Doctrine (noun) – teaching.
I have met a lot of Christians who have a distaste for the word doctrine. There are various reasons for this. For some, just hearing the word doctrine reminds them of a sort of stodgy, cold-hearted, traditionalism that hates feelings and only loves the King James Bible. For others, doctrine offers little value to their primarily feeling-driven faith and is often seen only as a hindrance to a real, authentic relationship with Jesus. Beyond these, some tend to see Christianity more as something you do rather than something you believe. The “Deeds over Creeds” kind of folks. For them, doctrine slows down the cause of Christ and creates needless divisions that keep us from doing the work Jesus taught and exemplified.
But, amidst these voices, I dissent. To the contrary, I believe that dismissing doctrine will not help your students walk with Christ, but it will hinder them. Doctrine-less Youth Ministry will not bring students closer to Jesus, but push them further away from Him.
Doctrine is necessary for your youth ministry for at least four reasons.
Salvation is Dependent on Sound Doctrine
The gospel of Jesus Christ contains truths (about God, Man, sin, Jesus, the cross, etc.) that must be believed in order for someone to be saved. The gospel is much more than mere truths to be believed, but it is not less. To have faith in the Jesus of the gospel, people must know basic truths of the gospel of Jesus. To say it another way, people die when they reject or suppress the essential truths of the gospel. Consider the following examples from Scripture:
People Are Saved by Believing the Truth
“But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” 2 Thessalonians 2:13
People Perish by Refusing to Love the Truth
The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness. 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12
People Are Born Again Through the Word of Truth
“He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created.” James 1:18
Non-believers are Condemned By Suppressing or Exchanging the Truth
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness…For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened…They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.” Romans 1:18, 21, 25
As you can see, people cannot/will not come to trust in Jesus as Savior if they never believe the truth about who He is and what He did as Savior. J .I. Packer illustrates it well, “A person who thought that England is ruled today by an ex-go-go dancer named Elizabeth who legislates at her discretion from a wood-hut in Polynesia could justly be said to know nothing of the real queen.” He concludes, “similarly it takes more to constitute a real, valid, saving knowledge of Jesus than simply being able to mouth His name.” Ignorance of essential doctrines about Jesus and His gospel will reveal a lack of salvation. Salvation is dependent on doctrine.
Sanctification is Dependent on Sound Doctrine
Sanctification is the process where Christians become more holy like Jesus and doctrine is one of its primary means. It’s about growing up into Christian maturity and it only happens when people are nourished by sound doctrine, the truths of God’s Word. Christians become like the Son of God through the word of God (i.e. the truth of God) by the Spirit of God. As the Scriptures say:
Sound Doctrine is the Spiritual Infants Milk
“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation.” 1 Peter 2:2
God’s Word is the Christian’s Food
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4
Christians are Sanctified by the Truth
Jesus prayed for His followers, “Sanctifythemby the truth; your word is truth.” John 17:17
Christians are Transformed by Truth
“Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2
Christians Must Live According to Truth
Paul commanded Titus to teach his church to live in a way that, “accords with sound doctrine” Titus 2:1
Although Christian maturity is much more than knowing sound doctrine, it is never less. Sound doctrine is the fruits and veggies for a healthy Christian life; an essential part of a balanced diet. Christian sanctification (i.e. a Christian’s growth in Christ-likeness) is dependent on sound doctrine.
Obedience is Dependent on Sound Doctrine
No one can obey Jesus if sound doctrine is not learned, loved, believed, and followed.
The Great Commission Includes Teaching
“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.‘” Matthew 28:18-20
Christians Must Contend for the Faith
Jude commands that all Christians must, “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” Jude 3
Christians Must Guard the Deposit Given Them
Paul commanded Timothy to, “guard the deposit entrusted to (him).” 1 Timothy 6:20 (cf. 2 Tim. 1:13-14)
How can you teach others to trust and obey Jesus if you don’t know his teachings or his commands? How can you contend for what you don’t know or guard what you’re ignorant of? Without sound doctrine, we can’t uphold our Biblical responsibility to know, preserve, and defend the truth of God. Without sound doctrine, we won’t be able to obey Jesus.
Satisfaction is Dependent on Sound Doctrine
I remember the days of reading Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (I still love you Wayne!) during my high school years and having my faith radically fueled by having biblical doctrines clearly taught and applied. I remember thinking, “God is that good? He did all that for me? That’s what was happening at the cross!” Few things got me fired up for Christ like that thousand-plus page textbook because I had never read anything (outside the Scriptures) that brought God’s truth in such a clear and compelling way. I was being nourished and satisfied by the doctrines of God. Before you think I am committing bibliolatry, take a look at how the Psalmist speaks about the satisfying and delightful nature of God’s Word.
In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. Psalm 119:14
I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word. Psalm 119:16
Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors. Psalm 119:24
Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight. Psalm 119:77
Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Psalm 119:97
That goes on for awhile. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the longest chapter in the Bible (Psalm 119) is about delighting in God’s Law (i.e. His Word/Truth). A Christian does not only love God and His people, but he loves God’s truth because it is lovely like the One from Whom it comes. Far from dampening Christian life, doctrine is gas to the fire of passionate, Christ-exalting joy.
Don’t Hide the Good Stuff From Your Students
Fellow youth workers, brothers and sisters, our students are thirsty and this world offers only salt water. Give them the only thing the world won’t: God’s Word undiluted and unpolluted. Even the good things of this world like relationships, mentors, family, morals, and purity are not enough to save or satisfy your students. They need new hearts transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit through the truth of God’s Word. They need sound doctrine from Scripture.
There is no true Christian youth ministry without it.