I have been excited about the thought of preaching this message on the Doctrinal Style of spirituality ever since I decided to preach on the Nine Styles of Spirituality. We have already looked at the SENSORY style of Spirituality and learned that some people best encounter God through their five senses. We have also looked at the RATIONAL STYLE of spirituality and learned that some people best encounter God through their MINDS. But ever since I decided to speak about the nine basic ways that people experience God, I have looked forward to sharing with you about my native style of experiencing God. It’s not that I expect you to change your own personal spiritual style to be like me. That would be plain wrong. As we have looked at the nine styles and studied the concept of the Trinitarian compass, we have discovered that Christians connect with God in different ways. We can learn from each other and as we do, our own relationship with God will be richer and more vital. Notice how the doctrinal style is right on the line between the green and the red on the compass. That is because someone with the doctrinal style is someone who has a foot in both colours. They used their minds to connect with God – like someone with the rational style – and they also connect with God through Scripture – like someone with the Scripture-driven style. And so they identify with both green and red spiritualities.
T he reason I have been looking so forward to sharing with you about the Doctrinal style is that I know it so personally and intimately. When I am speaking about the other styles, I am speaking at least somewhat from outside my experience. I am learning about them as I prepare my messages and as I study them. I am in the process of incorporating them into my experience. With the doctrinal style, however, I feel very much at home.
Correct Doctrine is important to me. Maybe I should define what I mean by doctrine. Doctrine is simply teaching about God. We have a pamphlet at the back of the church that includes what we call our statement of faith. This is simply a list of doctrines that we believe and teach. Now there is true doctrine and there is false doctrine. Some ideas about God are true and some are not. Look at the picture up on the screen. Those of us with the doctrinal style are very concerned that people think correctly about God. Notice how the man looks very serious in this picture. He sees correct thinking about God as something vitally important. Although those with the doctrinal style generally distrust emotions, they do get passionate about the truth of God. His finger is pointing up as if to say, “This is the truth!” There is Bible over his right shoulder, showing the source of correct thinking about God. There is a scale in the background – a way of objectively determining truth. Lastly, there is a fence. This symbolizes the boundary between right and wrong – that indeed, there IS right belief and wrong belief. This idea that there are right beliefs and wrong beliefs has been challenged today – even in the church. Paul warned about this:
2 Timothy 4:3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
Paul also instructed Timothy to be sure that church leaders had a grasp of good doctrine: In talking about church elders, he said:
Titus 1:9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.
And so, having and teaching correct doctrine is very important to me. One day a Jehovah’s Witness came to my door. Let me tell you, he got more than he bargained for. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not teach that you receive eternal life by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and they are leading many people astray. I realize that might be difficult for many of you to understand. You might even think that it is a little strange that I get so passionate about matters of truth. I understand why you might think it strange. I have friends who are passionate about math. They actually buy math books so that they can spend their leisure time solving the math problems. I consider that very strange but I’m glad because without people who are passionate about math, we wouldn’t enjoy many of the things we enjoy today like computers and cell phones and airplanes and ... well, the list goes on. And so, having the doctrinal style may seem strange, but I hope by the end of the message you might see how important it is. Somebody has to be interested in the truth about God. Somebody has to know what the Bible teaches and be able to spot error when someone teaches it.
I. And so, of course, I find it necessary to grapple with the question, “Do we see people with the doctrinal style in the Bible? Very much so. When we read about the Apostle Paul in the Bible and read his writings, we see him displaying all of the styles to one degree or another. Yet, the one that I associate with him the most, however, is the doctrinal style – probably because it’s my style. Paul is very concerned about correctly thinking about God, Jesus Christ and how to be saved. Paul found out that a group of believers in the area of Galatia were being influenced by those who were teaching incorrect doctrine. And so he wrote to the Galatian Christians:
6 ¶ I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! (Galatians 1)
That’s pretty strong language here. If you think that I get worked up over false doctrine, look at what Paul is saying here. What he is saying, if you will excuse my strong language, is that the people teaching error about the gospel should just go to straight hell – do not pass “Go,” do not collect $200.00.
In another place, Paul writes this:
8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. (Colossians 2)
Don’t let yourself be tricked by false doctrine. Even more important than Paul, Jesus warns us that there is truth and error and we must be on guard for the error. In speaking of the end times, Jesus says:
23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect— if that were possible. (Matthew 24)
And so, Jesus said, people will try to deceive you. They will try to teach you error instead of the truth. We must learn how to distinguish truth from error.
II. Why is the doctrinal style important?
There are right ways to think about God and there are wrong ways to think about God.
I have discovered that when it comes to God, everyone thinks he or she is an expert. As I mentioned last Sunday, I have heard people say and seen them write things like, “Well, my God isn’t like that” when they are confronted with the more difficult to accept things that the Bible teaches about God. What they are actually doing is creating their own version of God. They are self-creating another god that is more palatable to them. This gets me worked up. It defies logic. It is like trying to re-create reality to suit ourselves. If we don’t like the law of gravity, we just can’t say, “Well in my world, I can’t fall down and hurt myself.” If we don’t like the Highway Traffic Act, we just can’t say to policeman, “Well in MY Canada you are allowed to drive as fast as you want on the 402.” We have a word for such people who try – delusional. Why is something that is considered delusional with the rest of reality considered perfectly acceptable behaviour when it comes to God? No, we can’t expect a self-created God to be the true One. At the very least it makes sense to say that we must look outside ourselves to learn what God is like. For reasons I can’t get into now, I believe that the Bible gives us that objective way to get to know God.
Whether we like it or not, there IS right and wrong. There are correct ways of thinking about God and incorrect ways of thinking about God. There IS such as a thing as heresy. And friends, people are going to hell because they have distorted ideas about God, Jesus Christ and Salvation. Our eternal salvation is a matter of faith and faith is tied closely to what we believe.
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith— and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2)
You can’t have faith in Jesus Christ unless you believe some fundamental truths about him. If you don’t believe he existed at all, you can’t claim Him as your Saviour. If you don’t believe that he died to take the penalty of our sins on the cross, you can’t believe that he is the Saviour. That’s why I get excited about correct doctrine – the consequences of believing false doctrine can affect your eternal destiny. Some people say, “It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you’re sincere.” Well, it is possible to be sincerely wrong, and sadly, many people are.
If you ever study the cults and other non-Christian religious groups, you find that they deny key Christian teachings.
1. They deny the doctrine of the Trinity. They deny that the Father is God, that Jesus is God and that the Holy Spirit is God.
2. They deny that Jesus died to pay the full penalty of our sins.
3. They deny that Jesus rose bodily from the dead.
4. They deny that to be saved, people must put their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation.
These are fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith – and we deny them at our peril.
III. What are the perils of the doctrinal style?
The greatest peril is the reduction of faith to the acceptance of certain teachings. One of my friends is a retired pastor who served in the Canadian Forces in World War II. He spent a considerable time in one particular country just before and after the war ended. He got to know a bit about the churches there. He found two things very strange. The first was the lack of spiritual life in the church there. The second was that the beliefs of that denomination were almost entirely correct. They believed the correct things about the Bible, God, Jesus Christ and how to be saved. But there was little life in those churches. He called them orthodox, but dead. That is a danger those of us with the doctrinal style need to remember – there is much more to our faith than simply believing the right things. As James points out:
Jas 2:19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that— and shudder.
Believing the right things is good, but what difference do they make in your life? The way James puts it here, the demons have a thorough conviction that God exists but their faith is not a saving faith. Belief has not brought them peace with God. Saving faith, then, is faith that makes a difference in our lives and is not mere intellectual acceptance of a theological proposition. It goes much deeper, involving the whole inner person and expressing itself outwardly in a changed life. Our faith needs to affect our lives and it needs to affect our lives in both in behaviour and our inner life. I find it interesting as well that when Jesus told his disciples how the world would know that they were his disciples, he didn’t say that it would be primarily by what they believed. This is what he said:
35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13)
I also find it interesting that Christian Schwarz points out that according to his research, the quality characteristic that is the minimum factor of churches that favour the doctrinal style is “loving relationships.”
Faith is more than just assent that certain things are true. Faith involves letting those truths work in my life. Faith involves opening ourselves up to the work of the Holy Spirit in my life. It involves experiencing the power of God – something that believers of the enthusiastic style know very well.
The second danger of the doctrinal style is the danger of neglecting the inner life. You will notice on the Trinitarian compass that the doctrinal style is directly opposite the enthusiastic and the mystical styles. People with the doctrinal style are suspicious of spiritual experiences that cannot be objectively verified. They by and large do not believe that acting on feelings is a good idea. One person with the doctrinal style puts it this way:
“Feelings come and feelings go, and feelings are deceiving,
My trust is in the Word of God. It is the only thing worth believing.”
Now, I totally agree with this poem. Feelings are transient. I once read a story about a mother of a younger teenager. She said that one day, they had a real heated argument. At the end of the argument, the young teen yelled, “I hate you!” at her and stomped up to his room. A few hours passed and it became time for bed. She said that she fumed and stewed for all that time. A few minutes after the time came for her son to go to bed, however, she was surprised when he called down to her, “Aren’t you going to come and tuck me in, Mom?” She thought that would be the last thing that he would want because, frankly, it was the last thing she wanted. But you see, his teenaged emotions had quickly come and just as quickly gone. What he had really said to her was not “I hate you forever” but “At this very moment, I don’t like you very much.”
Feelings come and feelings go, but does that mean we discount all emotion involved in spiritual experiences? I don’t think we can defend that biblically. You see, when people in the Bible met God and encountered Him, they experienced all kinds of emotions. One of them was fear. When Isaiah encountered God, we read that this was his reaction:
5 ¶ "Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty." (Isaiah 6)
Another emotion we see people having as they encounter God is joy and gladness
Ps 100:2 Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
Another emotions we see people having as they encounter God is sorrow. Soon after the Jewish people returned to Jerusalem after their exile in Babylon, their governor, Nehemiah, called an assembly where the book of the law was read to the people and explained to them. This is what we read happened:
8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read. 9 ¶ Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, "This day is sacred to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep." For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. (Nehemiah 8)
These people were encountering God and were weeping tears of repentance and contrition.
And so we shouldn’t be surprised when people experience strong emotions when they encounter God. Again, the key is balance. As long as emotions and experience are guided by the Word of God, we are on safe ground to let ourselves experience them when we encounter God. Truth is truth regardless of what we feel. Nevertheless, when we encounter truth, it is O.K. to be emotionally impacted by it.
And so a danger for those of us with the doctrinal style is to totally ignore feelings.
There is a third danger – one that Schwarz doesn’t mention in his book but one that I have seen many times. People with the doctrinal style have a tendency to go on what I call “witch hunts.” Let me explain: There are truths that Christians must adhere to in order to be Christians. However, there are beliefs that are open to debate and about which godly people do not agree. People with the doctrinal style need to be careful that we don’t make such things a test of fellowship or that we don’t put down fellow Christians for believing them. Every year in Winnipeg there is a big prophecy conference. They usually bring some big name speakers to this conference. Since I was in Winnipeg that day I decided to go. It just so happened that one of the speakers – a well known author who I will not name – was scheduled to speak on the Trinity. Again, because I am of the doctrinal style, this really piqued my interest. I was looking forward to this author helping me understand the Trinity better. I was terribly disappointed. You see, the speaker spent most of his time attacking another Christian author over whether or not Allah and the God we worship are the same God or not. The other author has said that Allah is the same God. The speaker argued that Allah is not. Now, I happen to agree with the speaker. I happen to believe that the way the Qur’an portrays Allah is different enough from the portrayal of God in the Bible that Allah is arguably not the God of the Bible. I didn’t disagree with what he said. What disappointed me was not his opinion on the issue but the fact that he seemed on a witch hunt. Rather than spending his time lifting up and glorifying our tri-une God, he spent his time discrediting a fellow Christian author who is otherwise thoroughly Biblical in his writings. To my mind, he was falling for the old divide and conquer routine. You see, if the devil can keep us fighting over things that are not central, we won’t have as much time fighting him.
And so, those of us with the doctrinal style need to be careful that we remember what truths are really worth defending and which truths about which we can afford to cut our fellow Christians some slack.
We have on our church pamphlet that sums up what our attitude should be:
In essential beliefs – we have UNITY.
In non-essential beliefs – we have LIBERTY
In all our beliefs – we show CHARITY.
How can you know if you have the doctrinal style? Ask yourself the following questions:
1. Does a theological system that reflects God’s truth help you in your spiritual life?
2. Do you believe that wrong teachings are one of the greatest dangers to the church?
3. Is the accuracy of our stated beliefs important to you?
4. Would you prefer to be seen as somewhat judgemental than as someone who compromises the truth?
5. Do you consider it important to keep the biblical message pure?
6. Is it important to you that your faith does not depend on momentary feelings?
7. Do you feel close to God when you sense that God’s truth is being communicated in an uncompromising manner?
8. Is feeling secure in your beliefs important to you?
If you identify with these questions, you may have the doctrinal style.
If this is your style – if you connect with God when you deal with and learn the truth about Him, continue to grow in it. As Paul encourages Timothy:
1Ti 4:16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
At the same time, though, remember the dangers of the style. Remember that faith is far more than just assent to truths. Such faith is very dry and can be very abstract. Remember that the truths you believe should affect your life – even your emotional life.
If this is not your style, remember that proper doctrine helps to keep us anchored. Yes, it is not always exciting to study and sometimes it seems to have little relevance to our everyday faith. Yet doctrine acts as an anchor – keeping us from wondering from the truth in how we live. Knowing solid doctrine helps us to spot counterfeits and those who would spread error and lead us astray. Thinking correctly about God can help us know Him better – and that is a good thing no matter what your native style is.
C. 2010 by Rev. Steven Brown. You are free to use portions of this message but please do not pass this off as your own.