Some things scare us that ought not. Some things get a bad reputation when they should be honored. Doctrine is one of those things. Life will provide you with experiences that will teach you this well as you watch doctrine, more often than not, take a back seat in your 21st century Christian walk.
So why is this? To answer, let us first consider another word: “zeitgeist”. This is just a fancy way of saying “the spirit of the age”. Pick any given time or place and you’ll find that there is a general way of thinking that is found acceptable by most all. You are now living in a time and place, or within a zeitgeist, in which your society has embraced a way of thinking that denies objective truth. That is to say that “truth” is subjective, which simply means that it is derived from a person’s own internal opinions. You will hear it stated like this: “What is true for one person is not necessarily true for another”. Of course this is an absurd and unworkable zeitgeist, but nevertheless, it is the source from which your society’s values and morals are plucked, and you need to understand that.
The word “doctrine” is in some ways similar to the word “zeitgeist” because it means “teaching”. When you think about it, it would be silly to assume that our society woke up one morning and said to itself, “Today we think we’ll just disconnect ourselves from our historical understanding of truth and instead make up our own truth as we go.” No, we know that didn’t happen. Our society’s way of thinking was adapted over time. The doctrine first incubated in universities and finally found its way via the graduates to the public schools and so eventually became the doctrine of the public institutions of education, and then finally our society. Consequently, most everyone you will meet in your lives, even in most churches, will have been programed to think in this way from their early childhood on, and it will never occur to them to question the origins of “the thoughts that they think”. It will be as normal to them as the sun rising in the east. Anything different will be looked upon as strange and foreign.
With all this in mind let us now consider another word: “indoctrination”. You might notice the word “doctrine” as the root of that word. To teach people to think in a certain way is to indoctrinate them, much like one might program a computer to process data in a certain way. That’s probably the reason words like “doctrine” and “indoctrinate” are unpopular words, in the same way “brainwashing” is an unpopular word. Why is this? The simple answer is that Man is proud. He does not want to humble himself before God. And he does not like to think that he is not ultimately sovereign in how his own brain processes the information it receives. He does want to think that he thinks as he does because of his own preferences and rationale. He wants to think that he is his own source and arbiter of knowledge and how he processes it. But like it or not, we have all been indoctrinated, or brainwashed if you wish, to interpret our world through a certain set of lenses. The question then is not “if” we have been indoctrinated, but rather by whom?
Pontius Pilate rightly asked Jesus, “What is truth?”, though he didn’t give Jesus credit for knowing the answer. But Jesus claimed to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life, so perhaps we should go to our Bibles and see what we can draw up from that deep well of truth, for as you might imagine, it is by no means silent on this subject. You see, your Creator knows that you will be indoctrinated into one way of thinking or another, indeed he created you to be. The only question is, will you give yourself over to be indoctrinated into whatever the current zeitgeist is, or will you indoctrinate your own self into a Godly way of thinking? With that in mind let us go to His Word and see what God has to say about doctrine.
Paul urges us in Romans 12 to “be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” So what is Paul saying here but to re-indoctrinate ourselves away from whatever zeitgeist the world is selling at a given time, and into a new way of thinking?
But that’s not all. As I renew my own mind I learn that God has plans for you, my children, and He commands me to indoctrinate you as well. He commands parents in Deuteronomy 6:
“And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.”
So not only are you under my authority while you are young, I am also under God’s authority and therefore am responsible to Him to indoctrinate you.
There are too many passages to post them all here, but let me add just one more that, as you know, is one of my favorites in which God contrasts the two basic kinds of indoctrinations of our minds:
For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. (Rom 8:5-8)
Now I realize that all this talk about indoctrination sounds kind of bad. But I remind you that the question is never IF we are indoctrinated, but by whom? Will we ultimately be indoctrinated by the “prince of the power of the air”, or by consuming the Bread of Life, which is the Word of God? That is the question. So you should expect that, more often than not, doctrine will take a back seat in your 21st century Christian experience.
But why is this? Why is doctrine so shunned in this day? The short answer is that doctrine causes division, which is a fair claim I think. To try and understand this better let us look outside of our own day and into a day in which we are not embroiled in the events. Adolf Hitler, so it is said, claimed Christianity as his religion. Whether he actually did or not I don’t know, nor do I care. I do know that if he did claim to be a Christian, his doctrines were not Christian. Still, no one in this day would bemoan the divisions brought about by his 1930’s unbiblical doctrines because we now know where they led? And be sure that there were divisions in the German Church as it concerned Hitler and his guiding doctrines. For those who were embroiled in those divisions it might be reasonable from our own current perspectives to consider that there were some who then wanted to downplay doctrine for the sake of Church unity. But looking back, the holding to a throughly biblical doctrine was the best course then, and you can be sure that it is the best course today.
So, as we can see, division in and of itself is not always a bad thing. While Paul admonishes true Christians to be unified, he at the same time was sharply divisive when it involved the preaching of a false Gospel:
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. (Gal 1:8-9)
At the root of these strong words is doctrine. Paul would not have another doctrine on the Gospel. Yet we can see here Paul passionately admonishing believers to be unified:
“Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Cor 1:10-13)
At the core of Paul’s teaching is sound doctrine. Not all are going to interpret the scriptures in the same way, and as such not all will have the same doctrines. But this is not to say that doctrine in and of itself should be rejected even though it is sure to cause a certain amount of division, even among true believers. But remember that it is not doctrine that is the problem, it is the division within the Body that is the problem. Now with this in mind, let us go back to God’s Word and look at Paul’s instructions to Timothy:
“In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following”. (1 Tim 4:6)
Paul also warns of a time, very much like your own, in which doctrine would be considered a negative:
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires…” (2 Tim 4:3)
So what do we do with this? To begin with, let us remember that all people know that something is wrong with our world, and they are ever searching for ways to escape its problems. Some use drugs or alcohol. Some latch onto a “cause” that they are convinced, if enacted, will fix everything that is wrong. And some use diversions of pleasure and thrills which are too many to count.
Those seeking this escape will find their way into your church in their quest for eluding this world’s ills. The Gospel however has nothing to do with escaping the ills of this world but rather it has everything to do with escaping the wrath of God. Many, not all, of these will reject that their own sinfulness deserves this wrath and so will reject the doctrines of the gospel. But this does not mean that they will move on, having rejected the true Gospel. Rather they will stay with a vision of turning “Church” into another one of their causes or diversions.
Be sure that they will not be content with your doctrine of the good news of Christ Jesus. Instead they will create their own Jesus to worship, and they will do this in your midst. But this Jesus will bear no resemblance to the Jesus of scripture. This Jesus won’t care about how you live, he won’t care about God’s law, and he will love your sin. In short, this Jesus will not love you enough to warn you of the wrath that is to come. (Mt. 3:7-12) They will insist that this Jesus only desires that more people come and escape from reality by singing songs about how much their Jesus loves them. These folks will have no taste for doctrine, much less sound doctrine. If you are attending a church that does not teach, or otherwise shuns, sound doctrine, that church and its people will be defenseless against worldly infections. The world will challenge, deceive and ultimately commandeer that church in the name of love and unity, and it will do so without fear of the division it will cause as it does so. It will also have no shame of its hatred for true Christianity. So please, dear children, heed Paul’s warnings and worship at a church that holds to and teaches sound doctrine.
Consider this: If you were to put all who claim Jesus in a really large group, it wouldn’t take long before divisions would arise. Some in that group will have been indoctrinated to believe that the Bible is only a book written by men and is not dependable. Others will have been indoctrinated by the culture and will reject all teachings in the Bible that do not align with the doctrines of culture. Others will allow their own feelings and experiences to trump scripture. And on and on it will go. Division. But the true Church will be unified!
If you are to be a student of the Word of God you will be called upon to engage with this world, as well as other Christians, some of whom will be fake, yes, but others will be true sons of the living God who may hold to slightly different doctrines than your own. Pick your battles wisely. Always let your gentleness be evident to all, regardless. Both will sharpen your sword, and that is good. But whatever you do, do not shy away from doctrine in favor of some worldly concept of unity. Remember these words of Jesus: “Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division…“(Luke 12:51)
So dear Children, I pray that you would keep and guard sound doctrine near and dear to your heart, and that you would not stray from that narrow path. I pray also that you would fix your gaze upon the Author and Finisher of your faith, your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. May He give you revelation so that you will be able to discard unbiblical doctrines while holding fast to biblical ones. In Jesus name I beseech you LORD for these things.