Burning Question: Why do some churches get so wrapped up in “doctrine” issues, such as women in church, drinking alcohol, food restrictions, etc.? It seems to create unnecessary division when we should be united as believers in Christ, not personal application.
Historically, believers and churches can easily become sidetracked and lose sight of those things that are of greatest importance. We sometimes major on the minors and minor on the majors, if you know what I mean.
If we replace the word “doctrine” with the word “truth”, the above question is a bit easier to handle. The reason for this is because God’s Word is our source of truth and, therefore, determines the doctrines that should govern our daily lives. Churches should be “wrapped up” in truth . . . proclaiming truth, living by the truth, encouraging others to live by truth, contending for the truth, holding fast to the truth. Well, you get the idea!
Where things get a bit difficult is when God’s truth allows for some variance as to how that truth is lived out. When we hold fast to a specific application of God’s truth that Scripture doesn’t necessarily hold to, then we can easily cross the line into legalism. As an example, you may hold to the conviction that playing cards is a sin based on your understanding of a specific Scripture, let’s say Ephesians 5:11. For you, your conviction would be based on “doctrine” or “truth”. However, I would not share your conviction as I see no issue with merely playing cards for fun and my application of that passage would be different. For you to expect me to apply that verse to my life in the same way that you apply it, when the verse obviously allows for flexibility in its application, would be legalistic.
There are certain dangers and cautions for churches regarding “doctrine” or truth. First, we must be willing to stand on truth whenever it is conveyed in Scripture. Second, where Scripture allows a variety of applications for that truth, we must not hold others to our personal application alone, lest we become legalistic. Third, we must guard against serving the “rules” above serving the Lord. God’s truth is conveyed against the backdrop of our relationship with Him. Abiding in His truth enables us to enjoy deep fellowship with Him. Remember, Jesus describes Himself as Truth in John 14:6. Last, we must never sacrifice truth for the sake of unity. Many churches in our day have amazing unity but no message, no effectiveness, and no life because they have watered down or replaced the truth of God’s Word that exists to give us life.
Paul encouraged Timothy to teach sound doctrine and warned Timothy against false doctrine (1 Timothy 4:6, 1 Timothy 6:3-5). In his second letter to Timothy, Paul gives one of the best admonitions to proclaim truth while also laying out one of the best warnings of what happens when we don’t (2 Timothy 4:2-4). We as believers and churches will be all the better for understanding when Scripture allows for a variety of applications and when we must stand on truth regardless of the cost.