Seven Letters Seven Dangers: the Doctrinaire Church

Dear Beloved Church,

I know of your love for the Word of God. I know how you rejoice in the life that God has given you through the Holy Spirit and that you are born again through the Word of God. There is such a richness of truth and doctrine in the Word of God, and we have seen your love for Him evidenced in your love for His Word. Our God and Savior sanctifies us by His Word.

But brothers and sisters in our beloved church, we also know of your weakness. You have pursued truth without pursuing the Giver of truth. You have rejoiced in doctrine and your knowledge of doctrines without growing in your knowledge of the Giver of doctrine. Beware of this danger of being doctrinaire. We are all susceptible to this deadly trap. Beware that knowledge puffs up, even the knowledge of the truth can lead you to a dry and cold spirit. Do not love the doctrines of grace without loving the God of grace. Do not parse the finer points of the doctrines of grace without yourself learning to be gracious, humble, and loving.

Beloved, there are many false teachers and you are right to guard your doctrine. You are right to pursue truth and know the Scriptures. But be on guard against being doctrinaire. Our brother Paul said “watch your life and doctrine closely.” Our temptation is to use our doctrines in ways that is cold, dry, or even forceful, hurtful and graceless. Our temptation is to rely on ourselves.  Remember that God is infinite and his ways are beyond us. So yes, he has revealed truth to you and me, but let that make you humble. You and I have not cornered the market on truth. We should not perversely delight in telling people how wrong they are and delight in crushing them under our overwhelming arguments. Graceless people persuade no one concerning God’s grace. Use the truth as a salve and balm to the soul not a sledgehammer to the head. Is the truth of the Word a salve to your own soul first? Have you taken the log out of your own eye before you pursue the speck in your brother’s eye?

Remember the apostle Paul exhorts us to pursue love above all else. Let me ask you this, beloved church of God, when you speak the truth do people know that you love them? I do not mean do you say you love them. No, I mean do they sense your love? Can they feel your love? Can they feel a tenderness, a gentleness, a compassion in your heart? The best doctors are not the ones who can perform the cutting of surgeries but the ones who can perform surgeries while assuring and comforting the patient of their care. You need a bedside manner. Can the person sense and feel that you have their best interest? Do they know your love by experience and deed or only by words?

Brothers and sisters, we do not rebuke you for your love of doctrine but we call you to love the God who has given the doctrine. Let the doctrines point us to God. Make sure they warm your heart and soul. Do these doctrines minister to your heart first? Or are you taking pride that your head is filled with them? You can talk of them, expound them, explain them, speak of them forward and backwards but still have your heart be filled with dry and dusty cobwebs. Worse your heart can become hardened because of the pride of being doctrinaire. It should not be so. As you profess grace with your lips, do not mock grace by your actions.

Remember your first love in the Lord Jesus. Return to him. Embrace His truth with your mind and your heart and soul. The Spirit is ultimately a Spirit of love who pours out God’s love into your heart when He brings you the truth. Do not have the latter without the former. Truth without love is as deadly as love without truth. Guard your hearts.

Grace and peace to you in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has loved you and redeemed you through the Son’s work and has poured out His Spirit into your heart.

 

--A Pastor Who Loves Doctrine.

Tim Bertolet is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College and Westminster Theological Seminary.  He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Pretoria, South Africa. He is an ordained pastor in the Bible Fellowship Church. He is a husband and father of four daughters. You can follow him on Twitter @tim_bertolet.