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Early in the pastorate, parents of six children called me to their home. The beloved family pet had died, and the kids had important questions they needed answered: “Will we see our dog again? Is he in heaven?” I recall giving a theological response that probably left them a little cold—something about only humans having a soul. Years later, I happily took up the conversation with them again. I told them I had reconsidered my position on the matter; having forgotten that at the end of the age there not only is a promised new heaven, but also a new earth—and what’s a new earth without animals? With a smile I said, “I think you might see that old dog of yours again!”
I don’t foresee us (Evangelical Reformed Church) being labeled “light on doctrine” anytime soon. We are the sons and daughters of the Reformation. Many of our forebearers were bloodied and burned for holding firm to biblical truth. They held fast to the Apostle Paul’s admonition, “Watch your life and doctrine closely” (1 Timothy 4:16). We are vigilant to do the same.
That said, some wise theologian from centuries past said the best and greatest biblical scholar is probably only 80% right. It’s that leftover 20% that should keep us humble. If we could identify it we would. Because we don’t know which dogma may have strayed from the little white line, it’s a good idea to speak our creed rather than screaming it. There is something about the reasoned and soft spoken man that is more appealing than the guy with scary eyes flailing his arms and yelling at the one who disagrees.
This is not to say we are to be squishy on truth. There’s certainly enough of that going around. It does mean, however, we are to be gracious as we hold the line. One can still be winsome while holding his sword and shield.
As I look back over the years of church ministry, there are some things I wish I hadn’t said. There are far more incidents where I wished I had said something differently. Zeal and tact are not adversaries; in fact, when they work together their sum is greater than their parts. I would go so far as to say we may even win some theological argument or doctrinal point not for what we say, but how we say it. The guy who penned Proverbs 15:1, after all, was pretty smart: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
I don’t know if dogs go to heaven. I have met a few I’m pretty convinced that will not! But the principle good to remember is that when I argue one way or the other, I may be wrong. And remembering that may help me win the argument.
Pastor Rich Hamlin
February 27, 2014