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The word “doctrine” has almost become a dirty word in many churches. In fact, so has the word “preaching,” but that’s another post! Many don’t think doctrine is practical or important. It’s all just academic stuff for the theologian or seminarian, and if anything, does little more than cause discord in the church. It’s unfortunate that so many think this way, but it’s because today’s churches have a poor understanding of the meaning of “doctrine,” and because of this poor understanding, they perceive doctrine negatively, thinking it doesn’t apply to real life situations or real spiritual growth. In many circles, the word “doctrine” is considered synonymous with “vain genealogies” and is perceived as nothing more than the discussion of the number of angels on the head of a needle.
This thinking has affected the philosophy of ministry in many churches, resulting in the adoption of a seeker-sensitive or emergent methodology, while accusing didactic preaching as irrelevant. However, by understanding the true nature of doctrine, the true Christian cannot deny its importance, or Scripture’s elevation of it. I hope to accomplish two things with this post: 1) to show why doctrine is important, and 2) to provide an example of how doctrine affects Christian living.
1) The Importance of Doctrine
Doctrine is not the mere cold academia that it has often been contributed to; neither should Christians be intimidated by it. In fact, the word “doctrine” simply means “teaching.” Naturally then in the Christian environment, when the word “doctrine” is used, it refers to what Scripture teaches about a particular subject. Certainly no true Christian would deny the importance of Scripture, and if Scripture is important, then how can one deny the importance of its explanation? After all, this is exactly what Philip did when he confronted the Ethiopian eunuch on the road to Jerusalem, and this led to his salvation and baptism (Acts 8:26-40). But in case one might argue that certainly some doctrine is important as it relates to the gospel (sometimes referred to as “the essentials of the faith”), but doctrine on non-salvific issues should not be stressed, let’s be clear that this is clearly not what Scripture teaches.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 states that “All scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” Additionally, Paul also describes in Ephesians that doctrine is important to establish discernment so that the Christian might not be deceived as a child (Eph. 4:14). Instead, they are to grow up in “all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ” (Eph. 4:15). Christians are thus no longer to walk as the Gentiles, given over to their sin, for they did not “learn Christ in this way” (Eph. 4:17-20). Note the following important phrases and absolutes in these passages, “all Scripture… is profitable for teaching,” “we are to grow up in all aspects into Him,” and, “you did not learn Christ in this way” (emphasis mine). These verses all affirm the importance of doctrine. But does doctrine really affect the way I live my Christian life now, in a 21st century culture? Let’s just take the doctrines of hamartiology (the doctrine of sin), and anthropology (the doctrine of man) as an example.
2) How Doctrine Affects Christian Living
The importance of all doctrine has already been discussed, but the doctrines of man and sin are two doctrines that seriously affect man’s relationship with God and with the rest of creation as well. In fact, without an understanding of these two doctrines, one cannot even come to salvation! Therefore, it is inconsistent at best for a Christian to claim that doctrine is not important. In order to please God, serve Him, and enjoy Him as the Creator, mankind must come to an understanding of who He is while also understanding the nature and consequences of sin on mankind.
Furthermore, man’s view of himself is greatly important as it directly affects his relationship with the Creator, and all creation, as well as modern social and ethical issues. Man was supernaturally created by God as the climax of His creation, being the only creation created in His own likeness and image (Gen. 1:26). This means that man was made to be similar to God and to be His representative. This is something shared only between man and God that is unique from all the rest of His creation. It is important for Christians to understand and appreciate this in great humility, because it directly affects the manner with which man carries out God’s command to subdue the earth and rule over its creatures (Gen. 1:28). Not only this, but it also affects the Christian’s relationship with other Christians, since it establishes the understanding that man does not exist to exalt himself, but exists to glorify God (Isa. 43:7; Eph. 1:11-12; 1 Cor. 10:31). Unfortunately, this was corrupted by the Fall.
Christians must be familiar with the doctrine of sin and its consequences. Because of sin, not only was the image and likeness of God in man corrupted, but also man’s perception of God’s personal involvement in the manner with which he was created. Mankind has exchanged the truth God has revealed about Himself in creation with lies. Now, instead of having God’s blessing and joy, he is to receive God’s wrath (Rom. 1:18-23).
Additionally, because all the earth is now cursed, man’s ability to accomplish his Divine assignment to rule over and populate the earth has been tarnished and made extremely difficult and painful. Sin has also affected every man (Rom. 3:23), who can no longer have fellowship with God and receive His blessings without receiving a new life through Christ (Rom. 6:23). With salvation, each individual is made a member of His church (1 Cor. 12:27) where he or she must serve to help equip and edify the saints so that the church is prepared to make disciples throughout the world preaching Christ, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20, emphasis mine).
Obviously if man does not have a right doctrine concerning who he is and how sin has affected all of creation, it will negatively affect how he addresses social and ethical issues. If man was not created in God’s image and has no relationship with God as evolutionism indicates, then he is no more significant than any animal. This means man cannot be held responsible for moral decisions, since he, like animals, has no volition or soul. Additionally, man should not expect an eternal state. Of course this would be in direct contradiction to Scripture, but how would we know this without doctrine? Furthermore, if man was not created in God’s image, then there is no significance in murder since it is because man was created in God’s image, the imago dei, that murder demands capital punishment (Gen. 9:5-6). This also places the importance of man above the rest of creation, which must be considered in environmental and animal rights issues. It is also important to note how dramatically this also affects abortions and euthanasia, since all humans are created in the image of God. Additionally, it should affect the manner with which men, and especially Christians, treat one another. If mankind is no different than animals, then there is no reason not to treat others as such, including in the church. The list goes on, and no doubt you can think of a few more ways doctrine affects Christian living as well!
Next time you hear some say doctrine isn’t important or is divisive, stop and think for a minute about what they’re actually saying. In the end, because Scripture by its very nature is doctrine, they would be saying that Scripture itself is unimportant. This can’t be consistent with someone who claims to be a Christian, since it’s through doctrine – through teaching – through Scripture that we come to know God and can have hope in the future through the Gospel.