Confronting Doctrinal Disputes Biblically

Mention the word “doctrine” among church circles, and you will get a variety of different responses. On one hand, there are those who treat doctrine as if it were a dirty word. To them, doctrine is not “politically correct.” The basic idea they uphold is that “It really
doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere.” Unfortunately, it is possible to be sincerely wrong.

On the other hand there is also a tendency among some others to almost deify doctrine. This view is equally dangerous, as it subtly makes doctrine, rather than Jesus, the object of faith, and reduces Christianity to simply being mental assent to creedal formulas, rather than a living relationship with a Living God.

Beginning this relationship with God does not require much doctrinal knowledge. The plan of salvation is very simple. However, once a person
has committed his or her life to Jesus, the next step is to “Grow in
grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18). That is where doctrine comes in. In order to relate to God properly we must understand His character and, what does and does not please Him. He is not indifferent about how we approach Him. This is why the Bible contains warnings such as these:

  • But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. Galatians 1:8 ESV
  • But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. 2 Peter 2:1 ESV
  • Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world. 1 John 4:1 NLT

Except for the Book of Philemon, every Book in the New Testament contains some sort of exhortation to pursue sound doctrine. What we believe ABOUT God has everything to do with how we relate TO God.

Obviously, not all doctrinal disagreement falls into the category of heresy. Christians have many “in-house debates” that we don’t divide over. This would include things like mode of baptism, the best form of church government and how the End Times will play out. But when it comes to things that affect the Gospel message and the plan of Salvation, a line has to be drawn.

Matthew 18 contains the proper steps for church discipline and restoration. Unfortunately, in a time like ours in which so much ministry takes place in the media without proper oversight from the local church, this becomes much more difficult especially in the technology we use today.

This deficiency has paved the way for self-appointed “doctrine cops” on the internet and other media who center their entire ministries playing “gotcha” with other Christians.

Many of these individuals call what they do “discernment Ministries.” I find this a little ironic since discernment is on of the gifts of the Spirit that most of them claim no longer exist, but I digress. Often, these Ministries reflect a prideful, arrogant spirit that can be just as spiritually damaging as the false doctrine they are trying to correct! Many of them also play rather fast and loose with the facts, often taking quotations severely out of context if not outright lying and making allegations that come close to outright character assassination.

It’s easy to sit behind a keyboard and dehumanize people. But the question becomes, when people set themselves up to police other people’s ministries, who if policing them? What sort of accountability do they have? What sort of fruit are their ministries producing?

Again, it is vital that we pursue sound doctrine and it is also true that doing that sometimes involves correcting unsound doctrine. Nonetheless, if you don’t treat cancer the right way, the “treatment” can be even deadlier than the disease itself!

So how do we deal with false doctrine in a way that is uncompromising while being fair and worthy of the heart of Jesus?

  • Be sure you accurately understand the person’s viewpoint (Exodus 20:16).There can be absolutely no tolerance for exaggeration or misrepresentation.
  • Remember, you will be judged by the same standards you judge others by (Matthew 7:1-2)
  • Watch your own attitude. Maintain a heart of love and humility. Remember, you are not immune from deception yourself (Galatians 6:1).
  • Pray fervently for the person (James 5:16).
  • As much as possible, peace and unity should be maintained (Ephesians 4:13).
  • No matter what happens, the ultimate goal must be reconciliation and restoration (James 5:19-20).

When it comes to doctrine, there is a delicate balance between being bold enough to stand courageously for Truth, yet being humble enough to admit our own weakness and fallibility. John 1:14 describes Jesus as being “… full of grace and truth.” We must use both grace and truth in order to represent Him accurately. To use one at the expense of the other will always distort our image of Him. Any endeavor like this needs to be careful to balance the two.

Keep It Real,




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