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It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone the existence of doctrinal discrepancies among different branches of Christianity. Most of the time, these doctrinal differences arise from the differing ways in which theologians and Christians in general interpret the Scriptures. You don't see these sorts of discrepancies in mathematics, where theorems can be readily verified by anyone: it's just a matter of following the logical steps of the theorem's proof. Given the initial set of axioms, and provided that the proof is logically valid, there is no question about the final conclusion, and anyone can agree and verify by themselves the truth of the theorem.

Unfortunately, this is far from being the case in Christianity with regards to many doctrines (e.g. the Nature of God, the Trinity, the Sabbath, the Feast Days, the Law, Tithing, the Gifts of the Spirit, Tongues, Miracles, Christology, Pneumatology, Intercession of the Saints, etc.). In contrast to formal mathematical proofs, doctrines instead are typically defended via abductive arguments, where a certain doctrine is held as the "most plausible" explanation for the Scriptural evidence (a set of passages interpreted in a certain way), and possibly historical and testimonial evidence. Relying on abductive arguments to defend a position in a doctrinal dilemma sounds a reasonable approach, but we need to be aware of the fact that abductive arguments are not formal logical proofs -- they are not bullet proof. Thus, there will always be some room for uncertainty ("what if my interpretation is wrong?"), especially in the case of very controversial doctrines.

Question: Are there any denominations that openly acknowledge the existence of (some) uncertainty in (some of) their doctrines, and provide official advice to their members on how to handle that uncertainty?


Related: Are there theological explanations for why God allowed ambiguity to exist in Scripture?

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    I think there is a group called the Heisen Bergers which deal largely with this very issue, but I'm not sure. They had a Principle to help deal with things about which they were not sure. Their leader was called Werner. – Andrew Shanks Mar 1 at 18:19
  • @andrew shanks well played, that is a fantastic response!!!! I actually laughed out loud on that one =) – Hold To The Rod Mar 3 at 2:40
  • Having discussed this question with a large number of denomination at the professional and educated theological level - ALL acknowledge incomplete and imperfect knowledge as per 1 Cor 13:12. What happens in the pews is an entirely different matter. – Dottard Mar 3 at 2:49
  • @HoldToTheRod - Thumbs up. Keep your seat dry. – Andrew Shanks Mar 3 at 11:57
  • I'm confident Anglicans do somewhere. But I can't point you to where. – Stephen Collings May 3 at 0:37
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There are uncertainties within denominations and between denominations. There are also things denominations differ on and yet are each "sure" of.

An Independent Conservative Baptist Church I know of propounds a concept called "truths in tension" regarding uncertainty within the theology of the denomination. For example, the absolute, universal sovereignty of God is held in one hand and individual human choice is held in the other hand. These two can not be fully reconciled but neither can either one be released or denigrated since they are clearly revealed in Scripture.

Many eschatological theorems fall into this category. The pre-millenial, pre-tribulational rapture of the church, for example, might be taught as true within a denomination while at the same time not as necessary to believe for salvation.

Regarding uncertainty within and between denominations another concept is coined "in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity". Under this concept a Baptist could, for instance, have Christian fellowship with an Adventist since those things which are considered essentials to the Baptist are held by the Adventist and the differences reside in the non-essential category. The Adventist might not be able to reciprocate if some of the differences in the Baptist non-essential category are in the Adventist essential category.

Christian fellowship between a Baptist and a Jehovah's Witness (for example) would be impossible due to sharp divergence on essential doctrine. These two might enjoy personal or professional friendship as falling into the "in all things charity" slot.

Obviously essentials, non-essentials, Christian fellowship, and a whole host of terms then need definition...resulting in continued uncertainty and disagreement.

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    "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity" - a sound concept that originated in Methodism, I believe. – Lesley Feb 27 at 14:09
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    I’m not thinking this addresses the crux of the question – Kris Feb 27 at 15:32
  • @Kris What is unaddressed, please? – Mike Borden Feb 28 at 14:35
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    Could you please put more focus on the question at hand: Are there any denominations that openly acknowledge the existence of (some) uncertainty in (some of) their doctrines, and provide official advice to their members on how to handle that uncertainty? Your response deals largely with the discrepancies between denominations. That is not what the questioner is speaking about and as such is out of context here. – Ken Graham Feb 28 at 19:24
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    Adding ”within and” is an insufficient editing to this post. – Ken Graham Mar 2 at 0:35
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Are there any denominations that openly acknowledge the existence of (some) uncertainty in (some of) their doctrines, and provide official advice to their members on how to handle that uncertainty?

Such options do exist in Catholic teachings. At least, if I understand your question correctly.

They are usually based on very specific, yet limited circumstances.

For example the question of evolution? It is permitted for Catholics to accept the theory of evolution over the tradition traditional views of creations.

Pope Pius XII's encyclical of 1950, Humani generis, was the first encyclical to specifically refer to evolution and took up a neutral position, again concentrating on human evolution:

The Church does not forbid that ... research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter.

Pope Pius XII's teaching can be summarized as follows:

  • The question of the origin of man's body from pre-existing and living matter is a legitimate matter of inquiry for natural science.

  • Catholics are free to form their own opinions, but they should do so cautiously; they should not confuse fact with conjecture, and they should respect the Church's right to define matters touching on Revelation.

  • Catholics must believe, however, that humans have souls created immediately by God. Since the soul is a spiritual substance it is not brought into being through transformation of matter, but directly by God, whence the special uniqueness of each person. All men have descended from an individual, Adam, who has transmitted original sin to all mankind. Catholics may not, therefore, believe in "polygenism", the scientific hypothesis that mankind descended from a group of original humans (that there were many Adams and Eves).

Some theologians believe Pius XII explicitly excludes belief in polygenism as licit. Another interpretation might be this: As we have nowadays in fact models of thinking of how to reconcile polygenism with the original sin, it need not be condemned. The relevant sentence is this:

Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion (polygenism) can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own. — Pius XII, Humani generis, 37 and footnote refers to Romans 5:12–19; Council of Trent, Session V, Canons 1–4

Evolution and the Catholic Church

Catholic believes in the Assumption of Mary. The definition however does not touch on the question of how or if Mary died. Some believe she was assumed into heaven without dying. However tradition holds she physically died before her her Assumption. Catholics are free to believe either theory, but must hold to the dogma of the Assumption of Mary.

In 1950 Pope Pius XII invoked papal infallibility to define the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin in his Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus:

We proclaim and define it to be a dogma revealed by God that the immaculate Mother of God, Mary ever virgin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven.

Assumption of Mary

In the dogmatic statement, the phrase "having completed the course of her earthly life" was carefully written to leave open the question of whether or not Mary died before her Assumption, or whether, like the Assumption of the Prophet Elijah, Mary was assumed before death; both possibilities are allowed in the formulation. It is a question of nuance!

When points of dogma are unsure, theologian often speculate on their outcomes. Rome has given us a few guidelines to follow here.

When the dogmatic material with the help of the historical method has been derived from its sources, another momentous task awaits the theologian: the philosophical appreciation, the speculative examination and elucidation of the material brought to light. This is the purpose of the "scholastic" method from which "scholastic theology" takes its name.

The scope of the scholastic method is fourfold:

  • to open up completely the content of dogma and to analyze it by means of dialectics;

  • to establish a logical connection between the various dogmas and to unite them in a well-knit system;

  • to derive new truths, called "theological conclusions" from the premises by syllogistic reasoning;

  • to find reasons, analogies, congruous arguments for the dogmas;

But above all to show that the mysteries of faith, though beyond the reach of reason, are not contrary to its laws but can be made acceptable to our intellect. It is evident that the ultimate purpose of these philosophical speculations cannot be to resolve dogma finally into mere natural truths, or to strip the mysteries of their supernatural character, but to explain the truths of faith, to provide for them a philosophical basis, to bring them nearer to the human mind. Faith must ever remain the solid rock-bottom on which reason builds up, and faith in its turn strives after understanding (fides quoerens intellectum). Hence the famous axiom of St. Anselm of Canterbury: Credo ut intellegam. However highly one may esteem the results of positive theology, one thing is certain: the scientific character of dogmatic theology does not rest so much on the exactness of its exegetical and historical proofs as on the philosophical grasp of the content of dogma. But in attempting this task, the theologian cannot look for aid to modern philosophy with its endless confusion, but to the glorious past of his own science. - Dogmatic Theology (Methods of dogmatic theology)

As both scientia and sapientia, theology is not merely an historical undertaking but is a study of the truth concerning God, a task as necessary today as it has been in every age. We aim to recover the study of the theological tradition from those who would relegate it to mere history, and we thereby hope to undertake the pursuit of holy wisdom by following in the footsteps of the Fathers and Doctors of the Catholic Church.

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UU (Unitarian Universalist) "Christians" recognize errancy in the Gospels, using scripture only for insight into understanding the concept of God. The UUA (Unitarian Universalist Association) publicly states: "scripture is never the only word, or the final word." [How then is UUA, Christian?] - The Unitarian Universalist Association explains their own perspective of wisdom literature at uua.org:

Most Unitarian Universalist [Christians] believe in God, but not the traditional God-as-Trinity that most Christian churches promote. The UU Christian God is all-loving, as our Universalist forbears taught, and a unity, as our Unitarian forebears taught. This God is too big to be contained in one person, one book, one tradition, or one time in history. To UU Christians, Jesus is an inspiration and his teachings are profound—he possesses a divine spark that is born in all of us, and can be cultivated our whole lives long.

Our congregations celebrate Christmas and Easter with a liberal and inclusive twist. Our style of worship and day of worship are from the Christian tradition, even though our worship draws from many sources. The Bible and its many interpretations have largely shaped our history.

Some of our UU congregations are Christian in orientation, worshipping regularly with the New Testament, offering Communion, and celebrating Christian holidays throughout the year. All of our congregations welcome people with Christian backgrounds and beliefs.

https://www.uua.org/beliefs/what-we-believe/beliefs/christianity

On "Sacred" Texts:

One might say that life is our scripture. While Unitarianism and Universalism both have roots in the Protestant Christian tradition, where the Bible is the sacred text, we now look to additional sources for religious and moral inspiration. Over two centuries, our religious tradition, a “living tradition,” has branched out from its roots. We celebrate the spiritual insights of the world’s religions, recognizing wisdom in many scriptures.

When we read scripture in worship, whether it is the Bible, the Dhammapada, or the Tao Te-Ching, we interpret it as a product of its time and its place. There is wisdom there, and there are inspiring stories, but scripture is not to be interpreted narrowly or oppressively. It can be beautiful, inspirational and wise. But in our tradition, scripture is never the only word, or the final word.

From the beginning we have trusted in the human capacity to use reason and draw conclusions about religion. Influenced by experience, culture, and community, each of us ultimately chooses what is sacred to us.

https://www.uua.org/beliefs/what-we-believe/sacred-texts

Are UU "Christians" all about serving You or God? - That is a totally different question.

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    If UU aren't Christians, what's this answer doing here? If they are, why put the term in quotes (or ask "How then is UUA, Christian")? – One God the Father Mar 2 at 6:25

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