Do we really need Doctrine?
A few years ago I was talking with some young people about some biblical subjects and the word “doctrine” was used in the conversation. One girl responded, “I hate that word!” I explained that the word doctrine simply meant teaching and referred to that which we believed the Bible taught. She replied, “I know but I still hate that word.”
This student expressed a sentiment that is felt by many people today. The word “doctrine” seems to have many negative connotations. First, doctrine is often associated with controversy. People see that different religious beliefs often cause arguments and division. Second, doctrine is associated with narrow-mindedness. People often believe that those who hold strongly to their doctrinal beliefs have been led astray and are not open to the possibility that their beliefs may be wrong or need adjusting. Finally, people often believe that doctrine, particularly biblical doctrine, is not relevant to our current culture and time.
These various opinions are based upon one’s own perceptions, experiences, and personal beliefs (doctrines). Most Americans think they are progressive in their thinking and believe that science can explain most everything and/or their experiences determine what is true. They often see truth as relative. So what is doctrine and do we really need it?
As mentioned earlier, doctrine simply means teaching or that which is taught. It may refer a particular position taught by religion or government. It can refer to a body of teachings relating to a particular subject, not just religious subjects. The word used in the Greek New Testament means teaching, instruction, or that which is taught. The verb form of this word refers to the act or process of teaching.
When a person goes to a university they are taught doctrine on various subjects. When we send our children to school they are taught the doctrine of math, science, English, and many other subjects. So we understand that doctrine is not actually a bad word because we all have doctrines that we have been taught or have come to believe about people, government, history, science, religion and many other areas of life.
Yet, the word doctrine, when applied to religious belief systems, is still perceived as a negative word. Do we really need doctrine today? Isn’t doctrine a thing of the past? Isn’t belief in Jesus enough? Why can’t we just believe what our experience tells us is true? Since the Bible is so old, how can its teachings really relate to our current reality?
Our belief system about God, life, and relationships determines how we act. I am referring to what we really believe to be true. We tend to live our lives according to values and beliefs that we have adopted through experience and education. Our parents, family members, teachers, and other influential people have taught us life principles either good or bad.
Every person has a theology, a belief system about God, which affects their life and actions. Even atheist have a belief system about God. Of course they do not believe in God and that does affect how they live their lives. This belief system about God may be called ones faith or religion which involves at least some kind of doctrine.
Rich Mullins wrote a song several years ago called Creed in which he rewrote the words to the Apostle’s Creed and set it to music. One line in the song says, “I believe what I believe is what makes me what I am.” In other words, he was saying that his belief system affected everything about his life and actions.
One’s belief system or doctrine determines how a person will act or react to real life situations. For instance, if a person truly believes that it is wrong to be unfaithful to their spouse, that person will avoid situations that may cause them become attracted to another person. If a person truly believes that any kind of sexual activity is good and healthy between two consenting adults, then that person will not put any limits on sexual experiences.
There are many examples of how one’s beliefs determine their actions or reactions to real life situations. Therefore, it may be concluded that one’s belief system about life and God (that is one’s doctrine) needs to be clearly identified and verbalized.
Take some time to evaluate your beliefs, not what others tell you should believe but what you really believe about life, relationships, and God. Can you clearly state what you believe and how those beliefs affect your life? Do you actually live differently from what you say you believe? What is your belief system based upon? Are your beliefs based upon the Bible, traditions, experiences, or what you were taught by others?
Doctrine (that which one believes about life, relationships, politics, God, religion, etc.) determines how a person lives their life. Doctrine is a part of life, every life.
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James Seal, Pastor