I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “doctrine divides,” doctrine has become a bad word. But, pick up a KJV Bible and you will find the word doctrine 56 times. Our modern translations simply translate the word as “teaching.” Doctrine is not a bad word. And division is not entirely bad.
The reason we have differences of doctrine between the many different traditions is beyond the scope of this post. But, at the least, the reason is that the Bible is a hard book to understand. And we are a fallen people prone to error even when reading and interpreting the Bible. In another light, the differences of doctrine are proof we take the Bible seriously, and that’s a good thing.
Gavin Ortlund asks the question, “When should doctrine divide?” over at The Gospel Coalition. He warns of two extremes many people take when partnering with other churches of other traditions: doctrinal minimalism, and doctrinal separatism.
Some would discount doctrine altogether, saying it is too divisive. They would say we should all come together regardless of tradition or creed. But, you would need to draw the line somewhere. There are churches who claim to be Christian but are wholly outside confession Christian of the last 2000 years. The extreme of doctrinal minimalism would lead us to partner with religious traditions that are antichrist or even with secular institutions that have contrary to the gospel of Christ.
Separation of the traditions is often lamented. I’ve even asked the question of why there are so many Protestant churches. But, sound doctrine is important. And sound doctrine separates one from unsound doctrine. For example, the Reformation itself was a separation from what the Reformer believed to be unsound doctrine concerning the nature of how one is saved. But, the extreme of doctrinal separatism would cause one church to fail to partner with other churches in the area to reach those who are in need. The larger issues of the city would be missed because we were too prideful to partner with churches that disagree with our doctrine.
When partnering with other churches, we need to avoid these two extremes. We need to work together in ways that do not minimize our traditions and respects them.