“We emphasize the Gospel, not doctrine,” some believers boast about their church. Others tell us, “Doctrine divides.” Today, many evaluate churches and parachurch organizations not by what they believe or teach, but on the basis of their programs. Has doctrine become irrelevant to our needs today? The Bible word for “doctrine” simply means teaching. Those who think doctrine is not important have missed what the Bible is all about. Doctrine is not only important, it is vital!
Bible doctrine is important to me as a believer who is being conformed to the image of God’s dear Son. I am to leave “the principles of the doctrine of Christ” and “go on unto perfection,” (Heb. 6:1). The doctrines of Christ mentioned in this passage are basic, foundational teachings. To become mature, or perfect, I must move beyond these basic teachings to what the writer calls “meat.” If I do not mature in my understanding of Bible teachings, Paul says I am in danger of remaining a spiritual infant and will be “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men,” (Eph. 4:14). In Hebrews 13:9, the Bible instructs us, “Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines.” But this cannot be unless we know correct doctrine.
So many appear to think that Doctrine is not practical for their lives. That could not be further from the truth. Right doctrine is necessary for salvation. To the believers in Rome, Paul writes, “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness,” (Rom. 6:17,18). These people were saved because they obeyed right doctrine. Correct doctrine also alerts us to the peril of sin. Sin cannot exist peacefully in the presence of Bible teaching because sin is “contrary to sound doctrine,” (1 Tim 1:10). This is a primary reason the social engineers call us the “radical religious right,” and consider us to be enemies of society.
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If I know Bible doctrine and allow it to mature me, my life will be a model for others. Paul encouraged Titus to be “a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you,” (Tit. 2:7-9). Our lives, as they reflect the teaching of the Bible, make the doctrine of God look good (Tit. 2:10). Paul considered what he taught and believed to be part of his character when he said, “But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience,” (2 Tim. 3:10) Yes, doctrine is a practical and necessary ingredient of the believer’s life.
Paul warns, “For 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,” (2 Tim. 4:3). I believe we are in those days. We must be careful not to give in to false doctrine or those who promote it. The Bible commands us to “mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them,” Rom. 16:17). Please note that it is not Bible doctrine that divides; it is incorrect doctrine that divides. In a day when religious and political leaders encourage ecumenical ties, we must note that there can be no fellowship without correct doctrine. In Act 2:42, the early Church “continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” before they went on to fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers. In fact, holding to the right teaching regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ is essential. 2 John 1:9 tells us, “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.”
Doctrine is also an indispensable part of our ministry for Christ. Paul’s instruction to Timothy was to “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine,” (2 Tim 4:2). The pastor is commanded to hold “fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers,” (Tit. 1:9). Timothy found it critical for himself and his congregation to continue in the correct doctrine, “for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee,” (1 Tim. 4:16). The apostles were imprisoned by the religious leaders of their day because they had successfully “filled Jerusalem with your doctrine,” (Acts 5:28). And of course, the result was that multitudes of people were saved.
Yes, dear friends, doctrine is important. Correct doctrine is necessary for salvation from sin and its penalty. Correct doctrine helps mature us in Christ. Correct doctrine guards us against sin, and gives stability to our lives. Correct doctrine gives power in our witness. Correct doctrine is the foundation of fellowship among believers. No, friends, doctrine does not divide; it unites. Incorrect doctrine divides. Incorrect doctrine leads astray, encourages sin, causes instability, and prohibits salvation. When you hear a preacher or leader say, “We don’t care about doctrine, we only preach Jesus,” you had best be on guard.
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This commentary originally appeared at IndependentBaptist.com and is reprinted here with permission.