By Burk Parsons
Doctrine matters—it matters in life and in death. Our doctrine determines our destiny. It not only affects our view about God but our view about everything. We are doctrinal beings by nature. Everyone holds to some sort of doctrine; the question is whether or not our doctrine is biblical. Consequently, we dare not be indifferent about doctrine. Indeed, there is a reason we’ve never heard of a Christian martyr who was indifferent about doctrine. Indifference about doctrine is the mother of every heresy in all of history, and in our day indifference about doctrine is spreading like wildfire in the pulpits and pews of our churches. Ironically, the assertion that doctrine doesn’t matter is in fact a doctrine in itself.
When people tell me they are into Jesus but not into doctrine, I tell them that if they are not into doctrine, they are, in fact, not into Jesus. We cannot know Jesus without knowing doctrine, and we cannot love God without knowing God, and the way we know God is by studying His Word. Doctrine comes from God, it teaches us about God, and by faith it leads us back to God in worship, service, and love. Indifference to doctrine is indifference to God, and indifference to God is indifference to our own eternity.
Pastors who think it is relevant and cool to be indifferent about doctrine—who play down the necessity and importance of doctrine and who fail to preach and explain doctrine in their sermons—are in fact failing to give their people that which will save their souls. For us to downplay doctrine or to be intentionally fuzzy in preaching doctrine isn’t cool or humble or relevant, it’s outright arrogant. There is nothing more relevant than doctrine, there is nothing more humbling than doctrine, and there is nothing that more quickly gets our eyes off ourselves and fixes them on our loving and gracious God than doctrine that proceeds from God.
Doctrine, however, is not an end in itself. Doctrine exists to help us know, love, worship, and glorify the God who is. There are few things the devil wants more than to have churches full of people who think they are as straight as a rifle barrel in their doctrine—but just as empty as one—in their application of that doctrine. Doctrine rightly understood is doctrine rightly applied.
If we separate our doctrine from our life, our doctrine will lead to our death. Doctrine is a gift from God, and it flows from the inspired pages of the Word of God that we might love God with our whole being and our neighbor as ourselves. This is why we must be dogmatic in our doctrine—not dogmatically harsh, but dogmatically humble as we seek to know, proclaim, and defend the doctrine that teaches us about our loving and holy Lord who gave Himself for us. We must be dogmatic in our doctrine and dogmatic in living it out for the glory of God.
As Matthew Henry wrote, “Those who teach by their doctrine must teach by their life, or else they pull down with one hand what they build up with the other.”
Dr. Burk Parsons is senior pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., chief publishing officer for Ligonier Ministries, editor of Tabletalk magazine, and a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow.