The Hebrew word for doctrine means "to take, receive, seize"; then it means that which is received mentally: instruction. The Greek has a whole family of words relating to our topic: one means that which is taught; another refers to the one doing the teaching, the doctor or master; the verb form simply means to instruct or indoctrinate. The word doctrine appears fifty-two times in scripture, good evidence of its importance. Strikingly, when we read of doctrines in the plural the reference is always to strange doctrines, the doctrines of men, or the doctrines of devils. False doctrines are legion and contradictory, but true doctrine is one, for it has its unity in Jesus Christ.
The doctrine of God drops from heaven as rain (Deut. 32:2), it is pure and good (Job 11:4). The people were amazed at the teaching of Jesus, saying, "What thing is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority commandeth he . . ." (Mark 1:27). But Jesus did not teach new doctrine; it was not his but the Father's, and it agreed with the teaching of Moses (John 7:16–19). The children of God obey from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered unto them (Rom. 6:17). Since all scripture is given by inspiration of God, it has the primary profit of giving us doctrine (2 Tim. 3:16). Adding to the peril of the times in which we live is the fact that men "will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers; having itching ears" (2 Tim. 4:3). The purpose of God in giving ministers to the church is "that henceforth we be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine . . ." (Eph. 4:14). Of such central importance is the truth that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is come in the flesh that the denial of this is antichrist, and "if there come any unto you and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed" (2 John 10).
Christ is the master, the teacher, the prophet sent from God. When he was but twelve years old he was found in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, hearing them and asking them questions; already then the people were astonished at his understanding and answers (Luke 2:46). Six other times we read that men were astonished at his doctrine, for he taught with authority and not as the scribes. Christ declares the Father whom no man hath seen (John 1:18); he makes known unto us all that he has heard of his Father (John 15:15); he was ordained to be our chief Prophet and Teacher to reveal to us fully the secret counsel and will of God concerning our redemption (Heidelberg Catechism, LD 12).
Because ministers are called by Christ in the service of his word, they are given to the church as pastors and teachers (Eph. 4:11); teaching or indoctrinating is an important aspect of their work. Thus, ministers are to give themselves to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine (1 Tim. 4:13); they are to take heed to themselves and the doctrine, by meditating upon these things and giving themselves wholly to them (1 Tim. 4:15–16). Those who labor in the word and doctrine are to be counted by the church as worthy of double honor (1 Tim. 5:17). Great care must be taken that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. (1 Tim. 6:1). Sound doctrine is able to convince the gainsayers (Titus 1:9). All the minister's speech must be in harmony with sound doctrine (Titus 2:1, 7). And the elders must be apt to teach—doctrine (1 Tim. 3:2).
We are saved by doctrine, for by taking heed to and continuing in sound doctrine ministers save themselves and those that hear them (1 Tim. 4:16). Some will ask, "But are we not saved by faith in Christ?" Indeed. But who is Christ as to his person and natures? What does his anointing consist of, and what is his place in the covenant of grace? What was the nature of his death and resurrection? For whom did he suffer, die, and rise again? And what is this faith, and what does it hold for truth? Faith in the heart, embracing Jesus Christ the Lord as he is set forth, described, delineated in the doctrines of that word of God, that is able to make us wise unto salvation. To deny the importance of sound doctrine for our salvation is to fly in the face of the scriptures and show ourselves either ignorant or unappreciative of church history. Controversies raged between adherents of the doctrines of men and the doctrine of God; confessions were written which condemned heresies and set forth the orthodox faith. Today we are called upon to contend earnestly for that faith because the great matter of salvation depends on pure doctrine, and the greater matter of God's glory is wrapped up in it. We must be of the mind that characterized the writer(s) of the Athanasian Creed when he wrote after the Arian controversy, "Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic (universal) Faith, which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly."
The doctrine of God our Savior, held to with iota-like precision, embraced with believing hearts, must be adorned with good works (Titus 2:10). Here Paul shows the foolishness of trying to separate doctrine and practice, or even preferring one above the other. Scripture is profitable for doctrine...that we may be thoroughly furnished unto every good work. Doctrine is the root and branch; good works are the fruit. And there is a harmony and inner consistency between the two. True doctrine is itself beautiful, for it reveals God in Christ! When that doctrine brings forth good works by the Spirit, what adornment that is! How God is praised by it!
This article was written by Rev. Dale H. Kuiper, and published in the Standard Bearer (12/15/1992, Volume 69, Issue 6).