Several experiences and conversations I’ve recently had have impressed upon me again the importance of doctrine. There is a terribly damaging movement in Western Christianity that wants to downplay doctrine. For instance, a Facebook post I read today pointed out that if American Christians were being persecuted like our brothers and sisters in Iraq, maybe we’d stop arguing over stupid things like doctrine and theology, homosexuality, and the historicity of the Bible, and start focusing on what is really important: love.
While I understand the sentiment of the post (which had a ton of likes and positive comments), there are some problems with the idea that doctrine doesn’t matter. Not every theological issue is “stupid” and what we believe is fundamental to how we live now and for eternity. In addition, the Bible itself is very concerned with right belief and teaching and living… in short, doctrine matters.
First, doctrine matters because not every theological issue is stupid. Granted, there are some debates and divisions among Christians that are quite stupid. But just because some issues are stupid doesn’t mean every issue is stupid. That’s just bad logic. For example, the doctrine of Christ’s deity is anything but stupid – it is foundational to the very definition of being a Christian, and it is a doctrine we cannot compromise.
Or consider the doctrine of sin. The belief that every one of us is born into slavery in sin is essential to the message of the gospel. This is the very reason Christ died – to set us free from sin! Is it stupid to hold firmly to the full gospel as presented in Scripture (which includes the just condemnation of sinners apart from the gracious redemption of Christ)? Is it ridiculous to proclaim a message that those who reject Christ and choose to remain in sin stand condemned to death because they are infected with deadly disease, but have rejected the cure? Is this divisive? It can be. But read Matthew 10:34-39… I’m not saying that we should intentionally seek division, or be overly argumentative, or personally attack those who believe differently than we do. On the contrary, our conversation must be full of grace and seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6). But “full of grace” does not mean “devoid of truth.” And, truth matters; not every issue is stupid.
It is not stupid to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). Doctrine matters.
Second, doctrine matters because what we believe is fundamental to how we live. For example, if I believe that eating raw hamburger will make me sick, then I will not eat raw hamburger. My belief determines (or at least strongly influences) my action. This is true of spiritual beliefs as well. Suppose that I believe any form of religion will result in a person’s salvation; Jesus is not the only way to God, but “all paths lead to the top of the mountain.” If that’s what I believe, I probably won’t share the gospel with anyone, and I may or may not put my own faith in Christ – which will impact my life not just now, but for eternity! Right belief leads to right living… so wrestling with doctrine and belief systems is anything but stupid.
Since our lives are in large part determined by our beliefs, what we believe is very important to how we live! Doctrine matters.
Third, right doctrine is a major topic in the Bible, therefore doctrine matters. Virtually every New Testament author mentions and/or warns against false teachers, false prophets, false doctrine, etc. Almost every epistle was written at least in part to correct false doctrine that was being taught. If arguing over doctrine and belief systems is, in fact, a stupid waste of time, as the Facebook post I read suggested, then we must acknowledge that most of the New Testament is a stupid waste of time, and rather than read Paul’s ridiculous debates over doctrine and belief systems (like the book of Galatians), we should just go out and love people.
(By the way, the statement: “Arguing over doctrine and belief systems is a stupid waste of time and what really matters is loving people,” is itself a dogmatic statement from a belief system, and the Facebook post that proclaimed this message was itself an argument for that belief system…)
The Bible itself presents a belief system (or worldview), and then argues to defend what is true and correct what is false. If we believe that such discussion is stupid, we must also believe that the Bible is stupid. Doctrine matters.
Thoughts? Comments? Concerns?