The Most Important Doctrines
When we think of “doctrinal” issues, we tend to think of matters like marriage and divorce, the work of the church, baptism, and other related teachings. We work hard to try to get these right, and there are often sharp disagreements over the nature of some matters in the religious world. There are doctrines to which we must cling, of course, and this would include doctrines about who Jesus is and why He came to die and rise again (1 Cor 15:1-4; 1 john 4:1-6). The problem we must sometimes grapple with is stressing certain doctrines while leaving others untouched.
“Doctrine” means teaching, and anything we teach is, definitionally, doctrinal. We often elevate the word “doctrinal” to some special status to mean the really important teachings, whereas “non-doctrinal” means those areas that we can disagree about. Then, we arbitrarily assign the various teachings in Scripture to one or the other status. The problem is that we can’t find this kind of use of “doctrinal” or “non-doctrinal” in Scripture. If we are arbitrary about how we view doctrine, we will likely dismiss some doctrines that are more important than we realize.
Scripture teaches us to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15). We are speak in a way that shows grace to others (Col 4:5-6). Do we realize that issues like loving neighbor as self, treating each other as we want to treated, forgiving others, seeking peace, doing justice, and showing mercy are also doctrinal matters as much as any others? In fact, so great are these teachings in Scripture that our own salvation depends on our actions relative to these issues. If I don’t love my neighbor, I am in violation of the most significant teaching that relates to how I think about other people. It is second only to loving God (Matt 22:36-40). If I don’t treat others as I want to treated, I am guilty of injustice, failing in the most basic task of seeing others as made in God’s image (Jas 3:9). If I don’t show mercy, I won’t be shown mercy (Jas 2:13). If I don’t forgive, I won’t be forgiven (Mark 11:25). If I am not seeking peace, I am not standing for Christ and His kingdom (cf. Rom 14:17). How does it get more important than that in terms of how we are to act toward others?
Loving God and loving others ought to put things into perspective. We need to know that being wrong about these doctrinal matters, particularly in action, most certainly puts our souls at eternal risk, and we can’t afford to put ourselves in that position. We often stress the works of the flesh that will keep us from inheriting the kingdom of God (Gal 5:19-21), yet failing to love, forgive, and show mercy will have the same effect. In fact, these works of the flesh flow out of a failure to love. If we are not bearing the fruit of the Spirit (i.e., love, joy, peace, etc.), then the Spirit of God is not in us and we are lost. Paul wrote,
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Rom 8:5-8)
I’m not saying that other doctrinal matters aren’t important—if Scripture teaches something, who are we to downplay or ignore it? Yet let’s not forget that love and mercy are at the heart of what it means to be servants of Christ and others. This is fruit of the Spirit. These attitudes are, indeed, the weightier matters, and the last thing we want is to find ourselves to be the hypocrites of Matthew 23:23: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!”
Christians, we need to shine right now. The world is in desperate need of the light of Christ. Love one another. Love your neighbors. Treat others as you want to be treated. Be merciful. Be forgiving. Do justice. Seek peace. Pray hard. May God forbid that we neglect these doctrines through mistreating others.
As we begin a new year, let us once again turn our minds to the mind of Christ, who emptied himself and treated others as more important than himself (Phil 2:3-8). To follow Christ is to take on this attitude.