A mate tells me a story about the first time he played golf. Needless to say he sucked. One shot was far left and in the trees and the other was far right in the water. His friend that took him out to play golf said that he was only off by a few millimeters! My friend then hit another ball in the water and said “Yeah looks like it!”. His friend said “No your club face is just a few millimeters off from where it should be. If you turn the club face a tiny bit in the wrong direction in has huge results. A small change here means huge changes down there!”
I hate golf but I think this is a great analogy for doctrine. Because if doctrine shifts subtly in one area we may not see the full affects of this shift till we we are long gone. A small change in doctrine can have huge affects later on down the line. And therefore we must assess changes in doctrine, however subtle, just on whether they are still within in the bounds of evangelical belief but also how will this shift affect the witness of the gospel in future generations. Small changes in doctrine may mean huge changes in later generations. This is what P.T Forsyth helpfully pointed out about a century ago:
The ideas at the centre of the Christian faith are too large, too deep and subtle, to show their effects in one age; and the challenge of them does not show its effect in one generation or even in two. Individuals, society, and the Church, indeed, are able to go on, externally almost unaffected, by the way that they have upon them from the past; and it is only within the range of several generations that the destruction of truths with such a comprehensive range as those of Christianity takes effect. Therefore it is part of the duty of the Church, in certain sections and on certain occasions, to be less concerned about the effect of the Gospel upon the individual immediately, or on the present age, and to look ahead to what may be the result of certain changes in the future. God sets watchmen in Zion who have to keep their eye on the horizon; and it is only a drunken army that could scout their warning. We are not only bound to attend to the needs and interests of the present generation; we are trustees for a long future, as well as a long past. Therefore it is quite necessary that the Church should give very particular attention to these central and fundamental points whose influence, perhaps, is not so promptly prized, and whose destruction would not be so mightily felt at once, but would certainly become apparent in the days and decades ahead. P.T. Forsyth The Work of Christ, pp. 142-43
Let us not be historically naive Let us make sure we learn from the past and see how small shifts in doctrines may mean huge losses in the future.
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