J. Gresham Machen, a brilliant conservative theologian of the last century lamented on the “modern hostility to doctrine.” It seems that we need to continue this lament today as there is a growing hostility to doctrine and theology. It is fashionable now among many assembly believers—including youth and even elders—to speak ill of doctrine. They try to portray doctrine as “wooden,” “hard,” “dry,” “useless” and “boring.” They only like “practical” stuff; “simple” and “devotional.” Anything doctrinal (preaching, teaching, even songs that reflect the great truths of the Christian faith) is not easily welcomed. Their comments imply that doctrine is not practical.
This anti-doctrine attitude is manifested in various ministry forums including seminars and conferences. The sharp dichotomy between “doctrine” and “practical” is because of ignorance and biblical illiteracy. It comes from a theological vacuum. We did not encounter this problem in the previous generation, probably because of the great doctrinal preaching and teaching of great men of God and a community that was willing to appreciate profound teaching. Since there are not many to applaud the serious exposition of the Word, we shy away from doctrinal and expositional preaching. The demise of doctrine is a dangerous trend in contemporary evangelicalism. In general, Dispensationalists who were big on doctrine and theology at one time, have now become “light weights” in this field.
“Perhaps the modern avoidance of doctrine lies partially in the fact that doctrine has been understood too narrowly, like a doctrinal statement or a theological essay, rather than more broadly in the scriptural sense of biblical content” (John MacArthur). Every statement related to faith is a doctrinal statement. For example, “Jesus is Lord,” “we are saved by grace,” “God is love,” “Jesus is coming again,”are all doctrinal statements. These statements assume many heavy doctrinal truths. So doctrine is the summarization of the central themes of God’s Word. It tells us how we should think about God, sin, ourselves, salvation, church, Christian life, the end of the age, future events, etc.
Doctrine is the confession of biblical truth formulated. The daily practice of our faith is the daily living out of the doctrines which we believe. Our life has to demonstrate and express the truth (doctrine) of our faith. There is no such thing as undoctrinal Christianity. The Word of God is given for knowing, believing, obeying, practicing, living, preaching, teaching, and testifying. Doctrine is intrinsically wedded to all these various aspects of our faith and life. So do not believe the “lies” against doctrine.
The apostle Paul uses the term didaskalia (teaching, doctrine) eleven times in His instruction to Timothy and four times in his letter to Titus. Doctrine or teaching, which is so essential to Christian maturity, was the great need of the church. That is why Paul called attention to it frequently in his pastoral epistles.
The early church devoted themselves to the apostles’ doctrine/teaching (Acts 2: 42). Among the four pillars of the church mentioned in this verse, doctrine is the first. Doctrine is called “the faith” (the body of truth) entrusted to the saints (Jude 3; Gal. 1:23; 1 Tim. 3:9; 4:1). It is also called “the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4; 3:15; 2 Thess. 2:13). Paul calls it a deposit (1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:14) – a valuable treasure which has been entrusted to us for safekeeping. Christian doctrine is “sound doctrine” (Titus 1:9; 2:1).
It is made up of “sound words” (2 Tim.1:13), or healthy words (the word “sound” means “healthy,” “wholesome.” The English word hygiene is derived from this Greek word). Sound doctrine leads to sound/holy/spiritually healthy living, and the absence or neglect of it to unholy living. We have the responsibility to translate sound doctrine into
Paul reminded Timothy to watch both his life and doctrine (1 Tim. 4: 16). The Word of God is profitable for doctrine (2 Tim. 3:16).
Christian doctrine is all about God’s Word, His revelation and His truth. In a postmodern world that denies truth, we must love the truth, know the truth, live the truth, and courageously proclaim the truth. Remember, doctrine is faith in its truth content. You can’t belittle it in any way. Lost ways of doctrinal thinking are to be retrieved. We really need reforming moments of doctrinal recovery; yes, another Reformation. by Alexander Kurian