Religious people sometimes make statements like, “I don’t get into doctrine; I just teach about Jesus.” The meaning — whether implied or stated outright —is that the person will not deal with anything “controversial” or difficult, telling others “only about Jesus.” While we cannot know the heart of those who make such statements, we can know that such sentiments betray a definite ignorance as to what doctrine really is.
I have often told my children and often said in preaching, “Before using a word, it is essential to know what that word means.” Too many use words with little or no knowledge as to the words’ meaning. Some of us learned the hard way, using a word whose meaning we did not know, only to have Mom wash our mouths out with soap, sternly informing us that the word was not nice at all. That said, we need to understand what “doctrine” means.
Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines doctrine primarily as “a principle or position or the body of principles in a branch of knowledge or system of belief” (merriam-webster.com/dictionary/doctrine). That primary definition is probably why some have almost an aversion to the term, for it indicates a denominational concept of teaching a particular sect’s creed, dogma, etc. With that particular concept in mind, it is understandable for one to say, “I do not get into teaching a particular denomination’s creed. I just stick to teaching Jesus and the Bible.” That sentiment is good and needed. But, dictionaries give modern usage of a word and do not always agree with biblical usage. Relative to this word “doctrine,” it is not until the fifth definition that Merriam-Webster lists, “Something that is taught.” They add an “archaic” use of the word and define it as “teaching, instruction.” Yet, these two latter definitions perfectly describe the biblical usage of the word translated “doctrine(s)” in the New Testament (from the Greek words didache and didaskalia). In the New Testament, “doctrine” simply means teaching or instruction, whether the act or the thing taught (see Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament for full definitions).
Does doctrine matter, then? Understanding that the word means teaching/instruction, the answer is obvious: doctrine absolutely does matter! While it is good to avoid teaching denominational creeds and stick to the inspired instruction of, “Preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2), we must realize that teaching anything at all is teaching doctrine, for doctrine is the teaching. Note a few applicable points from Scripture:
Jesus taught doctrine. The people of His day were “astonished” at His teaching (“doctrine,” KJV), for He taught with authority (Matthew 7:28,29; 22:33). Jesus also said His doctrine was not His own, but the Father’s (John 7:16). Other New Testament passages speak of doctrine which is God’s (1 Timothy 6:1; Titus 2:10) or “accords with godliness” (1 Timothy 6:3).
The faithful of the early church continued in the apostles’ doctrine (Acts 2:42). Paul told the young evangelist Timothy, “You have carefully followed my doctrine . . .” (2 Timothy 3:10). Where did Paul get this “doctrine” he taught? Paul often stated that his doctrine/teaching was not from man, but from God (Galatians 1:1,11,12; 1 Corinthians 14:37; Ephesians 3:3), as did the apostle John (1 John 4:6). In pointing out the inspiration of the Scriptures by the Holy Spirit, Paul also declared that God’s word is profitable for, among other things, doctrine (2 Timothy 3:16). Christians are saved by obedience to the “form of doctrine” delivered (Romans 6:17), and John wrote by inspiration, “He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9). Those walking contrary to the apostles’ doctrine are to be noted (“marked,” KJV) and avoided (Romans 16:17), and Paul told Timothy to charge the brethren to “teach no other doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:3).
Scripture speaks of sound (or good) doctrine. Paul warned Timothy against things “contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:10) and referred other times to “sound doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1) and “good doctrine” (1 Timothy 4:6). Paul admonished the evangelist Titus, “In all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility” (Titus 2:7).
Scripture speaks of unsound (or wrong) doctrine. Jesus spoke of those who worship God in vain, “Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9). Paul also warned against “the commandments and doctrines of men” (Colossians 2:22) and “doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1). He exhorted the Ephesians not to be “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14). And, the writer of Hebrews admonished brethren, “Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines” (Hebrews 13:9).
Does doctrine matter? In a word, “Yes!”
The inspired apostle Paul exhorts, “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16).
Even considering just this verse alone, how could anyone conclude doctrine does not matter?
Adapted from Chad Dollahite