The word “doctrine” has become one of those bad words to many. To them it suggests disagreements and quarrels over subjective religious topics. Since most people dislike confrontation they avoid any doctrinal discussion. But in fact, doctrine is vital and lies at the very center of our faith. Every aspect of our religious thinking is doctrinal in some way. Even the most basic belief that Jesus is the Son of God is a doctrinal belief. There is nothing wrong with doctrine and Christians should not fear doctrinal discussions.
Doctrine simply refers to the content of teaching. In a public school we use the word “curriculum” to describe the content of the teaching. If something is taught in the Bible, it is doctrine. When the Bible teaches us that we should love one another (John 13:34, Romans 12:10, 1 Peter 1:22), that is doctrine. When the Bible teaches us that God loves us and gave Jesus to die for our sins (John 3:16), that is doctrine. When the Bible promises an eternal home for the faithful (Matthew 18:29, John 5:24 ), that is also doctrine.
Jesus taught doctrine
The Sermon on the Mount from Matthew chapters 5-7 is an excellent example of doctrine. Jesus was teaching great lessons to his followers. Because the words of that sermon seem so lofty to us we do not consider it doctrine. Nevertheless, those lessons were all teachings or doctrines delivered by Jesus. But, in John 14:6 Jesus declared the exclusive doctrine that no one can come to God apart from, or through any other way than, himself. That teaching alone excludes a great swath of humanity who do not place their faith in Jesus. Like the Sermon on the Mount, that teaching is also doctrine.
Doctrine is God given
The Scriptures are breathed out (inspired) by God Himself (2 Timothy 3:16). The words are his and give unto us what we need (2 Timothy 3:17; 2 Peter 1:3). The Scriptures are a gift that enlightens the believer and guides him unto the presence of God. We ought cherish the doctrine given us by God.
So if doctrine is simply teaching and if Jesus taught doctrine and God gave us doctrine, why are so many people afraid to talk about doctrine? Why are some afraid of any teaching that might clash with those of their associates? Two reasons.
First, men have created so many of their own doctrines which clash with Scripture, that conflict is inevitable. The problem is not Bible doctrine. The problem is man. Jesus spoke of just such a problem when he pointed to vain worship driven by the “doctrines of men” (Matthew 15:9; mark 7:7). When men, councils, synods, presbyteries and such create their own doctrines they will also create conflict. Despite their desire to clarify and re-state Bible teachings, new doctrines always arise which do not agree with Scripture.
Second, some people like lives of ease (Amos 6:1) and see no point in doing the hard work of study and learning. Instead, one or two doctrines can be learned and the remainder ignored. Of course it is never said that way but nevertheless that is the outcome. People reject study and the hard mental work required to teach. Remember Peter’s admonition to “give an answer” of your faith (1 Peter 3:15).
Doctrine is not bad and it must not be avoided. But true Bible doctrine will always bring to light the inferior teachings of men. Bible doctrine will always require an effort to learn and to teach. Doctrine reveals to us the complete picture of God’s love and salvation. Let us run toward that doctrine and never run away.