What is Doctrine?
“What is truth?” – Pilate
The question asked by Pilate is a very intriguing question, and one that should be asked by the world today objectively. People are so caught up in “fairness” that they have written off any idea of a single reality, instead opting for an “even spread” of ideas as all being equal. This leads only to mass confusion being seen as “sight” and nothing more. It is no longer the blind leading the blind as though they can see, but now is more along the lines of the blind proclaiming that all are equally blind. And if one were to stand up and say “I can see!” they are universally condemned as being arrogant and intolerant, and are quickly pulled down and shushed. But the one person with sight can see that they group is quickly moving towards the edge of a cliff, and they become urgent with the people, trying to get them to stop walking in that direction. But if everyone is presumed to be equally blind, who is to say that there is a cliff? They all push back the person with sight and rush off of the cliff, expecting there to be pillows at the bottom, and that solely based upon their level of sincerity. And what is worse, those who can see have begun to believe the blind, and begin to push them off as well, because “love” is tolerant and never “condemns” anyone’s sincerity. And thus when doctrine is accurately produced, it is equally condemned by the listening church and the dead world. And this is what made the early church so uniquely different, in that they proclaimed a single God, the God of the prophets who fulfilled the Law, and such a proclamation started with a very small group of people who could see.
“Doctrine” is a very unique word. It carries with it both the substance and outworking of the truth. It means, essentially, to be both the instruction and what is being instructed. The function and information. The water, and the bucket which pours out the water. “False doctrine,” on the other hand, bears the idea of having a similar source, but improperly distributed (the meaning of the word “deception”), or distribute it biblically, but from a false source. (see 1 Tim. 4:1) True, biblical doctrine is that which is drawn and distributed properly, according to the very source from which it draws. To put it more plainly, we take the truth from the Word of God (such as the Gospel) and then accurately proclaim it to the people. “Sound” or “healthy” doctrine is that which is “fitting.” It is accurate and applicable. It is not given out half-heartedly or without any point, but goes directly to the heart of the issue. It is compared Scripturally to planting a seed. If the seed is planted poorly, it will not yield the fruitful response we should long for. It must be properly planted and cared. And we see this in 1 Corinthians 3:
“What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (vs. 5-9)
Now let’s get this out of the way for now and make it clear: Yes, doctrine divides. It is supposed to. As the plant will separate the dirt when it grows, and as the tumor is separated from the body, so we are separated from that which is false. Division is not only expected, it must happen. Doctrine must divide friends and family (see Mat. 10:34-36), and if we compromise for the sake of maintain such relationships, we have separated ourselves from the Word of God, as though love supersedes truth. Doctrine, by its very nature, will divide if properly produced (if the substance and instruction are pure), and anything else should be called into question. I am not saying that the Scripture is against unity. On the contrary, the Word of God creates a true unity that is different than all the world has to offer. It removes the cancer from our wretched bodies and makes us alive “together with Christ” as one body, freed from sin and saved to righteousness (Eph. 2:5 and Rom. 12:5). If we so quickly push away any sense of division from the world, then we remain separated from Christ, because it is impossible to be one with the world and with Christ (Mat. 6:24). If we are in Christ, our earthly families are nothing more than that- the families we have on this earth. Our true family is with Christ, as brothers and sisters with Him, being children of God, a position far higher than any earthly relationship, and it is to this reality that we must cling. The Word of God is therefore used as the sword to separate us from that earthly connection to sin and is likewise used to keep us separate from the world, keeping us bound to Christ and the Father (John 17:11). Without doctrine, we would be in unity with the world and separated from the Lord, and that dear reader, would be the most dreadful state.
Now as far as the meaning of Doctrine, we begin to enter into the reality that is the outworking of it. The Bible deals with doctrine in three basic points: the Word of God (the substance), the preaching of the Word (the instruction), and false doctrine (that which is contrary to “sound doctrine”). I will gradually go through these three throughout this series, attempting to cover them as clearly as I can. In other words, I must (ironically) use sound doctrine to interpret sound doctrine accurately for any who read this.
But before I begin this little compilation of my thoughts, let me put forward why I am writing this. This is perhaps the most important subject we can ever consider as believers in the Word of God. If we truly do believe that we follow the Son (fullness) of God and that this Book are the words He has provided for us, we must hold to these words as though our lives depended on it, because our eternal lives do. Without it our earthly lives may be very well suited to our tastes, and might even be worth every second we live here. But consider the results. Any life lived outside of the Gospel will be forever lost in eternal damnation, because God is just, and only He can justify. If we are indeed followers of Christ, then we are Christians (“little Christs”), and being children of God we should not think of Him as some general idea nor a physical thing we can see and feel. He is God, and we must take His Word seriously. And that can only be done with sound doctrine, whether you are a preacher or are studying the Word for yourself. Because it is by these words that we live and breathe and move and exist, and we are never to think that they are just the words of some wise men only. “I never think that way” some might say. But outward actions reveal the interpretation of the heart concerning the Word. In other words, I reveal I believe the Word of God as nothing more than the words of men when I fail to actually take it as seriously as I ought to, seeing that it is the words of the Creator of every cell of our bodies, and is the Judge whom we must stand before in the final Day. And all, saint and sinner, will stand before Him and give an account primarily of how they responded to the Word He provided.
When I preach the Gospel at the City Rescue Mission in Lansing, I remind the listeners of this brutal reality. They may hear and disregard, or fail to hear at all, but no matter how they receive or fail to receive the Gospel, they will give an account of how they received it or else declined to receive it. Some the Gospel will save, and some it will condemn. One way or another, we will be saved or else condemned by the Bible, and therefore if we choose to accept or deny it, we had better think our answer through. Because if we respond incorrectly to the Scriptures, it will be our eternal undoing, and is the practical outworking of condemning ourselves to the very hellfire many so dreadfully fear.
What if I told you that those who wonder from the faith, as well as the love of money, were both results of a lack of sound doctrine? Those who want to get rich and fall into “temptation” do so because of a lack of sound doctrine. If we have sound doctrine, we must content with what we have, because we have brought nothing into the world and cannot take it out. Godliness results in much gain, being eternally rewarded, but not here on earth. And here is another interesting fact: Throwing out biblical doctrine doesn’t actually provide unity. What is intensely ironic is the fact that families, for example, who abandon the pure teaching of the Word for the sake of unity, actually fall into the pit of confrontation. It results in friction, because their minds and hearts are depraved, and this results in envy, strife, abusive language and evil suspicions. They understand nothing, and are utterly conceited. And all this because they throw out sound doctrine. They want to be unified so badly that they forget or else abandon what true unity is. The world will unify, but only against God, and that in the End of all these created things around us, and if we are striving to be both on the side of family who are outside of Christ and (at the same time) be united with the church of Christ, where will we stand on that Day? For the church will be with Christ in the clouds as He prepares His complete judgement upon the world, while the unsaved mock and fight against the Lord. You will not be free to choose both, because one will be destroyed while the Other glorified. And if we take this into account, where do we stand now? We do not know the day nor hour when He will come, and when He comes it will be sudden and unexpected, and will be quick. So take careful heed of where you stand now, lest your feet be stayed while those of the saints are lifted to glory.
“If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will bring about at the proper time—He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.” – 1 Timothy 6:3-16