In many places today it seems doctrine has fallen on hard times. For many the word “doctrine” brings to mind cold religious people who are all about “the doctrine.” Assemblies are no strangers to this, where many hold to the “distinctives” but with a cold and sometimes loveless outlook, meaning as long as we have the right doctrine we are okay, and if people don’t like it, well, too bad.
I am not suggesting for a minute that we throw doctrine (or really teaching) out the window, or that the things that have distinguished assemblies are not in most cases good things. I simply want to ask the questions: Could there be something we are missing? Could the problem be the way in which we convey our doctrines? Or better yet, could we ourselves be the reason that sound doctrine is not having the desired impact on people’s lives?
The writer T.S. Eliot said “most of the problem in the world is caused by people wanting to be important.” This is certainly true for the church as well. In 1 Tim 1:3,4 Paul reminds Timothy to deal with those who are not teaching sound doctrine, but in verses 6 and 7 he gives us insight on how this happened. He essentially says that these men deviated from the truth out of a desire to be teachers of the law.
Their main motivation in teaching was to “be somebody.” This eventually led them to teach what is false, perhaps because when you set out to use God’s Word to make yourself look impressive, the Holy Spirit is not empowering it. I think you could also say that even if your doctrine is right, but your motive is self-serving, you are at risk of being a powerless preacher.
Adjusting our aim
Over the years I have experienced times when the only reason given for some questions is purely “this is how we have always done it.” There have been times when I catch myself giving that same answer. Could it be that we ourselves need to rediscover these things and let the Spirit lead us into truth?
It is heartbreaking to see in many assemblies the loss of so many young people who knew what we did, but maybe never got the answer for why we were doing it. Are people seeing the faith and conviction behind our teaching, or does it seem empty and religious?
CH Mackintosh said “We have the Bible in our hands; but how little we know of its teaching! And how little are we governed by it! We go on, from week to week, year to year, with things which have no foundation whatever in its pages– yea, with things utterly opposed to its teaching; and, all the while, we boast of having the Scriptures, just like the Jews of old, who made their boast of having the oracles of God, while those very oracles condemned themselves and their ways, and left them without a single plea.”
We can be just like the Jews of old when we hold to doctrine out of pride, or worse yet, when we put the way we do things on a higher pedestal than the Word of God.
What is the point of doctrine?
So then, what is our aim or goal in preaching? The answer is given in verse 5 of 1 Tim chapter 1 “Now the end of the commandment is love, out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned. This is extremely important and cannot be overestimated if we desire the Lord to work through our teaching! The preaching of God’s Word should produce a “real” faith.
A real faith will cause us to take God’s Word seriously and purify our consciences. When we have a good conscience before God, our hearts will be pure towards Him. This is all meant to produce a deeper love for Christ. Of course, this also requires that the preacher himself have a sincere faith, good conscience and a pure heart!
Our studying of the Word of God should be to grow in love for Him, not to grow our pride because we have it all right. Simply put, doctrine should serve to cause people to love Him more, and produce a desire for holiness inside of the hearer.
Hitting The Target
If our doctrine has lost its power, it is only because we have put our sights on a different target. God’s Word is always powerful, but our goal has to be to point people to a deeper love of God, not a greater appreciation of the preacher. Assemblies for years have been known for their passion for the Word, and for following the teaching and patterns in it. When we read of men in the past, it seems they were driven by their love for God and His word.
That was the basis of their personal convictions, and it was that passion that inspired them to get back to a New Testament outlook on the church. They did not set out to be religious, or to be better than anyone else, but rather to be driven by their love for Christ. They set out to know Him, follow and obey Him, and to change whatever needed to be changed, whether personally or in the church.
We desperately need preachers and teachers with a “real” faith, who will declare the teaching of God’s Word with passion, authenticity, and with the aim of growing the saints’ love for their Savior.
If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed. 1 Timothy 4:6