Why Study Doctrine?

Doctrine can seem like a cold, dry concept, something stuffy theologians fuss over when they should be trying to reach others. We’re more excited by a group study on relationships or parenting or womanhood or just about anything rather than a doctrinal study. We don’t usually approach our time in the Bible or church rubbing our hands eagerly anticipating what doctrine we’ll learn about today. We’re usually looking for help, encouragement, affirmation. We want to feel something. But feelings don’t last. If I get a warm fuzzy spiritual feeling in my devotions, that can dissipate in seconds when someone crosses me or something goes wrong. Winsome sermons and books may inspire me for a short while, but unless there is meat to them, that inspiration won’t last.

But doctrine is vital. You can hardly read a NT epistle without coming across a mention of doctrine and warning against false doctrine. If we think of sound doctrine as a manifestation of God’s truth and character, we can in turn worship Him by knowing and sharing the doctrines of His Word.

A.W. Tozer once wrote that “there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God.”

So what are some advantages to studying right doctrine in the Bible?

Doctrine leads us to true worship. When we don’t worship God for Who He truly is, then we are worshipping a god of our own making, and that is idolatry. Now, of course, all of us are imperfect in our knowledge of Him and are, or should be, ever growing in Him, and He’ll correct our understanding along the way. But that is different from not knowing Him for Who He is due to neglect or misapplication of the Word.

Doctrine increases our intimacy with God. We can’t know Him aright apart from what He has revealed of Himself in His Word. As we learn more of Him, we love Him and worship Him more, and what seemed like “dry doctrine” then does become something that warms and thrills our hearts as the Holy Spirit brings that truth to mind.

Doctrine protects against error and therefore the wrong path. For example, years ago when cult leader David Koresh was in the news, I watched an interview with someone from his compound. I was shocked to hear her say that she was impressed that he knew his Bible so well. Nearly everything he brought from the Bible, he twisted. Knowing doctrine would have kept this person and others from being deceived by him and others like him.

Doctrine bolsters our faith and confidence in God.  Recently I was troubled by a question I had no answer for that cast doubts on God’s character. I still don’t have an answer for it, but I rested on the previously studied truth that He is good, righteous, kind, and merciful.

Doctrine meets our deepest needs at the most basic level. If I am feeling lonely, what most helps except the truth that God is present everywhere, even with me? If I am afraid, what helps most but meditating on God’s power? When a trial comes and people feel forsaken, what most comforts but the precious truth that God will never forsake us? If I am feeling ashamed, sinful, and unworthy, my only help is turning to the only One who can wash away my sin and remind me that I am in Him and beloved by Him.

Doctrine is stabilizing. “So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14, ESV). I’ve known women and read women who do just this, float around with whatever is popular with little discernment. 2 Timothy speaks of “silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” who are “lead captive” by a whole host of wrongdoers in the “perilous last days” (2 Timothy 3:1-7, KJV). By contrast, Titus 2 exhorts us to “speak thou the things which become sound doctrine” (v. 1, KJV).

Doctrine determines deeds. Our beliefs affect our behavior. When a lie seems the only way out of a tough situation, what keeps us from it but the knowledge that it will displease a God whose essence is truth? Even the Titus 2 admonition to older men and women is couched in the context of sound doctrine.

Doctrine honors God. He is the one who determined what sound doctrine us. If we love Him we should want to know what He says and live accordingly. It’s so important to Him, He inspired John to write, “Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works” (1 John 1:10, ESV).

Doctrine is not an end in itself. If it is, then it does become dry and stale. The point of doctrine isn’t to line up our beliefs in neat, orderly systems and leave them there. The point is to know God better, serve Him in the ways He desires, and minister His truth to others.

People concerned about right doctrine can seem pesky and picky, and, true, it’s too easy to be that way. We shouldn’t be nitpicky just to be so. But we should “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, NASB), and as kindly and gently as possible bring His truth to bear in our conversations and interactions. We have to remember to let our speech be always “with grace” (Col. 4:6) and to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). We don’t need to “pounce” on every comment or reference another person might make, but graciously seek what the Lord might have us say. We also have to distinguish between clear doctrine and those areas where good people can differ or personal preferences.

II Corinthians 3:18: “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (KJV). We “behold Him” through His Word. And, the more we behold Him, the more we are changed into His likeness.

So, don’t be dismayed by that word “doctrine.” II Timothy 4: 3-4 says, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” That is a warning to us not to turn away from sound doctrine, but also possibly an admission that sound doctrine needs to be “endured.” Learning doctrine may not always feel warm and fuzzy, but the Holy Spirit will use it in our lives in blessed ways.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Wise Woman, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Faith on Fire)

Laudable Linkage

If you, like me, are avoiding the Black Friday crowds, perhaps you’ll be interested in a little after-Thanksgiving reading. 🙂 Here’s a round-up of interesting reading discovered in the last week or so:

Doctrine Matters: Eternal Life Depends On It.

Why Controversy Is Sometimes Necessary.  HT to Challies.”The only way to avoid all controversy would be to consider nothing we believe important enough to defend and no truth too costly to compromise.”

Seven Sentimental Lies You Might Believe.

Every Mormon’s Need For Rest.

Only You Can Determine If Caregiving Is a Burden or Blessing.

Forgiveness and Caregiving Create Amazing Changes.

Think Before Asking Why I Don’t Have Kids Yet.

Christan Fiction: No Wimps Allowed.

10 Things You Didn’t Know About “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” If you are interested in what Charles Schulz believed. some of it is detailed in A Charlie Brown Religion.

I saw this and loved it but don’t know the original source:

Insta Gram

Hope you have a great day, whatever your plans! We’re decorating for Christmas today!

Is it more important to be nice or to be right?

I’ve seen this quote all over Pinterest in various forms, attributed to various authors: “Sometimes it’s better to be kind than right. We don’t need a brilliant mind that speaks, but a patient heart who listens.” Sometimes the word “nice” is substituted for “kind.”

I think what people who propose this have in mind is interpersonal relations. We probably all know someone who “always has to be right.” Now, most of us want to be right. No one wants to go around misinformed or holding onto opinions that are known to be wrong or foolish. But most of us have at least enough humility to realize that we might unwittingly be wrong sometimes. Some people are hard to be convinced of that, though.

This quote might also refer to those people’s little idiosyncrasies that can rub each other the wrong way. How the toilet paper goes on the roll. Where to squeeze the toothpaste tube. It’s usually best to let those things go and compromise for the sake of the relationship. The person who has to have everything his or her way because of course that’s the only right way can make everyone else miserable.

But in some cases, being wrong can be deadly. The wrong wire cut on the bomb. The wrong medical procedure or medicine. The wrong path to a broken bridge. The wrong opinion about who Jesus is or how one can know Him.

Unfortunately in my particular circles in Christendom, people can sometimes use truth like a steamroller or bullhorn or club. Arrogance does not make the gospel winsome or inviting; harshness can turn people off to the truth.

In addition, we need to care about the whole person, not just their response to our truth.  Years ago when my sister attended the church I was attending at the time, she had a number of people wanting to take her under their wing and advise her along the way. She needed the advice, but she felt like all anyone was interested in was telling her what she should be doing: no one wanted to just befriend her. When I first became a Christian, I had to realize that my relationship with my lost family couldn’t be just about my trying to witness to them. That only made them feel like a “project.” I needed to listen to them, do things with them, just love them.

Sometimes we have to wait until a person is ready before we can tell them things they need to hear. Jesus told the disciples once, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now” (John 16:12).

On the other hand, Jesus rebuked the disciples for being fearful and not having faith in a situation where fear would seem like a natural response: being in a boat in a storm at sea.

And sometimes He shared truth that the other person did not receive, and He let him walk away, like the “rich young ruler.” He didn’t call him back, soften the message, or backtrack so the relationship could continue. When God brings a person to confront their dearest idol, it’s a crisis, and He wants them to see it for what it is and repent. Thankfully in His grace He’ll often bring a person to that point a number of times (I’ve always hoped that that man came back to the Lord at another time). Chris Anderson makes the point that in our day, there is a rush to get such a person to the “sinner’s prayer” and gloss over their heart issues: “How many such men have been led in a sinner’s prayer that salved their consciences but didn’t save their souls? How many have thus been unwittingly inoculated against the truth? How many have left churches lost and relieved rather than lost and sorrowful?” We need to allow time for godly sorrow to do its work toward repentance unto salvation.

In addition, God, through the New Testament writers, said that sometimes an issue is so important that His people need to take a stand and separate from others:

II Thess. 3: 6: Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.

II Thess. 3: 14-15: And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

I Cor. 5:9-11: I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.

II Cor. 6: 14: Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? (This does not mean we’re not supposed to interact at all with unbelievers, but we’re not to be “yoked” together in situations like marriage).

And the apostles could also seem harsh in their warnings against false teachers, but the truth in question was so vital, and error in its regard so eternally deadly, that strong warnings were needed.

So is it more important to be nice or kind than to be right? It depends on the issue in question and the needs of the people involved. It’s best to be both if possible. The Bible speaks often of God’s kindness and admonishes us in many places to be kind. In interpersonal relationships, especially, we’re  to “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye” (Colossians 3: 12-13). In larger issues where a right view is essential, we don’t need to convey or defend truth in an unnecessarily harsh, negative, gripy, or cynical way. But cutting corners on the truth in an effort to be nice is neither kind nor loving.

Is-it-more-important-to

See also Does niceness really matter?

Sharing at Thought-Provoking Thursday.

Is it nice to call someone a false prophet or a false teacher?

Caution

I don’t know whether it’s nice. But sometimes it is necessary, and oftentimes it is the most loving thing one can do.

The Bible has some pretty serious things to say about false prophets and false teachers:

Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” Matthew 7:15

But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. II Peter 2:1-3

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. I John 4:1

I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. Galatians 1:6-9

If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Ye shall walk after the Lord your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him. Deuteronomy 13:1-4

I don’t recall seeing in Scripture anything along the lines of “He doesn’t speak the truth, but he is very kind…or gives food to the poor…or has such a nice family…” or whatever. For one thing, those “good works” don’t give anyone points with God. For another, the falsehood is such an important issue that it trumps whatever else the person might be doing.

And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. II Corinthians 11:12-15, ESV.

I’m not talking about every little thing people can disagree about in the Bible. People can have different views of baptism, church government, election and free will, the best Bible versions, standards of modesty, etc., and still each love God and teach the major truths of the Bible. While all of these are important and we should study the Scripture to be fully persuaded in our own minds, the Bible also teaches that people can have different convictions and should be able to still get along. I think as modern day Christians we have spent way too much time fighting amongst brethren on these things and have gotten sidetracked from the bigger picture of sharing God’s Word and making disciples (for Him, not for our views).

But there are majors issues – the fundamentals, if you will – truths that to deny would be to deny Christ and mislead people into tragedy: who God is, how a person can be rightly related to Him, the Deity of Christ, the inspiration and verity of the Bible, the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, among others. When a person is wrong on these, I believe it is harmful to dwell only on the “good” he seems to be doing without warning people of his falsehoods. We don’t want to do anything to give credence to his message. That’s why I said earlier that calling a false prophet or teacher what he is can be the most loving thing you can do if it keeps someone from blindly following him into error.

I don’t think that means we have to set up web sites as false teacher watchdogs. I have come across a few like that, and though I am sure the owners meant well, the sites I have seen come across as harsh and unbalanced.

I also don’t think it means that if someone said they read a book or listened to a message from someone we would consider to be a false teacher, that we have to “pounce” on them and rip the teacher to shreds. We should be kind and compassionate with the person we’re speaking to, and part of that may be acknowledging that the person they are listening to might have some good points. We can prayerfully continue and bring biblical truth to bear in the conversation. If a person is really entrenched, we may need to just deal with one aspect at a time.

Jude 1:3 says, “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” We are called to contend for the faith. Many of the epistles do just that in dealing with falsehoods making the rounds, even to the point of naming names. Interestingly, I had this started this post last week and saved it, and then last Sunday our Sunday School teacher started teaching from Jude. He said the Greek word for “contend” is used only one time in the Bible, and that is in this passage, and it has the idea of an athlete pouring everything into competing and winning with total commitment. Ephesians 5:11 goes on to say, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.”

Besides contending for the faith, we need to clearly separate from false teaching.  Romans 16:17-18 says, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned ; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” 2 John 1:9-11 says, “Whosoever transgresseth , and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any * unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.”

Considering the above, when I quote someone or review a book, if I have some minor issues I might say something like, “I don’t agree with everything he said but I think there are good things to be gleaned from the book.” But if the author is wrong on the major issues, I can’t leave at “I disagree with some things he says”: I feel I must warn my own readers about this person’s falsehoods. Then if they want to go on and read the book, that is up to them, but at least they’ll know to compare what was written with what the Bible teaches (something we should be doing anyway.)

Warning of false teaching is one way we can we can contend for truth; we also need to be sharing truth proactively, as the Biblical writers did as well. Some years ago when David Koresh was in the news, I was astonished to hear an interview with one of his disciples commenting on his knowledge of the Bible. That person had to have had an amazing lack of previous Bible teaching or reading to think a thing like that. That’s one reason, among many others, that I have a passion to get people into the Word of God for themselves: it teaches us to know Him and His truth, helps us grow in Him, and keeps us from being deceived by false teachers who would lead us astray.

While we don’t need to set ourselves up as the False Teaching Police and become consumed with ferreting out falsehoods, we should be in the Word of God enough to recognize when we come across false teaching of it and be able to articulate the truth. It may be one thing that makes a difference in the hearts of those who hear us.