One of the major aspects of the religious culture that we find ourselves in today, is the defiance of the concept of “absolute truth”. This is obviously the result of the post-modern philosophy that has been bombarding the church the last couple of decades. But it would be unfair to lay all the blame at the door of this corrupt philosophy only. The fight for Biblical truth is one that has been waging since Satan deceived Eve in the garden (Gen. 3). Ever since, each generation has been bombarded with the lie that doctrine is not important. Furthermore, that it should take secondary place in the church. The seeker-sensitive mentality that is so popular in the Emerging Movement and the Purpose Driven Movement, all focus on life and experience first and foremost and doctrine is being shoved out the back door. Doctrine is seen as restrictive, creating boundaries between people of different faith groups en disturbing the peace. All of these are built on the belief that there is no absolute truth that can act as norm, and doctrine typically falls in this category of adhering to absolute truth.
With this backdrop of war against the truth and the thrust to ignore doctrine, it is imperative that we ask the question if we really do not need doctrine anymore. Scripture is clear about the importance of doctrine. We are admonished to not let go of sound doctrine, but to give it its rightful place. In Romans 6:17 Paul is glad that the believers “obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered” to them. The Greek word for doctrine is “teaching” (didaché), and Paul is glad that these guys adhered to a structured form of teaching the truth about the gospel that he proclaimed to them as trustworthy. But why is doctrine so important in the life of the church? I want to point out a few reasons why sound doctrine is needed.
The Bible starts with doctrine
We should not overlook the fact that the first verses of Scripture contains fundamental doctrinal truths for Christians. In fact, one the most defective and dangerous lies, i.e. Evolution, is aimed at the very first chapter of Scripture. Genesis 1 teaches about the very fact that God Is before everything else came into existence; that He is the Creator of everything that exists – visible and invisible; it teaches us about the goodness of God; the power of God; that He is a Triune God; man’s essence and purpose; etc. There is no denying that, although very poetic in the original language, Scripture, from the outset, was intent on conveying truth as the foundation for a biblical world view.
It is a command given by Christ
A very important reason for us to focus on doctrine, is that our Lord Jesus commanded it. Before He was taken away into the heavens, He gave the very important command to His apostles:
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:2 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you … (Matt. 28:19-20)
The same word, didasko (teach), is used here as the verb form for the didaché (doctrine) in Romans 6:17. One of the core functions of the church is the teaching of that which Christ taught, i.e. conveying sound doctrine to the next generation of believers. This is to be a continuous action.
The proper response to this command would be to obey. If Christ placed such a great emphasis on the teaching of doctrine to the disciples, then we ought to obey. The problem today is that we have a warped concept of authority. In a post-modern society authority is seen more from a democratic point of view than anything else. Today obedience to this command is determined by what the majority wants and not by what Christ commanded. We need to realise that the Lord Jesus is head of His church and that the church should obey what He commands, and not the other way around. If Nelus Niemandt proposes an alternative lifestyle for the church where practice precedes doctrine, then the command of Christ is being softened and made to be of lesser importance than the likes and dislikes of church goers.
Christ commanded, we should obey. His command was to make disciples (which presupposes the doctrines of His atoning death and saving grace, which again has its foundations in the doctrines of Christ, God, and salvation history), baptize them (which cannot be disconnected from an whole bunch of doctrinal truths) and teaching. The church is to obey and submit to her Lord, not because its a great plan, but because its His will that it should be done.
It is foundational to the existence of the Church
After Pentecost, the believers “continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). They did not go around on a haphazard love missional talking about some hocus pocus experience. No doubt they did witness, as they were growing daily, but their primary focus was to ground themselves in sound doctrine. The apostles regarded the laying of this foundation of such great importance, that when challenges arose, they did not involve themselves in the actual problems, but solved it by appointing deacons. The reason for the deacons were two-fold: it served as a vehicle to minister to the needy in the congregation, and it gave the apostles the freedom to focus on laying down doctrine:
It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. … But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. (Acts 6:2,4)
In the epistle to the Ephesians, Paul explains the foundation for the church – now as a composition of Gentile and Jew – as the apostles and prophets ( Ephesians 2:20). He explains in Ephesians 4 that Christ left gifts to the church when He ascended to heaven. These gifts, he writes, consisted of apostles and prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11). Their purpose was “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” ( Ephesians 4:12). So when he refers to the apostles and prophets being the foundation, he refers to them being a gift of Christ whose ministry is the teaching of what Christ taught them. According to Ephesians 4:13, through their ministry, the church is to come to the “knowledge of the Son of God”. This will not be possible without the doctrine of who Christ is, of His work, etc. That was their purpose as apostles and prophets. They had to lay the foundation for the church. No structure stands without a foundation, and their ministry of teaching the faith, served these purposes.
We do not have apostles and prophets today in the sense that the early church had them, but we do still have evangelists, pastors and teachers to teach sound doctrine, to focus the new generations on the same truths that the early church had to focus on. If we neglect this, we rip out the foundation from underneath the church and it will not be able to withstand the winds of false doctrines that will come against it.
It is the very identity of the church
Not only is doctrine foundational to the church, but it also becomes the very identity of the church. Paul calls the church a “pillar and ground of truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). Negating doctrine to a secondary function, is to alter the identity of Christ’s own church. It is not without reason that the church is in the world. It is God’s chosen vehicle to proclaim and His goodness to the sinful world and display the truth of His justice and goodness and truth to this world. If the church pushes this aside, it is no longer busy being a pillar and ground of truth. Instead, it is turned into a disobedient group of people gathering for fulfilling their own selfish desires.
Considering that Paul is writing to Timothy who is ministering to the church in Ephesus with the burden of false teachers bombarding its very existence, it is al the more clear why the church needs to be the pillar of truth. Which brings a next reason to our attention.
Doctrine protects from falling prey to false teachers
This fact is very clear in Scripture as well as church his0lie that doctrine is noaul states that growth in the knowledge of Christ and becoming mature in Him, “that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ …” (Eph. 4:14-15). Doctrine protects against falling prey to the wolves that are out there wanting to devour the followers of Christ. By knowing the truth, lies are easily discerned. The flip side is true as well: without knowledge of what the truth is, false teaching can infiltrate more easily and cause tremendous damage to the church. Doctrine provides this needed knowledge so that the church can stand its ground.
A little further on, Paul writes about the weapons of warfare, of which the “Sword of the Spirit”, is an essential part (Eph. 6:17). This is the Word of God, the revelation of God and which contains the “teachings of the apostles and prophets”.
In 1 Peter the following is written:
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith (1 Pet. 5:8-9).
The church is called to resist the devil by being steadfast in the faith, i.e. anchored in sound doctrine. Doctrine protects, it helps to resist effectively. Refering to “the faith”, refers to the objective truths that contains the body of knowledge on which the church stands. Jude also refers to it as “contending for the faith” (Jude 1:3).
Doctrine leads to maturity
Paul writes the following to the Collosians:
And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: (Col. 1:21-22)
This follows a superb exposition of the person and work of Christ as fulfilment of the salvation plan of the Father (Col. 1:15-20). Now he describes the situation of the believers, as previously “alienated and enemies”. Now, however, they have been reconciled by the work of Christ in His incarnation and death. The purpose of this is “to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight”. How is this ever possible for people coming from total alienation and enmity? Vers 23 is profound:
If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel …
In a nutshell – sound doctrine will mature them. This is what Paul teaches in Eph 4:13-15.
Considering these couple of reasons, it is essential that teaching doctrine is not even a secondary consideration for the church. It should take preference in our church life. Obviously, doctrine should never be a dead set of teachings that has no practical implications for the church. It is beyond the scope of this article to dig into this. Churches need to start thinking fresh about this. But this should follow a definite decision to place sound doctrine at the core of ministry again.