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The Evolution of Christian Doctrine
By doctrine is meant the human definition of sacred truth.
(Note: The doctrinal–development theories of Bishop John Newman do not dance here).
The Lord Jesus
asked His disciples – "Have you understood all these things?" [the parables]
     They said to Him, 'Yes'.
     And He said to them,
'Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of [the God of] heaven
is like a head of a household, who brings forth out of his treasure things new and old'."

Matthew 13:51–52.
Yet sadly,
growth of doctrinal understanding in the Christian church, when compared to the perspective of its founding documents in the New Testament, has been a downward path as much as it has ever been an upward one.
is ample evidence in Church history that –
loss of understanding unavoidably accompanies or (perhaps more correctly) is a symptom of spiritual decline;
and that sadly,
this trend sets in very soon after the initial invigorating discovery or rediscovery of spiritual truth has begun to loose its initial momentum.
re – discovery of the doctrinal perspectives that are reflected in our New Testament is the continuing challenge of the Holy Spirit to Christ's community of the faithful.
This challenge, however, occurs at the meeting place of two elements, namely –
The intrinsic fallibility of the human mind in its process of thought;
The perspective of the Holy Spirit reflected in the text of sacred scripture.
So, with
a prayer for the continued fellowship of the Spirit of truth to lead us (as was promised) into all truth of Him who loves us and gave Himself for us – the following contribution of two particularly blessed minds is worth seriously noting –
1. Charles G. Finney  
minds, unless they are asleep or stultified by prejudice, must advance in knowledge. The discovery of new truth will modify old views and opinions, and there is perhaps no end to this process with finite minds in any world. True Christian consistency does not consist in stereotyping our opinions and views, and in refusing to make any improvement lest we should be guilty of change, but it consists in holding our minds open to receive the rays of truth from every quarter and in changing our views and language and practice as often and as fast, as we can obtain further information. I call this Christian profession.
Christian profession implies the profession of candor and of a disposition to know and obey all truth. It must follow, that Christian consistency implies continued investigation and change of views and practice corresponding with increasing knowledge. No Christian, therefore, and no theologian should be afraid to change his views, his language, or his practices in conformity with increasing light. The prevalence of such a fear would keep the world, at best, at a perpetual stand–still, on all subjects of science, and consequently all improvements would be precluded.
uninspired attempt to frame for the church an authoritative standard of opinion which shall be regarded as an unquestionable exposition of the Word of God, is not only impious in itself, but it is also a tacit assumption of the fundamental dogma of Papacy. The Assembly of Divines (who formulated the Westminster Confession) did more than to assume the necessity of a Pope to give law to the opinions of men; they assumed to create an immortal one, or rather to embalm their own creed, and preserve it as the Pope of all generations; or it is more just to say, that those who have adopted that confession of faith and catechism as an authoritative standard of doctrine, have absurdly adopted the most obnoxious principle of Popery, and elevated their confession and catechism to the Papal throne and into the place of the Holy Ghost." (Finney's Preface to Lectures on Systematic Theology, 1851, format edited).
2. H. Wheeler Robinson  
true teacher knows that he must always be gaining new knowledge himself, in order to impart old knowledge in fresh and convincing fashion. Popular ideas of education, secular or religious, often make it the stereotyped repetition of a text–book, which a gramophone would do more efficiently. But we must always be discovering new truth to be convinced and convincing in regard to the old. So it is with the Church. Unless she is continually led by the Spirit into a deeper realization of God, and therefore a larger truth about Him, her repetition of ancient creeds will fail of its purpose, her devotion to the Bible will become pathetic antiquarianism.
for the new developments of Christian truth, their truth will always be tested by the reaction of Christian life to them, which means the acceptance or rejection of them by the Holy Spirit, as vehicles of His activity.
to this final and infallible test, there is the intellectual sifting of new truth by its congruity with the old, not so much in form as in principle. Where there is continuous life, there will be some continuity of principle that will carry us back to the historic bases of the Church. This is the right ground for the study of origins; they do not limit the truth, but they do form its root." (The Christian Experience of the Holy Spirit, Collins, 1962:135-136, format edited).

Remember – all truth is not of equal value!  
personal discovery of a new aspect of truth carries its value in the inspiration it provides to live the Christian life. Illumination of the truth to our minds is an instrument in healing the Body of Christ. But, where 'truth' is used to separate believers who withdraw into groupings that claim to be more 'right' than others – the very purpose of the truth has been violated.
In the lives of others, especially in the experience of the local church, the understanding and practice of certain truths needs to precede other truths.
    understanding spiritual-rebirth ought to precede an understanding of baptism;
    understanding baptism ought to precede an understanding of the Lord's Supper; and,
    understanding the Lord's Supper (Eucharist) ought to precede an understanding of the use of head-covering in ministry.
does not imply some hierarchical structure of truth. The most important truth in any situation is simply what is needed to take the next step of personal obedience to the Lord, individually or as a congregation.
However, 'understanding' more than others must not be held to ransom by disobedience. 
the pastoral relationship/responsibility of a local church, a willingness to accommodate that church's experience of truth is simply part of being a member of that church – just as a convoy moves at the speed of the slowest ship.
This is love.

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