Concerning Doctrine and Purpose
Doctrine. Why should the average Joe sitting in the church pews Sunday morning care about doctrine? The word itself wreaks of antiquity in minds of many modern Christians - perhaps even bigotry and intolerance. Christianity should be practical, and doctrine is thought to be anything but that. Some say Christians just need to be about loving people. But what about loving God? And isn't the assertion itself a statement of doctrine? Doctrine is like philosophy in many respects. One can try to ignore it and write it off as irrelevant, but the fact is the less aware you are of your philosophical or doctrinal beliefs the more they control you - for better or worse. Knowing what you believe gives you a sense of direction and purpose. It also empowers you to discern what beliefs and behaviors are compatible with your own. Without doctrine you're left without a clear objective and without the tools to discover what that objective might even look like. How do you know where your beliefs are taking you if you don't know what you believe in the first place?
A Brief Case Study
Let's take two people, for example. Let's say one is a Universalist, which is a fancy way of saying he believes everyone is going to heaven someday. The other is a strict Exclusivist, meaning she believes anyone that does not turn from their sin and place their faith in Christ will be subject to eternal punishment. The Universalist might very well conclude that evangelism is a noble activity, but not necessarily imperative since God is going to save everyone in the end, anyway. Not that all Universalists would reach this conclusion, but it's probably safe to say that some, if not many, would. Consequently, he spends his life practicing a deep personal faith, but nevertheless not a faith that is particularly concerned with evangelism.
The Exclusivist on the other hand believes that apart from explicit knowledge of the Gospel no one can be saved. This conviction coupled with Jesus' command to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth cultivates a deep urge in her to engage in world-wide evangelism. She is outspoken about her faith, and anyone who has spent five minutes around her knows she's a Christian. She goes on to participate in international missions and preaches the Gospel to some of the most secluded people on earth.
Now these two scenarios are admittedly somewhat stereotypical, and the Universalist reading this who is also a fervent evangelist will have to pardon my little indulgence. However, one must admit that at face value the actions of both of these individuals seem to flow effortlessly from their beliefs. And that is precisely the point. Beliefs have consequences. It's common sense! Why then is it so hard for modern Christians to apply this principle to doctrine? Beliefs have consequences, yes. And doctrinal beliefs have consequences as well. Doctrinal beliefs change how we think and act as Christians. And that is one very good reason why doctrine matters.