What is doctrine and why is it important?

And you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. ~Jesus Christ~ (John 8:32)

Recently in our study of 1 John we have come across the vital importance of correct doctrine. But what is doctrine and why is it so important?

Simply put, doctrine is the sum total of what the Bible teaches on any given subject and comes from the New Testament word didaskalia which is often translated teaching, instruction or doctrine.

In total the New Testament explicitly commends sound doctrine to us 28 times! (ex. 1 Tim 4:13, 16; 2 Tim 4:2-3; Tit1:9).

According to Jesus accuracy in belief is important because correct belief leads to spiritual life and incorrect belief leads to spiritual death. This is at the heart of the importance of doctrine.

Primary doctrinal areas lead to spiritual death, however, secondary and tertiary areas, while still important to pursue truth in, may have varying degrees of harmful impact upon the health and effectiveness of the Church and one’s spiritual life, whilst still allowing for someone to be considered a Christian.

However, lest I give the wrong impression, knowing the truth is not all about propositional truths or doctrine. Ultimately Jesus uses this word truth as a play on words to refer to Himself (Jn 14:6). Ultimately we come to know God the Father through a correct knowledge of the Truth, Jesus God’s only Son. Propositional truths are meant to point us to a relational (and factual) knowledge of Jesus that leads to eternal life.

Therefore, doctrine is not a bore but an exciting adventure of discovery about God and His ways. It helps us overcome wrong ideas that are harmful to either one’s salvation or a hindrance to their spiritual life and the life of the Church. Its study helps us make better Christian decisions, answer people’s questions about our Faith (i.e. be more effective in evangelism), develop a greater Christian confidence, and it helps us grow to become healthier and more robust Christians because we have a solid diet.

By growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (which includes doctrine!) may we all be built up into the most Holy Faith (2 Pet 3:18; Jude 20).

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

Resources from Sunday

Praise the Lord for a great day of teaching and fellowship at the chapel! In the morning we looked at a robust basis for true unity amongst the churches. In the afternoon we had pleasant weather for our Tortworth Lake walk and tea and were blessed to have Rev. Maurice Wheatley with us in the evening when he spoke on providence. It was great to have so many family members and guests along with us too!

Further to the our sermon from Amos 3:3 (“How can two walk together unless they are agreed”) here are a couple helpful articles if you would like to pursue the topic further.

Our FIEC Gospel Unity Statement can be found here.

On the subject of theological triage you can find a helpful article by Albert Mohler Jr. here.

Another helpful model comes from the ESV Study Bible (2008), pp. 2506-07. I summarize it here. Similar to the model of theological triage is one of a target, or concentric circles. We are to aim to hit the mark in the middle, not straying from orthodox belief. That said we must recognize that not all doctrines have the same significance and affect how we relate to others who profess to be a believer or who truly are.  We need to ask ourselves the question, “on which hill are we willing to die.” Let us not confuse the periphery for the centre.

concentric circles

The relative importance of theological issues can fall within four categories: absolutes or the core beliefs of Christianity, convictions or those beliefs which are so important have a significant impact of the health and effectiveness of the Church, opinions or items that are less clear and certainly not worth dividing over, and questions or unsettled items to which answers would not necessarily effect or alter the absolute tenants of the Faith.

To help one discern where a theological or practical issues falls within the circle one can weigh the cumulative force of the following seven considerations: 1) relevance to the character of God; 2) biblical clarity; 3) relevance to the essence of the gospel; 4) biblical frequency and significance; 5) effects on other doctrines; 6) consensus among Christians; and 7) effect on personal and Church life. These need to be understood collectively. Often only one of these seven tools is used which produces a skewed result and a person or tribe resting upon an absolute that is actually an opinion (or visa versa). “The ability to rightly discern the difference between core doctrines and legitimately disputable matters will keep the Church from either compromising important truth or needlessly dividing over peripheral issues.”

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris