A Question of Doctrine

Hey, All. So, in my 20 years of walking with the Lord and studying His Word, one of the things I’ve come to notice is that “doctrine” has become stigmatized as a word. When people hear the word “doctrine,” many times they picture quarrels and long arguments over dogmatized positions or teachings that are not necessarily essential to the Christian faith. So I thought it might be helpful to discuss that here.

What is doctrine? Is it important? Why or why not? And what does the Bible have to say about doctrine?

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Great question! I hadn’t thought of that before! I just looked up the definition of doctrine, and according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary doctrine is:

1a : a principle or position or the body of principles in a branch of knowledge or system of belief : DOGMACatholic doctrine

b : a statement of fundamental government policy especially in international relationsthe Truman Doctrine

claw : a principle of law established through past decisions

d : a military principle or set of strategies

e : something that is taught

2archaic : [TEACHING], [INSTRUCT].

Whew! (Gotta love copy and paste!) It seems to me that the ones that would apply here are definitions a and e. So, that would make the doctrine of the Bible really important, because the doctrine of the Bible is simply that which the Bible teaches. As far as what the Bible says about doctrine, the only 2 passages that I could find that use that word are Matt. 15:9, and Eph. 4:14. I hope this helps!

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@psalm151ls Great question :slight_smile: The word doctrine simply refers to what we believe about ourselves and the world—origin, meaning, morality, and destiny. Everyone has doctrine, whether atheist, agnostic, Christian, or something else. We all hold beliefs, some of which we are aware of holding and some of which are so interwoven with our lives/cultures that we just take them as fact, that define the way we behave in any given situation.

In Genesis 2-3, we see why doctrine matters. God taught Adam correct doctrine—“If you eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you will certainly die”. The serpent came in and questioned that doctrine—“You will not surely die”. And so sin came into the world.

Whether people want to admit it or not, our actions are directly tied to our beliefs. Love is meaningless without a doctrinal definition. As Christians, when we want to define love we look at the cross and the teachings of Christ—lay down your life and love your enemy. We have both doctrine and example. But when we throw out the doctrine, love becomes a meaningless word.

Someone can say that it is “loving” to abort a child with disabilities because their life will be difficult or euthanize someone who is afraid to go on living. Without doctrine, those lies impact peoples’ behavior. Tragically, terribly, people without correct doctrine fall for the lies of the evil one, who seeks only to steal, kill, and destroy.

Correct doctrine protects the innocent and helps us to know God. In one of the passages both liberals and conservatives love, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman directly that salvation is from the Jews—not the Samaritans. That is correct doctrine. And Jesus reemphasized correct doctrine throughout His ministry.

John 4:21-24 - “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

John 8:19 - Then they asked him, “Where is your father?” “You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”

John 14:6-7 - Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

So, why does doctrine have a bad wrap if it is such a good thing?

  • right doctrine with a wrong attitude is destructive and turns people away from the Kingdom - this includes both atrociously bad attidues (like people picketing with signs saying people are going to Hell) and more subtle bad attitudes (ostracizing certain types of people)
  • wrong doctrines that people support with the Bible can turn people against it (racism, nationalism, etc)
  • some people reject God and refuse to love the truth (Romans 1, 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12), thinking it not worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God in their minds

I like Philip Yancey’s story about finding God after being in a toxic Church. Some additional resources below.

Defining Doctrine

Not only did Paul commend to his young protégé the glorious gospel of God (vv. 8–10) and the divinely inspired Scriptures (3:16–17), but he also instructed Timothy regarding the importance of sound doctrine: “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (1:13–14). According to Paul, doctrine is among the things that matter most for the well-being of the Christian and the church. Sound, or “healthy,” doctrine provides a pattern that, when followed, promotes healthy faith and love. Sound doctrine is a valuable heritage that is to be treasured in this generation and faithfully transmitted to the next (2:2).

Connection Between Beliefs and Actions

Right Creeds, Right Deeds. Right doctrine should never be about just being right. Rather, the point of right doctrine is always about establishing and growing right relationships. Perfect doctrine without love is worthless. 1 Corinthians 13:2 says, “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” Even the demons recognize good theology when they see it (James 2:19). Orthodoxy (right belief) is meant to lead to orthopraxy (right practice). As my pastor puts it, “Right creeds lead to right deeds.”

Classical Liberals love to say that Christianity is a life, not a doctrine. Have you ever heard anyone say that? People sometimes say: It doesn’t really matter what you believe. What matters is that you love other people… In his magnificent treatise, Christianity and Liberalism , J. Gresham Machen argues that this Liberal idea is not true. It is the very opposite of biblical Christianity. Christianity does not begin by telling us to love other people. It begins with the great biblical doctrines of God, man, Christ, and the gospel. Christianity doesn’t begin with a command to love God or others. It begins with the sweet doctrine of God’s love. Christianity begins by proclaiming that God is holy, but we are sinners in need of salvation. And God lovingly looked down upon this broken world, and He graciously sent His only Son, Jesus, into this world to die for poor sinners and to rise again on the third day.

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Hi, @thed64607! Thank you for the response! I think the Merriam-Webster dictionary is always helpful, and for some reason, I tend to neglect it in my studies! Thanks for reminding me to do that! In case you’re interested, I found these that I thought were helpful, too:

If we look for the Greek word “didache,” translated as “doctrine” or “teaching/s,” it’s interesting that we find quite a list of addresses (chapters and verses)where it and related words (didasko, didaskalia) occur.

@SeanO gave a great comprehensive response. There would really be no point in Jesus telling us to look out for false teachers if doctrine wasn’t important, because it takes knowing sound doctrine, right teaching, to be able to identify false teaching that would lead us astray.

As we talk about doctrine, too, I think this might be important to look at:

https://connect.rzim.org/t/levels-of-doctrine/6764

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@psalm151ls thank you for this question that has helped me reflect more on the subject. Thank you @SeanO for the Biblically sound response.

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