Why doctrine matters

“Doctrine” is a dirty word for a lot of Christians. Many are oblivious, often throwing around phrases like, “All this talk about doctrine… isn’t the important thing knowing God?” and, “There’s nothing worse than theology in the hands of the untrained.”

Maybe I got hit in the head too much when I was a kid, but the whole point of doctrine is for us to know God—all of the teaching we receive is about God and the Christian life is doctrine.

The Bible is doctrine.

Paul wrote to his disciple, Timothy, about this very issue:

If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.

Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching [or doctrine]. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

1 Tim 4:6-16, emphasis added

There are a few important things to note:

  1. Good doctrine prevents us from falling into irreverent and silly myths, like man-centered pop-psychology preaching that has absolutely nothing to do with the cross of Christ, and in fact makes a mockery of it.
  2. Good doctrine trains us in godliness: Godliness holds promise for the present life and the life to come, says Paul. Good doctrine allows us to better understand who Jesus, and live out our lives in loving grateful response to Him as He truly is.
  3. Good doctrine is to be taught publicly: We are not ashamed of the hope that we have in Jesus. We need not fear that teaching sound doctrine—teaching the Scriptures—will return void. Isaiah 55:11 says, “O shall my word be that goes out from my mouth it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (emphasis added). God’s word always accomplishes God’s purposes. We need to stand in that confidence and not be afraid to proclaim the word of God!
  4. Good doctrine will save you: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers,” says Paul. The doctrine we proclaim tells others what we believe about Jesus, and if our proclamation is antithetical to Scripture, we have cause for concern. Therefore, we must keep a close watch on ourselves that we not fall into error.

When we fail to stress the importance of sound doctrine, when we treat everything as “caught,” but not “taught,” where do we find ourselves?

Confusion. We find for ourselves teachers whose words are clever and sound nice, but they teach a different doctrine that does not agree with the sound words of Jesus. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim 4:3-4).

So what are we to do? “[P]reach the word,” says Paul in 2 Tim 4:2. “[B]e ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”

At all times, in all places, patiently, lovingly, confidently teach sound doctrine.

Because doctrine matters.

  • Byron

    Was reading this in your blog the other day and came across a quite by Joe Stowell … thought you might like!

    The Demise
    of Doctrine

    Because of the disintegration of
    values and societal stability, we have, for the most part, shifted from
    preaching on doctrinal themes to focusing on pragmatic applications of
    Scripture. The majority of our pulpit, seminar, workshop, and writing emphases
    now focuses on families, sexuality, identity, relationships, bitterness,
    forgiveness, cultural conflicts, and a host of other valid ministry concerns.
    Noting this trend, U.S. News & World Report observes, “Many
    congregations have multiplied their membership by going light on theology and
    offering worshippers a steady diet of sermons and support groups that emphasize
    personal fulfillment.”

    Dealing with contemporary issues is
    not the problem. Our fault has been that we have dealt with them without
    grounding our treatment of them in the basic doctrinal realities that undergird
    them. Much of what we hear today is perceived by the average listener as being
    true because it is better than the alternative, because it works, because it
    will make life better, or because it will make them happier. Those all may be
    true, but that is not the reason we should be committed to biblical formulas
    for living. Biblical principles are imperative because they are applications of
    the authoritative Word of God and grounded in fundamental doctrine. They are
    practiced by a true follower whether they “work” or not, make us
    happy or not.

    I fear that in the press of the
    felt needs that have surfaced in our degraded environment, we have bred an
    intolerance in our listeners for proclamation that focuses on the foundations
    of our faith. Foundations-doctrine seem to be less relevant, less thrilling,
    and less oriented to our needs. Admittedly, this is partially our fault as
    preachers and teachers. In Scripture, doctrinal teaching is accompanied by
    specific values and life-related applications inherently linked to the
    substance of the doctrine. In the Bible, for instance, instruction in family
    life, which has become so popular in the last several decades, is intrinsically
    grounded in doctrines dealing with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18–21),
    ecclesiology (vv. 22–24), Christology (vv. 25–33), and the nature of God
    (6:1–4). Morality is biblically rooted in the doctrine of redemption (1 Corinthians 6:15–20).
    Servanthood is built on the foundation of the Incarnation (Philippians 2:3–11).

    The jeopardy for us is not so much
    that those of us who grew up with stronger doctrinal roots will be swayed. It’s
    that the next generation will know a form of existential Christianity that will
    be easily jeopardized by its rootlessness.

    Of course, focusing on foundations
    would be easier if our people weren’t so distracted.

    Joe Stowell (Shepherding the Church into the 21st Century)