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How Important Is Doctrine? – Part 4

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. Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. 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. 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, 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.

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How Important Is Doctrine? – Part 3

Doctrine is vital for every Christian. I’ve been attempting to demonstrate its connectedness to right loves and right actions. Let me re-state that: it is not merely connected to the latter two, it is the foundation for them. Or as we called it in Part 2, the fuel. Christians tend to favor one or two of these, but it is the rare believer who highly values all three. And of the three, doctrine is often the first one forsaken. Hopefully our series is showing why that is a devastating mistake. We continue here into two more significant subdivisions of Scripture to see how the Bible itself views doctrine, love, and practice.

 

GOSPEL NARRATIVES (Jesus): John 14

How did Jesus view doctrine? In one of His best known (and least followed) statements, He tells us in verse 15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” He, with supreme authority, connects right love, practice, and doctrine in a mere handful words. But wait, aren’t only two of those elements, love and practice, represented here? Where’s the doctrine? Let’s remember the lesson we learned earlier. What are God’s commandments? At minimum, they are doctrines. If we love Jesus, according to His definition of love, we will keep His commandments (practice). And in order to keep them, we have to know what they are (doctrine). Christ defined love for Him as a love that results in right practice. And both the love and the practice are based on right doctrine. Any “love” that does not account for the authoritative words of Christ is anemic. It is powerless. It is false.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus repeatedly used OT doctrine to attack false teaching. Most often this was aimed at the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and even Satan himself (all of whom, ironically, contrived their own ideas by the twisting of Scripture into false doctrines). Here’s a link to an article filled with several more references to Christ’s use of the OT and its doctrines for your own study.

[Note: Jesus said much about Scripture, and thereby doctrine. One excellent sermon on Christ’s view of Scripture is Kevin DeYoung’s 2014 address: “Christ’s Unbreakable Bible.” I commend it to you for watching or listening, it would be a great daily commute audio file for this week.]

 

EPISTLES (Paul): 2 Timothy 3, Philippians 1

I know we mentioned 2 Timothy 3 briefly in passing early on in this series, but it deserves another treatment here:

16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;
17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

Scripture is God-breathed. To deny that is to call into question one’s claims of faith, for if Scripture is not from God, and thereby inerrant, on what grounds does your faith stand? A faith built on a Bible that is less than God’s very word to us has no foundation.

Beyond its necessity to our salvation, this God-breathed Scripture is beneficial to us for some other very specific things; things like teaching (general instruction), reproof (rebuke, refutation), correction (improvement), and training in righteousness. What do we call the truths that are used to teach, reprove, correct, and train us? We call them doctrines. When a pastor preaches a text of Scripture (hopefully your pastor does this every Sunday at minimum), we could say he is doctrinizing. A pastor does not simply stand up and read a text of Scripture and then sit down, calling that a sermon. As a matter of fact if he did this he would be derelict in his duty. The New Testament expects that a pastor is going to explain the sense of the text. This explanation is doctrinal (this type of activity occurred in the OT as well: Nehemiah 8:5-8). And insofar as he is faithful to the original meaning of the text, he is preaching (doctrinizing) well. And insofar as he strays from the meaning of the text, he is not. But proper preaching and teaching of the Word assume that doctrine is being communicated.

You might object, “But verse 17 applies this to the ‘man of God,’ not me the pew-sitter. That’s for the pastor. He’s the one who the God-breathed Scripture is adequately equipping to teach, reprove, correct, and train.” I hope the way I phrased your objection renders it self-answered. But just in case it didn’t, my response would be: “Who is he being adequately equipped to profitably teach, reprove, correct, and train in righteousness? Is it not mainly for you, the flock member entrusted to his care?” He teaches you. He reproves you. He corrects you. He trains you in righteousness. And he does it by proclaiming and explaining the doctrines of God’s Word.

In Philippians 1:9-11, Paul provides what might be my favorite passage in Scripture related to this topic. It directly ties love to real knowledge and all discernment. For Paul, they could not be separated. Take a look:

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; 11 having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

I take verse 9 to imply that love (read: true, biblical love) is bounded, or hemmed in, by real knowledge and discernment. He prays that their love would abound within this fence. And that fence is doctrinal. This verse tells us that anything that exists outside of that fence is not love. Call it love if you want, but it does not make it so. He goes on to say why this is important: so that we would approve only excellent things. If our love is not fenced by real knowledge and all discernment we will approve things that are not excellent. Paul does not want us to approve of bad things. He doesn’t even want us to merely approve of good things. He wants us to approve of the best things. His instruction here is showing us how.

But he’s not finished. The result of loving rightly (meaning, within the proper doctrinal boundaries) is standing sincere and blameless in our walk in this world. And if we don’t maintain the proper boundaries, we will surely not be so! Finally, Paul states that all of this leads to our sanctification and fruit-bearing, which is ultimately through Jesus and for God. It is His glory and praise that motivate us to fence in our love with real knowledge and all discernment. There can be no greater motivation for a true Christian. A refusal to heed Paul’s words here leads to pollution, lack of fruit, and worst of all, bringing less glory to God than He has made us capable of bringing. Do we need any more motivation to pursue pure doctrine?

My conclusion is this: doctrine and practice and love cannot be divided. They are inseparable. To divide doctrine from right loves and right living is exactly to forfeit the word “right” from the equation. You can strip doctrine away and continue to live, but it won’t be rightly. And there are severe consequences for this. How do I know? Because the Bible gives us examples. In our next (and final) post of this series, I’ll give you two.

How Important Is Doctrine? – Part 2

We’ve been talking about the importance of doctrine. Right doctrine results in right practice and right love for God. But you have to have right doctrine to get either. Think of doctrine not as the endgame for Christians (even a good fundamentalist doesn’t argue that it is), but as the fuel that gets us there: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and might. No doctrine, no fuel.

We are embarking now on our trek through five different genres of Scripture to see what the Bible has to say about the connection between doctrine (orthodoxy) and practice (orthopraxy) and love (orthopathy). We will cover three of those genres today.

 

LAW: Deuteronomy 6

This seems like a pretty good place to start. What is the significance of Deuteronomy 6? It contains the great Shema, the most revered passage in all of the OT to a Jew. It is prominently located at the center of a Jewish prayer book. More significantly, it is the text Jesus referred to when asked by a lawyer what was the greatest commandment of all (Mk. 12:28-30). Important indeed.

Why is it relevant to the question at hand? Because it shows us exactly how important doctrine, practice, and love all are in connection to one another. And it does so in the context of the greatest commandment of God. In verses 4-5 God says this:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

Is this victory for the “all love no doctrine” position? Look at it. All He says is “Love me with all of you.” So love wins, right?

Allow me to prod a bit. How would we know that this is the foremost commandment if God had not told us in His Word? What do we call it when God tells us something in His Word? One of the things we call that is doctrine. It is precisely the doctrines found in Deuteronomy 6 that tell us Who we ought to love, and how we ought to love Him. But there’s more. Let’s read a few more verses (6-9):

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

I think we could accurately paraphrase it this way without doing harm to the text: “The doctrines that I am commanding you today will be at the very center of your life. You will tirelessly persevere in teaching them to your children. You will talk of them faithfully all through the day, no matter what you are doing. They will permeate your life and home.” Love, obedience (practice), and knowledge (doctrine) are inseparably bound up together in this paramount command of Scripture. Love. Practice. Doctrine. They are not to be separated. And truly, they cannot be separated without harming our ability to fulfill our most fundamental obligation: to love the one true God with all of our being. Doctrine is central to our lives.

 

POETRY: Psalm 119

What better place to find out how God views doctrine than the chapter that spends 176 verses talking about it? “Doctrine? But Psalm 119 is all about Scripture!” you might object. Yep.

Let me place some sample verses before you for observation. Verse 11:

Your word I have treasured in my heart,
That I may not sin against You.

Again, let’s try to respectfully and accurately summarize the truth stated here: treasuring doctrine is necessary in order to not sin. Or the negative implication: if you neglect to treasure doctrine, you will sin more. Let this sink in: It is not merely about knowing doctrine. It’s certainly not about toying with doctrine as if it were a hobby. It’s about treasuring it. If killing sin is not enough motivation for us to love doctrine, we need to stop reading online articles and fall on our knees in front of an open Bible while asking God to forgive us for neglecting His Word. We need to beg Him to change us.

You still might be objecting at this point: “Why do you keep confusing God’s Word with doctrine? They’re not the same thing.” I reply, God’s Word is doctrinal in its very nature! Every doctrine we hold dear as Christians must be firmly rooted in Scripture. We don’t invent doctrines and take them to the Word, our doctrines spring forth from the Word itself. Doctrines are based on and driven by Scripture. Doctrines are summaries of what we find taught in Scripture. Doctrines are often our way of saying, “This is what the Bible is teaching in this particular passage of Scripture.” This is the whole idea that sermons are built on, along with creeds, and confessions, and doctrinal statements. It is self-evident that true doctrine and Scripture are inextricably bound together, for you cannot have any true doctrine apart from Scripture. Doctrine is so inseparable from Scripture that you cannot possibly read the Bible without being inundated by wave after wave after wave of pure, clean, life-giving doctrine. Treasure doctrine! The stakes are this high: to deny true doctrine is necessarily to deny the Scripture from which it is derived.

I will give you a few more verses without commenting. The truths ought to be obvious.

97 O how I love Your law!
It is my meditation all the day.

105 Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path.

116 Sustain me according to Your word, that I may live;
And do not let me be ashamed of my hope.

129 Your testimonies are wonderful;
Therefore my soul observes them.

133 Establish my footsteps in Your word,
And do not let any iniquity have dominion over me.

147 I arise before dawn and cry for help;
I wait for Your words.
148 My eyes anticipate the night watches,
That I may meditate on Your word.

152 Of old I have known from Your testimonies
That You have founded them forever.

160 The sum of Your word is truth,
And every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting.

165 Those who love Your law have great peace,
And nothing causes them to stumble.

 

WISDOM: Proverbs 19

Three verses from this chapter, I’ll keep my comments brief:

16 He who keeps the commandment keeps his soul,
But he who is careless of conduct will die.

20 Listen to counsel and accept discipline,
That you may be wise the rest of your days.

27 Cease listening, my son, to discipline,
And you will stray from the words of knowledge.

I am going to draw a correlation between the “commandment,” the “counsel” and “discipline,” and the “words of knowledge.” Here are my questions on these verses: How will you keep the commandment and avoid death if you do not know the commandment (16)? What type of person do you think will offer you the best counsel and loving discipline, the man who knows the doctrines of God’s Word or the guy who ignores them because he “just wants to love God more” (20)? Where do you think you will find the “words of knowledge”? I hope the answers are rhetorical.

Doctrine is vital. It is life-giving. It is God’s Word that explains to us the doctrines of right practice and right love. We ignore doctrine at our own peril, and the peril of those affected by our lives and ministries.

In Part 3, we will look at some genres in the New Testament to further drive this point home.

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