Right Doctrine

In Christianity there are many different sects or denominations as they are more commonly called. These sects are divided on some point of doctrine. In fact, some denominations even have the point of doctrine that they are known for right in their name, such as, Baptist. What should we make of all these different sects?

The most important thing that we need to keep in my mind is that God does not desire sects. Paul speaking on these things says, "He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God (Eph. 4:11-13)." God wants us to have the same mind when it comes to doctrine (Phil. 2:1-4). The thoughts expressed in these verses are hardly isolated, but embody one of, if not the greatest desire that God has for His church, namely, that we be one (John 17:21).

Knowing that God desires us to not be divided should make us contemplate it very seriously when we do divide. In other words, we better make sure that the point of doctrine we are divided on is more important than God's desire that we be one. In all of this we need to remember that it is His Church, not our church, and so we do not want to be guilty of destroying what He has built. "If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple (1 Cor. 3:17)."

What is it about doctrine that makes it so divisive? The difficulty of doctrine is that people hold it abstractly and do not differentiate levels of importance. To hold doctrine abstractly is to hold doctrine without any impact on your life. Doctrine is not about right thinking as a goal, but as a means to an end of right living. Even the demons have right doctrine: "You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe-and shudder! (James. 2:19)." If your doctrine is right but your life is not then what does it matter? James put it this way, "You see faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works (James 2:22)." Right doctrine only puts you on the same ground as demons if it is held abstractly.

Without people doctrine becomes almost irrelevant because most, if not all, of Christian doctrine governs our relationships with people. Even our love for God is displayed in our love for people. "If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen (1 Jn. 4:20)." Love cannot be practiced without other people. Although we commonly say things like, "I love cookies," we don't actually mean it. We can really like cookies, but we don't love them. If cookies started tasting bad, nobody would "love" them anymore. Whenever we are talking about love we are inevitably talking about love for other people. And just as John pointed out, our love for God is displayed in our love for other people. Love is essential and is a key point of doctrine. Paul writes about this in his letter to the Corinthians. "If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains but have not love, I am nothing." Let me paraphrase it like this: "If I have right doctrine, understand the whole Bible, and trust in God so much that nothing is impossible, but don't have love for my brothers and sisters in Christ, I am nothing and of no importance!" Although everybody knows this verse, not many understand it. Love is not required for getting along with people you like, it is required for people you don't like. Love is not required for people you respect, it is required for people you don't respect. Love by definition is exemplified by sacrifice and selflessness for the good of other people. Doctrine is key, but it must never be forgotten that love for other people is one of the essential points of doctrine.

Jesus like always gives us the perfect example of how love is essential to right doctrine. Jesus had a perfect relationship with the Father in heaven and did not have to come to this earth, however, because of His love for His Father He was obedient. If Jesus was concerned about never being in the presence of sin or being respected by mankind, He would not have come. Jesus left a place of perfection in order that we could be perfected and bring glory to the Father.

Does the doctrine that you live prevent you from enduring evil for the sake of others? Does the doctrine that you live consider love above other truth? Do you spend more time working out your differences with other sects than political posturing? Are you willing to lay aside a non-essential belief for the sake of one that is essential? God's desire is that we be united in doctrine. When is the last time you tried to be reconciled? Right doctrine is good as long as it is the means and not the ends. Right doctrine is good if it is not pride in disguise. If somebody has right doctrine, but not love, we can be sure that his doctrine is not right.

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