We’ve heard a lot about how what we believe really doesn’t matter – at least as it regards our moral behavior – so long as we can gather around the table in fellowship.
To that, I respectfully, but firmly disagree. What we believe and how we behave have great impact on our relationship with God.
As human beings, we were designed to worship. Worship is built into the human psyche. We will always find something to worship. What we worship is critically important. When we worship false gods, they lead to death because they lead us from the author of life. Worshipping a false God leads us from life into the darkness and loneliness of hell.
Now, here is the great joke and great secret. We all worship a false god. I don’t mean that we do this intentionally, but that we all have false ideas of God and we worship the God we know. Our prayer should be to know God as He truly Is, not as we perceive Him to be. But this is impossible because we lack the capacity to know God as He truly Is. We cannot comprehend God. We can only apprehend God.
Now, each of us understands God a little differently. That is why we need the community of the Church. That is why I need you and you need me. As +Rowan Williams said, only the whole Church knows the whole truth (or as much of it as can be known).
Our inability to know God as He Is is another reason why dogmatic theology or systematic theology or the study of theology is important as well as the study of Holy Scripture . The Creeds and the teaching of the Church give us a much better frame work to know God. They are record by which we know which God we are worshipping and serve as signposts that tell us to turn around (repent) and return to the God made known in Holy Scripture and in the theology of the Church – particularly the theological statements that are the Creeds.
In Holy Scripture, God’s relationship with Israel is often described in terms of a husband/wife relationship. The church is called the Bride of Christ and has been referred to by the term “Holy Mother Church.”
I have been married to my wife for over 20 years. I will never understand or fully know her. She is a mystery to me and I anticipate continued joy as I spend the rest of my life trying to understand the mystery that is my wife. But that does not give me leave to sleep with another woman based on “mistaken identity.” If I crawl into bed and there is a 5’2” blonde with blue eyes, then that is not my wife and I had better get out of bed immediately!
If we find that the God we worship is no the same as the God revealed in Holy Scripture or discovered in the creeds, then we better return to the God of Scripture immediately. If we find that our idea of God conflicts with what the Church says (and has always said) about God, then we had better reform our ideas rather than try to reform the Church.
If we worship “the ground of being” rather that God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; then we are worshipping a false God and that worship will (unless we repent) lead to our spiritual death.
So, the study of theology is not “academic;” it is very important. It further makes known God as He Is. But the theology we study and learn needs to be grounded in Holy Scripture first and foremost. We need to worship, not the god we know of, but God as He has revealed Himself in Holy Scripture and the teaching of the Church.