Some things scare us that ought not, and 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. This raises a question. Why? To answer, let’s consider a thing called the “zeitgeist.”
Zeitgeist is just a fancy way of saying “the spirit of the age.” Pick any given time in history in any given place in the world and you’ll find a general way of thinking that was considered to be acceptable by most all in that time and place. That thinking is the zeitgeist. You are now living in a time and place in which your society has embraced a way of thinking that denies objective truth. That is to say that truth itself is considered to be subjective, which more simply put means that truth is thought to be derived from a person’s own personal opinions and feelings. 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; nevertheless, it’s the source from which your society’s values and morals are supposed to be plucked, and you need to understand that supposition from the outset.
The word, doctrine, is in some ways similar to a 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 dispense with our historical understanding of truth and instead make up our own new and relative truth as we go.” We know that’s not how it works. Our society’s way of thinking was adapted over time. The doctrine of this culture’s zeitgeist was first born in the mind of anti-Christ elitists before it began incubating in universities where the pride of Man flourishes. From there it found its way, via the graduates from those universities, into the public schools via teachers, curriculum writers, and administrators. And once the state schools adopt a view of reality and begin teaching it, it will become the future doctrine of society.
Consequently, most everyone you will meet in your lives, even in most churches, will have been programmed 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. To think what they were programmed to think is as normal to them as the sun rising in the east. And they will see any differing view as foreign, strange, and possibly even dangerous.
With 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. That’s probably the reason words like doctrine and indoctrinate are unpopular in the same way that brainwashing is an unpopular word. Man is proud. He does not want to humble himself before God. And he certainly doesn’t want to think that he’s not ultimately sovereign in determining how his brain interprets the world. He does want to think that his thoughts are based on personal preferences and rationale. 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’ve been indoctrinated, but rather by whom?
Though he didn’t give Jesus credit for knowing, Pontius Pilate rightly asked him, “What is truth?” And in looking for that all-important answer to that all-important question we must look also to Jesus who 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, 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? So 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.” Paul is telling us here to choose our source for indoctrination. He is telling us to re-indoctrinate ourselves away from whatever the zeitgeist has taught us and into a new and true way of thinking.
I’ve had many years of mind renewal and it continues to the present. I will ever be finding areas where I have bought into the zeitgeist and haven’t even realized it. When I read a passage from the Bible and it seems too backward, or too radical, I know it’s touching a place that needs to be renewed.
But my own renewal is not enough. As my own mind is renewed, I learn that God has plans for you, my children, and He commands me to indoctrinate you as well. He commands parents in Deuteronomy chapter 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 on this subject 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 might sound kind of bad. It is, after all, counter to the zeitgeist in which we are immersed. But I remind you that the question is never, if, 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?
Sadly, your experiences with your fellow church members might not be that different than with those steeped in the world’s doctrine. In many, if not most, churches, doctrine is shunned. But why? The short answer is that doctrine causes division, which is a fair claim I think. But to try and understand this division better, let’s look outside of our own time and place and into a day in which we are not so embroiled in the current events, and which hindsight gives us a clearer view.
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. What I do know is that if he did claim to be a Christian, his doctrines were not Christian. And be sure that there were divisions in the German Church concerning Hitler and the new doctrines he was bringing to bear. For those who were embroiled in those divisions it might be reasonable, from the vantage point of our own current perspectives, to consider that there were those in Hitler’s day who wanted to downplay doctrine for the sake of Church unity. But looking back, the holding to a thoroughly 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)
We can be sure that at the root of these strong words is doctrine. Paul would not have another doctrine on the Gospel. Yet we can see here that 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, keeping these things in mind, let’s go back to God’s Word and look at Paul’s instructions to Timothy concerning doctrine:
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’s 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’s wrong, while still others turn to diversions of pleasure and thrills.
Those seeking other escapes will find their way into your church in their quest for eluding or fixing 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, but not all, of those who seek to use God’s Church to enact Man’s latest new idea will reject that their own sinfulness deserves this wrath. They will, therefore, reject the doctrines of the gospel. But their rejection of the Gospel won’t necessarily mean that they’ll just move on to some other escape. Many will stay and will make it part of their cause to turn God’s Church into a tool to be used in achieving their cause. Be sure that they will not be content with God’s doctrine of the good news of Christ Jesus. 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 be hunky-dory with 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’re attending a church that doesn’t teach sound doctrine, or its people otherwise shun it, that church 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 surely cause as it does. It will also have no shame concerning 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.
If you are to be a student of the Word of God you will be called upon to engage 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 fake 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 as near and dear to your hearts, 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 His truths. In Jesus name I beseech you LORD for these things.