I think it is both intellectually and spiritually dishonest to level the charge against anyone who disagrees with your interpretation of scripture, “Then you must not believe that doctrine is important.”
“Doctrine” means “teachings, beliefs.” Doctrine is vital. Scripture could not be clearer on the matter. What we may disagree upon is whether your interpretation of scripture – or mine or anyone else’s – is doctrine, or not.
I find these items to be doctrinal:
- “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16
- “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6
- “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” – Mark 16:16
- Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God: “Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son.” – John 2:22
- Jesus came from God incarnationally: “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.” – 2 John 1:7
- “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” – John 1:21
- “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” – Galatians 5:6
- “As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean.” – Romans 14:14
These are in no particular order; nor are they intended to be comprehensive. There are, for instance, a good number of imperatives Jesus shared, most of which are applicable to His followers today. But I believe the items cited above represent foundational principles of the apostles’ doctrine – and the points of departure for the heresies of the first few centuries of Christendom.
You will not find most of those items in current debate among followers of Christ today, except perhaps the last one – which is terribly inconvenient to the mindset which preaches that everything is an issue; everything one can do is either intrinsically right or wrong; pleasing or displeasing to God; commendable by heaven or condemnable to hell.
There are simply some things we can do – choices we make and actions we take – about which God says nothing.
They are matters of conscience.
We get into trouble when we elevate matters of conscience to something else; try to superimpose scripture upon them and make them look like God’s law. That’s what Jesus took the Pharisees and teachers of the law to task for, over and over again. Matters of conscience are opinions, not doctrine.
So you can believe what you want to about a good number of items which simply are not doctrinal. And the context of the Romans passage above indicates that it is wrong for you to judge your sibling in Christ regarding an item of conscience as surely as it is wrong for that sibling to flaunt his or her freedom from conscience in the matter in order to make you violate yours.
We can disagree about matters of conscience – even teach what we disagree about – but there are limits.
One limit is calling them “doctrine.”
There are matters about which we are to be “of one mind.” There are others which are not.
Honestly, I think that if God had taught that we must worship while standing on one foot, Satan would find a way to split us into right-footers and left-footers, leaners and non-leaners, hoppers and non-hoppers, plus those who would disfellowship all the people who have had to have their feet amputated.
And a few who would cut off one foot to prove how “right” they are.
In a few short words, matters of conscience are never to become a game of “I’m right; you’re wrong.”
That’s doctrine, as I see it, folks. And it is important.
So I close with the most dangerous challenge of all: Think for yourself. Study scripture for yourself. Don’t accept what I say – what anyone says – as automatically right or wrong. Go to the Source. Prove all things. Hold fast what’s good.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17