By M. Ashley Evans
“If we don’t know the bible, if we don’t know doctrine, if we don’t know theology – it is virtually impossible for us to identify false prophets” is one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite pastors, Voddie Baucham. It, in a nutshell, summarizes why theology and doctrine are so important.
While witnessing to others, I have had several people tell me that they are pagans and they quickly tell me that they love Jesus too, as if that statement alone will guarantee them eternity in heaven. Some professing Christians have said that they just believe that we have to love Jesus and love others – they don’t believe in going to a church that teaches doctrine, because doctrine divides. Some professing Christians have said that they love Jesus – all of that theology stuff just doesn’t matter in the end.
Frankly, they couldn’t be further from the truth.
Having sound theology matters – everyone has a theological view.
Having sound doctrine matters – and it is good that doctrine divides.
If you think that Jesus just wants you to love him and NOT repent of your sins, grow in maturity, and warn others of God’s wrath…. You very well may love that Jesus, but that isn’t the Jesus of the Bible. In fact, it is simply an idol that you have created.
We cannot give people an “answer for the hope that lies within you” (1 Pet 3:15) if we do not know the answers ourselves. We have to have sound theology and doctrine
Theology Matters: Everyone’s a Theologian
Far too many people view theology as an intellectual hobby or an abstract concept with no daily applications. The very word Theology means a Word (logos) about God (Theos). Everyone is a theologian because everyone has their own belief about God and about what happens after death. What we do and how we behave flows out of what we believe in our hearts. Theology is what enables God’s people to think and live rightly. It is because of our (Bible-based) beliefs about God that we try to live according to His standards.
Even inaccurate beliefs about God essentially make that person a theologian – just a bad one. Some theologians believe that which is contradictory to what God says about Himself in the Bible. If everyone is a theologian, then obviously some of those beliefs are right and some are wrong.
That is why we cannot look to our own selves to understand God. There has to be an authority outside of ourselves in which to turn. Thankfully, God has given us His Word so that we can know Him. Jesus said that the scriptures were written about Him.
(John 5:39) “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me.”
The implications of our theology (whether good theology or bad) will affect every facet of our lives. All of life – the daily minutiae, toiling at work, various emotional ups and downs, to the serious issues of death, job loss, tragedy – all of this requires a sound theological foundation in order to perceive them from a biblical worldview.
Doctrine Matters: Because Doctrine Divides
“No doctrine but Jesus “and “no creed but Christ” is a common mantra plaguing many churches in modern Christianity. And frankly, it is self-contradictory. Both of those statements are doctrines and creeds in and of themselves – the thing is, they are shallow. They either leave one ill-equipped or wanting for more, perhaps sometimes both.
The word Didachē is the Greek word commonly translated as doctrine. It comes from the verb Didaskō, “to teach.” One helpful definition of doctrine that I read in Tabletalk magazine said: “Doctrine is teaching from God about God that directs us to the glory of God.” Doctrine simply means “a teaching,” so if a church is teaching that they have no teachings…. it is just ridiculous. Further, to reject the concept and study of doctrine is dangerous. To do so is to reject Jesus’ teaching, and to reject Jesus’ teaching is to reject Him. (Luke 9:26) Jesus says “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the father and of the Holy angels.”
Paul wrote in his letter to Timothy that sound doctrine is one of the most important things for the spiritual health of the Christian and therefore of the church. Sound doctrine is like a precious treasure that we pass down from one generation to the next. (2 Tim 1:13-14) “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.”
Just because all doctrine is not the Gospel doesn’t mean it isn’t important. Some doctrine may very well be “non-essential” for salvation and yet it is still important because it is God-breathed Scripture. Some doctrine, though it may not be the Gospel, is a picture of the Gospel, or a natural outflow of the Gospel. Almost all doctrine is somehow connected to the Gospel. Are there different types of importance? Yes, but the categories can be completely arbitrary. You can categorize them in as few as 4 types of importance – or 10. The most concise way is Primary (Gospel), Secondary, Tertiary, and Adiaphora (unclear, up to the individuals’ conscience).
It’s a great thing that “doctrine divides.” It divides the wheat from the chaff: children of God from false converts who need to hear the Gospel. The doctrines of God tell us how to come to know Him whereas the false doctrines of man lead people astray at the risk of their very souls, for example, false gospels. Scripture warns us that we should be “rightly dividing the Word of Truth” (2 Tim 2:15) so that we can “present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed”.
In Paul’s letters to Timothy he urged Timothy and the others to teach “no other doctrine” (1 Tim 1:3) than what Paul taught since solid biblical doctrine (divisional contrast to false doctrine) would save all who heard it from spiritual error “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.” (1 Tim 4:16)
Division isn’t always bad since Jesus said that his doctrine would divide even family members. (Matt 10:34-37) “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”
Division in inevitable for the followers of Jesus. We live in a world marred by sin and full of peoples whose “father is the devil” (John 8:44). We are called to be set apart and holy. “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15) Teaching doctrine is one of the functions of the church. Those who demand a “doctrine-less Christianity” don’t understand neither doctrine or Christianity or are purposefully misrepresenting it.
Love Matters: But What is Love?
Many people who attempt to erase theology and doctrine from Christianity claim to do so out of love for others. But in the end, it’s just love of self and hatred of others.
It is out of love for God that we pour over His Word (His theology and doctrine), carefully so that we may know Him as He has revealed Himself to be.
It is out of love for Christ that we study the Word and its doctrines so that we can become more like Him in our journey of progressive sanctification.
It is out of love for others that we divide the Word rightly and help others to do so too. The Word was given to us so that we could teach others rightly, even correcting others when needed “All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Tim 3:16)
If we refuse to teach these things rightly – we do not love our neighbor, we hate him. If we refuse to correct our brother who teaches these things incorrectly, we are not loving him but hating him.
Love is this: Human beings are the crown of God’s creation, created in His image- Imago Dei. But we have completely rebelled against Him. We committed treason against God. We were born completely and utterly depraved in our sin. There was nothing good in us- nothing. Our sin separated us from the Holy God who created us. We could never be good enough to earn our way to heaven. Our very sin caused us to deserve an eternity in Hell. Yet God granted us grace and mercy. Christ, the Son of God (there is only ONE God, and He exists in three Persons of One substance) wrapped Himself in flesh; he forsook His throne and glory and came to Earth as a man. This God-man lived the perfect life and fulfilled His law to utter perfection. In His perfect fulfillment of the law He was hated by man, so much so that He was tried, crucified and buried. On the cross, He bore the full wrath of God for the sins of those that would believe in Him. On the third day, He rose again in accordance with the scriptures and He ascended into Heaven. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. He offers mercy to those who would believe in Him and repent of their sins. Our love for Him overflows in how we love others. We love others so that we yearn for them to know Him rightly.
Lifeway Research did a study in 2014 on the theological knowledge of 3,000 American adults. These statistics are from Facts and Trends Magazine. The study was to show the differences between Americans and historic Christianity. These statistics are startling.
• 55% believe that there are many ways to get to heaven.
• 55% believe that the Bible was written for each person to interpret as he or she chooses.
• 59% of evangelicals believe the Holy Spirit is a force, not a person.
• 33% of evangelicals believe that God the Father is more divine than Jesus.
• 44% of mainline Protestants don’t see sex outside of marriage as sinful.
• 39% of Americans did not believe in the Trinity.
• 43% say the Bible is helpful but not literally true.
• 56% believe that their pastors’ sermons have no authority in their life.
• 67% say that most people are basically ‘good’, even though everyone sins a little bit.
Each one of these is completely contrary to what the Bible teaches. It is imperative that we teach sound theology and doctrine. “Loving Jesus” simply is not good enough if they love a “Jesus” who isn’t the Jesus of the Bible. “Loving Jesus” simply is not good enough if they don’t understand the doctrine of Salvation.
Boldly proclaim the truth of God, out of love for Him and for others.