Today we conclude a seven-part series on WHAT’S REALLY IMPORTANT? We’ve looked at the importance of the CHURCH, PREACHING, BAPTISM, THE LORD’S SUPPER, THE INVITATION and MISSIONS. Today we want to look at DOCTRINE and attempt to answer the question IS DOCTRINE REALLY THAT IMPORTANT? Doctrine refers to the instruction and teaching of Scripture on theological truths. In other words, what we believe and that which is considered the authoritative and final standard upon which we base our faith and practice.
Paul told his young son in the faith, Timothy, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16). Then he told him, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who had no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Why was it so important that Timothy do his best to handle the truth of God’s Word? Because people’s eternal destinies were at stake, including his.
Albert Mohler said, “When a denomination begins to consider doctrine divisive, theology troublesome, and convictions inconvenient, consider that denomination on its way to a well-deserved death.” 1
Tim Keller said, “Ironically, the insistence that doctrines do not matter is really a doctrine itself.” 2
CONTRARY TO CURRENT CONTEMPORARY OPINION, DOCTRINE IS IMPORTANT. WHY?
Two months after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, former President Bill Clinton gave a speech at Georgetown University in which he suggested that America’s own “arrogant self-righteousness” was partly to blame for making the nation a target of terrorism. Apparently Clinton believed the whole mess could have been avoided if everyone on both sides had simply realized there is no such thing as absolute or universal truth, and therefore no ideology is worth fighting over. “Nobody’s got the truth,” he told students. “You’re at a university which basically believes that no one ever has the whole truth … We are incapable of ever having the whole truth.” The terrorists, Clinton suggested, are being brutal and intolerant only because they believe they have the truth, whereas our society’s more tolerant attitudes are rooted in an understanding that absolute truth is unknowable.” 3
But it’s not just public or political opinion that gets it wrong when it comes to doctrine. Many evangelicals minimize the importance of Biblical doctrine or de-emphasize it altogether.
Several years ago, I was invited to a conference for pastors of churches that were averaging over 1,000. Our church had only recently begun doing that. So I was honored to go and was one of the youngest present. Early on I was told this was a conference that dealt with practical issues, but that doctrinal issues were never discussed. At the time I thought it strange. Here were the heroes of our movement. Men with decades of experience in ministry, track records of character and integrity, preachers who had taught and preached God’s Word for years, men we looked up to and respected. Why not ask them about doctrinal matters and learn from them? Why not discuss the issues and challenges we were facing in our churches, our culture, etc.? It’s great learning practical matters of church growth, leadership, management, dealing with staff, raising funds, building facilities, etc. But why not listen to and learn from veteran pastors and make sure we were teaching the right doctrine?
One of the most respected pastors in America asked, “Why do evangelicals try so desperately to court the world’s favor? Churches plan their worship services to cater to the ‘unchurched.’ Christian performers ape every worldly fad in music and entertainment. Preachers are terrified that the offense of the gospel might turn someone against them; so they deliberately omit the parts of the message the world might not like.
Evangelicalism seems to have been hijacked by legions of carnal spin-doctors, who are trying their best to convince the world that the church can be just as inclusive, pluralistic, and broad-minded as the most politically-correct worldling … In this age of tolerance, what was once forbidden is now encouraged. What was once universally deemed immoral is now celebrated. Marital infidelity and divorce have been normalized. Profanity is commonplace. Abortion, homosexuality, and moral perversions of all kinds are championed by large advocacy groups and enthusiastically promoted by the popular media … Just about the only remaining taboo is the naïve and politically incorrect notion that another person’s alternative lifestyle, religion, or different perspective is wrong.” 4
So today, in many evangelical circles, we have clear doctrinal deviations from the Word of God left unchecked and unchallenged by both pastors and parishioners alike, because no one wants to offend anyone. John R.W. Stott said we have to be careful “not to sacrifice revelation on the altar of relevancy.” 5
FOR MANY, IT’S ALREADY TOO LATE.
Jerry Vines warned, “Great extremes in doctrine usually start with slight deviations. I live not far from Cape Kennedy in Florida. When spaceships are launched, they must be on target to the finest degree. Just a slight deviation at the beginning can lead to great disaster. The same is true in matters of Bible doctrine.” 6
The Bible says, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith …” (1 Timothy 4:1) Jesus said, “For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect” (Matthew 24:24). Paul warned, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30).
“Many evangelicals minimize the importance of Biblical doctrine or de-emphasize it altogether.”
Today there are major issues in evangelical churches of every stripe, including ours. Among them are issues like same-sex marriage, homosexuality and lesbianism, transgender bathrooms and transgenders serving in the military, having the government pay for gender reassignment surgery. Does the Bible allow for women elders and women pastors? (Read more on The Role of Women here.) Is Islam just another peaceful religion? Do Muslims and Christians pray to the same God? And many others, as well as the issues already addressed in this series.
NOT ALL DOCTRINE IS SOUND DOCTRINE.
Many are completely unaware the devil has doctrines, too. He has demons, who are deceiving spirits, sent to pull people away from the truth. Paul said they are demonic in origin (1 Timothy 4:1). “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.”
Demonic doctrines always raise questions about the Bible and the multitude of different interpretations people have. Completely disregarding the fact God said what He means and means what He says. Ignoring the fact there is one meaning for every Word of God and not a verse is open to anyone’s personal or cultural interpretation. There is a context for every text and the exact meaning of Scripture can be known. Not by reading The Message or some other paraphrase of Scripture. Or from new translations that remove entire verses, words and pronouns to update the language of the original text to be culturally acceptable.
Paul left Titus on the island of Crete to get the church organized and appoint elders. You can read the entire instruction for elders in Titus 1. Notice verse 9, especially, “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”
When people or pastors get to the place where they doubt the Bible and no longer recognize God as the sovereign authority for truth, then any man’s opinion becomes as good as another for a source of right and wrong.
Paul went on to say that false doctrine is also deceitful in operation (1 Timothy 4:2). “Through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared …” These teachers are hypocrites and their motives are suspect. They aren’t interested in leading people to JESUS. In fact, they actually lead people away from JESUS. Their consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. The devil has burned his imprint on their brain and their conscience no longer possesses convictions or scruples or ethics.
Finally, Paul warned that false doctrine and false teachers are also distorted in outcome (1 Timothy 4:3). “ … who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” One of the things they do is mess with marriage as God ordained it.
When challenged by the Pharisees, JESUS repeated what God had already revealed, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ’Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:4-6).
WATCH OUT FOR ANYONE WHO TRIES TO TAMPER WITH GOD’S INSTITUTION OF MARRIAGE.
Not only did they attempt to tamper with marriage, Paul also said the false teachers demanded people abstain from certain foods (1 Timothy 4:3). While it’s true you may be healthier if you abstain from certain foods, the reality is you’re not going to be more spiritual. Paul said we should put everything to the test of the Word of God, prayer and thanksgiving (vs. 4-5). Does the Word of God approve it? Can we ask Jesus to bless it and can we thank God for what we are about to do?
Paul said, “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissenting, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Timothy 6:3-5).
In Romans 16:17, he said, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.”
The Bible is clear, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching (doctrine), but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
THAT TIME IS HERE. SO WHAT CAN WE DO?
The answer is, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).
J.I. Packer said, “Doctrinal preaching certainly bores the hypocrites; but it is only doctrinal preaching that will save Christ’s sheep.” 7
© 2017. Barry L. Cameron
1 Albert Mohler. Southern Baptist Convention meeting. July 1995.
2 Tim Keller/Twitter. ttps://twitter.com/timkellernyc/status/544869832123232257
3 John MacArthur. Why One Way? W. Publishing Group. Nashville. 2002 Pg. 1-2,14.
4 John MacArthur. Why One Way? W. Publishing Group. Nashville. 2002 Pg. 1-2,14.
5 O.S. Hawkins. The Pastor’s Primer. Guidestone. Dallas. 2006. Pg. 41
6 Jerry Vines. Spirit Works. Broadman & Holman Publishers. Nashville. 1999. Pg. 181
7 J.I, Packer. A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life. Crossway. Wheaton, IL. 1994. Pg. 285
Barry L. Cameron has been the Senior Pastor of Crossroads since 1992 when the church was averaging 188 in morning worship. Pastor Cameron and his wife, Janis, have three children and two grandsons. He’s the author of the bestseller: The ABCs of Financial Freedom, Contagious Generosity, and The Financial Freedom Workbook. The Cameron family has been completely debt free since November 2001.