Doctrine Has Consequences

I have loved the study of doctrine since I came to faith in Christ.  I couldn’t help but eagerly seek to learn all about the faith I had come to embrace.  Yes, it is true.  I had been raised in a Christian home.  Indeed, in the home of a pastor.  I am a “pastor’s brat” as some like to say.  So for almost 27 years I have made the study of God’s Word and its teaching (i.e. its doctrine) my business.  This is as it should be.  In fact, all Christians ought to be theologians–regularly delving into God’s Word and theology.  Of course this is even more of an obligation for the church’s officers:  ministers, elders, and deacons.  But it is true that all Christians ought to love doctrine.

Some Christians, who I have come across from time to time, seem to think doctrine is impractical.  These brothers and sisters think that a concern for doctrine is a distraction from the real business of the Christian, whatever that business may be.  Now, undoubtedly because we are sinners, we may delve into doctrine to puff up our minds.  That is a real danger.  However the answer to this is not sanctified ignorance.  God may not need my intelligence but he doesn’t want my ignorance either.  The answer to arrogant doctrine is godly doctrine, not no doctrine.

Frankly, doctrine has consequences.  Let’s consider two examples.

Let’s consider the denial of two specific doctrines.  Some think the doctrine of the Trinity is the least practical of all doctrines.  How obscure and abstract can you be?!  We are told that this doctrine has no practical relevance to the average Christian.  Really?  Leaving aside the question of what relevance is and who gets to define it, let’s give this a little more consideration.  What does a denial of the Trinity entail?  For one, it means God is not Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  He becomes, to use the expression of Dr. Ligon Duncan, an “undifferentiated monad!”  God becomes a what?  God becomes an unidentifiable “it.”  And it means that Jesus is not God the Son.  “So what?” you may ask.  Well, for starters if Jesus be not the Son of God he cannot save us and if he be not God the Son we have been worshiping a creature for all these years and that, my friends, is old fashioned idolatry.  And if God is not Triune, the Holy Spirit gets reduced to an amorphous force.  How exactly, pray tell, is a force grieved?  How is a force lied to?  Just wondering…

Think of another denial.  It is very popular in our day to deny the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s active obedience to the believer through faith.  Oh yes, this is a very popular doctrine to ridicule and poke fun of.  But consider the consequences of denying this doctrine.  Now, before someone complains, I am not suggesting that the doctrine is true because it makes me happy.  I am simply pointing out a practical result of denying the doctrine.  My wanting this doctrine to be true does not make it so.  As my colleague Jim Cassidy reminds me from time to time, some things are true whether you believe them or not.

If we deny the imputation of Christ’s active obedience we rob ourselves of a source of our assurance of salvation.  Did you know that?  Yes, I know that the counter Reformation Roman Catholic theologian Robert Cardinal Bellarmine warned us that assurance was the most pernicious doctrine which Protestantism ever taught.  But the truth of the matter is this.  If we deny the truth that Christ’s active obedience is imputed to us then we must produce the personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience which God demands of all people ourselves.  Now, unsaved sinners cannot produce this obedience because they simply don’t want to.  But believers (sinners saved by grace) can’t produce this either.  The Christian’s sanctification (unlike his or her justification) is imperfect in this life and our good works are infested with sin.  Yes, God accepts our good works as a loving Father.  That is true.  But he does it because we are in Christ and because Christ has justified our good works. Additionally a denial of this doctrine often proceeds from a faulty assumption:  lack of assurance motivates us to holiness.  If you wan to label something pernicious, friend, this is it!

So you see, doctrine has consequences.  In the two instances we considered here it is the denial of particular doctrines we discovered that had devastating consequences.  If we deny the Trinity we end up idolaters and if we deny the imputation of Christ’s active obedience to us by faith we end up having to produce personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience to God ourselves.  And given the vestiges of sin in the life of the Christian we see that if we choose to go down this road we will rob ourselves of the assurance of salvation and the joy in the Holy Spirit we should experience as adopted children of the Heavenly Father.  We will end up like hamsters on a spinning wheel going nowhere.

So is doctrine a distraction?  By no means!  It is practical?  You bet!

 
 

10 Responses to “Doctrine Has Consequences”

  1. Thanks Nick for the thoughtful post. I have come from a church tradition that downplays doctrine in favor of relationship in the body of Christ. The question I now ask is where does one draw the line if relationship trumps doctrine? If you keep “relationship over doctrine” as your doctrine, then what would stop one from having church fellowship with a Roman Catholic or a Mormon for that matter…? Lack of doctrine has consequences too!

  2. Chris Ashton says:

    Thanks Jeff for the thoughtful post!

    I too have come from an evangelical church tradition that downplays doctrine as divisive, impractical and unhelpful to the practice of expository preaching. Your two examples prove just the opposite!

  3. Erol,

    I wish I had written the post, but Jeff Waddington actually did. This is the trouble with a rss feed that does not distinguish authorship. That being said, your point lies at the heart of this subject. We have fellowship with other Christians in the truth. What is truth, as Pilate ironically asked? Where are the fences of fellowship in Christ? To answer this question we have to be submersed in apostolic doctrine. I sometimes wonder if all the men in the world who have made it their aim to drive an ecumenism that is unbiblical (and that denies the Gospel) actually read the pastoral epistles. There is a two-fold subject outlined in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus–sound doctrine and godliness. Paul wrote Timothy with this burden on his heart, “Take heed to yourself and the teaching…” In another place he speaks of the “truth that accords with godliness.” How can we downplay doctrine for sincerity. That is what the our enemy wants us to do. But we will, by God’s grace, “hold fast the pattern of sound words as we have been taught them.”

  4. Jeff Waddington says:

    Erol and Chris

    Thanks for reading the post and the interaction. And Nick, thanks for your input as well. As Nick has noted it is not just any doctrine that will do, but sound doctrine. False doctrine truly is deadly. And we are also called to adorn the doctrine we profess.

    Jeff

  5. Erol Bortucene says:

    Thanks Jeff and Nick. Yes, I follow FOC via RSS feeds and forgot Jeff writes for this site too. I just wanted to quickly add to this post a disturbing trend I am seeing in Evangelicalism in my area (Pacific Northwest) and beyond. This is the trend: spiritual experience trumps doctrine. Private, personal, spiritual encounters with the ‘spirit’ is what unites Christians. We now have interdenominational ‘worship experiences’. Protestants, Catholics and Emergents all can fellowship together because of their common ‘experience’. I have many pastor friends from different denominations (as a pastor for a long time in the same community) that are embracing this type of theology.

    I know Calvin and Luther had some serious words to say about the Anabaptists of their day who elevated personal experience over and above the Word…

    Keep up the great work by the way. I love this site, Reformed Forum and Media Review. It is really helpful for Evangelicals like myself who are learning about the Solas of the Reformation. Can’t get enough :)

  6. Jeff Waddington says:

    Erol

    Great to hear from you again. I would add that Christian experience is important in the sense that we sinners need to actually experience grace, not just know about it. However, our experiences are never self-interpreting. Our experiences, rather, need to be interpreted.

    What you seem to be seeing out there in the Pacific Northwest is the reappearance of the old Liberal idea that man’s religious experience was a universal thing. That is, it was experienced by peoples at all times and places. However, doctrine, which could never really get at the reality of one’s religious experience, was ever and always changing and adapting.

    And as I commented earlier, not just any doctrine will do. It must be soundly biblical and theologically responsible (read, Reformed).

    Blessings!

    Jeff

  7. Erol,

    Wehave a similar battle here in Coastal Georgia, except it is morality instead of experience. It is sincerity in morality that unites, rather than sincerity in truth. Everyone would agree that morality matters, but if it is not flowing out from the Person and finished work of Jesus at Calvary, it is legalism. The same with experientialism. The objective must preceded and be the foundation for the subjective, otherwise it is a counterfeit experience. I can tell, from reading your blog, that you are keeping the Gospel in perspective. Keep doing so brother. Thanks for the encouragement.

  8. Matt Holst says:

    Men

    Just to weigh in with a few references to Scripture – the unity that characterized the early church (early Acts chapters) was not simply some socio-political, qauzi-religious movement, rather it was centred (Queen’s English) upon doctrine. References such as “they had all things in common” (Acts 2:4), “selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all as any had need” (2:45), “no one said any of the things that belonged to him was his own” (4:32), “there was not a needy person among them” (4:34), did not happen in a doctrinal vacuum.

    On the contrary, both in Acts 2 and 4 the context of the activities is the common faith and doctrine of the church . “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship…” (2:42) and “those who believed were of one heart and one soul … and with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and great grace was upon all of them” (4:32-33).

    Take away the doctrine and you don’t, by definition, have the church – you have the country club – which can also be a “nice” place to go, though usually, the music is not as good.

    Thanks for the thoughts

    Matt

  9. Jeff Waddington says:

    Matt

    Thank you so much for supplying biblical precedent for the necessity of doctrine! Truth is, doctrine is simply teaching. There is no magic in the word. It is the transliteration of the Latin “doctrina.” So if someone says he doesn’t like doctrine what he is saying is he doesn’t like what the Christian faith (and more particularly, the Bible) teaches.

    I think we can all grant that doctrine can be taught well or poorly. And doctrine can be sound or false. You can have well taught false doctrine and poorly taught sound doctrine. Our goal is to convey sound doctrine in helpful ways.

    Blessings!

    Jeff

  10. Jeff,

    If someone says they don’t “need” doctrine, they are forgetting that such a statement is “doctrinal.”It is the inevitability of truth claims.

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I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve. (Romans 16:17-18)

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