How Important Is Doctrine? – Part 4
by Jonathan Hamilton
In our fourth and final post in this series (which started here), we are exploring the severe consequences of ditching doctrine and then building our own models of living and loving. We will discuss two biblical examples of this error.
The Carnal Corinthians and the Doctrine of the Physical Resurrection: 1 Cor. 15
As Paul has been doing all throughout 1 Corinthians, he is correcting error in doctrine and practice (read the whole book to see how doctrine and practice are both important). One notable thing about this passage is that Paul is correcting a doctrinal error that many Christians would look to as “secondary” at best: the doctrine of the resurrection. No, I’m not talking about Christ’s Resurrection. I’m talking about the resurrection of our physical bodies. Many Christians today wouldn’t be disturbed by a professing believer denying this doctrine. What’s the big deal?
Apparently it was a pretty big deal to Paul. And for good reason. Paul logically argues that if you don’t have the resurrection of physical bodies in general, then you can’t have the specific Resurrection of Christ’s body. And if that’s the case, we are all hopeless. Our faith depends on His Resurrection, and His Resurrection depends on the reality of bodily physical resurrection (vv. 12-19). In other words, by denying a “minor” doctrine, the Corinthians were implicitly denying the Gospel itself, which is based entirely on the death and resurrection of Christ (vv. 1-4). The Corinthians, in their lack of knowledge, wisdom, and discernment (remember Php. 1:9-11), were eviscerating the Gospel itself due to their own foolishness. Christians are still doing this today. If you are not able to identify them, more than likely you will eventually identify with them.
The Curse of Encouraging False Teachers: 2 John
In this passage the Apostle John is addressing false doctrine, just as he did in his first epistle. This time he does it in just one short chapter. For some reason he was unable to write a longer discourse to them at this time (v. 12), which implies that the little bit he did write was the most important thing he could have told them. It was the most urgent, therefore he wrote it right away until he could come to them and tell them the rest in person. What did he have to say that was so important? Take in verses 7-11:
For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. 9 Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; 11 for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.
He tells them this: there are a bunch of false teachers out there. They are deceivers and antichrists. What are they to do about it? Watch themselves. What do you suppose he meant? He is imploring them to watch their doctrine and take great care to keep it pure. What will happen if they don’t? They will lose eternal rewards (v. 8). They will receive less than they would have received if they had obeyed him. If that idea doesn’t motivate us, there are deeper problems that need to be addressed.
In verse 9 he goes on to tell us that these Christ-denying heretics are not in the faith. They are not Christians. They are apostates.
Now, do you suppose the apostates were running around saying, “Hey guys, check me out, I’m a Christ-denier! I don’t love the truth! Follow me!” Probably not. Nor will that ever be the case. The deceivers are just that. Deceitful. They are going to say many of the right things. They are going to sound beautifully orthodox to the undiscerning, and even the less-discerning, ear. They are going to deceive those who disdain doctrine, and those who smirk at sound teaching. The spiritually gullible will feed on what the false teachers are selling.
In addition to the harm that this will do to them and those in their sphere of influence, the consequences actually prove far worse than we might expect. How so? In verse 10 John explicitly commands us not even to offer a civil greeting to a false teacher coming to you to hawk his goods. As I understand it, that’s what the word often translated “greeting” means here. Not even a ‘hi.’ Not even a ‘good day.’ Nothing that would encourage him in his work. Here’s the kicker: John says if you even give him the encouragement of a civil greeting, you’re now a shareholder in his wickedness. You now partake in the tragedy of those that are poisoned as a result of your encouragement of this false teacher. If the civility you showed him gave him just enough strength to poison one more person, you own a part of that enterprise. Is that motivation enough to love sound doctrine? Does that make doctrine important enough to take vigorously pursue?
What should we do?
Go to the Word. Grow in the wisdom, knowledge, and discernment that only its doctrines can offer (Php. 1:9-11). Mature past the milk and on to the meat of the Word by exercising (Hebrews 5:14)! This is exactly how Paul diagnosed his beloved, foolish Corinthians. After rebuking their milk dependency in Chapter 3,
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, 3 for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?
he closes the book with this positive admonition in Chapter 16, which is the antidote to their problem:
13 Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love.
Additionally, pray! As you pursue God in His Word, pray for His help. Ask Him for true biblical love that is bounded by wisdom, and knowledge, and discernment. This is exactly what James tells a group of suffering saints to do in 1:5 of his epistle (ironically, some scholars even think that their sufferings were related to their lack of wisdom).
Finally, as John said above, watch yourselves! Abide in the teaching of God’s Word (doctrine). You cannot divide doctrine and practice and maintain a grip on the Christian faith. You cannot divide doctrine and love and be faithful to Scripture. It cannot be done for Scripture does not do it, and therefore, we are not allowed to do it either.