Faith and doctrine
What is the importance of doctrine in respect to faith?
Doctrine means something taught, teachings, instruction; it denotes the principles of religion as presented for belief. Doctrine refers to the truths of God's Word that are to be held, believed in, and disseminated. The purpose of doctrine is to present a full and balanced declaration of the substance of faith; it is "those things which are most surely believed among us," as the framers of the 1689 London Confession of Faith described the things pertaining to the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and furthermore, all else that is presented in Scripture for our faith.
Today there is a great attack on sound doctrine. There is a turning away from doctrinal matters and a turning to the philosophies of men and doctrines of devils. Many churches have no time for doctrinal preaching or catechetical instruction. They have turned to oratory, politics, ethics, book-sermons, or a social gospel saying that doctrine is useless and obsolete.
Christ's true church, though, must make sure that its doctrine is sound (2 Timothy 1:10; 4:2-4; Titus 1:9; 2:1); pure and scriptural (2 Timothy 3:14-17). It must be held in love, that is, meekly and gently (yet firmly and uncompromisingly) presented in all its balance and beauty (1 Corinthians 13:1-6)
Our doctrine affects fellowship. There can be no partnership unless both partners are walking in the light (1 John 1:1-7). In fact the measure of common light between believers will partially determine the measure of the fellowship and co-operation.
What we believe affects and even determines our character. Believing affects being, and being affects doing. If we follow sound doctrine, it will bring about a development of the divine nature and the character of Christ within us. Paul exhorted his fellow-labourer to "take heed to thyself and the doctrine" (1 Timothy 4:6,16). And again, "Give attendance ...to doctrine" (1 Timothy 4:13). Conversely, by our holy life we are to adorn the doctrine (Titus 2:7-10).
Doctrine and faith are so inseparable that doctrine determines destiny. Who and what we believe in affects eternal destiny. It is absurd to say it does not matter what you believe as long as you're sincere. You may drink poison believing it's your medicine, but it will kill you. A man may be sincerely wrong (2 Peter 3:14,15). Our relationship to Christ (the Christ as preached by the apostles, an no other) affects where we will spend eternity. In Christ is light and life; outside of Him is darkness and death.
We ought not to disparage the intellectual aspect of the religious life, even though the intellectual aspect is not all. It is certainly foundational, though. Everything else spring from doctrine, that is, from the grasp of truth. It is only mysticism that denigrates the right use of reason and understanding.
Doctrine is the skeleton, the groundwork upon which faith is built. How can I believe in Christ if I have no facts about Him, who He is, what He has done, whether He's living or dead, what He has promised, and so on?
The depreciation of the intellect, with the exaltation in the place of it of the feelings or of the will, is a basic fact in the modern life. Such a stance is anti-biblical. From beginning to end the Bible presents propositional truth, truth that must be grasped by the mind. And the most important of commandments directs us to "Love the Lord thy God with...all your mind" (Mark 12:30).
For faith to be exercised, the disciple of Christ must see to it that the Word is correctly handled, not misinterpreted or twisted. Grammatico-historical exegesis is the order of the day. Scripture is to be understood, and its doctrine expounded before it can be lived out in faith that pleases God (Hebrews 11:6).
It is nonsense to set up an opposition between knowledge and faith. Faith thrives and grows upon knowledge, as it applies it and stands fast upon it, moving to action as impelled by knowledge.
As over against this pragmatic attitude, we believers in historic Christianity maintain the objectivity of truth. Truth can be known and must be known. It is the setting forth of the facts (1 Corinthians 15:1ff.) that set men's souls free. Our experience must be based on fact.
As a matter of fact all true faith involves an intellectual element; all faith involves knowledge and issues in knowledge.
Therefore, controversy of the right sort, which often happens because of doctrine, is good; for out of such controversy, as Church history and Scripture alike teach, there comes the salvation of souls. The issues thereby are made clear.