Does doctrine matter?
Luther and the Reformers thought so. So did the religious leaders of the time in the Roman Catholic Church.
A reader sums up the Christian’s dilemma1:
I am a great believer in Matthew 7:15, but it does open the door to dogma wars; and, of course, anyone who disagrees is apostate. The danger, or so it seems to me, is that no one struggling with their faith (which is to say, knowing what to believe, knowing who to credit) benefits from the wolves in sheep’s clothing argument. The warning is valid, but engenders a “dmd if I do, dmd if I don’t” dichotomy. The question always remains, “What if I have chosen un-wisely?” We all have doubt, but the struggle of overcoming it is a might endeavor.
There are many good points in this reader’s comment. Fortunately, we don’t have to recreate the principles by which we can come to an understanding of God’s truth. By his providence through study of the Scriptures, believers before us have shown us the way.
The most important thing is to consider the Bible the Word of God and to compare Scripture with Scripture. Understanding this basic truth, and having the Word of God available in a language we can understand, are the greatest inheritances we have from the Lutheran Reformation.
Orthodoxy does no refer to members of the Greek or Russian Orthodox Church. According to Webster’s Unabridged, orthodoxy is soundness of faith; a belief in the doctrines taught in the Scriptures, or in some established standard of faith; – opposed to heterodoxy or to heresy. These standards of faith - literally confessions and creeds - place a frame around Christianity. They help groups of Christians understand what others in the past have believed, and make it easier to come together with others who have like faith. The creeds were written to counter attacks by people who pretended to be Christian, but who actually sought to weaken or destroy the faith.
Here is one of the oldest standards, known as the Apostles’ Creed:
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth: And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, Born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified, dead, and buried: He descended into hell; The third day he rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; The holy Catholic (Christian, not Roman Catholic) Church; The Communion of Saints; The Forgiveness of sins; The Resurrection of the body, And the Life everlasting. Amen.
In the Fourth Century, this was enough to identify people who were not united in Biblical faith. But as the centuries have rolled forward, new errors have continued to appear. Assenting to the Apostles’ Creed is no longer sufficient to identify orthodoxy.
Websters Unabridged defines it this way: Heresy: An offense against Christianity, consisting in a denial of some essential doctrine, which denial is publicly avowed, and obstinately maintained.
This definition has three important points:
- The heretic denies an essential Christian doctrine.
- The person publicly admits, preaches, or publishes the denial.
- The person maintains their position.
Someone believing and maintaining a denial of an essential Christian doctrine is not Christian.
You may rankle at the idea of rejecting someone’s claim to be a Christian. The church has long preached (falsely) judge not as the first commandment of Christian love. But Christ and the apostles command you to discern between the saved and the unsaved.
But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily (secretly) shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. 2 And many shall follow their pernicious (very mischievious, destructive) ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. 3 And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: -2 Peter 2.1-3
The apostle Peter is saying that heresies leave a person who believes them in a state of damnation. That means that they are unsaved, or not truly Christian.
A heretic will always claim to be a Christian. He will say that he believes the Bible. But he won’t accept correction of his heresy. He will reject the truth that would set him free.
For an example of this, see the comments at the end of this post.
If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into [your] house, neither bid him God speed: 11 For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds. - 1 John 1.10-11
Many readers of this blog find themselves struggling with churches which are more or less orthodox in their preaching and teaching, but with practices or beliefs that are a bit off. These beliefs do not challenge the basics of the Christian faith. But they can make it impossible to have harmony in a church body.
An eschatological (study of the teachings of the end-times) joke
A Christian friend quipped that he was neither pre-millenial nor post-millenial, but rather pan-millenial. “It will all _pan out_ in the end.
Everything written in the Bible is there for a reason. The doctrine of last things is a major part of Scripture. God put it there to strengthen, instruct, and prepare His children. It matters.
Much of what American Christians believe about the end times doesn’t jibe with Scripture. But people can have different eschatological ideas while remaining brothers and sisters in the faith. Yet they may not be able to stay in the same church. This is one example of division arising from heterodox beliefs.
The true God gets angry
The idea that everything will be fine because God is love reveals a profound misapprehension of the nature of the Lord. When Jesus comes back, it will be to judge. Jesus told us that many will be cast into hell.
Because strait [is] the gate, and narrow [is] the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. -Matthew 7.14
The number one commandment for Christians
And God spake all these words, saying, I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. -Exodus 20.1-6
Doctrine matters. If we take Christ’s commands seriously, we need to contend for the faith.
Many mainline and mega-churches are doctrinally heretical. Even conservative churches teach or overlook various types of heterodoxy which tend to destroy true unity and depth between believers in a congregation.
Just because a person says she’s a Christian doesn’t mean she’s orthodox in her beliefs.
Ultimately it’s up to you to steer clear of the increasingly apostate churches and find the remnant who seek to worship God in Spirit and in truth. God promises that they are out there.
Dear Lord, you have taught us that good friends strengthen each other just like iron sharpens iron, and that wherever two or more are gathered together in your name, there you are in the midst. Be with your children. Help us. Protect us. Guide us from all error. Send us true pastors and teachers who will show us how to avoid the snares of false doctrine by grounding our hearts, minds, souls and spirits in your truth. Forgive us our sloth. Inspire us with your unfailing love and grace to do better than we’ve done. May we walk with You today, and be a blessing. Amen.
Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some [is]; but exhorting [one another]: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. -Hebrews 10.25
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