Almost ten years ago, I was with a friend who was venting his frustration and hurt over the recent loss of friends because of doctrinal differences.
A few days earlier, we had finished three days of fellowship and teachings with many saints on the West Coast. Shortly after the weekend had ended, some people from his fellowship confronted him about a few statements the guest speaker had made regarding his belief that Jesus is not God,  which was contrary to their Trinitarian doctrine. My friend was hurt because he was very close to these people and they had now decided to no longer attend his home fellowship. As we talked, I realized that my friend had never been completely honest with his fellowship about the doctrinal differences between them. I was stunned when he announced to me that he was “no longer going to put his doctrine before relationship.” What shook me was that he was abandoning his doctrine, and also his relationship with me (and others), in favor of his relationship with them. His hurt became my pain as I saw my relationship with him coming to a fork in the road, with each of us possibly choosing different paths. I knew that I was not going to forsake my beliefs for his friendship. I also knew I needed to learn how to walk with balance in my doctrine and my relationships.
Sadly, I must admit that this is not the only time I have experienced the tension that can happen between doctrine and relationship. Shortly after going to college, I began to attend Bible study classes. I quickly saw a disparity between my Roman Catholic upbringing and what I was learning from God’s Word. Needless to say, this became quite disconcerting to my parents and some other family members as I abandoned the Catholic faith for the Protestant message. Thankfully, time has healed many of the relational wounds, some of which I had created in my youthful zeal (declaring people’s beliefs as “totally wrong” has never gone far in engendering close relationships, but then, I hadn’t learned this lesson yet). Now, after close to forty years since first accepting Christ in college, the tension between what a person believes (doctrine) and their relationships (practice) is clearer than ever to me.
I have become very aware that our closeness with others is strongly affected by our beliefs. It is normal to feel a closer bond and connection to others who have similar likes, dislikes, beliefs, and viewpoints. Clearly, the more I have in common with another, the closer we feel. And certainly we do not have to agree about everything in life to have a relationship with another person. On the contrary, it is the mature person who often has associations with a great diversity of people. Nevertheless, it does seem that the more common ground that two people share, the closer they are.
I believe that everyone is born with a heart’s desire to be connected to others. Over time some people may, to varying degrees, lose some of this desire, but this loss is usually the result of relational hurts, rather than the lack of an innate desire for connection. Being rejected by others hurts emotionally, and a great source of rejection comes from the differences between people’s religious beliefs, about which many people are very passionate (in addition to sports and politics). We can have relationships that avoid any controversial subjects or any sources of potential disagreement, but then what types of relationships would they really be? Another alternative is that we could eliminate all relationships with people who think differently from us, but then that would leave us with some pretty bland gatherings, too.
Truth should be the Foundation of our Doctrine and our Practice
The correct way to relate to others is not to forsake doctrine in favor of relationship or to put relationship before doctrine, because the root of the problem lies deeper than this. Doctrine and practice are merely expressions of truth. Truth is the fulcrum upon which all of one’s doctrine and practice balance. If I do not have truth as the basis for my beliefs and actions, imbalance will be manifested in every aspect of my life. God desires that our doctrine and our practice both flow from a foundation of truth. He designed all men to live with truth in their hearts. David said in Psalm 51:6 “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” God is true , and everything He says (His Word) is true , and everything He does (His creation) demonstrates truth.  He never intended that there be any separation between what a person knows and what he does, and in fact, the theme of doctrine and practice is repeated throughout His Word.
1 Timothy 4:16
“Watch your life [practice] and doctrine closely…”
1 Timothy 4:12
“…set an example [practice] for the believers in speech [doctrine], in life, in love, in faith and in purity.”
There was a time when gaining an understanding of the role of doctrine and practice became so important to me that I underlined every record I came across where the relationship between the two was mentioned or inferred. Here are a few more clear examples of doctrine and practice.
Philippians 1:9 and 10
(9) And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight [doctrine],
(10) so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless [practice] until the day of Christ…”
Whatever you have learned or received or heard [doctrine] from me, or seen [practice] in me-put it into practice….
For Ezra had devoted himself to the study [doctrine] and observance [practice] of the Law of the LORD…
Truth in practice is demonstrated in how we “relate” to others. Jesus declared that he was “the truth,”  which among other things meant that he was right in all his doctrine and practice. There was no contradiction between what he said and what he did because both flowed from a heart filled with truth.  He is the plumb line, so to speak, the standard for all right thinking and right behaving.
Truth in practice means that we are rightly relating to others, with God receiving our top priority. We are to love God first before all others, and then to love others as ourselves.  Like Jesus, living with truth in relationship means that I am relating to the world and others the way God desires. A person of truth lives with love toward all others. We are also to have mercy, grace, and forgiveness toward others, as well as to manifest all of the fruit of the spirit.
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
The word “sincere” is the Greek word “anupokritos,” which literally means “to be without hypocrisy.” The word “hypocrite” is a transliteration of a Greek word used to describe an actor as he appeared on stage as a person who wore a mask and pretended he was someone different from whom he actually was. If we say that we are truly about relationship, but then we are not truthful in those relationships, we are hypocrites.
God and Jesus Model Truth in Relationship
God made mankind to have a relationship with Him, and throughout His Word He demonstrates what it means to have truth in relationship. He placed Adam and Eve in the Garden and instructed them on how to maintain their relationship with Him. When they disobeyed (failed to walk in the truth), He drove them from the Garden. Unlike Adam and Eve, we should never put our relationships with others above our relationship with God.  He has always been concerned about relationships with mankind, but those relationships are to be based upon truth.
Previously, I cited Romans 12:9, which said that our “Love must be sincere,” but this verse also says that we are to “Hate what is evil.” If my love is sincere, that is, without hypocrisy, I must also hate what is evil. Jesus demonstrated this when he boldly stood against the error of the religious establishment, when he drove the moneychangers from the temple, and when he took many other bold actions. If I am really practicing truth in my relationships, then I stand against evil just like God and Jesus do. Genuine love does not condone error or evil; rather, “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6).
Truth in relationship helps us see things from the perspective of “life everlasting” instead of merely what “feels good” in the moment. I am only kidding myself if I say, “I am all about relationship,” but do not have this perspective. How loving are we really if we know a friend who has not heard about Christ and we remain silent, knowing that without Christ he is destined for death instead of everlasting life? Taking God’s viewpoint always keeps me grounded with truth in my relationships. Doing things God’s way always keeps me loving and living righteously.
When we speak of truth in relationship, we are not saying that we can only associate with people who believe what we do. In his book about King David (David: A Man of Passion & Destiny), Charles Swindoll identifies a range of relationships, which exists for everyone. First, we all have acquaintances. These are people whom we might only see on random occasions, like a grocery clerk. Next are our casual friends, those with whom we share some common interests and a loose bond. These may be friends whom we know through interest groups based upon our hobbies, our neighborhood, work place, or our religion. Then there are close friends, those with whom we share a more open and authentic relationship and with whom we feel a deepening bond. And finally, we may have intimate friends. These are the people who know the good, the bad, the ugly, and, hopefully, the glory of our lives and hearts. We should consider ourselves very blessed if we have a few intimate friends. Jesus even demonstrated this paradigm when he indicated to his closest disciples that they were no longer his servants but his friends.  The point is that we can all live with truth in relationship in every level of connection and friendship described above.
We all crave intimacy, but unfortunately this hunger can lead us into ungodly and compromised relationships. There was a time when I hung out with people who were living very unrighteously. I told myself that if I maintained a close friendship with them, I could win them to Christ. I even did what they were doing to show them that Christians could be “cool,” too. It took me a while to wake up, but I finally realized that this path never works. Putting a good apple in a bowl of bad apples will never turn the bad ones good; rather, the good one always begins to rot.
The problem was that I was compromising on “truth in relationship,” and as a result, I was the one being hurt. God tells us not to be misled because, ‘“…Bad company corrupts good character”’ (1 Cor. 15:33). He also says even more strongly that friendship with the world is equal to hatred toward Him, even making us enemies of God.  The last thing anyone I know would want to be is an enemy of God, but choosing to be friends with the world is exactly that. We need to remember that living with truth in relationship will result in separation from the world. Jesus warned us that he did not come to bring peace, but a sword—and what that sword divides is people.
(34) “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.
(35) For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
(36) a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
Truth in Doctrine
Truth in doctrinal form is expressed in the Bible, God’s Word. This is not all the truth that exists, but some of what God has revealed to mankind. We know that what He has revealed is sufficient to teach us all things we need to know for “life and godliness.”  As genuine truth seekers we are always searching to understand the truth, even the truth about why we believe what we believe. Truth in doctrine is vitally important because it greatly affects how we demonstrate truth in practice.
As truth seekers we always need to be on guard so that our doctrine does not become our enemy, which happens when we become prideful or arrogant in our understanding of truth. This is evidenced when we become calcified in a position, closed-minded, or hard-headed. I often encounter people who are unwilling to even consider the possibility that they misunderstand or are wrong about something. When this happens, I immediately know that they are not genuine truth seekers, because truth seekers are never entrenched in their position for position’s sake. Rather, they are dedicated to their quest for truth, and will always change a position when the evidence indicates that they have been wrong. The Pharisees of the Bible are a great example of people stuck in a position. They were so invested in their private interpretation of Scripture that they missed seeing Jesus, the very subject of God’s Word, even though he stood right in front of them. Closed-minded people are always blind.
Every person’s beliefs are based upon presuppositions. These are assumptions often made without much awareness on our part, which we use to interpret the world (and even Scripture). They tend to cloud our outlook, resulting in false interpretations and understanding. The belief that the world was flat was a false presupposition, which led to the assumption that if the world is flat it must have an edge. Although this was a logical conclusion, the underlying presupposition was false, which resulted in a false conclusion. This also led to the false belief that man would fall off the edge if he sailed too far out to sea, and so on. Truth seekers are solid on what they believe because they have explored the assumptions upon which their reasoning is based. They know what they believe because they know why they believe it.
Truth Brings Balance
Truth in doctrine and relationship always produces balance. Error is always unbalanced and is found in the extremes. When truth is not present in relationship, it will produce people who are hardhearted, coldhearted, unforgiving, and lacking mercy; or on the other extreme, overly sentimental, enabling, undisciplined, and indecisive. Those who do not hold truth in doctrine are on one extreme, legalistic, ossified, and closed-minded, and on the other extreme, tossed to and fro with every new doctrine, whim, fancy, or fad. Holding our doctrine properly is like holding a living thing. I must properly cup my hands so that it does not merely fly away in the breeze, but at the same time, not hold it so firmly that I crush it. Truth is foundational to all healthy doctrine and practice. Truth gives us sound direction in the uncharted waters of life and anchors us through the storms of relationship.
 The guest speaker was a Biblical Unitarian who believed that Jesus was the only begotten Son of God, but was not God the Father. For additional information on our Biblical Unitarian beliefs visit www.BiblicalUnitarian.com
 Jeremiah 10:10: “But the LORD is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King….” John 17:3: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
 Psalm 33:4: “For the word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all he does.” John 17:17: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”
 Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
 John 14:6 states: “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”
 One of the characteristics of truth is that it cannot contradict itself.
 Matthew 22:37-39: (37) Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ (38) This is the first and greatest commandment. (39) And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
 Matthew 22:36-40: (36) “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (37) Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ (38) This is the first and greatest commandment. (39) And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (40) All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
 John 15:15: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
 James 4:4: “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”
 2 Peter 1:3: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”