By Jonathan Bland
Content Specialist, Discipleship Ministries
In the description of the early Church in Acts 2:42-47, sound doctrine is marked as being one of the key identifiers of the movement. Certainly, today, we would hope that our gatherings and congregations would be identified as sound in doctrine. We face a difficult task discipling and encouraging all generations to be rooted and built in the truth of Jesus Christ. False assumptions and damaging narratives slow our efforts. Here are four of the more common concerns facing the development of sound doctrine.
- Live your truth
In a postmodern world, the rise of sentiments like “speak your truth” and “live your truth” have become prevalent notions as a rallying cry for the individualistic nature of truth. More and more, these ideas are becoming common even in the church. We must be cautious, however, about the usage of such language. Inherent within a “your truth” structure is the deletion and objection to objective “Truth” – God’s truth. The unintended consequence of this structure is that we raise ourselves above scripture, placing our truth above God’s truth. Nevertheless, we all have a variety of experiences that shape our understanding of God and His truth. Our experiences are critical components in the development of sound doctrine. Things that we believe with our hearts and minds – that we have developed from our engagement with scripture – are proved (or tested) through our experience of life with God. Our experience should never trump scripture; rather, it should affirm it.
Perhaps it would be beneficial to also address the space available concerning personal conviction. Our interpretation of scripture, as it relates to our private devotional and moral life, must be balanced. Where scripture is not clear, or restrictions are not made, we must have grace and understanding for our brothers and sisters. Strongly held convictions must not be promoted as biblical mandate. That undercuts the truth and freedom of the Gospel, does not encourage sound doctrine, and edges us closer and closer to legalism.
- My Pastor will tell me everything I need to know
An important truth in the life of the body of Christ is that what happens on Sunday is not the most important thing happening each week. How could I argue that the gathering of believers is not healthy? How could I say that worshiping together is not meaningful; that the preached word of God is not life-giving? Certainly, those things are true, but our focus on Sunday has created an expectation that Sunday is enough. Preaching, singing, and teaching are all vital contributors to the growth of sound doctrine. They should encourage, equip, and train the believers; however, for the church to grow and thrive, individuals must be growing on the six days between Sundays. Being sound in doctrine doesn’t happen because of a weekly service; it happens because of a daily commitment to growing in grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. That is where significant growth is happening.
- Doctrine is not for me
Maybe doctrine seems complicated. Maybe it seems unnecessary. No matter how we feel about it, doctrine is an essential part to our spiritual health. In the pastoral letters, Paul urgently encourages Timothy and Titus to maintain sound doctrine in their congregations. Without sound doctrine, we run the risk of being pulled back and forth by anything presented to us because we are unable to discern truth from falsehood.
- Doctrine is all that matters
Equally as damaging as the latter train of thought, we must be mindful not to elevate doctrine and beliefs higher than they should be. Doctrine that does not promote spiritual growth and health in the believer is un-useful. Doctrine that causes pride or arrogance is wasted. Doctrine that encourages cynicism and hardness of heart is empty. Doctrine that is un-livable is purposeless. We must live in the tension that exists between our actions and our beliefs: action without foundation can be toppled, and foundation without action will produce nothing.
Can you think of other “sound doctrine” myths we battle in the church?