Why I Stopped Preaching Doctrine

Perspectives, Podcast

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I was saved as a teenager in the mid-seventies in a small church in a small town in southwest Missouri. Almost immediately I was taught doctrine. Even before I really knew what it was.

The English word “doctrine” derives from the old Latin word “doctor” which simply meant “teacher.” Later Latin saw the word evolve into “doctrina” which meant “teaching, learning.” The French began to use the word and it soon found its way into the English language as “doctrine.”

In our modern English it is most commonly used to describe the teachings of a church or denomination. We generally teach doctrine in two ways: Formal and Informal.

Formally we teach our particular doctrine through sermons, Sunday school lessons and printed literature. Informally, we pass on our doctrine to our friends and family through opinions and conversations.

As a teenager I had become quite involved in the drug and party culture of the 1970’s. My hair was long and my clothes fit the style of a mid-west teenager. I was certainly very different from those with whom I was now going to church. The people of that small congregation began to share their “doctrine” with me in an informal way; “A Christian should not act that way.” “If you are going to belong to this church you need to behave accordingly.” And my favorite, “It grieves God when you behave that way.”

The formal doctrine seemed to be a bit more subtle. Sermons and Sunday school lessons concentrated on the general behavioral issues with which all humans struggle. But both the formal and informal doctrine had one thing in common: they were aimed at my behavior in the natural and spoke very little about how to actually overcome.

Most doctrine is formulated to control a behavior which we find offensive to our sense of right and wrong. We even take this presupposition into our Bible reading so what we see there are rules, doctrine and morality. We strive hard to apply these things to our own life and the lives around us so that we can somehow please God. However, for some reason, we never seem to fully achieve this.

If history has shown us anything it has shown us that we can never legislate morality, (example: speed limits). No matter how many rules we have, we have never been able to control our natural, human desire which the Bible calls our flesh. The reason for our lack of success is because it was never intended to be controlled; it was intended to be put to death.

It was not until my second pastorate that I discovered something truly amazing. A central theme was prevalent throughout the New Testament and it was not about behavior modification. It was about dying so we could truly live!

Jesus taught us to “Take up our cross” which historically had only one purpose and that was to kill something. The Apostle Paul taught very extensively that we are to “die to the flesh” so that we could allow the Spirit to have control. So how do we do this? I submit three things that will help us on this journey to spiritual living:

  1. Stop trying to control the flesh to be more spiritual. It is actually the other way around. Paul tells us in Galatians 5:16 that “if we will walk in the Spirit we will not walk in the flesh.” Retrain yourself to see what is happening in the spirit realm rather than the natural and then follow His Spirit.
  2. Stop looking at the Bible as a rule book. The words found there are not to be rules but are an observation of what will happen if you allow the Spirit to control you. We have let the tail wag the dog because we have deceived ourselves into thinking that if we can discipline the flesh we will be closer to God. This is completely erroneous! You are already close to God. Or rather He is close to you! He is alive inside you as Paul told the Colossians, Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Stop striving to draw close to Him and allow his presence to consume you.
  3. And finally, the most important piece of this puzzle is “die to your flesh.” What does it mean to die to your flesh? When something is dead it can no longer respond to any stimuli. It is completely lifeless and unable to operate on any level. We have been so busy trying to kill the flesh with rules, (doctrine) we have missed the simplicity of God’s plan; it is not the flesh that needs to die it is our mind that needs to become dead to the fleshly desire and alive and responsive only to what the Spirit is saying. Our minds need to be renewed and I don’t mean changing “what” we think but changing “how” we think. We must see everything in the terms of Spirit and not natural. We need a paradigm shift from earthly thinkers to Spirit thinker. Because, after all you are not a human living a spiritual life, you are a spiritual being living in a human body, (earth suit). Read the Bible as a Spirit book not a rule book. Preach sermons of Spirit life not doctrine. Let your conversation be about what is right rather than what is wrong. Because Jesus has already won our victory! Enjoy!

We have become so focused on the counterfeit we have become unable to recognize the genuine. I submit that if you want your flock to stay away from what is fleshly, show them the genuine glory of Christ and they will run to Him. And that is why I stopped preaching doctrine.

Will Sharples
R.A.G.E. Ministries, INC

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