The Virtue of Doctrine
By Robert Johnson
In his book Primary Purpose, author Ted Haggard states there are two basic, unchanging truths of faith.
The first one is that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and gave us access to God and eternal life.
The second one is the Bible is the Word of God and our only standard for spiritual experience.
These two basic statements are, in essence, all that matters spiritually, according to Haggard. Beyond this is our interpretation of Scripture, which is only a matter of opinion. His emphasis is for all Christians to agree on these two key beliefs. No one, however, should choose to divide or separate over anything else, as they are non-absolutes.
My first response was, "Who decided these two issues were all that mattered to the gospel, and what criteria was used to establish it?" For example, Jesus considered baptism essential to the preaching of the gospel (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:16). How can anyone be honest with the integrity and example of Scripture, and ignore baptism? Of course, the answer is Ted Haggard arbitrarily decided these two issues were all that mattered. Reducing Christianity to only these two elements makes the gospel fit almost anyone's theology. It allows Christianity to be completely unobtrusive and inoffensive.
The second of his basic beliefs clearly illustrates this. "The Bible is considered the Word of God and our only standard for spiritual experience (emphasis mine)." Once the Bible is no longer considered the standard for truth, anything goes. Doctrine becomes non-absolute, a subjective opinion, and the personal preference of an individual or group. It may have significance for the individual or group, but only in that particular context. Otherwise, doctrine is non-binding, having no inherent authority.
This religious philosophy is not so much innovative as it reflects current religious thought. Such a view of Scripture and doctrine is necessary if there is to be interdenominational unity. "You believe in your doctrine, I'll believe in mine, but we're united on the basics. Are we not therefore brethren?" The quest for unity demands throwing truth out the window, and taking an existential "leap of faith" in the name of fellowship. Such a view of the gospel stands for everything and, thus, nothing.
Actually, it is this spirit that has captivated some in the Lord's church. Does this not speak of the willingness of some among us to fellowship almost anyone and everyone? Does this not justify others to plead we should accept everyone who believes in baptism for, and because of remission of sin? Under such conditions, who would argue with those who think salvation comes by grace only? Perhaps, such a view helps explain a comment made to me several years ago: "The Church of Christ will wind up being the last denomination." Such a view authenticates Linus' comment in the comic strip, Peanuts. "It doesn't matter what you believe, so long as you're sincere."
In reality, the rejection of absolute truth (of which doctrine is all about) by society, is responsible for the rejection of absolute truth in religion. George Gallup Jr. wrote of American faith in the '90s. "While religion is highly popular in America, it is to a large extent superficial. There is a 'knowledge gap' between Americans' stated faith and the lack of the most basic knowledge about that faith." Well, why be concerned about it if it is "non-absolute"?
The fact is, doctrine does matter! It is interesting that, as society rejects absolutes and assumes everything is relativistic, we experience moral decline. What was abandoned in the name of fellowship and unity has cost us our moral character and is leading us to destruction.
If all Scripture is inspired, then it takes all Scripture to teach, reprove, correct, and instruct in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). Rejecting Scripture as the standard for truth and doctrine never permits one to be "complete, furnished completely unto every good work" (2 Tim. 3:17).
This is the problem with society today. By making doctrine subjective and optional, we ruin any chance for morality to be practical and applicable, for godly living and spiritual values to be meaningful. Doctrine transforms (Titus 2:1-8) and provides the only context in which we can discuss life-related issues productively and definitively. To deny the importance of doctrine is to build on sand (Matt. 7:24-27).
Doctrine and Scripture are forever intertwined. Two New Testament words are most often translated "doctrine," "teaching," or "instruction." When you examine these terms in the New Testament, you understand doctrine refers to Scripture, what is fully and completely revealed in the New Testament (1 Tim. 1:3-4; Jude 1:3). So, if Scripture is inspired, doctrine finds its source in God. This is why Paul could write Timothy: "Take heed to thyself, and to thy teaching. Continue in these things; for in doing this thou shalt save both thyself and them that hear thee" (1 Tim. 4:16). This is why he could also exhort:
As it has happened many times in the past, so it is occurring again. If we accept the inspiration of Scripture, we must accept, teach, and defend the doctrine it presents. It also means we keep our fellowship from those who would alter or reject its doctrine (Rom. 16:17). This is the only means by which a lost and dying world can find its way to truth and life. It is the only means by which we can ensure salvation for our souls.
Published September 1996