Doctrine seems like an archaic word of the Christian past. It isn’t one of the popular catch words in religious circles. I imagine if you asked many professing Christians today if correct doctrine is necessary for living a pleasing life to God many would reply in the negative. It reminds me of a conversation I had with two young men in a coffee shop a few years ago. They professed the often-held belief that “It doesn’t matter what we believe, as long as we believe and confess Jesus.” After talking with them for a while the conservation turned to Catholicism. One of the young men said, “I don’t believe its right to confess your sins to a man like that” (he was referencing the Catholic practice of confessing to their priest). I responded, “Then you do believe that it matters what we teach and practice?” What I was trying to show was that any serious individual who reads the Bible can’t deny the emphasis it places on correct teaching.
The epistles place a special emphasis on “sound doctrine”:
“As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:3).
“He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9).
“But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1).
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8).
Sound doctrine simply means “healthy teaching”; that is, the church must teach, defend, and practice healthy, spiritual instruction. Just as our bodies can’t function properly without healthy eating, so too the body of Jesus (the church) can’t live without substantive nourishment. Sadly, there are many churches running on fumes, lacking energy and animation because they fail to allow the word of Christ to richly inhabit them (Col. 3:16). Some churches define “sound doctrine” as teaching on the hot button issues of the day; others fail to dig deeply into the text and only give pithy, passing admonitions. While teaching on moral issues, cultural trends, and the use of good illustrations are needed, neither of these extremes will ever fully nourish the church. It was only when we root ourselves deeply in Jesus and his truth that we can fully abound (Col. 2:6-7).
And abundance is what the Lord has called us to. Many resist the concept of sound doctrine because they believe it is restrictive and repressive. No doubt, healthy teaching requires a rejection of unhealthy teaching (just as a healthy lifestyle requires us to reject certain junk foods), yet the freedom, liberty, and hope that comes with following the “pattern of sound words” (2Tim. 1:13) is far greater than the empty promises of false teaching.
Proper teaching has always gone hand in hand with abundant living. After calling the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage and giving the Law the Moses instructed:
“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God” (Deut. 28:1-2).
Our Lord continued this theme of abundant life and God’s truth when he taught that “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63). Truth and true living are inseparable elements. This then is why leaders within the church, and members alike, must desperately defend and cling to sound doctrine; without is we separate ourselves from the abundant life (2 John 9).
Yet, this doesn’t mean that we are offensive, angry, belligerent, or arrogant when addressing false teaching. Much harm has been done in the church by good brethren speaking sound truth in an unkind, unloving way. I have personally experienced the power of truth spoken in love and gentleness, as well as the pain of being bludgeoned by the Bible. There is immense, incalculable power in speaking sound doctrine in humility (Eph. 4:15; 2 Tim. 2:24-26); therefore, the church must be a community that is abounding in grace and truth (John 1:14).
In the end, as the body of Jesus, we are what we eat. Either we gorge ourselves on the false hopes and empty husks of sin and false doctrine, or we feast on the eternal pleasures of the living word of Christ. If we chose the latter, abundant unending joy awaits.
“For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come” (1 Tim. 4:8).