people from it. Even if by using violence. Even at the cost of some lives. It would be the right thing to do to sacrifice some in order to save more, wouldn’t it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Samyaza, I agree. Hell is a very harmful belief. It creates fear and causes people to condemn others and badger them to accept their harmful beliefs to ‘save their souls’. I talk more about harmful beliefs at https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/2014/09/22/6-religious-beliefs-that-cause-tremendous-harm/.

      And I have several article on the problems of believing in eternal torture in hell at https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/books-and-resources/hell/.

      Like

    • Chas says:

      War and violence occur because of the destruction in the minds of people. To think that they can be eliminated by further acts of violence is folly, because violence gives birth to more violence through acts of revenge and retribution. Such things would be abhorrent to God, who seeks to minimize suffering. To consider the use of violence as a means to keep people out of danger is close to saying that ‘the end justifies the means’. This is a path that is fraught with many dangers.

      Liked by 1 person

      • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

        Chas, I believe, as you do, that violence leads to more violence. And there is no end to it.

        Like

        • newtonfinn says:

          But is it really that simple? A mad dog is about to attack a child and you have a gun. Now substitute a mad man about to kill or molest a child. Etc., etc., etc. What did Jesus really mean about turning the cheek, refusing to resist evil, even yielding to it? As many have noted, Jesus himself seems to have “lost it” when he saw the temple defiled by profit-seeking commerce, flagrant self-interest which drove a wedge between the people and their experience of a transcendent God starkly juxtaposed to mammon.

          When do we willingly walk the extra mile? And when do we make a whip and drive out wrongdoing that injures the innocent? If only such questions could be answered by a blanket repudiation of violence. There is much wisdom in an old saying, one that recognizes both the general principle and the exception: “Rules are made to be broken.” It seems to me that our relationship to God and Jesus is most intense and intimate when we grapple, sometimes in “fear and trembling,” with these rule-breaking decisions.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Chas says:

            The driving out of the traders from the temple is written by a man who thought that God would behave like a man. As for the example of a man who was about to kill a child, you are not in God’s position to see what would cause the least suffering. It is possible that if the man killed the child without pain, but an action of yours might result in the child dying in agony, then his killing the child painlessly would result in less overall suffering. You do not know what is the best thing to do in any circumstances, but God does. You can only do what you feel is right, because God will have anticipated your response when He let you come into that place at that time.

            Like

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Newton, you raise a legitimate question: Is violence never appropriate?

            I would never shoot a mad dog attacking a child because I do not own guns. But I would definitely hit it with a plank or a hammer or whatever else was at hand. I would also defend a person from being attacked by another person, but I would hate to kill the attacker, as many people would do with little thought.

            I think that what Jesus meant was not to retaliate (against being slapped or punched) and not to violently resist those (like soldiers) who force us into labor. This is because our lives as citizens of the kingdom of God are not consumed with our personal rights in society as such.

            I hold by my statement that violence leads to more violence, but you are right that this is not a simple issue; it has nuance and we must consider each situation differently. I would protect a person from another person, at my own risk, attempting to do as little harm as possible. Yet I still oppose the idea that violence solves anything.

            You asked about Jesus in the Temple. Many people point to that as uncontrolled violence, but I don’t think so. People talk of Jesus beating the merchants with whips, but the passages do not say that; he simply used whips to drive the livestock away.

            In fact, I don’t think it was as much an emotional act as a prophetic one–like many of the symbolic acts of the OT prophets. Jesus was making a point, which the people seem to have noticed, but I sincerely doubt that he thought it would make a bit of practical difference; the merchants would be right back in business as soon as they set up their tables again.

            To the question: Did this lead to more violence? Yes it did. According to the Synoptic gospels, this incident led directly to Jesus’ capture and death, as I am sure Jesus expected it would.

            Liked by 1 person

  11. michaeleeast says:

    In the end our hearts are more important then our minds.
    The mind may become rigid but the heart makes concessions.
    God dwells in the heart. This is all we need to know.

    Liked by 2 people

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