“Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Tim. 4:16 (ESV)
Why doctrine? It saves. Doctrine is teaching, teaching should be the gospel, and the gospel saves because it is Christ. Somehow doctrine has become a dirty word today. “We don’t need doctrine, we just need Christ.” That seems to be the mantra in so many circles. Yet these people are most often the most vehement adherents to doctrine! You don’t escape doctrine, you merely have a choice, good doctrine that saves, or bad doctrine that leads to false belief, despair and other great shames and vices.
But in today’s parlance the word “doctrine” has somehow come to mean the things you teach and I don’t, and with which I disagree. “Doctrine they say doesn’t matter.” Then what does? If I could honestly get my heart and mind around such a statement, I think at a minimum I would submit to Rome. Why would I not? Why are you in that corner store front church and not over at the Cathedral down the street? Any answer you give is going to come down to doctrine, which you feel or know to be more important than the unity Christ prayed for in John 17, and Paul admonished in 1 Corinthians. I don’t go to Rome because I don’t believe they teach what Christ taught, and what Paul taught concerning Christ. It is that simple.
So you say you don’t need the smells and bells, fair enough, but are they harmful? You say all we need is Christ, we don’t need doctrine. We just have to believe in Christ. Really? How do you believe in Christ, confess Christ with your mouth, even as you believe Christ in your heart, and at the same time ignore as if it doesn’t matter anything that he taught? You can’t have Christ without his doctrine. Deny the things Christ taught, and this includes things like baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and you do not confess Christ with your mouth, but deny him. If you believe that Christ is Lord, that is confess that he is God, then why do you feel so free to discount anything or something he said? And you can do this by openly denying, or tacitly denying. Mere indifference to a teaching, a doctrine, indifference that says “I have Christ” so I don’t need to be sure what he said or meant about this or that, is in fact denying that he is God, it is breaking the First Commandment. It’s like saying they are my parents so I don’t need to concern myself with what they say, they’ll love me anyway. Maybe true, but I suspect the parents will be quite upset while they love you.
Some look at us Lutherans, and a few other Protestants who may be confused on a doctrine but tenaciously hold to it with integrity, as if we think that we become righteous by being doctrinally correct. No. That isn’t it. Christ works in us faith and righteousness. And yes we believe you can be doctrinally wrong and be saved, even as an adulterer can be saved. But we dare not make the grace of Christ occasion and license for sin, which is exactly what you are doing when you maintain that doctrine really doesn’t matter. Sure there is forgiveness for the sin, but it is sin. And the effects of false doctrine are quite torturous. False teaching leads to false belief, leads to despair or hypocrisy, and from either of those to vantage points leads to any number of other great shames and vices. All false doctrine is legalism. It is always legalism. The law is the great false doctrine, even worse because it is also true. It is true as long as it condemns. It is false as long as it is offering salvation. All religions except that of Christianity, is based on law. But that in and of itself is a bit misleading since so many brands of “Christianity” become twisted by the law into just another religion. When you deny baptism and make it a work, require one to “work on” their sanctification by offering up dirty rags to God, and thereby deny his grace on the cross. When you say faith is fine, but nonexistent if you aren’t actively being obedient to Christ in this… Well then you have perverted Christianity. You have mislead others down the primrose path of legalism.
It isn’t that we attain righteousness by being doctrinally correct. That isn’t it. We no more attain salvation by being doctrinally correct then we do by abstaining from meat on Friday. But being saved, and honoring our God, we give thanks by caring enough to want to be correct. And teaching others purely they too are saved. For faith comes through hearing and faith saves. But if what they hear is not Christ, not his doctrine then the faith thereby created is not in Christ and no longer saves. But then if doctrine doesn’t matter, neither does faith, neither does unity, go join Tiger’s sex cult, become a Buddhist, Rastafarian, do what thou wilt and run around naked worshiping forest nymphs. What’s it matter? For that matter if it doesn’t matter, don’t waste your breath telling me it doesn’t matter.