By Evan Pyle


We discussed a doctrinal question during one of our recent Sunday services. It was a friendly exchange but I doubt the doctrinal issue was solved to everybody’s satisfaction. As I meditated on the issue during the days and weeks that followed, a related question arose in my mind: What is the role of doctrine in the Church and in the individual Christian’s life? How important is it to have all of our beliefs tied up in a neat package? Is it possible to move forward as a congregation with unanswered questions?

During my Christian journey I have observed a wide range of attitudes toward biblical doctrine. Many groups define themselves by their unique doctrinal mix and cast a jaundiced eye on those who believe differently. Ironically, some of the strongest animosity is found between groups whose beliefs are most nearly the same. Perhaps in the past there was a split over a point of doctrine and while their beliefs are otherwise identical, they differ on that one point. How are others to know these are Jesus’ disciples if they do not show love one for another? On the other side of the spectrum are groups that are relatively unconcerned with Bible doctrine, giving more weight to what “God is doing now,” opening the door to excess and fanaticism. I find both of these extremes unsatisfying. I don’t think there is a good point of balance to be found between these extremes, since they are both wrong. I propose instead that we examine what the Bible tells us about doctrine and its role in the Church and in the daily life of the Christian.

True doctrine belongs to God and comes to us from him.

John 7:16:
Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.

Doctrine is not an academic contest in which the one who learns the most wins. In Jesus’ day those who were most educated in the scriptures persecuted the Lord and His followers. The early church’s most ardent persecutor was Paul, a man very learned in the scriptures. These men’s extensive education in the particulars of the scriptures failed to give them eyes to see who Jesus really was.

2 Timothy 3:7:
Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

It is clear that being educated in the scriptures, by itself, does not bring a person any closer to the truth. In fact, knowledge can have its own problems, for knowledge puffs up, but charity edifies (1 Cor. 8:1).

Jesus’ doctrine was with power. How many of us can say that of our own doctrine? If we are truly followers of the Lord, we must desire that our doctrine be like his. It is evident that Jesus’ knowledge of the scriptures was complete, even at a young age. Yet, his teaching did not simply inform: it pierced hearts, confronted man’s sinful condition, and manifested itself with mighty signs and wonders.

Mark 1:22, 27:
And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes.

27 And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, What thing is this? what new doctrine is this? for with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him.

The same could rightly be said of Paul.

Acts 13:12:
Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord.

1 Corinthians 2:4-5:
And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:
5 That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

In contrast to these scribes with their elaborate doctrinal systems, Jesus often communicated his doctrine in parables. Rather than reveal the message to everybody present, the truth was hidden from those who did not believe, but was revealed to those who were chosen by God to receive the truth.

Matthew 13:10-11:
And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?
11 He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.

I sometimes think that we Bible teachers try too hard to get our message across, hammering a point home so thoroughly that nobody could possibly disagree. Consider that Jesus did not often go into lengthy explanations, preferring instead to set forth truth in a parable. There is a difference between stuffing Bible knowledge into a listener’s head and setting forth truth that requires the listener to approach God and receive it by faith.

Spiritual truth is foolish to the mind of flesh and cannot be understood by the intellect alone. True doctrine can only be received by means of the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 2:7, 14:
But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:

14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

God’s truth will not yield to research and study by the mightiest intellect, yet God himself will teach those who are mature in spiritual things.

Isaiah 28:9:
Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.

The Bible student who relies on his own intellect has foolishly attempted to do what only the Holy Spirit is able to do: open the eyes of his understanding. Without the Lord, the Bible remains a closed book, even to one who memorizes it cover to cover.

Revelation 5:3-5:
And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon.
4 And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon.
5 And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.

Our sin-darkened hearts have put a veil between us and the knowledge of God. Only when we turn to the Lord in faith is that veil taken away. We should pray the prayer of the Psalmist:

Psalm 119:18:
Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.

God’s truth is not so much about being right as it about being righteous. As an immature Christian, I equated witnessing with convincing the other poor soul that my doctrine was right. I had an argument for every opposing point, or so I thought. I doubt my listeners (victims?) were nearly as impressed with my arguments as was I. In reality, my so-called witnessing was a sinful assault that only proved my immaturity and pride. If I had the proper attitude, the scriptures would have reproved and corrected me and led me on the path to righteous living.

2 Timothy 3:16:
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

True doctrine brings us closer to God and leads us to follow his ways. It does not fill our minds with empty knowledge and our hearts with arrogant pride. True doctrine leads us to put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness (Eph. 4:24).

To answer the original question, God’s doctrine does not lend itself to being expressed in neat little packages. The truth is, in this life we will always see through a glass darkly and, at best, know only in part (1 Cor. 13:12). Therefore, it is necessary that we, as the Church, move forward despite our unanswered doctrinal questions. Only after Christ returns will we know even as we are known of Christ. Until then, we are able to walk as fully equipped Christians, and in the fullness of our calling before God.

2 Timothy 3:17:
That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.



From the May 2008 issue of The Vine & Branches