WHY DOCTRINE IS IMPORTANT
Is your spiritual diet meat or cotton candy?
by Jeff Endecott
Doctrine has fallen on hard times. Witness these quotes that
represent the spirit of the current age: "Doctrine divides, love
unites." "Not rules, just relationship." "Give me Jesus, not
exegesis." A disdain for most things doctrinal can be seen in
much of the contemporary church. A prevailing attitude exists
that would have us see doctrines as enslaving. If only we could
get past antiquated doctrine, then the church would be free to
spread the simple message of Jesus and His love.
The only problem with this assessment is that without
doctrine, we are left to wonder who Jesus is and what kind of
love He hopes to spread.
One reason for disillusionment with doctrine has to do with
a prevalent church model, and another speaks to the very
definition of truth.
First, a prevalent church model is the therapeutic model. It
sees the church of Jesus Christ not as "the pillar and foundation
of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15) but as a dispenser of therapy.
In this model, pastors are called not to "preach the Word" (2
Timothy 4:2) but to pacify. Proclamation of eternal truth is
sacrificed on the altar of pragmatism, i.e., "what works for the
most people." The question in this model is not "What has God
said?" but rather "What's in it for me?"
In this therapeutic model, what is transcendent, objective,
and propositional is exchanged for what is temporal, subjective,
and psychological. Feeling good, rather than believing and
behaving correctly, becomes the goal. Knowledge and veneration of
self are substituted for knowledge and worship of the one true
It is sometimes difficult to see the practical benefits of
doctrinal statements concerning baptism, the new covenant, the
Godhead, and the relationship between the divine and human
natures of Jesus, to name only a few. Because of this, the modern
mindset has little appetite for doctrinal statements. The pastor
who attempts to regularly feed his congregation concerning these
may soon find himself looking for employment elsewhere, or he may
see his congregants migrate to other churches that are more
relational and less theological, more practical and less
Definition of truth
A second manifestation of the spirit of the age is relying
on a definition of truth, or knowledge, as only what can be
observed and measured scientifically. Church doctrines that
purport to be statements of universal truth are suspect, since
they are claims of faith and not subject to sensory perception.
This common belief may be stated, "We cannot know anything with
certainty that cannot be measured or tested by the scientific
This argument is untenable, of course, since it fails its
own test. The statement "We cannot know anything with certainty
that cannot be tested scientifically" cannot itself be measured
or tested scientifically, yet it claims to be a statement of
absolute truth. Nevertheless, this mindset has created a
credibility gap for the Christian church because faith is seen as
being outside of demonstrable reason.
On an episode of the television show Numb3rs, an actor
playing the part of a physics professor opined that "Real faith
cannot transcend knowledge; it must learn to adapt to it." The
professor was espousing a worldview that places faith outside the
realm of true knowledge, since it is impossible to test the
claims of faith according to scientific norms. His proposal is
that where faith and knowledge intersect, faith must give way.
Faith must either surrender or be crushed before the inexorable
might of scientific knowledge. The pastor must bow before the
Foremost among the many problems with the professor's
statement is its assumption that "real faith" is divorced from
rational knowledge. For the Christian, faith is based upon
specific historical facts, without which it ceases to be
Christian faith. In 1 Corinthians 15:1-7, for example, Paul
offers a summary of the primary gospel facts he took across the
Roman Empire in the first century AD:
* Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (v. 3).
* Christ was raised on the third day in accordance with the
Scriptures (v. 4).
* Christ appeared to Cephas (Peter), to the Twelve (apostles), to
more than 500 people at one time, then to James (the brother of
Jesus) and all the apostles - the 70 of Luke 10:1-12 and others
outside the Twelve (1 Corinthians 15:5-7).
The God of the Bible has acted in history, not outside it.
He acted most decisively in the death and resurrection of a
historical person: Jesus the Christ. Thus the Christian's faith
that sins are erased at the cross is based on historical facts.
This first century doctrine of Paul to the church of Corinth must
be the message of the church for all ages, including our own.
One way to think of doctrine is as a kind of skeleton, or
framework. Doctrine gives shape to all that we are and do.
Our human skeleton is internal, covered by muscle, ligament,
flesh, and skin. In greeting others with a holy kiss or heavenly
handshake, our skeleton is an unseen but necessary part of the
greeting. Without it, we could not function.
The lobster, on the other hand, has an external skeleton
that's not very appealing for greeting. Try to kiss one or shake
its hand, and it's hard, cold, and shocking.
Our doctrine too can be presented in a cold, hard, and
shocking manner, the opposite of Christian love. Doctrine should
always come covered with grace, mercy, and forgiveness. These
also are doctrines in and of themselves.
Without doctrine there is no substance, no stability, and
therefore no ability to even communicate the love we're called to
share. As a church, let us resolve to delight in doctrine, to not
get caught in the spirit of the age, and to share with love the
great doctrinal truths of Scripture that God has blessed us with.
From the "Bible Advocate" - September/October 2010 - a
publication of the Church of God, Seventh Day, Denver, CO. USA.