Recently, I’ve had people ask me about doctrine and why they are important. Some say doctrine divides, which I agree with. It divides truths from falsehoods which is vital to protecting the church.
Some say that doctrine is just man’s interpretation of the Bible, but just because we assign names to doctrines as we do when we refer to the doctrines of grace as Calvinism which is named after John Calvin, does not mean that we are holding his interpretation of the Bible at a higher level than the Bible itself.
Also, as a reformed believer as John Calvin was, I hold to the doctrine of “analogia fide” or the analogy of faith which allows for Scripture to interpret Scripture.
Doctrine is important for a few reasons.
1. We are commanded to watch our life and doctrine closely (1 Tim. 4:16). One reason American Christianity is in such bad shape as it is today is that Christians and churches have not studied and protected the historic doctrines of the church. Most churches today wholeheartedly embrace doctrines that were condemned at heresies only a few centuries ago.
2. Because we love God. If you love someone, you want to know everything about them and if we love God, we’ll want to know all about him including his nature, his character, his purposes, his commandments, about his salvation, his grace, his plans for the future. In other words, we’ll want to study doctrine – these teachings in the Bible. If I asked you about the doctrine of justification I’d be asking you about how God justifies sinners.
3. Because what you believe will shape your spiritual life. Isn’t this obvious? What you think about God will affect the way you relate to God. For instance, if you believe God is only in control when good things happen, you can’t trust him in the bad times. It is the doctrine of the sovereignty of God that allows us to trust him in the bad times. We need to study the doctrines of scripture so we can understand and relate to the one true God and not the god we imagine him to be.
4. Without doctrine we can’t understand how to live in the world. Is euthanasia or abortion wrong? What about homosexuality? You can’t give a consistent answer unless you understand the doctrine of man as the image of God. It’s the fact that man and woman in their union are to mirror the diversity in the Godhead, which makes homosexuality such an unnatural thing. Is murder wrong? If so, why? How about stealing?
You child is blaming you for their bad behaviors. How much are you to blame? Understanding the doctrine of total depravity, the doctrine of sin and the fall and how it affects all of us are key in this issue.
5. Without understanding doctrine, we won’t know what to say to unsaved people we meet. Peter tells us we should be “prepared to give to ever man a reason for the hope that is within us” (1 Peter 3:15). Why did God allow Katrina, or the tsunami in Japan? Why does he allow children to die? Why does he allow the innocent to be murdered? How can you answer those questions if you’ve never had a good understanding of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty? Why is it ok to eat pork now? Can you answer that without understanding that the Old Testament law is fulfilled in Christ?
We have many resources today which help us learn these doctrines. We have the historic confessions of faith, catechisms, as well as books written by many great authors and theologians. We also have the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth. He will illuminate the truth which he has already revealed in Scripture.