Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Lately, I've been seeing a lot of comments knocking sound doctrine as if being concerned with sound doctrine goes against true Christian faith and all that Jesus stood for. Typically, I see things like, "It's about a relationship, not a set of doctrines," or, "Jesus came to give you life, not theology." Sometimes proponents of sound doctrine will be compared to the Pharisees. Oh, those nasty Pharisees! They were way too intellectual and full of themselves to see what Jesus was really doing! (If anyone ever plays the Pharisee card on you, be sure to send them to this link.)

What is ironic about these types of arguments, is that they are all doctrinal claims.  Say a person makes this argument, "Jesus didn't die on the cross for good theology," then that person just made a theological statement. Whether they admit it or not, this type of "down with doctrine" thinking has developed into a doctrine all its own for many people. The basic tenant is this, "Doctrine is intellectual. God is relational. Therefore, to be a true Christian, one must relate to God without letting your thoughts get in the way."

This negative attitude sets up a false dichotomy. To separate the intellect from relationship is not how God designed us to interact with Him. When Jesus confronted the Samaritan woman at the well, she indirectly asked Him which mountain was the true mountain at which to worship God?

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:21-24 ESV)

As Christians, we worship in both spirit and in truth. But what does Jesus mean by this? First is spirit. The greek word here is pneumati, derived from the work pneuma. This word for spirit is often associated with breath or wind. When God created man, he breathed life into him, or spirit. Spirit is that invisible quality that stirs us up to be alive. As believers, we are indwelled with the Holy Spirit. He makes us a new creation; that new man that desires to truly love God. So worship is a very lively, emotional, relational act that we do.

Think about why Jesus is answering this way. The woman wanted to know where it is appropriate to worship. Jesus is pointing to spirit, because God's primary nature is spirit. He is not bound by material things, whether it be in a temple, on a mountain or anywhere else. Geography does not play a part for true worship of God.

Then we see that we are to worship in truth as well. God is concerned about what we believe. The Samaritans worshiped what they did not know. But the Jews did. They had God's full Word. (The Samaritans only considered the first five books of Moses as Scripture.) God does not want us to be ignorant about who He is or what He has done and is doing. These two areas are the pillars of doctrine. Without a right knowledge of who God is, we cannot properly worship Him. Without understanding His mighty works, we cannot sufficiently praise His name. God also desires us to have understanding in a third area, our sinful nature. Knowing the truth of our depravity leads us to the saving work of Christ.

So we can see from Scripture, that true worship of God is both relational and intellectual. The question we must ask ourselves is, "How far do we take this?" How theologically correct does a person have to be to have true worship? I think the three areas mentioned above (Knowledge of God, knowledge of His works and knowledge of our sinful nature) are what is sufficient. When a teaching strays to the point of being heretical, it is usually in one of these three categories. (If I'm missing something here, feel free to comment below.)

Yet we can take the "How far do we take this?" question to the relational aspect too. All too often I've experienced the emotional policemen out there determining whether someone is genuinely worshipping God or not. The people who show great displays of passion and emotion seem to be held in high regard while the introverted wallflowers are the ones who have their sincerity questioned. This can be taken to extremes in some circles. I recently had a discussion with some Thai Christians who were told by another Christian that unless they prayed in tongues, they would never have a true emotional connection with God. Again, fallacies like this goes to show the importance of both spirit and truth.

So let us put off this false notion that doctrine and spiritual connection with God don't belong together. Jesus clearly teaches that they do. Doctrine is just as important as the relational side of things. When we hold onto both, that is where true worship lies. It is a relationship based on the truths in God's Word.

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