Jesus answered them and said "My doctrine is not mine, but His that sent me." (John 7:16)Mention the word "doctrine" among church circles, and you will get a variety of different responses. On one hand, there are those who treat doctrine as if it were a dirty word. To them, doctrine is not "politically correct." The basic idea they uphold is that "It really doesn't matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere." This notion is very dangerous, as it undermines the absolute Truth and authority of God's Word.
But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine. (Titus 2:1)
On the other hand there is also a tendency among some others to almost deify doctrine. This view is equally dangerous, as it subtly makes doctrine, rather than Jesus, the object of faith, and reduces Christianity to simply being mental assent to creedal formulas, rather than a living relationship with a Living God.
In this article, I want to look at what the Bible itself says about doctrine, and present a balanced look at the vital role that Bible doctrine plays in the Christian life.
Don't buy the misconception that studying Bible doctrine is some dry, shallow, laborious pursuit. Many of these misconceptions come from the tendency to separate "doctrinal" study from "practical" study. I believe this is largely a false distinction. When approached properly, Bible doctrine is the most practical thing there is. You can always count on fresh bread from God's table!
Take, for example, simple statements such as "God loves you" or "God is Love." You may not have thought about these as being doctrinal statements, but they are, very much so. Think for a moment about how much Truth is wrapped up in even the most basic expression of God's Love. You can chew on John 3:16 for a very long time!
Beginning a relationship with God doesn't require much doctrinal knowledge. The plan of salvation is very simple. However, once a person has committed his or her life to Jesus, the next step is to "Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 3:18) That's where doctrine comes in.
Studying Bible doctrine will help settle and establish us in the faith (Ephesians 4: 14-15,) it helps to keep us on track spiritually (1 Timothy 4: 13-16,) helps us to accurately reflect God's Truth (2 Timothy 2:15,) and equips us for service to Him (2 Timothy 3: 13-17; Ephesians 6: 10-17.)
Except for the Book of Philemon, every Book in the New Testament contains some sort of exhortation to pursue sound doctrine. Scripture also tells us that a person who does not have the doctrine of Christ does not have God (2 John 9,) and that a person who teaches doctrine contrary to that of the apostles is to be accursed (Galatians 1:9!) That is pretty strong language! To say that doctrine is not important is to say that Truth is not important. God is Truth, and He relates to His people based on Truth. What we believe ABOUT God has everything to do with how we relate TO God.
On the other hand, Christianity is much, much more than simply giving mental affirmation to a set of doctrinal creeds. You can know and believe all of the right doctrines, and still be totally lost. It has been said that many people will miss Heaven by 18 inches: Having the Truth in their heads, but not in their hearts.
Knowledge of the Bible is vitally important, to be sure. The Bible teaches us to diligently pursue knowledge of God and His Word ( 2 Timothy 2:15, 3:16; 1 Peter 2:2.) At the same time, it warns that knowledge can also lead to pride (1 Corinthians 8:1.) Knowledge of the Bible, in and of itself, is not necessarily an accurate gauge of a person's spiritual maturity. I have known many people who can quote multitudes of Scriptures from memory, but at the same time, were very mean, very arrogant, and in some cases, very weird!
The purpose of doctrine is not so we can pat ourselves on the back and say "Hey everyone, look how Orthodox WE are!" The purpose of doctrine is to teach us about the heart, nature, and character of God, and to teach us how our lives can be pleasing and useful to Him. Dynamic Truth, for building a dynamic relationship.
When it comes to doctrine, there is a delicate balance between being bold enough to stand courageously for Truth, yet being humble enough to admit that we don't know it all. Discovery is one of the things that makes walking with God so exciting. The Christian life is a daily adventure, daily getting to know God better and better. If you have never begun that adventure by giving your life to Jesus, there is no time like the present! If we can be of assistance to you in this area, please drop us a line.
© 2000 JHB
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