In the years I’ve spent working, studying, serving and living with Christians, I see few consistencies. One of the most consistent, however, is the inconsistent approach to Christian doctrine and theology. If you asked five different Christians to explain the doctrine of the Trinity, you might get five very different explanations. Across denominational lines, and even within churches, the varying degrees of doctrinal knowledge are infinite among churchgoers. Why?
Each denomination has its own method of interpreting, teaching and understanding the Bible. Some champion doctrine while others focus on pragmatism. Pastors who teach sound doctrine are preaching both to those who listen and those who don’t. Church members who hunger for deep theological teaching might get only steps and videos on Sunday morning. In any event, it is every Christian’s personal responsibility to know the doctrines of their faith.
Some churchgoers would rather settle for a religious experience that offers comfortable choir numbers, scripted Sunday school and sweet devotional books rather than challenging themselves in the deep waters of theology and doctrine. Debates are a waste of time, I’m going to heaven anyway, so please take my offering and let me be. Fear: I might have to change my beliefs and I don’t want to.
Others take the same approach to knowing their faith as they do to flossing: it’s probably good if I pursue this, but I just don’t feel like it. Isn’t it enough that I don’t eat candy and I brush every day? Isn’t it enough that I like to serve on mission teams and I help clean up after events? I play the guitar in both services, I strike up conversations with the homeless…Jesus was all about loving and doing. I don’t have to be a stuffy, theological type to know and serve Him. Laziness: I really don’t want to work to know truth, so I’m going to pretend it’s a waste of time.
As the growing trend of casting off denominations gains steam, so is the idea of fuzzy doctrine. Since some churches have no history or parent-church, they don’t know what they believe, so most anything is okay. Existing churches (wanting to be relevant) are shedding theological poundage to better squeeze into the world while some church plants evade doctrine entirely. No one wants to scare off the lost with big words and divisive theology…they might not come back. Bring on the doughnuts and U2 music, but check that systematic theology book at the door. Appeal: to gain followers, we must bury the difficult things about Christianity and placate them with easy-to-swallow ideas.
Some Christians believe ignoring doctrine is the high road. If you want to discuss theology, you’re a know-it-all, cramming knowledge down throats at will and belittling those who don’t know as much. It’s an easy chip for any shoulder. In avoiding these things, the riches of God’s truth, character and purpose are missed. People don’t know why they believe things, resulting in a shallow faith they can’t explain and might abandon. Why don’t people evangelize? Why do people slide out of church? The Christian faith remains a mystery with a few familiar icons and parables tagged onto moral living and fun events. Can we blame the world for their cynicism?
To those who allow fear to keep them from doctrine and theology: out of right doctrine comes right worship. Millions gather weekly for singing and preaching…why? It feels good? They’ve got the songs memorized? They like the speaker? Many stand and sing with no zeal because they don’t know what they are singing about. Many listen to heresy every Sunday but don’t realize it. How can you sing about His blood if you don’t know why only His blood would do? How are we to discern bad preaching if we don’t know sound doctrine? It is in our understanding of doctrine that our songs are actual worship and we discern truth from error. Yes, knowing doctrine will change our thinking and even some long-held beliefs, but as a result we offer true worship to the right God in the right manner.
To those who allow laziness to keep them from doctrine and theology: out of right theology and doctrine comes right works. Should we give to the needy? Yes. Does God want us to serve the local church? He does. Buy why? Do we do good things as atheists, because we know we should and like the feeling? What happens when we don’t feel it anymore? Are we trying to earn salvation? Are our works gospel centered? Understanding doctrine will bring a holy motivation, biblical confidence and eternal perspective to every task.
To those who allow appeal to keep them from doctrine and theology: out of right theology and doctrine comes right witness. Avoiding hard truths and peddling “God is Love” will not grow heathens into disciples. We must present the truth boldly and answer tough questions biblically. Blank stares, half answers and flashy distractions repel the lost. There will be debates, disagreements and unpleasant conversations (enter Jesus and the Pharisees) but we are called to grow in knowledge of Him (2 Peter 3:18) and love Him with all of our mind (Mark 12:30). With solid theological roots, Christians share their faith confidently and the lost are saved. Our pews will not be filled with empty souls awaiting entertainment, but solid disciples of Christ who know the One they worship and why.
God is not impressed or glorified by those who avoid His truth to make their lives easier. Christians believe in the God of the Bible and His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus believed that the Bible was God’s Word and that its teaching was profitable, therefore so should His followers. Doctrines are not hand grenades, de-pinned and hurled across the sanctuary aisle. They are the foundational bricks of our faith, from God and for our good. Rejecting them is to despise Him, embracing them is to worship Him.