In the previous post, "Why Doctrine Matters," we discussed the fact that doctrinal beliefs have real consequences in the life of the Christian. This reality demonstrates the significance of sound doctrine. What we as Christians believe about God, the bible, salvation, judgment, and a number of other topics deeply influence how we live out our faith. As I said, this is one reason why doctrine matters. But there's more to it than that.
On Doctrine and Pragmatism
Christians shouldn't care about doctrine merely because it affects how they live. That is to say, we shouldn't primarily be concerned with pragmatism. Pragmatism is a poor arbiter of truth. If you recall the two persons from the previous post you should remember that one was a Universalist and the other an Exclusivist. I argued that the beliefs of the former would likely lead to a life devoid of fervent evangelism and the latter would in many cases lead to a life characterized by an evangelistic disposition. Now it would be easy to say that the Exclusivist must be correct, because her position lead her to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth. But that isn't necessarily true. You don't determine which doctrines are sound by examining what the individual outcomes of the doctrines are and by then choosing the one that leads to the outcome you most desire. Notice, I'm not saying that Exclusivism is false. The point is merely this: Just because a certain belief leads to a desirable outcome doesn't make it true. Telling a child that his face will be frozen into a permanent grimace if he doesn't stop making such ugly faces may lead to the desirable outcome that he believes the parent and behaves more civilly, but that doesn't make the belief that making ugly faces will cause your face to petrify true. Again, pragmatism is a poor arbiter of truth.
Inadequate Sources of Doctrine
What then makes a doctrine true? It's not the outcome of the belief, we know that much from the discussion above. It would be foolish to say that our personal opinion is the deciding factor, either. You've probably heard the old adage, "Opinions are like...", well you get the idea, everybody has one! But our opinions are just that: opinions, and they may or may not be based on fact. Well, let's consider another popular candidate: Tradition. Ah yes, as Christians we love tradition, don't we? Or at least we did until the 16th century when tradition entailed things like selling indulgences. Give money to the Pope and he'll knock off a few years of purgatory for your late uncle Friedrich. Then guys like Martin Luther decided that maybe tradition shouldn't be the authority on what's true about God after all. Spring forward about 4 centuries and now most protestants look to the traditions that developed during the reformation to tell them what sound doctrine is. Am I the only one seeing the egregious irony in this whole development? I can hear a well meaning minister saying, "You shouldn't look to human tradition to tell you what sound doctrine is. You need to forget all that an read the reformers!" Huh?! You wanna run that one by me again? I digress...
Theotrinsic - Growing in Spirit and in Truth out of a Love for God
Maybe, we should be looking somewhere entirely elsewhere. I don't know, like, the bible for instance. Now there's a concept! If you haven't figured it out already that's where this is going. We need to take off our tradition tainted glasses and lay fresh eyes on Scripture. Don't let your pastor tell you what to believe, he may have it wrong! And if he's worth his weight in gold he'll tell you the same thing! Scripture is God's holy Word to us. Shouldn't that excite us? The most powerful being in the universe, and beyond the universe, has a message for you. Wouldn't you like to find out what it is for yourself? Doctrine matters simply because it comes from God! True doctrine flows from his Word that he gave to us and if we really love him will we not inevitably want to know what doctrine he has communicated to us? Wouldn't we want to study it and defend it simply because we love the God from whom it comes? Why do you think godly Christian scholars, ministers and laymen spend countless hours pouring over commentaries, Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, theology and apologetics books and articles? Because they couldn't find anything else to do with their time? No! Because they love God and they want to know him more! Now you don't have to become a scholar to prove you love God, but every Christian should challenge himself to grow in the knowledge of God more and more until the King of Glory comes! Doctrine matters because it's the message of God and we should apply our minds to understand and defend it, because we love our King!