An old song had lyrics that said, “You give love a bad name.” Somewhere along the way someone hadn’t done justice to a relationship, and a forsaken lover wrote about their disappointment in how things turned out. There is something else that has gotten a bad name over the years. That word, not so little, is the word doctrine. Say that word and people seem to cringe. We like the Bible, but we’re not so sure we like doctrine.
I first experienced this when I enrolled in seminary and talked about what I had learned. In conversations with others I used the word doctrine. One person commented that doctrine was all I seemed to talk about. Someone along the way had given doctrine a bad name.
Who gave doctrine a bad name?
Before we can answer that question we might first ask what the word means. The word refers to the teachings of a particular church and can be used as a synonym for the word “dogma.” In the mind of many, one church has their doctrine, another church has theirs, and so because no one can agree on doctrine, we might as well discount it. Someone along the way actually developed a few phrases that were coined as attacks against the dirty word of doctrine. “Doctrine divides, service unites,” was a popular phrase last century, and Baptists have been saying, “Deeds, not creeds,” for years. The feeling of many is that it doesn’t matter what you believe, just as long as you believe in something.
Doctrine has gotten a bad name, but did you know that it is a common word in the Bible? It is used some forty-five times. The word from the original Greek is translated more simply as “teaching,” or “instruction.” The Word means nothing more than the “godly teaching” of what the Bible says on a particular topic or issue. You may have been swayed by what other people have said about doctrine, but have you heard what God says about doctrine? These are some of the things God says.
It even sounds like the Lord predicted the lackadaisical attitude towards doctrine that we see in our day!
The Scriptures are aware that some doctrine should be avoided and that not all doctrine is good (Jesus said, “Beware … of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Matthew 16:22), yet the Scriptures do not on account of this urge the Christian to give up on doctrine, but all the more instead to “Give attention … to doctrine.” 1 Timothy 4:13
Did you know that in our lives when we are overcome by difficulty it is often because we are at odds with a doctrine of the Scriptures? Did you know that when there is disunity in the church it is often because people are in disagreement over church doctrine? If the church and her people would study doctrine, know doctrine, the result of that doctrine would be peace in one’s life and peace in the church. How do I know this? God says in Deuteronomy 32:2, “My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distill as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass.” Deuteronomy 32:2 (Also look at the life of the Apostle Paul).
It seems that while doctrine has gotten a bad rap, God has a pretty fond opinion of doctrine! Doctrine is nothing more than what He says. It is putting down on paper what He has spoken. It is taking what God says seriously enough that we sometimes have to disagree with others and even tell our family members that they are wrong and what they believe is false! It is having the courage not to say like so many liberal minded Christians, “It’s all a matter of interpretation anyway,” but, “Thus saith the Lord!” Believing in doctrine means believing that Scripture does not lie, that God will not mislead us by His Word, that His Word is clear, and that we can actually distinguish and know between truth and falsehood! But beware! The sinful self and the world hate doctrine! The devil’s first attack was against doctrine. “Did God really say that?” Satan said. Modern man does not believe that there can be one truth. Find yourself quoting doctrine and living doctrine and find yourself an enemy of the world! But know this. While the loss of doctrine is the loss of God’s truth, God’s life, and even God Himself, with doctrine we have the very words and truth of God.
In the Lutheran Church we are blessed to have a book of doctrine called the Book of Concord which contains the truths of God’s Word. During our years of confirmation class we studied one of the documents in this book called the Small Catechism. In the Lutheran Church we sing, speak, memorize, confess, and study our doctrine (like our Table Talk Class which, by the way has far too few people in it). When we take the time actually to dig into doctrine, we find that it is not boring or unimportant, but comforting, helpful and refreshing. The devil likes to keep us from doctrine so that we can go on thinking that God’s Word isn’t clear on a particular subject. When we actually study the Bible we are led to times of clarity, truth, and peace.
Questioning the need for doctrine? Gone soft on doctrine? Someone along the way has given doctrine a bad name. Will you help give it a good one?