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IS DOCTRINE IMPORTANT?
Victor M. Eskew
Many of our brothers and sisters in the churches of Christ shudder when they hear the word “doctrine.” They act as if the term is an evil word. Those in the denominational world view doctrine with even greater disdain. On January 29, 2004, Benny Hinn had as his guest, Mr. Kenneth Copeland. Mr. Copeland made several comments about doctrine that represent the common thinking of the sects. He said: “Get the love right and the doctrine doesn’t matter.” He also said: “All our doctrines are wrong.” Closely on the heels of that last statement, he remarked that to God doctrine “really doesn’t matter.”
Is doctrine important? Or, is it a matter of little, or, no significance? The place to go to answer this question is God’s divine Word. It alone is true, sure, and steadfast (Ps. 19:7-9). If an individual casually reads the New Testament, he will find that doctrine is a prominent teaching. The word “doctrine” is found forty-five times in the New Testament. Fourteen of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament discuss the subject. Let’s see what the inspired penmen have to say about doctrine. Surely they are more qualified to speak about doctrine than is Mr. Kenneth Copeland.
The first time the word “doctrine” is used in the NT is in Matthew 7:28. “And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine.” If doctrine is not important, then Jesus engaged in a foolish pursuit. The three chapters that we refer to as “The Sermon on the Mount” were unnecessary. Does anyone really believe such a thing? No! The doctrine Christ set forth in these chapters has been lived and taught for almost 2000 years. That doctrine has radically altered the lives of thousands of people.
The second time the word “doctrine” is used in the NT is in Matthew 15:9. Here, Jesus used the word in its plural form. “But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” The word “doctrine” in this context is something evil. The doctrines were the commandments of men. These teachings stood in opposition to the Word of God. The proclamation of man-made traditions caused the worship of these Jews to be vain.
From the two passages we have studied thus far, some things are evident. First, not all doctrine is evil for even Jesus taught doctrine. Second, some doctrines can be man-made in nature. These doctrines often stand in opposition to God’s Word. Third, God’s Word is true, sound, and healthy doctrine. Fourth, man-made doctrine is corrupt and false. Those who proclaim and practice it are worshipping God in vain.
With these thoughts in mind, we proceed to other NT passages. In Acts 2:42, we learn that the early church continued steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine. This doctrine was the teaching the apostles received from Jesus. It was the teaching that the Holy Spirit brought back to their memory (John 14:26). They made this teaching known both orally and through written documents (I Cor. 2:9-13; Eph. 3:3-4; II Thess. 2:15). The church “continued stedfastly” in it. With great toil and effort, they sought to abide within its framework. Their practice stands in stark contrast to the remarks of Mr. Copeland and the attitudes that exist in the denominational world.
Romans 16:17 is another passage
that reveals the importance of doctrine to the first-century church. Paul wrote: “Now I beseech you, brethren, make them
which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have
learned, and avoid them.” This congregation of the Lord’s people may
have been formed by Jews from
The apostle John wrote one of the most powerful passages about doctrine in the NT. Just a casual reading of II John 9-11 causes one to realize that doctrine was important at the close of the first century. “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.” If one fails to abide in, continue in, obey, and adhere to the doctrine of Christ, he does not have a relationship with the Father or the Son. How can anyone hear that and teach doctrine is insignificant? Doctrine and a relationship with the Godhead go hand-in-hand. Not only does it determine one’s relationship with God, it also determines one’s relationship to his brethren. If one fails to hold to the doctrine of Christ, he should not be invited into our home. We should not even extend a greeting to him that could be mistaken of our approval of him.
Simply put, doctrine is teaching. Elders of the church are to labor in it (I Tim. 5:17). Preachers are to give attendance to it (I Tim. 4:13). Brethren have been warned to “be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines” (Heb. 13:9). If we are going to be like the church of the first-century, we must be gravely concerned for the doctrine found in the Scriptures (II Tim. 3:16-17). The denominations and our liberal brethren have missed the point. They try to elevate love above doctrine. This can’t be done. Love “rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth” (I Cor. 13:6). Love and doctrine go together. To pervert, twist, manipulate, add to, or take from the doctrine of Christ is to display a lack of love for God. With all of these thoughts in mind, let’s give heed to Paul’s inspired instructions to Timothy: “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine…” (II Tim. 4:2-3a).