Why is sound doctrine so crucial?

Most churches have doctrinal statements, written creeds filled with absolutes. Such documents pose a problem for people who view absolute statements with suspicion. Modern culture downplays the importance of doctrine or rejects it as divisive and insensitive, but does that mean that churches should adapt their theology or jettison creeds altogether? Does it make a difference what the church teaches?

Biblically, yes, what the church teaches does matter. Sound doctrine is crucially important. Perhaps we should define sound. In this article, we'll take it to mean "solidly orthodox, conforming to biblical truth." Sound doctrine is teaching that agrees with the Bible.

Paul tells Titus to "teach what accords with sound doctrine" (Titus 2:1). Titus's teaching had to correspond with God's Word. The apostles were the pitch pipe through which God sounded the note to harmonize His church.

So, the main reason sound doctrine is important is that God directed us to teach it. There are other, secondary, reasons such as the fact that our faith is centered on a specific message. The Bible defines this message explicitly: "Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures … he was buried … [and] he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). This is the clear-cut news we are to share. Paul says it is "of first importance." Change the message, and the basis of faith crumbles. Jesus warned us to build our lives on the immovable rock of His teaching, not on the shifting sands of man's philosophy (Matthew 7:24-27).

Another reason sound doctrine is important is that the gospel is a sacred trust. We dare not tamper with God's communiqué. We are the couriers of the message, not its editors. Jude was insistent that the church defend sound doctrine: "Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3; see also Philippians 1:27). To "contend" means to strenuously fight for something and to hold nothing back in the struggle. We should neither add to nor subtract from God's Word (Revelation 22:18-19). We receive what has been entrusted to us and uphold it "as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 1:13).

Also, sound doctrine is important because what we believe has an impact on what we do. There is a direct correlation between belief and behavior. Maya Angelou put it this way: "When you know better, you do better." A belief that one is invincible can easily lead to foolhardy behavior. In the same way, a man who rejects the idea of God and judgment will make very different choices than a man fears God. First Timothy 1:9-10 lists sins like rebellion, murder, lying, and slave trading and concludes with "whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine." In other words, bad behavior is out of sync with true belief. Sound doctrine curbs corrupt conduct.

Sound doctrine is also important because we must be able to distinguish truth from falsehood. "Many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1). Jesus said there are tares among the wheat and wolves among the flock (Matthew 13:25; Acts 20:29). The best way to spot a counterfeit is to be familiar with the real thing; to identify the lie, we must know the truth.

Sound doctrine is important because of its end. Sound doctrine leads to life. "Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers" (1 Timothy 4:16). On the other hand, unsound doctrine leads to ruin. Jesus spoke of the "great crash" awaiting the one who builds his house on the sand (Matthew 7:27). Jude wrote of false teachers whose condemnation was sealed. Their crime? Teaching unsound doctrine, specifically, changing "the grace of our God into a license for immorality" and rejecting Jesus Christ (Jude 1:4 NIV). Preaching another gospel ("which is really no gospel at all") brings down an anathema: "let him be eternally condemned!" (see Galatians 1:6-9 NIV).

Finally, sound doctrine is important because it encourages believers. A pastor "must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine" (Titus 1:9). Believers naturally "long for the pure spiritual milk" because they want to grow (1 Peter 2:2). Sound doctrine is that "pure milk," wholesome, unadulterated, and vital.


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