Well, I suppose the exciting title “doctrine and discipleship” won’t create much interest. But I came across this recent study by LifeWay that shows a strong link between doctrine and discipleship.
The study linked the holding of traditional Christian doctrinal points regarding salvation/personal eschatology and the nature of God to Christians who were “progressing toward spiritual maturity.” In other words, growing disciples are more orthodox and developed in their Christian doctrine than those Christians who are not growing “transformationally” in their faith.
These results didn’t surprise me. Who’d have thought that a deeper understanding of your beliefs would impact your living of the Christian life? (I’m being a little sarcastic there!) Yet, it sometimes seems difficult to get Christians to delve deeper into the doctrines of the faith. If you offer two adult sunday school class options on “handling stress” or “the attributes of God”, the former will be overflowing with attendees and only a handful will attend the later. Some pastors even avoid preaching on doctrine, and prefer “how to” sermons.
It is true that doctrine or theology can unfortunately be presented in a dry or overly academic fashion, and this can turn people off. But the teaching of doctrine can (and should) be done in a relevant way. Doctrine at its core is practical to life. What you believe affects and influences how you live!
For example, a proper understanding of the attributes of God can help you get through a stressful time in life, as you can rest in the nature of who God is, realizing that he is in control even though it might not seem like it. When the storms of life are raging, it can be too late to talk about the anchor that should have already been put down. We should think clearly before disaster comes, so we have a philosophy of life and an understanding of God to hold us steady.
Worship at some churches is really…hmm…not very worshipful! It can be weak or lack depth. Perhaps this is because we unknowingly have a low view of God. We’ve forgotten about the greatness of God and aren’t even familiar with his attributes. How can we worship God rightly unless we know and understand him well?
On the other hand, we don’t want to be so simplistic as to think that if we get people studying doctrine that this will automatically lead to spiritual growth and transformation. It is possible to get so caught up in studying theology that we miss the point. It can become nothing but an academic endeavor, and this needs to be guarded against. The Holy Spirit is critical in this process.
Yet, I think Christians (in the USA at least) are very weak in knowing what they believe and many churches could benefit from some more challenging, in-depth teaching on doctrine. Lets not forget that one imperative of the Great Commission is to teach people…to obey. (Reminding us of the connection between belief and action.) The apostle Paul in several of his epistles emphasizes the importance of our mind and knowing what we believe…lest we be tossed to and fro by every cultural or religious fad or false teaching that comes along. Yet, in these same epistles Paul also encourages us to live what we believe and put our faith into action.
I guess my point is: Both knowing our beliefs and living our beliefs are important. But we can’t properly live what we believe if we don’t properly know what we believe. Right?
Maybe we need to trick some congregants by offering a class on “handling stress” and then have it actually be on the attributes of God…of course, explaining that a better understanding of God will help them in all areas of their life. ☺