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Doctrine is an explanation of what a specific group believes. Biblically speaking, doctrine is the most important thing to consider when evaluating a church (or a denomination or any religious faith). In 1 Timothy 6:3-5, Paul sends his student some very important words concerning the doctrine of the church,
If anyone teaches other doctrine and does not agree with the sound teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the teaching that promotes godliness, he is conceited, understanding nothing, but has a sick interest in disputes and arguments over words. From these come envy, quarreling, slander, evil suspicions, and constant disagreement among people whose minds are depraved and deprived of the truth, who imagine that godliness is a way to material gain.
When we think about doctrine, the beliefs of any group, we see that the only doctrine valid for the genuine church is in strict agreement with the teaching of Jesus Christ and with the teaching that promotes godliness. Such bad doctrine includes teaching that godliness is a way to material gain. This would indicate explicitly that Paul believed both a gospel of works-based righteousness and a gospel of material prosperity to be entirely contradictory to what Jesus taught. Anyone who taught anything that was not in complete agreement with Jesus’ teachings, he is conceited and understands nothing.
These are strong words from the Apostle. The words of Christ are the highest authority for the church. There is a reason Jesus taught that,
“But as for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi,’ because you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father, because you have one Father, who is in heaven. And do not be called masters either, because you have one Master, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:8-12).
So, in concerning our doctrine and the belief statements of any body, we ought to adopt a very intentional method for their development.
We read Scripture, the words of Christ, and take our doctrine from what Jesus taught. We do not form our doctrine and then use Christ words to somehow twist it into what we have developed for ourselves. Scripture is our doctrinal authority, not a tool to be used to try and justify the beliefs we already have.
In the closing of his letter to Timothy, Paul wrote,
“Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding irreverent, empty speech and contradictions from the “knowledge” that falsely bears that name. By professing it, some people have deviated from the faith.
Grace be with all of you” (1 Timothy 6:20-21).
Those who teach a doctrine other than what Christ, our only teacher, entrusted to us have deviated from the faith. Their faith is in something other than Jesus. As a pastor, this means that I must only teach the Scriptures, not merely from the Scriptures or merely using the Scriptures. We teach the Scriptures, explaining the text accurately and not using the text to support some idea that we have come up with. We want our faith to be in Jesus, which means we teach explicitly what Jesus taught in His inspired word- nothing more and nothing less. The text informs our beliefs while we work to resist letting our beliefs or our doctrine color the way that we read Scripture.
As you consider churches and your affiliation with any denomination, doctrine is the most important consideration. If a church’s or denomination (or any religious organization for that matter) has any doctrine that is not derived explicitly from God’s word, then it is not of God. At the same time, we will note that God is working together all things for His own glory and these contrary viewpoints do not exist outside the purview of God’s own sovereign will. He has determined that there will be human-centered and human-conceived doctrine for the purpose of the sanctification of the saints and for His own glory.
So (1) Jesus is our only teacher, and (2) we resolve to accurately teach what He taught and certainly nothing that is contrary. Sola Scriptura.