Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Purpose of Doctrine

Our lives are ultimately a reflection of what we believe. Regardless of what we say the way we live shouts out what we truly believe about God, the world, and ourselves.

What this means is that one of the first steps we must take in changing our lives is to change what we believe. This requires education.  Education doesn't just happen at school, but it happens whenever we dedicate ourselves to discovering new knowledge and uncovering the truth.  For change to happen we have to apply that knowledge to the way we live.

Doctrine is the foundation of what we believe. According to WorldReference.com doctrine is:

a belief (or system of beliefs) accepted as authoritative by some group or school.

It is my belief that followers of Jesus Christ have a system of beliefs which we accept as authoritative. We usually label these beliefs as truth and we treat them as truth.

One of the truths we hold dear is the doctrine of Jesus' resurrection. The apostle Paul wrote; And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless, and you are still under condemnation for your sins (1 Corinthians 15:17; NLT). According to Paul you could not follow Jesus and not believe in the truth of the resurrection. 


Other essential beliefs which Christians hold are: God is the Creator, the reality of sin, the hope of heaven, the horror of hell, and the second coming of Jesus.

Here is the problem with doctrine, especially when it is applied to millions of people spanning different generations and cultures: we don’t all believe the same thing!

We can read the same material and have similar experiences, yet arrive at different conclusions. The problem magnifies itself when dealing with people who have not been taught the same lessons or experienced similar circumstances. Different Christians emphasis different doctrines.

The Church faces differences in the importance of baptism, the plan of salvation, communion, church music, the end time, the inerrancy of the Bible, what hell is like, and many other issues. For some these issues are of little importance, but to others they are deal breakers.

This leads to a problem: Christians have use doctrine to determine who is in and who is out of the Kingdom of God. Creeds provide evidence for this reality. Creeds were designed to determine who could be part of a certain fellowship. If you want to be part of that fellowship you have to accept their creed. If you don't accept it you are then shunned as a heretic.

I believe this is a misuse of doctrine.  The main purpose of doctrine is not to determine who is a true follower of Jesus and who is poser, rather it is to teach us about God.  What we have to remember is that doctrine is like a map.  A map can give us an idea what the territory looks like, but it is not the territory. Ultimately it is God who determines who is a true follower of Jesus.


There are certain core truths that we have to accept if we are going to follow Jesus, but aside from these essentials Christians can, and do, have a wide variety of opinions.

Our beliefs are only a portion of what it means to follow Jesus.  The other side is the way we live our lives.  Remember what the apostle Peter wrote; Be careful how you live among your unbelieving neighbors. Even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior and they will believe and give honor to God when he comes to judge the world (1 Peter 2:12; NLT). It is how we live that ultimately determines whether or not we are God's children.

The purpose of doctrine then is not to create a belief system to determine who or who is not a follower of Christ, but it is to give us direction in how we are live our lives. Doctrine primarily exists to change the way we live. If my life isn't being transformed by truth then I am not really following Jesus.

On the other hand if my understanding of truth is minimal or even flawed but my life is being changed then I am truly following Jesus.  When we commit to following Jesus then the Holy Spirit will lead us to the truth that we need to know.

Erwin McManus in An Unstoppable Force wrote:

For too long we have hidden behind the rightness of propositional truth and have ignored the question of whether or not it works. Does the faith you advocate get you to God? If people are observing your Christianity and reserving their allegiance to see what team actually wins, is there enough evidence in your life to cause a person to see Jesus as sufficient? What an incredible opportunity we have in a world of uncertainty! We know that God is and that Jesus is his name. There are many things that we don’t know, but what we know is enough (p. 58).


If what we say we believe is not shaping how we live then it does us no good. People are far less interested truth than they are in practicality. Ultimately people will be convinced of the truth about Jesus, not because of evidence and arguments, but because of the way his followers live.

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