By Jeff Faull
I know what you’re thinking: OK, here comes the obligatory “doctrine” article. I think I’ll pass—or else—I’ll hold my nose and take the medicine in one quick gulp and wash it down with something good and be done with it.
Doctrine was never intended to be dry, rigid, sterile, lifeless rules and syllogisms, but rather, the stuff of life itself. So I’m asking you to consider healthy church doctrine from some refreshing and positive vantage points.
Consider Doctrine as a Framework for Story
I hear a lot of people nowadays saying Christianity is a story. I agree! The gospel is a story.
Unfortunately many who insist Christianity is a story proceed to minimize propositional truth and reject systematic theology. But the gospel and theology are both propositional and narrative. The story of the prodigal son is doctrine. Parables teach doctrine. The Beatitudes are doctrine. Jesus’ claims and statements are core doctrine. Jesus is all about doctrine, and doctrine is all about Jesus.
Grace, love, forgiveness, justice, compassion, conduct, faith, and story, along with all the greatest themes and narratives of spirituality, are still doctrinal at their core. Doctrine, properly applied, is foundational and skeletal, informing everything else.
Several years ago I was in a serious personal watercraft accident. I had multiple open wounds, massive bruising and trauma, and eight broken bones. In fact, my whole body was broken. Compound fractures had to be repaired. Bones were realigned and reset. Titanium rods and hardware were inserted. Those things were more important than appearance, cosmetics, or even my discomfort. The skeletal structure on which my body hangs had to be fixed.
Today I can function. I can hike 10 miles in the woods, climb a trail, and ride a mountain bike. Had the doctors ignored those structural needs, I would not have successfully recovered.
Doctrinal truth is the core—the foundation, the infrastructure, the framework, the skeletal support—for all of life and spirituality. Doctrine matters to the health of a church.
But don’t get the wrong idea. Doctrine is not just the rough frame to be covered up, the scary skeleton to be concealed, or the foundation to be buried. Doctrine is beautiful and life-giving as well.
Consider Doctrine as a Source of Life, Beauty, and Nourishment
Imagine a world where God’s prescriptions and prohibitions were obeyed. No killing, no sexual immorality, no deceptions or idolatry of any kind, no homes like war zones, no greed or stealing, no harmful words spoken, no betrayal. Real doctrine helps create a more ideal world.
I would not want to live life without the wonderful doctrines of Scripture that God designed to guide, protect, and lead us as we make our way through this thing called life. There is great beauty even in doctrinal prohibition.
That’s why Paul told Timothy he could be “constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 4:6, New American Standard Bible). That’s not inconsequential or boring—that’s essence. The doctrine of salvation gives assurance. The doctrine of forgiveness releases from guilt. The doctrine of holiness encourages purity. The doctrines of church polity provide stability. The doctrine of Scripture offers authority and certainty.
No wonder the Old Testament poets use seemingly strange language about loving God’s commandments as “more than my daily bread” (Job 23:12); “great riches” (Psalm 119:14); “the theme of my song wherever I lodge” (Psalm 119:54); “more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold” (Psalm 119:72); “sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103); and finding “great spoil” (Psalm 119:162). They speak of loving the commandments—even the prohibitions of a perfect God—and basking in the joy and confidence they bring.
If you build a church full of people with that attitude toward doctrine, you’ll turn the world upside down.
Consider Doctrine as a Catalyst for Mission and Ministry
Doctrine is transformative. It determines your trajectory and relationships and worldview.
Doctrines of stewardship, grace, repentance, and Scripture all have positive consequences.
In the chorus of his song “Creed,” the late Rich Mullins sang about “the very truth of God” and said, “It’s what makes me what I am.”
This is also why the sections of Scripture often considered the most doctrinal are also so practical. It’s why the Pastoral Epistles so thoroughly instruct us in our actions as well as our beliefs. Belief ultimately translates into practice; belief becomes the foundation for the way we live, good or bad.
Consider Doctrine as a Basis for Peace and Unity
Ephesians 4:4-6 is a great doctrinal passage highlighting seven pillar doctrines that help maintain unity. “One body, one Spirit, . . . one hope, . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God” are set forth as foundations and nonnegotiable markers for Christian unity.
In Untamed, Alan Hirsch wrote, “None of us gets all of it right—even the most insightful. But if we get it fundamentally wrong and then get passionate about the untruth we have come to believe, then all hell breaks loose—literally!”
The church is the pillar and support of truth. That’s why Paul told Timothy to remain in Ephesus. It’s where Jesus concentrated his instruction with the majority of the seven churches in the opening chapters of Revelation. It was a defining characteristic of equipping for service and maturity in Ephesians 4. It was the purpose for writing to the churches in the books that make up our New Testament. It is the subject of the majority of warnings in the Epistles.
The church is warned about doctrines of deceit, doctrines of men, and doctrines of personal preference, difference, and even demons. So much of the New Testament was written to expose and counter false teaching. Our behavior, then, is to adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect.
• Doctrine is foundational, not fluid; primary, not peripheral; knowable, not elusive; and revealed, not being revealed.
• Doctrine can unite us, and yet it is worth contending for. (We find our peace in that which is worth fighting over.)
• Doctrine is what we have in common, and yet it can be that which sets us apart. (We find our commonality in that which sets us apart.)
• Doctrine is historically established, and yet it is perennially relevant. (We find fresh relevance in that which is historically and divinely established.)
• Doctrine is factual and intellectual, yet it is practical and livable. (We find our practical living in that which is objectively true.)
Doctrine matters, and so it was divinely delivered and eternally established. A healthy church is doctrinally strong.
I overheard an employee of a big home improvement lumberyard store talking to his friend in a restaurant. He was complaining that the selection and product line at the store had become so broad it had skewed the store’s identity.
He said a customer recently pulled in and asked, “Do you sell lumber?”
Let me ask you something, church. Do you do doctrine?
Jeff Faull serves as minister with Mount Gilead Church, Mooresville, Indiana, and also as a CHRISTIAN STANDARD contributing editor.