Who needs Doctrine anyway?

A few days ago I was having a conversation with another pastor. He was asking about some projects I've been working on, and so I explained that one was an introduction to Christian doctrine. 'Obviously very few people will have any interest in that one', he said, matter-of-factly.

Happily that wasn't the only conversation I've had with pastors about the value of doctrine lately, and the discouragement of it is far outweighed by the encouragement of other conversations, yet it still saddens and, to an extent, worries me. You see, doctrine isn't some specialised subject for particularly academically minded Christians, or merely something kept tucked away in the darkest recesses of the Bible colleges and universities to give theologians something to do. No! Doctrine is for proclamation, for doctrine is quite simply the content of 'the faith'. The Gospel itself is doctrine; it is the doctrine that Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, took on true humanity and lived, died and rose for us to save us from our sin, and give us His life, righteousness, and loving relationship with the Father. And if the Gospel is doctrine, then every Christian needs doctrine.

The description of who God is and what He's like is also doctrine. So that means that to worship God, or to relate to Him in any way on the basis of who He actually is and what He's actually like, involves doctrine. You see, doctrine isn't some abstract science; doctrine is simply the teaching of the Bible. (In fact, that's just what the word means - doctrine literally means 'teaching'.)

And that's why I get a bit sad when people matter-of-factly tell me that few Christians are in any way interested in Christian doctrine.You see, Christians need doctrine, because Christians need the gospel, they need 'the faith', they need to know who Jesus is and what He has done, they need to know who they are in Christ. So, to say, we don't want doctrine, is really to say we don't want gospel. And put like that we immediately see that that's a very dangerous thing indeed.

Now, I said not only that it makes me sad, but that, to an extent, it worries me. And the 'to an extent' in that sentence is important. For ultimately I know that I needn't worry. Christ is in control, and He will preserve His people. Christ has triumphed, and His gospel will never fail. Ultimately my worry about the lack of interest in sound doctrine is just as problematic and sinful as my interlocutor's disinterest. For if doctrine is simply the teaching of the Scriptures, then rather than worry, I should simply boldly preach the Word, for I can't preach Christ without proclaiming the doctrines of the faith. So I should preach Christ and Him crucified, and trust God's Word to do its work. And it will. For as Christ is preached, hearts will be opened. As Christ is preached, hearts will be turned to Him. And as Christ is preached, sound doctrine will be embraced and loved - but not in the abstract for being 'doctrine' - rather it will be embraced and loved because it is the Word of who Jesus is and what He has done. It will be embraced and loved because it is the Word of eternal life in Jesus. And when I see that, then I have nothing to worry about.

I started off this post intending to write about the role and importance of doctrine in the life of the Christian and the life of the Church, but it's ended up being something rather different from what I had in mind. And I think that's a good thing, because as I've been writing this, my worries about people's disinterest in doctrine have melted away. Doctrine's important, because it shows us the true Jesus. But doctrine's also powerful - it can look after itself - because it is God's Word, which always does its work.