WHY IS DOCTRINE IMPORTANT?
By Andrew E. Courtis
The word doctrine will create various responses from people. Some think controversy, legalism, or truth and for some they are just indifferent to the word! What is doctrine? When it comes to defining doctrine I am talking about Christian doctrine, which is a body of belief or teaching that is drawn from Scripture. We can put this body of belief into categories like, the doctrine of Scripture, the doctrine of God, the doctrine of man, the doctrine of salvation, the doctrine of the church and the doctrine of last things.
Knowing then that doctrine is a body of belief drawn from Scripture, why is it important? In this post I want to give three reasons, the source of doctrine, the supervision of doctrine, and the security of doctrine.
THE SOURCE OF DOCTRINE
God – the Creator and Sovereign of the universe – is not silent. He has spoken and therefore what He has said is of utmost importance. His words are to be treasured because they alone are food for our soul and light for our path. God continues to speak to us today by means of the Holy Scriptures. It is by means of reading and studying them (with the Holy Spirit’s help) that we can know and learn about God. Every genuine believer of the Lord Jesus Christ ought to desire to learn about Him and in turn obey Him. Jesus said to His disciples, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). These commandments He spoke of are contained within the Scriptures, therefore we must read and know the Scriptures in-order to obey what he has commanded. Now the Scriptures unlike any other document proceed from God and are inspired (2 Tim. 3:16). Because the Scriptures are inspired they are “profitable for teaching” (2 Tim. 3:16). The word for “teaching” can also be translated “doctrine” (KJV). It is from the Scriptures where biblical doctrine is drawn. Doctrine is important because it is a summary of what God has spoken. Since God has spoken, whatever He has said is of great importance and must be affirmed by the people of God.
THE SUPERVISION OF DOCTRINE
Doctrine matters because it provides us with what God’s supervision and direction for the church is. If you are invited to a particular venue, and the instructions you were given were incorrect, it is almost certain that you will arrive at the wrong destination. Even though you were convinced you were going the right way, the truth is, you weren’t. The wrong instructions led you to the wrong destination. It is the same when it comes to Christian belief and living. We know that we are to live lives of godliness, but how do we know what is godly? How do we live in such a way that according to the will of God? How do we adhere to biblical truth? How does a church practice godliness? The answer is, by holding to and living in accordance to what God requires. If we disbelieve or misinterpret what He has said in His Word, our actions will be contrary to what He desires. Our life will be one of sinfulness, even though we may be convinced that we are obeying God, the truth is we are not. Our wrong belief will lead to wrong behaviour.
It is essential that if we are going to adhere to God’s truth and live in accordance to it (as individual believers and as churches as whole), we need to first of all understand His instructions. Because the Scriptures contain what God has spoken, they are authoritative. All that we do as Christians must come as a result of obedience to what God requires of us. If we are convinced that the Scriptures are from God, and that they contain His truth, then they must be our foundation. The apostle Paul said to Timothy, “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:13). These are called “sound words” because they are without corruption. What are these “words”? This is a reference to the very words of God. Paul knew the importance of God’s words when it came to Christian living, and he commands Timothy to allow them to be a pillar that will hold him up when it comes to ministry.
If biblical doctrine is at our foundation, it will direct us down the path of righteousness. The Psalmist said, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). God’s Word lights up the path and guides the believer in a direction that is glorifying to God providing Divine supervision.
THE SECURITY OF DOCTRINE
Finally, doctrine is important because it provides the believer with security. That is to say it protects us from error. There are many false doctrines in the world today, but this is nothing new. The Scriptures provide various names for false doctrines, “worthless doctrine” (Jer. 10:8), “every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14), “doctrines of men” (Col. 2:22), “different doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:3; 6:3), “doctrines of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1), “strange doctrines” (Heb. 13:9), “doctrine of Balaam” (Rev. 2:14) and “doctrine of the Nicolaitans” (Rev. 2:15). These names give us the understanding of the source and nature of false doctrine. False doctrine does not come from God and therefore is not helpful but only harmful.
How does sound biblical doctrine protect us from error? It will prevent us from affirming a belief that it unbiblical which in turn will lead to a practice that is unbiblical. Put simply, it will protect us from bad belief and behaviour. Departure from sound doctrine occurs when someone basis their belief and behaviour on something that is not biblical. Perhaps people and churches will form their belief on tradition, experience or simply on ignorance. Such practice is devastating because the actions they perform are driven by something that is unbiblical. This is one of the reasons why many churches will have bizarre and unbiblical ministries and practices – they have departed from sound doctrine. Liberalism is the fruit of departing from sound doctrine. Biblical doctrine is critical because it provides the believer with security and informs their behaviour and practice.
In contrast to those who embraced false teaching, Paul reminded Timothy “You, however, have followed my teaching (or “doctrine”)” (2 Tim. 3:10). Because of the emphasis of this “teaching” coming from Paul, it is best to view this as apostolic teaching. In other words, this refers to the divine truth of Scripture that Paul taught and wrote. If Timothy imitates Paul’s doctrine, this will lead to godliness, and in turn combat error. In addition following doctrine, Paul instructed Timothy, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it” (2 Tim. 3:14). While the false teachers advance in their error (cf. 2 Tim. 3:13), Timothy is to continue in the things he had learned. In other words, don’t move from the truth! Doctrine, drawn from the Scriptures is your weapon against error and it will protect you.