Does Doctrine Really Matter?
Christianity without a passion for doctrine is an oxymoron because it simply does not make sense. We would not trust a scientist who claims, “I don’t study science; I only practice it.” We would not trust a doctor who says, “I don’t study anatomy; I just operate.” Yet when it comes to Christianity, this claim is strangely accepted: “I’m not really a great Bible student or versed in doctrine; I just love Jesus.” Something is inconsistent here.
Doctrine, simply put, is teaching—or in our case, what the Bible teaches. So then, the gospel is doctrine. Truth is doctrine. What Scripture calls “the faith” is doctrine. The Bible itself is doctrine since Paul says, “All Scripture is inspired of God, and is profitable for doctrine…” If we are Christians who do not invest in doctrine, all we have is morality based on feelings and hope based on blind faith. Every system in the world is marked by two things: what it believes and what it practices. These cannot ever be separated lest the system cease to be coherent. So with Christianity, to live it we must believe it; to believe it we must understand what we believe. This is why doctrine matters.
How Important Is Doctrine?
Doctrine is how we know God; therefore, it is important. Doctrine is the essence of Scripture’s teaching; therefore, it is important. Christians are commanded to believe and defend doctrine; therefore, it is important. Simple logic demands we have a high view of this subject, assuming we begin with a high view of God and a high view of Scripture.
But its importance becomes clearer when we understand its nature. Scripture describes doctrine as being exclusive. Paul said to Timothy, “Remain on at Ephesus… that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines.” (1 Tim. 1:3). Believers do not exist to form their own ideas; they exist to perpetuate the knowledge of God. That demands a commitment to all of God’s truth and nothing but God’s truth. If it is so exclusive, it is obviously valuable.
He further says to Timothy in chapter four that Timothy would be a “good servant” if he was “nourished on the words of faith and sound doctrine.” Clearly, a commitment to truth is commendable.
It isn’t only commendable, however; it is necessary and central. For Paul says later, “Until I come, give attention to the [public] reading [of Scripture], to exhortation and teaching.” This is a command that puts doctrine at the center of the assembly. Doctrine is indisputably vital.
Doctrine is also proven to be vital by what happens when people miss it. The people who are ignorant of true Biblical teaching will be the first to embrace pseudo-Biblical teaching. Thus, when Scripture warns against false doctrine, it establishes the importance of knowing Bible truth, not superficially, but intelligently. This alone will allow us to mark out those who “cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the doctrine which you have learned” (Rom. 16:17). False teachers know how to manipulate believers when mental guards are let down. Thus our obligation is two-fold: the avoidance of the false and the full embrace of the true.
Paul says in Ephesians that God has given us revelation and those who can explain that revelation so we can be stabilized in the faith: “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.” (Eph. 4:14). Therefore, our goal as believers is to have stability in our doctrine. It is no virtue to waver in the truth by succumbing to false teachers.
In fact, lack of solid doctrine reflects godless Christianity. Paul wrote to Timothy of a time that would come when “they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:3). A Christianity that can only listen to what sounds easy, light, and entertaining is a Christianity that is dead. So then, to combat this, Paul further told Timothy, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” (1 Tim. 4:16). Many rightly condemn dead orthodoxy; but we must also be quick to condemn dead vibrancy, that is, zeal without any doctrinal foundation. Doctrine is priceless in its value. When we lose it, we lose everything.
Doctrine and the Believer
Someone may ask, “But isn’t doctrine for seminary students and preachers?, I can’t understand prophecy and decipher the controversies; I’m just an average Christian.” If this is you, there is good news! Every believer has the ability to know and understand Bible doctrines because every believer has the Holy Spirit to guide them. John puts it this way, “As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him” (1 John 2:27). The point is this: we understand truth by the Holy Spirit and His work of illuminating it to our minds. We are not dependent upon a supreme clergyman for our knowledge; we have God Himself, Scripture’s Author, abiding in us constantly. The only excuse for our ignorance of the Bible is that we haven’t taken the time to study it, or that we are missing something in our fellowship with God.
That brings up a more sobering point: since every believer has the ability to know doctrine, every believer has the obligation to know it. Every believer is called to be a Bible student. The Bible is not just a facet of our lives; it is the essence of our lives. The division of Christians into “clergymen” and “laypeople” has devastated our understanding of what “average Christianity” should look like. All believers are called to a thorough knowledge of Scripture.
This is what first-century Christians believed. Peter could say to his audience, “Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you” (2 Peter 1:12). John said to his audience, “I have not written unto you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth” (1 John 2:21). Paul said in Romans, “I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another” (Romans 15:14). If God gave every believer in Rome a teaching gift, the people would have already had their material prepared. This was “average Christianity”: it was filled with knowledge and able to discern right from wrong. We should ask ourselves the question: “If I was suddenly endowed with either writing or speaking skills, would I have anything to say about the themes of the Bible? If so, would there be depth?” Or perhaps we could ask, “If a heresy arose in my assembly, and I was called to address and refute it, would I have anything to say?” Scripture says these are questions every Christian must ask.
So then, what is the goal? Is our goal to attain knowledge only? Is Christianity really only about getting an A+ on Bible trivia? Not in the least. We study Scripture to know God and obey Him. We study Scripture because we want to understand our duty. And what is the basis for obedience? Doctrine is. Look at Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Hebrews, for instance; they all begin with truth and then explain how that will translate into practical Christianity. We do not only learn doctrine: we obey it. Thus, it is an act of obedience to receive the truth. And it is disobedience to embrace false teaching. Truth is not mere knowledge; it is a walk. And when we are walking in the truth, we will emphasize its beauty by our actions (Tit. 2:10).
But the issue goes further because doctrine provides the basis for fellowship as well. In 2 John, the apostle begins by saying, “The elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth; and not I only, but also all who know the truth.” It was the common sharing of truth that made their bond so strong. It was the same in Acts 2. The people continued in the apostles’ doctrine and only after that “in fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers.” Doctrine is not mere knowledge, though it is that; but it is the basis for godliness and communion.
In conclusion, we cannot but see the dignity and necessity of a Christian’s commitment to the study of God’s word, regardless of his academic ability, career, or concentration capacity. The question is not one of ability but of appetite. There are numberless reasons to hinder our commitment to understanding the Bible (as with any other form of obedience), but once we bring it to the top on our priority list, we will find those hindrances losing significance. The Lord gives strength where it is needed, and He will certainly help us study His freely given revelation.
So then, does doctrine really matter? We can answer with a confident “Yes.” And we can leave this question with a renewed passion to study our Bibles as we realize that we can understand them. With this ability comes immense responsibility. God has given us minds to comprehend His truth; we will be accountable should we fail to use them to their full potential, whatever that may be. Doctrine matters. Let us know it. Let us stand for it. Let us live it.