What is Sound Doctrine and Why is it Important?
By Tom Smith, Last Update September 5, 2006.
Many of you reading this will react with a degree of confusion as to why such a question needs to be asked. That is good if you amongst those in react in that way, but I would ask you to continue to read though to the end.
The reality is that despite the fact that the need for sound doctrine should be a given, many movements even inside the church today hold to views which would have us turn aside from doctrine, or at very least downplay the importance of sound doctrine. These views include:
1) The Belief that Doctrine is not Important
This is becoming a fairly widely held belief today. Those who hold to this belief teach that since doctrine causes divisions within the organization church and since Jesus prayed for unity, doctrine must be compromised for the sake of unity in the church. This is widely held by those who are adherents of the New Apostolic Reformation (C. Peter Wagner's Apostolic and prophetic Movement), the Holy Laughter movement and others.
2) The Belief that Doctrine is Un-necessary
This view is a growing view, which comes out of the beliefs above. It is, of course, self contradictory because a doctrine is simply a basic belief and if you belief that doctrine is un-important, that is in and of itself a doctrine. Indeed, it is impossible to hold to any belief system without holding to doctrines of one type or another.
3) The Belief that Truth is Relative for Each Person
Those who hold to this view believe that we have no right to judge whatever anyone else believes. This belief system usually results is internal contradictions also because they hold that those who do judge doctrine are judgemental and wrong - which is in and of itself judging the other person's beliefs. I run into this frequently.
Others simply hold to the opinion that since different churches and denominations disagree, we cannot know who is right, so why argue or debate the issue. This leads nicely into the next belief system.
4) The Belief that Doctrine is either Elusive or Un-knowable
This is similar to the belief held by many churches in the movement known as the Emerging Church movement. Put in simple terms, they believe that sound doctrine is subject to the decision and approval of those who gather to discuss the matter. Thus there is no absolute, the only true doctrine is whatever any particular gathering decides is true. This is similar to the approach taken by the Jesus Seminar, which goes through all the words of Jesus recorded in scripture and decides what He did and did not actually say based upon a majority vote.
There are others, but typically they are variants on the beliefs systems summarized above. All of these are soundly refuted in the Bible and will be dealt with on this site as we continue to add additional information.
But What about Those who are Sincere?
It is possible to be sincere, but sincerely wrong. History above all else, should teach us this. What about the flat earth believers - did they know the truth, but decide to deceive? No, they were sincere, but wrong. Likewise, no one gets into a cult because they believe that they are wrong. they get into a cult because they believe that there is a benefit to be derived, usually an eternal spiritual benefit, though some cults use sexual favours to draw in adherents whose motivations are a bit more temporal.
Many people use arguments like the following:
- I love God and believe in Jesus so why do I need doctrine?
- We don't have to worry about being deceived, God would not let that happen so whatever I believe must be right.
Again, these arguments are dealt with in scripture, and we will try to deal with some of these issues as a quick overview in this document, with additional information on these arguments to be added to the site later.
What is Doctrine?
According to The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition (Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved), the definition of the word "doctrine" is:
A principle or body of principles presented for acceptance or belief, as by a religious, political, scientific, or philosophic group; dogma.
A rule or principle of law, especially when established by precedent.
A statement of official government policy, especially in foreign affairs and military strategy.
Archaic. Something taught; a teaching
In the Hebrew and Greek scriptures, the word doctrine is used 4 times in the Old Testament and 33 times in the New Testament. the words used which are translated as doctrine are:
The most often used word is leqach which means (according to Strong's Concordance) something received, i.e. (mentally) instruction (whether on the part of the teacher or hearer); also (in an active and sinister sense) inveiglement. This word is used in the Old Testament 9 times, 4 times translated as "doctrine" and 4 times as learning. the one exception is in proverbs 7:21 where the word is translated as "fair speech". Clearly it refers to learning or to something which is learned or believed, and in the one exception, of fair speech, it is a case where a person is persuaded to do something wrong, so there still is a matter of the person absorbing and being convinced of something because of that information which is received (Proverbs 7:21 refers to a harlot's seduction).
The one other word translated as doctrine in the Old Testament is muwcar which means a reproof, warning or instruction. So this is a matter of a teaching or doctrine, but from a negative perspective.
The word didache is used 30 times, translated as doctrine ach time and means "instruction". Related words such as didaskalia, are used a number of additional times. the words mean essentially the same thing.
So we can see that what doctrine means in the Bible is similar to the English word, and essentially means something taught, instructed and something which is believed. therefore it is not possible as some hold, to be without doctrines as long as we are breathing and our minds are functional. Likewise, in the Christian faith, what is it that we are taught and what is the standard of our belief? That has to be the word of God, the Bible. So if we have a standard, our beliefs cannot be subject to our own decisions, to the decision of the gathering nor can they be relative to what each person wishes to believe. Christian doctrines are defined by the word of God alone. In 2 Tim 3:10-16 we read:
2 Tim 3:10-17
10 But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, 11 persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra--what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. 12 Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. 13 But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
This passage, amongst many others in the Bible make it clear that our standard and our doctrine must come from the Bible. Thus "sound" or correct doctrine comes solely from our Standard, God's word the Bible. But why do we need doctrine at all?
Why Do We Need Doctrine?
As we saw above, many movements within the church, even the mainstream church today are trying to downplay the need or importance of doctrine. So the question arises, if it is divisive, why do we need it? There are several reasons:
1. It is only through the word of God that we can know what the teachings of the true Christian faith are. We are exhorted throughout scripture to stand on God's word as our Standard. For example:
5 Every word of God is pure;
He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him.
6 Do not add to His words,
Lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar.
2 Tim 2:15
15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
7 For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, 8 but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, 9 holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.
This means that we must be honest in how we handle God's word also, allow it to speak to us, not forcing it to bend to our pre-conceived beliefs:
2 Cor 4:1-2
4:1 Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.
If we fail to handle God's word honestly and submit to it's teachings, then it is as bad, if not worse than not using it at all, since we are then trying to carry on believing or doing what we have been doing, only claiming or perhaps blaming God for what we are doing and the consequences thereof.
2. Sound Doctrine will help protect us against false teachings and deception.
1 John 4:1-6
4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. 4 You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. 6 We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Be careful though. This will only apply if we handle God's word faithfully, or as it says in scripture, rightly dividing the word of God. If we try to force fit what it says to bend to what we want it to say, then we are fooling ourselves. Further, this implies more than just looking up a single proof text verse, but it means a proper study of God's word so that we look at the whole counsel of God, and we look at what He says in His word in the local context, the wider context of scripture and in the context of the character of God as revealed in scripture. The more that we get to know and understand the genuine, the less likely that the false will fool us.
This is important because we are warned that in the last days, that the deceptions will grow worse to the point of deceiving even the very elect if it is possible.
24 For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.
We see additional warnings about false teachings in 1 Tim 4 and 2 Tim 4.
3. Sound Doctrine is Essential for us to Grow in Our Knowledge of God and His Word.
2 Tim 3:13-16
13 But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head--Christ-- 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
Sound doctrine is essential for maintenance and growth of our knowledge of God and our relationship with Him. But knowing doctrine alone is not enough. Just as when we understood the gospel and we acted on that knowledge, we must also allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives and to build upon that knowledge to continue to help us grow in our relationship with God and to help us to become more Christ-like in our walk with God daily. We also need to allow scripture to continue to correct us, so that we will continue to grow in our knowledge and truth of God's word, both for our own edification and for that of the body of Christ and to be able to witness the truth of the gospel more effectively. We also need to be solidly grounded on the truth if we are to be effective in helping others to avoid the pitfalls of false doctrine, or to come out of false teachings once they have fallen for them.
Sound doctrine alone is not adequate. We must grow to be more Christ-like in our attitude towards others also, and allow the love of Christ to be demonstrated through us.
1 Cor 13:2-3
2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
Tom Smith, July 23, 2006 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by Permission. All rights reserved.