The word doctrine comes from the Latin term doctrina, which means “instruction, education, learning.” Based upon the definition of the term we can conclude that biblical doctrine consists of those divine truths that are recorded in the Scriptures and intended by God to be taught. The next logical question is, “What divine truths did God intended to be taught?” Paul directly answers that question in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching [doctrine]”.
A Hazardous Attitude
Tragically, there is a skeptical attitude toward doctrine expressed in the evangelical church today. At least, an attitude that “a portion” of Bible doctrine is not essential. This pessimism toward doctrine, or certain doctrines, is expressed in various ways. However, those who express this negativity fail to recognize the implications of that claim. Since biblical doctrine consists of all divine truths that are recorded in the Scriptures, in essence they are saying that God’s truth divides; therefore, His truth should not be held as personal conviction nor should it be taught.
If division takes place when correct doctrine is taught, it is not the fault of doctrine or the teaching of doctrine. On the contrary, it is because of the wrongful reactions to doctrine expressed by people. People choose to separate from those who accept and teach biblical truth because of a personal choice to reject the truth and the implications of it.
Some say, “Doctrine is not essential. What is important is experience.” This is simply a statement of the existential philosophy that so permeates our society today and says, “The only thing important is what is meaningful to me personally.”
Is it true that doctrine, or any portion of doctrine, is not important to God? Dr. Renald Showers of Friends of Israel once told our seminar class about an assignment he received while taking a course on New Testament studies. At the beginning of his semester he was told to work together with several other students to systematically move through the New Testament while categorizing every area of divine truth and determine how many times each area is addressed (no small task). Their goal was to find what one thing is emphasized more than any other in the New Testament. When they completed the project, they were astounded to see the warning against false doctrine is emphasized more than any other thing, even more than love, unity, and experience.
Since God inspired all Scripture, this finding is extremely significant. It indicates that doctrine is of paramount importance to God. Since it is so important to Him, it had better be important to his people in the church.
I recognize that valid spiritual experiences exist, and those experiences are important, but in order to be valid the experiences MUST be in agreement with God’s truth. There are many false spiritual experiences available to people. It is of utmost importance that God’s people have an objective, authoritative standard by which to evaluate experiences and determine which are valid and which are false. Our standard consists of the doctrinal truths of God’s Word. It is crucial that God’s people know biblical doctrine. What portion of biblical doctrine should they know? ALL… ALL biblical doctrine is profitable for teaching and knowing. Without doctrine we are vulnerable and susceptible to being tossed about like a ship without an anchor.
Still others object, “Doctrine is not essential. Love and unity are essential.” Agreed, proper love and unity are critically important, but, as I’ve already stated, so is doctrine. For instance, the Apostle John used the words LOVE and TRUTH many times in his gospel and epistles, commanding that God’s people are to hold strongly to both. Several times John tied love and truth together, implying that they are to be related to each other. The lesson to be learned is that doctrine that fails to be united with love becomes dead orthodoxy and love that is void of biblical doctrine is easily perverted or superficial at best. This is the reason John commands us to love one another “in truth” (2 John 1; 3 John 1).
I’m personally alarmed by our recent tendency to sacrifice and compromise God’s truth for the sake of unity. We are deceived in believing we have the ability and authority to pick and choose what divine truth is worthy of our attention and teaching. We then couch our shortsightedness with a false argument of needing to maintain unity that can only exist if we avoid diligently teaching certain elements of divine truth. This rationale is in direct opposition to John’s commands. Why would God go to the trouble of revealing His doctrinal truths and having them recorded in inspired, permanent form in the Bible if He weren’t vitally concerned that His people learn them?
We have the example of Jesus refusing to compromise God’s truth for the sake of unity with the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 16:5-12; 23). Paul would not sacrifice the true gospel for the sake of unity with the Judaizers who were fellowshipping with the gathered church in Galatia (Galatians 1:6-12).
A Hazardous Trend
The growing trend to move away from systematic teaching of doctrine in churches that claim to be Bible-believing cannot be ignored. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to find a church that provides such instruction. This trend is in stark contrast to the practices of the early church. In Acts 2:42 we are told that believers of the first century “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching”. The Greek word proskarterein, translated “devoted themselves to,” means “to occupy oneself diligently with something,” “to pay persistent attention to,” “to hold fast to something.” In other words, the early Christians occupied themselves diligently with, paid persistent attention to, or held fast to doctrine every time they gathered together. Was Luke saying they devoted themselves only to certain portions of divine truth? No. They were devoted to ALL divine truth delivered to them by the apostles.
Jesus stated in John 8:31-32, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus wants believers to “abide” in the study of His word so that truth will be discovered. What portions of His word are we to abide in? Jesus never limits His statement. ALL His word is necessary truth. Never do I read Jesus saying, “Abide in my word. But please keep in mind that some of the word I delivered is impossible to discern as the truth intended. Therefore, don’t worry about that stuff it will only divide you.”
Paul delivered the following command to Timothy, “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). The fact that this is a command indicates that each generation of believers has an imposed obligation to teach biblical doctrine to the next generation. And this command contains a horrifying implication. If one generation fails to teach doctrine, or any portion of doctrine, to the next generation, that generation and every generation thereafter will be ignorant of God’s truth and vulnerable to all kinds of error. This will severely harm the church and change it into something God never intended.
In light of all this, the present trend of churches avoiding teaching systematic biblical doctrine is counter-intuitive to the direct claims and commands of Scripture. I will conclude my arguments where I began. 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching [doctrine]”.