Mom has gone to the grocery store, and one of the things on her shopping list is cantaloup. When she comes to a bin with more than fifty cantaloups, how will she know which is the very best? Some shoppers make their decision based upon the color of the fruit, while others judge the weight. Some thump on the rind and listen to the sound; some smell it to determine its freshness or ripeness. I’m not an expert in such things. But I had a friend who was a government produce inspector and who knew every kind of fruit inside and out. It was his job to look through hundreds of kinds of imported fruit to grade them according to quality. That man knew what was a good cantaloup and what is not. Unfortunately I don’t think that my friend knew the difference between good THEOLOGY and bad theology.

Paul has just finished commending some people he knows, who were members of the church in Rome. That was long before the Church in Rome became the Roman Catholic Church. Paul tells the people to receive and welcome Phebe, who was unknown to most of them. Then after listing more than two dozen people, he tells them all – as well as telling us – “Salute one another with an holy kiss.” In our culture that would be – “Greet one another with a hearty, friendly hand-shake, and perhaps a pat on the back.”

Notice that immediately after telling us all to be friendly and gracious towards each other, he adds a caveat. “Now I beseech you, brethren, MARK them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and AVOID them.” “Receive,” “assist,” “greet,” “salute” and even “kiss” the brethren, BUT “mark” and “avoid” a many others. The difference between these two kinds of people, and our behavior toward them – is not in their attitude. It doesn’t matter how friendly, outgoing, commending and personally commendable they are. It doesn’t matter if they are rich and generous, or poor and needy. It doesn’t matter if they smart, good-looking, affectionate or loving. It doesn’t even matter if they say that they love the Lord Jesus Christ. Despite what is said in other scriptures and other circumstances, what Paul points to at this point is the nasty subject of “doctrine.”

Apparently here is something important – something which must be brought up before closing Paul’s letter. The Greek word which is translated “doctrine” is “didache.” The literal definition of the word is “teaching.” I didn’t make a thorough comparison throughout my library, because it really isn’t important, but I did notice that the NIV (The New International Version) translates this word “teaching” here, but the ASV and the ESV translate it just as our Authorized Version does. And as far as our King James Version is concerned 29 of the 30 times that this word is used in the Bible, it is translated “doctrine,” rather than “teaching.” In English, and in common use, these two words are closely related, but there IS a distinct difference. “Teaching” can be either the act of conveying information, or it can be the idea which is taught. But the first definition of “doctrine” is: “A principle, or body of principles, presented for acceptance or belief.” Doctrine can be a whole group of principles taught as one, and presented for acceptance. The translators of both our King James Bibles and apparently other versions as well, believed that Paul was not simply talking about the individual points which he had been teaching, but about the complete body of principles which he had been given to him by the Lord and which he had been teaching everywhere he went. It wasn’t just a matter of this and that, but rather about the entire basis and foundation of Christian thought. “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine (singular) which ye have learned; and avoid them.”

What should be the grounds upon which we judge a professing Christian or with which we might judge a prospective church for our membership? It is not the brand of coffee that they serve, nor whether or not they have a children’s church. It is not about personal friendliness, even though Christians ought to be as friendly as they can. It is not about the size of the front door, and whether or not there is a chandelier in the foyer. It is not whether the entry room down by the front door is a “foi-er” or a “foi-yea.” What separates people and churches, and which separates many churches from Christ, is doctrine. What separates those whom we should salute and those we should avoid – is doctrine.

In some ways Bible Christianity is like nature – multifaceted and apparently complex. We need to be like naturalist with the ability to understand, dissect, and then to coordinate the facts. Despite what many Christian people think and even hope, we all need to be theologians – at least to the degree that we know how to determine truth. “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Every Christian is expected to be able to bring together related verses from throughout the Bible in order to explain the fundamentals of our faith – at the very least.

This evening, I’d like to point out the importance – the extreme importance – of Bible doctrine.

First, doctrine is the key to our IDENTIFICATION.

I think that most honest people want to be praised or cursed based upon their own merits – on the truth. As a Canadian, I want to be judged on my merits and demerits, not by those of Justin Trudeau. One of the car insurance companies is promoting itself by saying the price you pay for insurance should be based on your record, not the record of a bunch of other people who may or may not drive like you do. We should want a proper identification, and most of us should want a proper religious identification as well. I mean, there are a lot of religious kooks in this world with whom I want no part. First, there are the obvious – Pope Francis, David Koresh, Jimmy Jones, and John Hagee. And I don’t want to be identified with John Calvin, Martin Luther, or any of the children of the Reformers. After people like these, there are hundreds of others, who approach the truth in faith and practice, but who miss it in one fashion or another. There are differences between us, and I think that it is important that those differences be identified, even when we point out our similarities.

But what is it which is most often used to identify religious people? Isn’t our denominational title? I love the name “Baptist.” This is the best group title there is, if the people who are using that title know its history and meaning. Of course, I also like “Christian” and “child of God,” but these are used by so many people who are not Christians and not children of God that generally speaking they have lost their meaning. So we see that names can be confusing. Believe it or not, I have one of those books which list people’s phone numbers: it is called a “phone book.” One day, I looked up the name Joseph Smith in the phone book and was surprised there were so few. I would guess that people with the surname of Smith are getting wiser in the naming of their children. If you don’t have a weird last name like Oldfield, Kjeldgaard or Berg, you have to take extra steps to identify your children, so, you might give them strange given names, or strange spellings. Yet still, there were several Joseph Smiths and J Smiths, and others finding unique ways of spelling Joseph. How can we be sure that one Joseph Smith in Kootenai county is not some other Joseph Smith? Well, there are unique fingerprints, and there are voice patterns, dental records. There are shoe sizes, retinal scans, ear shapes and the now the popular DNA tests. And similarly, there are about as many kinds of Baptists as there are Joseph Smiths. How can we determine that one Baptist is related to another Baptist, but not to a third? We need to dig deeper than religious name-tags.

Unlike names, doctrine TRULY identifies people. Love and charity are certainly good things, but they don’t differentiate people. A Baptist, a Catholic, a Hindu, a Jew, and an atheist may all be good neighbors. But they worship at different altars and that is eternally important.

I said a moment ago: no one likes to be cursed for another man’s crime. Paul was often cursed, but how was he identified before that curse was inflicted? Was it his love? Was it his race? It was neither of these. Acts 13 – “And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming.” Acts 14 – “Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands. But the multitude of the city was divided: and part held with the Jews, and part with the apostles. And when there was an assault made both of the Gentiles, and also of the Jews with their rulers, to use them despitefully, and to stone them.” Acts 17 – “The Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also.” How did Paul and Silas turn the world upside down? They did so with their specific Christian teaching. What I am trying to say, is that we associate with Paul, and we associate with Christ, not simply upon the grounds of our love, or church membership, and by our friends, but upon doctrine.

Not only is doctrine the key to our identification, but also to the DEFENSE of our FAITH.

Listen to the opening words of the Book of Jude: “Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called.” Notice that this epistle was not directed to some pastor or missionary, but to all the saints of God. “Mercy unto you, and peace, and love, be multiplied. Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that YE should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” One of the responsibilities of every Christian is to contend for the faith. Unfortunately, not only are most Christians unwilling to fight over what they believe and the doctrines which they have been given, but most don’t even know what those doctrines are.

For example, there are many professing “Christians” who deny that there is a literal Devil named Satan. They want to allegorize him as just some kind of evil propensity in the world. But the Bible declares his personal existence and reveals some of his history – even his future. Satan is Jehovah’s primary and most powerful enemy. And one of his favorite weapons against the things of God is ignorance. If he can keep an unbeliever in the dark about his sins, about eternal judgment and about redemption, then in a sense, he has won a minor victory. Furthermore, if he can keep the saint from knowing these things well enough to explain them to others, he wins from a different angle. And when he deludes us into thinking that it is not important to understand the other important doctrines of the Word of God, he wins other kinds of victories.

And this points out the fact that we need to be both defensive and offensive with the truth. The ability to be able to take the spiritual offensive relates to how well we know Bible doctrine. Here is a man who knows a few well-chosen proof texts. When the heretic comes to his door, he may be like the soldier holding the high ground, picking off his opponents one by one with his single shot, single verse, rifle. He might be able to adequately defend himself with those isolated verses. But if his opponent is well-schooled, he may not be as victorious as he would like to be. But then there is the man who has studied Bible doctrine more fully. He is like the man with the high-powered automatic weapon, which can send a tsunami of scriptures down upon Satan’s ally. He can not only defend himself, but he may actually be able to win that enemy to the truth. How can we “mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which we have learned,” if we haven’t learned doctrine? Systematic theology links point to point and builds a doctrinal foundation which cannot be easily disrupted.

When Paul was writing to Timothy, he made this statement: “These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” The church of the living God, is not an a-morphous, invisible, un-assembling assembly. Paul was speaking about the assembly of which Timothy was pastor at the time – probably at Ephesus. And making an appropriate application, Paul was talking about Calvary Independent Baptist Church.

This church, of which you are a member, is “the” or perhaps a pillar “and ground of the truth” in Post Falls. But let me remind you that Calvary Baptist is not the building which sits on the corner of 12th and Spokane. This church is made up of its members – you and me. We are the arms, legs, eyes, ears, fingers and toes of the Body of Christ in this community. Together, you and I, are make up the pillar and ground of God’s truth in this community. But if we neglect sound doctrine, we tear down these pillars and beg the Lord to remove us as a church. Not that it is a problem here, but oratory and flowery preaching, loud preaching, tear-producing preaching may bind people to the preacher, but blind them to the truth at the same time. The neglect of doctrine is the road to uncertainty, inaccuracy, immaturity and ecclesiastical death. Perhaps I should finish the context of the verses that I just quoted in order to point out the importance of Bible doctrine. “These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.” When Paul speaks about the pillar and ground of the truth, his next breath was spent on doctrine.

Doctrine is also the KEY to Godly CHRISTIAN CHARACTER.

“Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.”

Perhaps you haven’t heard it said, but I have: “Doctrine deadens spiritual life and vitality.” While I admit that it is a possibility, true Bible doctrine cannot deaden – if it be more than theoretical. Each and every doctrine ought to produce practical results. Take for example the last verse that I just quoted – the one about the doctrine of Christ. When we know and believe and bask in the deity, humanity and glory of Christ, we learn to properly worship, love and serve Him. Those who love the Saviour become the most practical of all Christians. Some foolish people say that the doctrine of eternal security produces carnal, sinful people. Some carnal, sinful professing Christians may make that statement, but it is yet to be proven that they are Christians at all. When someone grasps the truth about eternal salvation, they recognize that it directly connects them to the eternal and holy God. That God and that Saviour expect and demand holiness. People think that the doctrine of sovereign election means that evangelism is unimportant and that faith and repentance have become unimportant. That is as untrue as to say that the moon is made of cheese. There may be critics of each and every Bible doctrine.

What does Colossians 1:9-10 teach us about doctrine and character? “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.” Doctrinal truth is the nourishment upon which the Christian life grows and flourishes. I Peter 2:1-2 – “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.” The lack of knowledge doesn’t lead to piety and devotion – it leads to superstition. And this danger is closer to all of us than any would like to imagine. It takes good nutrition to grow a strong body, and the same is true in the spiritual world. Bible doctrine – teaching and preaching the Word is that nutrition, beginning with the milk of the Word.

Doctrine is the key to godly living and godly, loving churches. God’s best workers – His greatest saints – have a clear understanding and system of theology. No sir, doctrine doesn’t kill spiritual life and good workers; it polishes them to a brilliant shine. The doctrine of eternal retribution is as practical as any other thing in this world – “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” The doctrine of holiness – “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” The doctrine of the imminent second coming – “And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.” The doctrine of Heaven – “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” These things are doctrine, and these things are eternally important for the souls of men.

Is your Christian life filled with holes? I am convinced that part of the cause is a lack of interwoven doctrine. Few things look so awful as a starved animal – skin and bones. Let’s get the doctrinal skeleton right and then cover it with the meat and muscle of Christian living.

Paul tells us to be friendly toward one another, but the kind of friendliness and the degree of that friendliness is to be determined by our mutual understanding and acceptance of Biblical doctrine.

And by the way, salvation by grace through faith is one of the absolutely essential Bible doctrines. Has the Lord saved you by His grace? Have you completely and fully humbled yourself before the Lord in repentance? Is your faith for deliverance and forgiveness, in Christ Jesus and Him alone? You must believe the importance of these things; you must do these things.