A patient came in recently who I had not seen in a few years. I have known him for quite a while as we met 10 years ago at a church we attended in Irvine. We weren’t particularly close back then but he apparently thought enough of me to select me as his physician.
As we had met a church it seemed appropriate to ask how things were going at the church he attended. He shared that they had switched churches recently and that he was now going to a different church in town. Ironically, it was a church my family had attended 15 years ago. When I asked him why they had changed to this church his answer was a common one, that his kids were comfortable in the church's youth group.
After the visit I found myself pondering how it is that people choose a church. The common answers I have heard over the years include style of music, size of the youth group, and "relevant" or entertaining teaching from the pulpit. An answer that I have never heard is the one that should be the most important- church doctrine, the specific beliefs taught from the pulpit.
In the last few years I have seen firsthand the impact bad teaching can have on a congregation. Not too long ago I heard a pastor in town demean the struggles some Christians have with their faith. "If reading the bible is a chore, if prayer is a struggle for you, you do not know God," he proclaimed. His casually false teaching made it difficult for people to speak truthfully about their struggles. Patients who attend the church have told me stories of having their faith questioned if the shared of any personal challenges. Guilt and shame have at times taken the place of grace.
A well known North Orange county pastor recently came to the conclusion that the Bible wasn't fully accurate. He shared with his church and his online followers that the Bible was written for specific people at a specific time and place in history, and that much of it no longer applied. I know some of his young followers took his words to heart. They "discovered" that the parts of the Bible that spoke of sexual purity no longer applied to their lives.
Both of the churches led by these pastors have been "successful." They are well attended and the pastors are loved and praised by their church members. In spite of their apparent success I fear for them. To be successful in God's eyes requires pastors two accurately proclaim God's word. Doctrine matters. Correct theology is important.
I know this is important because it was important to the Apostle Paul. When he penned letters to the pastors he trained, when he instructed them on the things to which they needed to be faithful, sound doctrine was high on the list. Several times in his letters he mentioned the importance of correct teaching. He was clearly aware that a faith filled with new believers would be susceptible to error. There was a significant danger that the tenets of the faith could be altered or lost. In this environment faithfulness to the truth was essential.
The importance of sound doctrine remains to this day. A faith without consistent beliefs is not a faith worth believing in.
Unfortunately Paul’s admonitions about sound doctrine have lost emphasis in many churches. The focus is on acts of service and self improvement instead of on right thinking about God. As important as good deeds are, the reality is that if our theology is not correct we are nothing more than a social club. Why we do what we do matters. What we believe matters. We cannot be people of faith if we do not even know what we believe in.