In my earliest days as a beginning theologian, I understood well my conservative upbringing. I knew intimately the points and counterpoints of some pretty intense theological debates.
I was well versed in the different papers and publications put out by the differing and dueling editor-bishops. I knew what schools held to what doctrinal positions. I understood what would happen if I aligned myself to this camp or another.
There were theological giants walking among us and I was quite eager to hear everything they said.
For years I thrived in that atmosphere. I was a living sponge soaking up those doctrinal differences and arguments—reveling in my knowledge, honing my own ability to dissect, discourse, and write.
A large portion of my life involved doctrine, doctrinal analysis, debates, discussions, and like the proverb says, iron sharpening iron.
The little dictionary capability that resides within my word processor defines lockstep like this:
- a way of marching with each person as close as possible to the one in front.
- close adherence to and emulation of another’s actions.
Yes, I was good at maintaining the right positions and attitudes—I could march and fit in—and I did.
I did at least until a pesky thing called ministry got in the way.
Ministry or the art of ministering into the lives of others was where I found myself more times than not. I could only retreat into my study and the scholarship of which I love for so long before real life had to be challenged.
Ministry meant interacting in the messy lives of others—and confronting my own messiness in the process.
Along the way, a funny thing happened (here’s where I probably lose the next preaching job or opportunity). As I became intimately involved with the lives of hurting broken people—as I came alongside them with the brokenness and hurt of my own life, I found it harder and harder to maintain some of my positions.
Sometimes it was because my positions didn’t hold water in the practicality of living out my faith—at other times, I realized that in the grip of pain and struggle, I couldn’t often afford the luxury of smug self-assurance.
At this point in my life, I have apparently lost the ability to march in lockstep. Or maybe you might consider me a round peg in a square hole.
And it’s not that I am advocating for you to rethink your arguments or positions. I am not all that worried about knowing whose theology is more accurate, yours or mine.
But here’s the rub: things that were once so important have lost their impetus.
I have come to believe that in the context of theology—and in the context of how we live our lives, a lot of doctrine and theology—bad, misguided, or completely correct—is overshadowed by the two greatest commands: Love God & Love Others.
I desperately want to have a ministry again one day. But in the trauma and heartache of my life, I have come to realize that nothing matters more than how I love God by loving others.
Living out that ideology might just be the biggest and best ministry any of us can have.
Yes, I am not sure where I fit into the theological world today… and yes, I respect your beliefs and opinions. But…
I choose to remember the words of Peter in 1 Peter 4:8, Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
Les Ferguson, Jr.