The Heart of The Matter

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By Alan Root

Alan Root is a former traveling musicianary as well as the KidMin Facilitator at New River Church in Franklin, TN, and the author of a series of powerful small group discussion workbooks for tweens, one of which is the model for this article: ORTHODOCTRINES.

Hi. You have a nice smile. I’d like your permission to dive into a ministry subject so difficult that many pretend it's not even there. I’m talking about doctrine. The word doctrine means “teachings.” And “sound doctrine” is simply whatever the Holy Spirit clearly teaches in the Bible. How about a few verses to get things going!

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:3).

“… holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9).

“But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1).

“Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:15-16).

We may think doctrine is irrelevant to kids’ ministry, but think! Anytime we teach kids anything, we are either teaching them sound doctrine or we are misleading them! In the Great Commission, Jesus says that we are to teach disciples to obey everything He commands. Where do we find “everything” He commands? Doctrine.

Romans, like most of Paul’s letters, begins with doctrine and then moves on to the practical outworking of that doctrine. If Paul believes in the importance of laying a doctrinal foundation, can our ministries avoid it and still build sturdy Christians?

I heard a good pastor proudly declare, “I don’t care about doctrine.” He fell for the enemy’s trap of thinking that we must either care about people or care about doctrine. He’d be sad to know he was trying to honor the Lord by ignoring what the Lord teaches.

“For I can testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge” (Romans 10:2). We can have the pedal to the metal faith and yet be so under-informed as to miss Jesus altogether! Do we want to know God? He has revealed himself in the doctrines.

Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter watched Jesus line up with scriptures he knew about the Messiah. His doctrine informed both his faith and his confession. Peter later wrote, “We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable …” Peter knew what was in the Old Testament and used his doctrine to recognize Jesus as the Messiah! We want our kids to recognize Jesus like Peter did.

Do we see that doctrine, while sometimes being difficult and sticky, is nevertheless worthy of our attention? That God has gifted us with sound doctrine in the Bible? That those of us who teach kids should, of all people, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

Let me put it this way. Is there anything in the scriptures we should ignore? Doctrine is nothing more than the plain teaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom found in the scriptures.

Listen! Everybody loves a swimming pool. I know a lot of people who vacation at the beach but mostly swim at the hotel pool. Why? Because we can touch the sides and the bottom. No one wants to be helicopter-dropped in the middle of the ocean! There’s such a thing as TOO wide open! We prefer the swimming pool because it puts water in a box we can deal with. Doctrine is like a swimming pool. It takes God’s vast revelations and puts them into a box we can deal with. Of course, we can’t put God Himself in a box: that’s like trying to stuff a wild tiger into your shirt pocket, but we can group some ideas about Him and define a few boundaries.

Is doctrine contentious? No, we are! God made doctrine as plain as our limited brains can handle. Where the Bible is plain, so should we be. In the same way, where the Bible is not plain, we should tread lightly and give each other grace.

Some of us have found doctrine to be too upsetting and thrown out the baby, the bathwater, and the whole idea of washing! Instead, let’s just apply grace ahead of time to our discussions with each other concerning doctrine. If we disagree on the minor stuff, let’s allow each other some common courtesy. 

Even inarguable doctrine can be used to start an argument! For example, the doctrine of communion is perfectly straightforward. The bread is Jesus’ body, the cup is His blood, and we should remember Him when we eat it. Easy. But wait! Some don’t allow wine in church and they substitute juice. How often to take it? Daily? Monthly? Gluten free? Leavened or unleavened? In the pew? Up front? Served by a priest or pass a plate? Can kids participate?

Each person’s answers to these minor doctrinal questions differ from the next guy and … Bam! Just like that, we’ve got a bunch of denominations. We should remember that we all agree on body, blood, remember Me. Let’s affirm each other in the major stuff and bless minor differences of opinion. Don’t try to tell us Jesus cares whether you use Welch’s or Manischewitz. “In the essentials, unity. In the nonessentials, liberty. In all things, grace,” said Rupertus Meldenius, around 1627.

We live in a world that’s confused, lied to, stolen from, moth eaten, rusted out, and groping in the dark. What do we have to offer such a world? Jesus. How do we offer Him? We go into the world and we make disciples. What do we do with those disciples? We teach them to obey everything He commands. Where do we find the things He commands? We ask the Holy Spirit to speak to us through the Bible. What do we call the clear message of the Bible? Doctrine.

In this series, we will be talking about the things all believers believe. Doctrines that ought to be studied. Doctrines so worthwhile that many have given their lives defending them. In the next installments we’ll get into specific doctrines. It was important for us to first lay the groundwork of WHY we study the doctrines our Bibles teach. Romans 15:4 says, “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” We definitely want to encourage our kids, teach them to endure, and give them hope. This is gonna be good! See you soon. And a blessing on your head.

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