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Doctrine Matters

Saint Paul Writing His Epistles by Valentin de Boulogne
Saint Paul Writing His Epistles by Valentin de Boulogne

Christianity isn’t just about mere feelings. It’s certainly not about mindlessness. Neither is it some program. Christianity is reality. It is based on actual events; namely the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christianity is a way of life based on this message. Christ is Lord over much more than the Christian’s heart. Indeed he is Lord over every aspect of our lives. (Mark 12:30) This necessarily includes theology. (Romans 12:2, 1 Timothy 4:16, Hebrews 6:1) Theology is a rational study of God’s revelation though his word based on an account of historical facts. A crucial part of Christian theology is doctrine.

There are many Christians today who would say I don’t need doctrine. Just give me Jesus. Others suggest that orthopraxy supersedes orthodoxy. Why sit around philosophizing with the eggheads when you can go out and actually do something? Besides, isn’t doctrine something that only concerns priests, pastors and seminary professors? Unbeknownst to those who make these sorts of claims, these are actually all statements of doctrine. Many Christians today may even make the mistake in thinking that doctrine isn’t Biblical. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Given a close reading of the New Testament , it becomes apparent that doctrine was a way of life for the Apostle Paul.

There are two similar situations with vital differences that Paul was addressing in the beginning of the Epistles to the Philippians and Galatians. In both situations there were rival preachers. In Philippians there were preachers who preached the gospel out of low personal ambition. They even considered afflicting Paul in his bonds. However, Paul did not condemn them.

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

Men may have meant it for evil, but Paul rejoiced that the truth of Christ was proclaimed in Philippi. In Galatians there were rivalries as well. But Paul did not rejoice over the churches in Galatia.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Both churches had preachers with dishonorable intentions. Why was Paul so hard on the Galatians and yet so happy with the Philippians? In both Philippi and Galatia the churches believed that Jesus was the Messiah and had risen from the dead. They both believed that faith in Christ was necessary for salvation. However, Paul’s problem with Galatia was about what would appear to be a matter of theological subtlety. The church in Galatia was rebuked because, while they believed that faith in Christ was necessary for salvation, they didn’t believe that it was faith alone that justifies. The preachers in Galatia were Judaizers who believed that what Christ had accomplished for our justification had to be completed by the believer’s effort to keep the law. Both Paul and the Judaizers believed that the keeping of the law of God is inseparably linked with faith. However, their difference was a matter of logic or temporal order. Paul said that man first believes in Christ, then is justified, then keeps God’s law. In contrast the Judaizers claimed that man believes in Christ, then keeps the law to the best of his ability, and then is justified.

To the modern practical Christian this all might seem like insignificant and divisive theological subtleties. However, Paul didn’t see it this way. Apparently the Judaizers in Galatia went so far that they brought back the ceremonial observances. Christ said It is finished. (John 19:30) The Judaizers essentially said It is started, man will try to finish it. This is no gospel at all. The enemy is truly in the details. Doctrine matters.

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Joshua Ambrose

Joshua Ambrose is a restless disciple of Christ and sometimes whimsical mischief-maker. When not writing about theology, he writes about philosophy, history, economics, finance and basically anything that involves being a good neighbor in a way that honors his Lord.

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