Series 1 Episode 1
Why Doctrine Matters
Today we’re talking about “Why Doctrine Matters.” If you haven’t watched the Intro and Course Overview yet be sure to do that first.
You know, it’s popular for people today to claim spirituality but distance themselves from religion. But it’s a little weird when Christians do it.Several years ago there was a ridiculously viral video of a man who hated religion but loved Jesus.
There are many in America (Christians an non Christians) who want faith to be a personal and private affair only and so end up with this idea of “I’m a Christian, you’re a Christian. I’ll believe what I want to believe and you can believe what you want to believe.” And it’s almost like there’s no room in Christianity for actual doctrine.
Others, I’ve heard more recently, repeat the saying, “no creed but christ.” In other words, “We don’t have a set of doctrinal beliefs, we just really love Jesus.” Of course, no creed but Christ is a creed and so it’s ironically self defeating but I’m going to accept this view and challenge it anyways.
I’ve also heard of people saying, “I don’t call myself a Christian but I am a follower of Jesus.” I’ve also heard Christians who would teach that You can follow God well without going to church and some Christians even teach that it’s spiritually malnourishing for you to go to church.
Now I think all of these viewpoints might come from different places, they might have different motivations for why they’re saying what they’re saying but a lot of times they end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Right? Some of these statements have a great heart. They’re trying to get rid of the bathwater but sometimes they end up throwing out something valuable in the process.
Almost always when you hear Christians in one way or another claiming to follow Jesus but at the same time devaluing religion it almost always undermines Christian doctrine.
Here’s the problem with caring little about doctrine:
What do Protestants, Catholics, Anglicans, Eastern Orthodox, Jehovah’s witnesses, Muslims, followers of Bahai, Scientologists, Christian Science, demons, and Mormons all have in common? Belief in Jesus! They might not all believe the same things about Jesus but they believe in Jesus and that shows us that it’s not just who we believe in that matters – it’s also what our beliefs are surrounding that person that matters. The nuances and variations and the language we use, all of it, matters.
So not caring about doctrine could end up causing you to compromise on some key, basic, fundamental issues that could have a significant and eternal impact. I don’t mean to be “doom and gloom” about it but it’s true – there’s a lot at stake when we diminish the importance of doctrine.
Furthermore You might be separating yourself from the Church. You know, I don’t get this idea of distancing ourselves from the church. There are plenty of people out there who consider themselves Christ followers but they bad mouth the church or they don’t go to church or they think the church isn’t for them. Here’s the issue. That’s the Body of Christ (of which Christ is the head). Denying the Body of Christ is spiritual decapitation from Christ. We can talk more about this later especially when we get into ecclesiology in the third series of class but let me add just one more idea. I’ve heard a lot of people talk poorly about church before and yet claim to love Jesus. Jesus loves the church and He calls the Church His Bride. Think about that for a second. If someone claimed to love me but bad mouthed my bride – how do you think I’m going to feel towards that person? If someone claimed to love me but couldn’t stand to be around my bride – do you think that person really understands me? Do you think they really know me?
Lastly, hear what C.S. Lewis has to say about theology:
"Everyone has warned me not to tell you what I am going to tell you in this last book. They all say ‘the ordinary reader does not want Theology; give him plain practical religion’. I have rejected their advice…. In a way I quite understand why some people are put off by Theology. I remember once when I had been giving a talk to the R.A.F., an old, hard-bitten officer got up and said, ‘I’ve no use for all that stuff. But, mind you, I’m a religious man too. I know there’s a God. I’ve felt Him: out alone in the desert at night: the tremendous mystery. And that’s just why I don’t believe all your neat little dogmas and formulas about Him. To anyone who’s met the real thing they all seem so petty and pedantic and unreal!’
Now in a sense I quite agreed with that man. I think he had probably had a real experience of God in the desert. And when he turned from that experience to the Christian creeds, I think he really was turning from something real to something less real. In the same way, if a man has once looked at the Atlantic from the beach, and then goes and looks at a map of the Atlantic, he also will be turning from something real to something less real: turning from real waves to a bit of coloured paper. But here comes the point. The map is admittedly only coloured paper, but there are two things you have to remember about it. In the first place, it is based on what hundreds and thousands of people have found out by sailing the real Atlantic. In that way it has behind it masses of experience just as real as the one you could have from the beach; only, while yours would be a single glimpse, the map fits all those different experiences together. In the second place, if you want to go anywhere, the map is absolutely necessary. As long as you are content with walks on the beach, your own glimpses are far more fun than looking at a map. But the map is going to be more use than walks on the beach if you want to get to America.
Now, Theology is like the map. Merely learning and thinking about the Christian doctrines, if you stop there, is less real and less exciting than the sort of thing my friend got in the desert. Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map. But that map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God—experiences compared with which any thrills or pious feelings you and I are likely to get on our own are very elementary and very confused. And secondly, if you want to get any further, you must use the map. You see, what happened to that man in the desert may have been real, and was certainly exciting, but nothing comes of it. It leads nowhere. There is nothing to do about it. In fact, that is just why a vague religion—all about feeling God in nature, and so on-—is so attractive. It is all thrills and no work: like watching the waves from the beach. But you will not get to Newfoundland by studying the Atlantic that way, and you will not get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in flowers or music. Neither will you get anywhere by looking at maps without going to sea. Nor will you be very safe if you go to sea without a map.