There is an epidemic in many churches that most people do not even realize exists. The subtlety of this disease is cutting the legs out from underneath the church, destroying its foundation.
The problem I am concerned about is the neglect of doctrine. By this I do not mean that specific doctrines are never mentioned or referenced, but that doctrinal truth is not really the foundation of the church. This is something about which Christians should be aware.
Here are the first 4 ways to tell if a church might be neglecting or minimizing doctrine. (Tomorrow I will give the final three.)
1- Viewing Doctrine As Boring And Impractical
I once heard a pastor say just that — “doctrine is boring and impractical.” Needless to say, doctrine was not a focus in his church. When this is the mentality, doctrine will be neglected. It is proof that the pastor does not understand the doctrine he has been called to teach and preach.
2- Discouraging Others From Asking Challenging Doctrinal Questions
People ask questions when they are confused. Because of the multiplicity of religions and denominations who hold to different doctrinal positions, people are often confused about doctrine. The questions they have are challenging and answering them takes time and energy.
When a pastor is unwilling or reluctant to do this, people usually end up being publically discouraged from asking questions.
It is much easier to tell people what to memorize and recite than how to think and study for themselves.
3- A Refusal To Preach Expositionally
Expository preaching naturally leads to an emphasis on doctrine. Why? Because the Bible contains and presents doctrine. A commitment to preaching biblical expository sermons means that doctrine will be addressed on a regular basis.
I have seen very few churches that criticize expository preaching be focused on doctrine. Typically, a commitment to one leads to a commitment to the other.
4- Failing To Encourage People To Rely On The Gospel For More Than Salvation
The more I study doctrine, the more I see the Gospel. I never cease to be amazed at how the Gospel infiltrates all aspects of doctrine. The better you understand doctrine, the better you will understand the Gospel. Yes, the Gospel is needed for salvation, but it is also needed for sanctification. Christians must be encouraged to daily rely on the gospel and on grace.
When the gospel (and grace, which is the heart of the gospel) is in clear view, doctrine will undoubtedly be a constant focus.
There are several other ways to tell if a church is neglecting doctrine, which I will present tomorrow. But I should add that Christians do not have to rely only on their churches to learn doctrine. You can study and learn on your own. There are a number of resources available that will aid in your desire to grow in your understanding of doctrinal truth.
Here are a few books I recommend (you can click each book to view a full description on Amazon.com).
This is probably the most simple book to read on Christian doctrine. It has the goal of simply introducing biblical doctrine, not giving a comprehensive explanation of each doctrine. As the title suggests, it presents 20 basic doctrinal beliefs that every Christian should know. It is a very helpful book to get you started in studying doctrine.
Wayne Grudem also has a very good book on Systematic Theology if you are wanting to go a little more in-depth.
The ESV Study Bible is probably the best study Bible out there right now. It is as complete as any study Bible I have seen, but at the same time it is easy to read, follow, and understand. This Bible is great to use for personal devotions, because as you read the text, you can also read explanations of challenging verses.
“Doctrines That Divide” does not address every doctrine. Nor does it have the goal of painting a full theological portrait. But it does address doctrines and beliefs that tend to cause questions in the mind of those who have never been taught, have come to Christianity from another belief system, or who are presented with questions they can’t answer in everyday life.