and the Neglect of Doctrine
By Rev. Bill Prater
"Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding.
For I give you good doctrine, forsake ye not my law."
We have come to the place today where, among many followers of Christ, doctrine is no longer an issue. There was a time when hard and fast lines were drawn between people on the basis of their particular brand of doctrine and those lines were not crossed. The popular thing today has been to replace concern for sound doctrine with concern for experience. It doesn't matter what you believe in many circles, as long as you have "a personal relationship with Jesus Christ." While I certainly would not challenge the need to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, to do so at the expense of correct doctrine makes for a meaningless relationship. A true relationship with Jesus Christ must be based upon the truth.
We are living in an age when those in the religious spotlight are telling us that doctrine is not important and that it doesn't make any difference what you believe as long as you are sincere. However, doctrine IS important to God and it DOES make a difference what you believe. Consider 2 John 9, "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". John's words do not sound like he is advocating a "doctrine-less" Christianity. Many Mormons are sincere, but they're sincerely wrong. Many Jehovah's Witnesses are sincere, but they're sincerely wrong. Hindus are sincere, but they're sincerely wrong. Moslems are sincere but they're sincerely wrong. Sincerity alone does not make ones beliefs necessarily true. The degree to which something is true is how it measures up to the Bible.
This thing of "we're all going to the same place anyway, we just all have different roads" is outrageous. It's kind of like me being headed for Wichita and passing a friend on the highway going the opposite direction. So I give him a call on the cell phone and ask him where he's going. He says, "I'm going to Wichita." You say, "I hate to tell you this, but Wichita's the other way." Your friend says, "Oh well, it doesn't matter, we're both headed to the same place anyway. See you when you get there." You can't both end up at the same place if you're headed in opposite directions.
When praying for His disciples in John 17:1 Jesus prayed, "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth." The Word of God is absolute truth, meaning that it is free from imperfection, it's perfect. The Word of God is the standard by which all that is called truth is to be measured.
THE NEED FOR DOCTRINE
There is a need for Proclaiming Doctrine. The Lord was interested in doctrine. As a matter of fact, He preached and taught doctrine. After His "Sermon on the Mount" in Matthew 5, 6, and 7, the Bible says, "And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine." Again in Matthew 22:33 we read, "And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at his doctrine." On yet another occasion in Mark 1:22 we read, "And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes." Mark 4:2 says, "And he taught them many things by parables, and said unto them in his doctrine."
Paul preached doctrine and encouraged others to do the same. He told Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2 to, "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine." Titus was also the recipient of Paul's exhortation to proclaim sound doctrine. In Titus 2:1 Paul said, "But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine." There is also a need for Understanding Doctrine. Peter tells us why it is important to have a good understanding of doctrine. He wrote in 1 Peter 3:15, "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear." Concerning this verse, Albert Barnes said, "A Christian should have such intelligent views of the truth of his religion, and such constant evidence in his own heart and life that he is a child of God, as to be able at any time to satisfy a candid inquirer that the Bible is a revelation from heaven, and that it is proper for him to cherish the hope of salvation." The average church member across this nation knows very little about the faith he espouses. Most people simply cannot tell you why they believe what they believe. As a matter of fact, many cannot even tell you what they believe, and the really sad thing is, it is getting worse, not better.
Notice the manner in which we are to defend our Biblical position. It is to be done "with meekness and fear." This does not mean that we are to be timid and shy or that we are to be afraid when men ask us what we believe and why we believe it. It means rather, that we are to have a humble spirit. We do not have to be obnoxious or overbearing or arrogant. Nor do not have to be mean-spirited. As A. W. Tozer said, "Great saints have always been dogmatic. We need a gentle dogmatism that smiles while it stands stubborn and firm on the Word of God." We find the formula for learning doctrine in Isaiah 28:9-10, it is "precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little, and there a little." Those responsible for proclaiming doctrine must take into account the level of maturity of their audience. Sometimes we fail to do this, and those who are yet young in the Lord are overwhelmed by the seemingly complicated process of establishing a solid doctrinal foundation upon which to base their beliefs. If the formula for learning doctrine is "precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little, and there a little", then the process of teaching should be the same.
Maintaining Doctrine is yet another need that must be addressed. In 1 Timothy 4, Paul stresses the importance of maintaining right doctrine. In his words to young Timothy, Paul said, "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy: having their conscience seared with a hot iron;" 1 Timothy 4:1-2. Paul goes on to say that to maintain doctrine is to be a "good minister of Jesus Christ." He wrote, "If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine whereunto thou hast attained" 1 Timothy 4:6. Paul closes out first Timothy chapter 4 with some sound advise to all those responsible for maintaining sound doctrine whether young or old - "Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee" 1 Timothy 4:13-16.
Then there is a need for Living Doctrine. Charles Spurgeon said, "If your theology doesn't change your behavior, it will never change your destiny." Quoting A. W. Tozer again, he said, "A doctrine has practical value only as far as it is prominent in our thoughts and makes a difference in our lives." To illustrate what these men are saying, consider the doctrine concerning the return of the Lord. This one doctrine ought to be one of the greatest incentives to righteous and godly living in this present world. It ought to compel us to be doing everything we can to reach the lost before Jesus comes again. The problem is, that to most, this is merely a doctrine of the head and not the heart. When the doctrine of the imminent return of Christ becomes imbedded in our hearts, it will change our lives.
THE NATURE OF DOCTRINE
By nature, doctrine is Divisive. The apostles were accused in Acts 5 of filling Jerusalem with their doctrine. In this instance, doctrine proved to be very divisive. When it comes right down to it, it was doctrine that divided Christ and the religious leaders of His day. Groups like Promise Keepers don't preach doctrine because it is divisive. There is no way that they would be able to bring all the denominations together if they adhered to strict principles concerning Biblical doctrine. People will say, "Well I don't want to get hung up on doctrine." Doctrine is unavoidable. The doctrine that teaches that doctrine is not important is a doctrine in itself.
When you preach that there is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God as Paul did in Ephesians 4, you're going to be divisive. When you quote the words of Jesus found in John 14:6 where He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me", you're going to be divisive. When you preach that the Bible is the perfect, pure, inerrant, infallible, unchanging Word of God preserved in the King James version, you're going to be divisive. When you preach that the Lord's Supper is a local church ordinance to be observed by the members of that local church only, and that the elements, of necessity must be unleavened bread and the pure fruit of the vine or grape juice, you're going to be divisive.
Doctrine is not only divisive, but it's also Definitive. Our doctrine defines us. The Bible speaks of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. The Bible speaks of "His" doctrine, speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ. In reality however, Jesus Himself said in John 7:16, "My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me." The Bible speaks of the "apostles' doctrine." The Bible speaks of the "doctrines of men." Paul mentions the "doctrines of devils." Paul also mentions the "doctrine of God." In Hebrews we find the "doctrine of Christ." There's the "doctrine of Balaam" mentioned in the book of Revelation as well as "the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes."
Your doctrine defines you as either a Liberal or a Conservative; a Catholic, a Protestant, or a Baptist; a Modernist or a Fundamentalist; a Charismatic or Non-Charismatic, and the list continues of the labels that men will pin on you because of your doctrine. Doctrine can also be considered as Regenerative. Romans 6:17 says, "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." The Romans had been saved and set free from the bondage of sin by the preaching of doctrine. So much for not preaching doctrine on Sunday morning.
Titus 1:9 teaches us that by nature, doctrine is intended to be Persuasive. Paul wrote, "Holding 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." Two methods of persuasion are mentioned here. The first is exhortation. This speaks of situations where men know the truth, but need some encouragement to follow it. The second method is to convince. This is a stronger word which means to "confute"or to "overwhelm by argument."
THE NEGLECT OF DOCTRINE
With the rise of groups like Promise Keepers, it's obvious that doctrine has been relegated to a position of non-importance. However, groups like Promise Keepers are not the cause of neglected doctrine, they are the result. Paul said 1 Timothy 4:16,"Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee."Had pastors and teachers followed Paul's advise, they could have saved themselves, and their people, from becoming involved in such unscriptural activities. As far as I know, when Promise Keepers first began to gain recognition in our area, there was not a single man in our church who even gave it a second thought. They had already been well grounded in the doctrines of the local church and had been forewarned of the dangers of ecumenicalism. Many of them were asked by others why they were not willing to get involved, and each one was able to give sound, Biblical reasons for their refusal to participate.
There are several reasons why doctrine is neglected in many churches today. Some neglect doctrine because they view it as Intimidating. Some view it as Irrelevant. While others view it as being Insensitive towards those of other "faiths." But for the true Bible-believer, right doctrine is INVALUABLE. The foolishness of neglecting doctrine can be illustrated by the following scenario. Two college students find themselves taking the same chemistry class. One of the students comes up to the other one and says, "Hey, I've figured out a good way to pass the final chemistry test at the end of the semester. Listen to me. Here is how we'll do it. "The first thing we'll do is quit concerning ourselves with that dry old text book It's hard to understand anyway. Besides, we know those chemists don't agree on everything. Plus, that teacher we have is a real drag. He teaches for forty-five minutes at a time and I just can't keep my mind on what he is saying. All he ever talks about is that stupid textbook.
I know a guy across campus who has a new method of teaching chemistry. It's called The Experiential Method. It's a blast! You see, all you do is go to class and start mixing chemicals. Man, it's great! You should see all the colors that form in those test tubes! One student last year blew out the north wing of the building when he threw some stuff together. There's all kinds of action over there. Usually you have to go early just to get a seat." What's going to happen at the end of the year when it comes time to take the final test. Obviously, they're not going to pass. As foolish as it would be to cut chemistry class and expect to pass the class, it is even more foolish to ignore the divine guidance of the Bible, the doctrine of Jesus Christ! If you ignore it, you will flunk the test at the end of time.