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More Jesus, Less Doctrine = Less Jesus

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morejesuslessdoctrineIt is not unusual, during a Biblical discussion about some peripheral issue (dressing for worship, modesty, the role of women in worship, denominationalism, etc.), for someone to raise his/her hand in frustration and remark, “Can’t we talk more about Jesus, and less about doctrine?”

At face value, it is hard to disagree with this sentiment. “Yes, more Jesus, less doctrine!” others may quickly chime in. And whatever Biblical discussion you had will come screeching to a halt.

Behold, the “more-Jesus-less-doctrine” person has arrived! He is a brave new explorer in the world of holiness. He is discovering new heights of righteousness by rising above those silly, immature older Christians who care about the ‘details.’ “These people talk too much about issues I have risen above,” this brave pioneer thinks to himself, condescendingly.

Well, what do you propose Christians talk about instead of “doctrine”?

“Let’s talk about Jesus.” So you want to talk about Christology (the study of what the Bible says about Christ)? That’s all doctrine.

“Well, let’s talk about God’s grace.” So you want to talk about Soteriology (the study of what the Bible says about salvation)? That’s more doctrine.

“Let’s talk about making the church more welcoming.” So you want to talk about Ecclesiology (the study of what the Bible says about the church)? Any discussion about the church is going to be about doctrine.

“Let’s talk about heaven.” Oh, that’s Eschatology (the study of what the Bible says about the hereafter). No way around doctrine here!

There’s no escaping “doctrine.”

You can’t discuss things like grace, salvation, faith, hope, belief, worship, heaven, or hell without it. And you certainly can’t have Jesus without doctrine.

Jesus said no one could come to Him unless they were drawn by hearing and learning what was taught by God (John 6:44-45). He rebuked those who “know not the scriptures” (Matt. 22:29) and challenged people to separate man’s doctrines from God’s doctrines (Matt. 15:9; Mark 7:7-9). The crowds were astonished at His doctrine (Matt. 7:28), and He warned Christians about following false doctrine (Rev. 2:14, 24).

May I be blunt for a moment? You don’t love Jesus if you don’t love His doctrine. I’m only repeating what Jesus said in John 14:15.

Chicago City Train Bridge

In fact, I would venture to say you measure how much you love Jesus by how eager you are to keep His commandments.

You can’t love Jesus without caring about what He taught.

Try having a substantive conversation about Jesus without His “doctrine.” You’ll have more luck putting out a forest fire by yodeling at it.

You simply can’t be a Christian without knowing what He said in His New Testament. How would you even know what a faithful disciple of Jesus looked like without knowing the teachings of Jesus through the writings of His apostles? Where would you start?

Newborn Christians continued in the apostles’ doctrine (Acts 2:42) and they filled whatever city they were in with that doctrine (Acts 5:28). They were saved from sin by obeying doctrine (Rom. 6:17) and were told to avoid teachers who altered that doctrine (Rom. 16:17). It was possible for Christians to be carried away by strange doctrines (Eph. 4:14; Heb. 13:9). They were to avoid the doctrines of demons (1 Tim. 4:1), and they were warned that some would not endure sound doctrine (2 Tim. 2:1).

Because of this, young preacher Timothy was commanded to devote himself to doctrine (1 Tim. 4:13) and to labor in preaching and teaching doctrine (1 Tim. 5:17). It was important for Timothy to get that doctrine right; otherwise it would be blasphemy (1 Tim. 6:1) and would result in ungodliness (1 Tim. 6:3).

Trying to say something else?

To be fair, maybe our “more-Jesus-less-doctrine” friends understand that you can’t actually talk about Jesus without talking about doctrine. Maybe they just aren’t articulating what they are actually trying to communicate. Maybe they are on to something – we just have to figure out what that something is.

“More-Jesus-less-doctrine”-ers are right, if they actually mean the following:

  1. Don’t neglect the weightier matters of the law.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. (Matt. 23:23)

It is important to talk about ‘peripheral’ issues. As much as I may dislike talking about issues like how to dress for worship, fellowship and denominationalism, discipline, the gift of the Holy Spirit, or homosexuality, Christians need to have conversations about these things. If Christians can divide over these things – and if the Bible talks about these things (or principles that relate to these things) – we need to talk about them.

However, if you talk about peripheral issues without your ultimate focus being on Christ and Him crucified, then you are neglecting the weightier matters of the law, just as the scribes & Pharisees did in Jesus’ day. Every Biblical discussion must be in the context of holiness and faithfulness to God. Peripheral matters are not an end to themselves, but a means to becoming a better disciple of Jesus.

  1. Don’t confuse man-made traditions with God-given doctrine.

“Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” gets on Jesus’ nerves (Matt. 15:9), and can you blame Him? I’ve met more than one Christian who was unable to separate traditions from the actual teachings of the New Testament. Have we become so intellectually lazy that we are unable to think critically in our pursuit to restore New Testament Christianity?

We must remember the phrase “Jesus unites; doctrine divides” is theological nonsense. Jesus & His New Testament unites (cf. John 17:20-21); it is preference confused as doctrine that actually divides.

  1. Make sure your attitude is right.

Sometimes people clumsily associate doctrinal discussions with bad attitudes. They might think this because they have seen too many people with bad attitudes take part in doctrinal discussions in the past. We can sympathize with this.

I know a guy who nearly always demonizes anyone who disagrees with him over doctrinal matters. If you highlight inconsistency in his logic, he will simply spew poison at you. He’s a bitter, unpleasant man. He has an attitude problem, not a too-much-doctrine problem.

It’s hard to blame people for having a knee-jerk reaction to this kind of person and assuming the “less doctrine” posture. But we need to remain level-headed and not make “more-Jesus-less-doctrine” a chip on our shoulder.

As we engage in doctrinal discussions, we must humble ourselves before the Lord (Jas. 4:10), understanding that it is possible to interpret His Word incorrectly sometimes. Just as a loving attitude covers a multitude of sins (1 Pet. 4:8), so does a humble attitude (cf. Luke 18:9-14). We must always recognize there is room for all of us to grow as we walk in the grace and knowledge of Jesus (2 Pet. 3:18).

Conclusion

Tired of hobby riders, hypocritical Christians, religious jargon spouters? Me too! But “more Jesus, less doctrine”? I can imagine a doctrine-less conversation about Jesus sounds a lot like the kind of conversations many New-Agers and Millennials had in their apartments the week pot was legalized in Colorado.

Why can’t we have both more Jesus and more doctrine?

Perhaps our “more-Jesus-less-doctrine” friends mean something else. If they mean, “How does this doctrinal matter fit in the context of pleasing Christ?” they are right to ask the question. If they mean, “Are we adequately separating tradition from God’s Word?” They are right to ask the question. If they mean, “Are our attitudes right as we discuss doctrine?” They are right to ask the question. But we must never minimize doctrine itself. To minimize doctrine is to minimize Jesus.

Let’s get doctrine right, so we can get Jesus right.

Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.

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4 Responses to More Jesus, Less Doctrine = Less Jesus

  1. Sean March 26, 2015 at 10:15 AM #

    Amen brother. Very well broken down and delivered. This discussion is challenging on many levels, but Gods word makes it clear. Your approach is spot on and hits the plurality of scriptures that direct us in this realm. Thank you

  2. Ron March 26, 2015 at 11:04 PM #

    Give me the Bible, ’cause that’s where you’ll find Jesus too. Excellent article, brother!

  3. Pierce March 27, 2015 at 1:11 AM #

    I appreciate your intention with this article, but in your conclusion you come on a little strong and implicitly attack an entire generation of people. As Christians we should never judge an entire group by the actions of some. There are a lot of people who are asking why Millennials are leaving the church, and while there are many different factors to that answer, sweeping generalizations that assume that our entire generation is filled with potheads and people who don’t care about doctrine aren’t going to bring the generation flocking back.

    • Ben March 27, 2015 at 7:42 AM #

      Pierce,
      I appreciate your concern. I do not think I singled out “an entire generation of people,” accusing one single generation of being of the “more Jesus less doctrine” sort.

      As a Millennial myself, I am offended that you would accuse Millennials of leaving the church because our feelings are hurt by the sweeping generalizations people have about us. See what I did there? ;)

      While there are in fact some funny stereotypes about Millennials (Let’s be honest – hilarious stereotypes), we need to remember that Millennials themselves are the most diverse generation in America yet. And while many of them are leaving the church, I do not believe the problem will be fixed by coddling them and protecting them from things like conclusions in blog articles that are “a little strong”. Perhaps your assumption that they are leaving because of this reason is what “Millennials” actually find belittling.

      I know personally, the ‘we-need-to-appeal-to-their-delicate-sensibilities’ is a little bit demeaning. At some point, every generation needs to take the advice of Paul and start “acting like men” (1 Cor. 16:13). Sometimes truth hits a little bit too close to home – that’s called conviction. And maturity is how we deal with that conviction.

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