Ask The Chaplain

Ask The Chaplain

Friday, December 7, 2007

Pt.2 "Why Bible Doctrine is so Important?"

The Relevance of Doctrine

In popular thought doctrine has to do with insignificant matters that are irrelevant to most people. Although doctrine can be trivialized, Christian doctrine is extremely relevant to all people. Christian doctrine (i.e., the teachings of Scripture) answers the fundamental questions of life -- questions such as who God is, who we are, and why we are here (Ps. 8:3-8; Heb. 11:6). How we answer these questions decisively shapes the way we live. To ignore them is to go through life blithely unaware of what is really important.

Doctrine is particularly important because a sound proclamation of the gospel of salvation depends on an accurate understanding of what that gospel is, what salvation is, and how salvation is received (Gal. 1:6-9; 1 Tim. 4:16). Nothing less than our eternal future depends on it. I do not mean to imply that we must all become theologians and experts on every fine point of doctrine to be saved. But the church as a whole must take great care that it faithfully proclaims the true gospel, and every Christian has a stake in the matter. I will have more to say on this point a little later.

It is true that some doctrinal issues are less important than others. One of the most crucial functions of Christian theology, and one of the most neglected, is to sort out the really important -- the essential -- from the less important and even the irrelevant (cf. Rom. 14).

Thus, handled properly, doctrine is very relevant to human life, and pursuit of sound doctrine should therefore be the concern of every person at least to some extent.

The Practicality of Doctrine

It is common in our day to assert that practice is more important than theory -- that orthopraxis (doing right) is more important than orthodoxy (believing right). But this assertion is itself a theory -- something people think and then say, and then try to put into practice. The fact is that what we think determines what we do. Thus, doctrine -- as something we think -- affects what we do, and so has practical significance.

It should be recognized, of course, that the practical effects of doctrine have limits. Doctrine does not always or solely determine our actions, since people often act on desires or concerns contrary to the doctrines they hold. For example, someone may believe as doctrine that lying is wrong, but selfish or prideful thoughts may take precedence over doctrinal convictions and lead the person to lie. The practicality of doctrine is found not in determining our practice, but in informing it -- in giving us the knowledge with which, by God's grace, we can do the right thing.

The point is that we should regard both knowledge and practice as important. Ultimately, what is important is that a person truly live in obedient fellowship with God and experience His love; in that sense, of course practice is more important than doctrine. But God Himself has made it clear that He uses doctrine to further that practical goal in our lives (1 Tim. 1:3-7; 2 Tim. 3:15-17).

The practical importance of Christian doctrine, then, is great indeed. Doctrine enables us to develop a realistic view of the world and of ourselves, without which we are doomed to ineffectual living (Matt. 22:23-33; Rom. 12:3; 2 Tim. 4:3-4). Doctrine can protect us from believing falsehoods which upset people's faith or lead to destructive behavior (1 Tim. 4:1-6; 2 Tim. 2:18; Tit. 1:11). Doctrine also prepares us to minister to others (Eph. 4:11-12).

The Unity of Doctrine

Perhaps the most common criticism people voice about doctrine is that it divides people. And indeed, doctrine -- in the history of Christianity as in other religions -- has often been allowed to divide people in reprehensible ways. But in a crucial sense doctrine is intended to unite people.

While it is true that doctrine inevitably divides people, this is not something that can be avoided. People think different things, and they do different things on the basis of their differing beliefs. What is undesirable, however, is that doctrine should divide people who ought to be together, or that divisions should be expressed in wrong ways. That is, doctrine should not divide faithful Christians from one another, preventing them from having fellowship together. Nor should doctrine lead people to hate or mistreat people who hold different doctrines than they do.

The Bible commands Christians to divide themselves from false teachers or heretics on the basis of doctrinal factors (Rom. 16:17; 2 John 9-11). In doing so, they are to stand together in unity against heresy (Eph. 4:12-13). Thus, taking a stand against heresy can promote genuine Christian unity.

As Christians mature together in their understanding of biblical doctrine, they become more united as their thinking becomes shaped more and more along the same lines (1 Cor. 1:10). Moreover, a balanced understanding of doctrine can help Christians divided by doctrinal differences to be reconciled as they learn which points are minor or unsound and which are not (1 Tim. 6:3-5; Tit. 1:9-14). It turns out that shallow understanding of doctrine easily promotes disunity among Christians, while deepening understanding of doctrine tends to foster greater Christian unity.

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