The Importance of Doctrine

If you have your senses tuned, you will notice the recent shift in the winds of our religious world. Wave after wave of new revelations, philosophies, styles and ideas have been coming and going, most of them gobbled up by unassuming and well-intentioned people. Currently, there are a number of prevailing thoughts and methodologies in place, such as the ‘Gospel of Prosperity’, ‘Gospel of Grace without Works’, the concept of ‘Mega-Churches’, and even the focus on entertainment. Turn on the television, and you will recognize that the overwhelming majority of pulpits and platforms have been transformed to look more like movie sets or theatres, rather than places of worship. But where do these concepts stem from? Are people drawing closer or further away from God as a result?

Now, more than ever before, it is critical that Christians begin to fully grasp God’s ways- unadulterated and rightly divided. In this age of instability, wavering, and unfaithfulness, we must “be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine”, but instead be established, rooted and grounded in the Lord and the word He has given to us. As less emphasis is placed on foundational teachings, we should not be swayed or discouraged in any way.

In truth, the concept of doctrine, or meticulous biblical interpretation, has been much maligned, if not ignored, in modern day Christian circles. It would seem that many professing Christians are content to overlook the finer points of scripture, as long as the basic tenets are adhered to, such as belief in Christ Jesus as the Son of God, and faith in God the Father. There is such a lust for religious unity that anything standing in its way is automatically labeled as negative. Seeing that doctrine has drawn lines in the past, and has been responsible for the thousands of Christian denominations that exist today, many leaders have now relegated it to a position of relative unimportance, with the key focus being on unity in spite of different beliefs.

“As long as you believe in Jesus, we’re on the same side,” they say. “Let’s not allow doctrine to divide us.” Hence, the present day ecumenical movement. But if this is the case, then the entire Bible must be rewritten.

Taking a closer look at the Bible, it reveals that men of God and true believers have often been ostracized and condemned for holding onto doctrinal concepts that were unpopular in their respective day.

The word ‘doctrine’ simply means ‘teaching’. The biblical use of the word has a two-fold application. There are times when it describes theories, such as the study of God, the resurrection, and the correct method of baptism. (Heb. 6:1-2, 2 Jn. 9, 1 Tim. 4:13, 1 Tim. 5:17, Tit. 1:9). In other instances, it outlines the principles governing lifestyle. (Acts 2:42, Rom. 6:17, 1 Tim. 1:10, 6:3).

Both are derived from the same word of God, and as such, are of extreme importance to our Christian walk, and should never be glossed over as a non-issue. After all, both aspects, when implemented, draw us closer to God and give us a deeper understanding of His ways. For example, if you are pressing (lifestyle) toward the mark of the high calling, it only makes sense that you understand (theory) what this high calling really is. The more you understand, the greater the hope; the greater the hope, the more you will strive.

Though it can shed greater light and heighten understanding, theoretical doctrine is much more than subject matter to be argued, debated over or shown off with. In order to be effective, the teacher must be “apt to teach”, and of a good spirit. Notice that in His day, Jesus never went around Israel looking for arguments. Instead, it was the “blind leaders of the blind” who took it upon themselves to seek Him out and to try and prove Him false. We all know the conclusion of those confrontations, even though they remained more prominent and established for a time. But despite Jesus’ lesser following and physical presence, truth always won out. As Jesus said: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my word shall not pass away.” (Matt. 24:35). More than anything else, this statement has held true, despite countless attempts to destroy it throughout history.

In essence, true unity cannot be achieved when diverse beliefs are held on to. When Jesus came to the Jews during the first advent, there were Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Nazarites and a number of other sects in Israel. What was the cause of their division? It was their doctrine. By isolating certain areas of scripture and giving them preeminence as they saw fit, they lost their focus on the whole, zeroing in on more minor issues. (Matt. 23:23). Imagine the irony: the very Saviour that they studied, longed for and put their hope in, literally passed right under their noses undetected. And so the Devil successfully deceived these devout and sincere people to their hurt.

Ultimately, this is what false doctrine does. It misguides, gives false hope and leads to blindness. But, there were other individuals like Anna and Simeon, whom, except for their brief encounter with the Lord, we might never have known even existed.

Because of the false teachings so deeply entrenched in the minds of those belonging to these religious sects, Jesus refused to align Himself with any of them, despising their hypocrisy and shallow relationship with God. As the Preacher once stated: “Better is a handful with quietness, than both hands full with travail and vexation of spirit.” (Eccl. 4:6). So Jesus bypassed these learned men, preferring to start his work from scratch with fishermen, tax collectors and prostitutes than having to deprogram already “full” individuals.

In our day, a strong ecumenical spirit is developing in the religious world around us. For years, the Catholic Church has been trying to clear up its less-than-admirable past by reaching out to those it had once persecuted. Alliances are also being forged in the Pentecostal, Baptist and Charismatic movements. Throughout every continent, ‘mega churches’, as they are called, keep getting larger and larger as doctrine becomes less and less of an issue. As history teaches us, those who refuse to conform to this call will be in the minority. They may be viewed as old-fashioned and labeled as backward for holding onto concepts that are not considered essential to Christian growth and progress.

The gospel, as it was intended to be delivered, was not only a message about being nice, kind and gentle to one another, or that we should be united in spirit though we have varying doctrines and beliefs. Never once did Jesus or any of the apostles teach this – in fact, they taught quite the opposite! The gospel is just too precious, strong, profound and radical. It is a message with a sword.

Consider this for a moment. Speaking to a Jewish audience who understood the basics of their religion, Jesus said: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.” (Matt. 10:34-35). Why would Jesus say this unless he knew His teachings would upset the commonly held concepts of many? As Christ illustrated, not all unity is good, and not all division is bad.

In his epistle to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul instructed them to all “speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” (1 Cor. 1:10). Paul also warned the elders of the Ephesian Church about men, speaking perverse things, who would try and draw away disciples after themselves. (Acts 20:30). How? Certainly not by preaching about another god, but perhaps just “another Jesus”, a false concept that might overthrow the faith of some, as did Hymenaeus and Philetus. Imagine…just a single doctrine wrong, and yet souls had been discouraged and lost. (2 Tim. 2:17-18).

To see the extent of damage that can be caused by wrong concepts, look at the Catholic Church, with over one billion adherents. Almost as many prayers are offered up to Mary ‘the mother of God’, than to God Himself. People pay homage to and make requests of their ‘patron saints’, despite the fact the Bible clearly states that Jesus is the only mediator between man and God. (1 Tim. 2:5). Ultimately, lies and falsehood can become so widespread and accepted that, like Jesus said, “because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not.” (John 8:45).

In all the recorded backslidings of the nation of Israel, it is interesting to note that there was always a common trend: a low esteem for the word (law) of God. During the long and wicked reign of Manasseh (meaning ‘one who forgets’), idolatry and false worship prevailed: “he reared up altars for Baalim, and made groves, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them…. [He] wrought much evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger.” (2 Chr. 33:3,6). Why? The law was lost in the temple and it was not found until the 18th year of the reign of Josiah (meaning ‘one who heals’). (2 Chr. 34:14). Is it possible that the most sacred instrument to the nation of Israel could be lost in the very temple that they worshipped in? Yet this is evident from the scriptures. When the law was read and obeyed, a tremendous revival followed and it was said: “And there was no passover like to that kept in Israel from the days of Samuel the prophet; neither did all the kings of Israel keep such a passover as Josiah kept…” (2 Chr. 35:18).

Doctrine and conduct must always go hand in hand. Just as we strive to live for God, we must also continually strive to increase and better our understanding of Him. Doctrine is not a heavy weight, but a source of life if it is ministered correctly. If we understand to whom we are praying, where our hope lies, and where we are heading, our vision will be clearer and we will seek Him all the more. Like the Apostle Paul, the more we begin to understand, the more we will want to know. But false doctrine tends to confusion, shaky faith and lack of understanding and confidence in God – the perfect arena for the Devil’s deception.

God has always warned His people against false prophets, deceivers and seducers (Matt. 24:4-5, Jer. 23). Although a lack of finances and attendance may cause a minister to think he is not doing right by holding on to doctrine, he should remember that falsehood always thrives like a weed. The notion that growth in numbers and finances is always equated with God’s divine guidance is a lie perpetrated by the Devil himself.

If this is the standard used to measure progress, then Noah, Paul and even Jesus were all failures. Their doctrine did not attract the masses. The majority will always take the path of least resistance, and follow the ‘Hananiahs’ of this world, who “makest this people to trust in a lie.” (Jer. 28:15).

As deception gets more and more subtle, it becomes increasingly important that true ministers become more sober, alert, and firm concerning the foundation that has been laid. Because ministers must answer to God alone, they must be constantly aware that the ideologies and teachings of the religious world do not become their eyes and ears.

True doctrine is of great importance and is vital to the survival of the Church. In his letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul warns about the undermining of God’s work by “seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils…” (1 Tim. 4:1). He vividly foresees that the “time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” (2 Tim. 4:3-4).

The concepts we hold to represent the foundation. If it is neglected or not given its proper due, how long and how firm will the house stand?