I recently talked with a pastor who told me he was happy that 450 people left his church of what used to be 600. Why would he be happy?
For years Pastor Frank preached a prosperity message promising the blessings of health and wealth upon those in his church. And his people liked it.
Then Pastor Frank entered a heart-wrenching time in his own life when two of his children died over a short period of time, one from violence and the other from disease. His prosperity theology began to unravel. Where was God’s blessing? Why was this happening to him?
God revealed to Frank that he was preaching a false message that hurt his congregation and left them ill prepared when they experienced life’s deep reality of suffering. Preaching this unsound doctrine might have seemed to pay off in the short-run, but in the end it was leading people astray to pursue riches and blessings that Scripture never promises, and removing the focus on the better promises of Scripture.
The church needs sound doctrine to deal with complexities of faith and life.
What is Sound Doctrine?
Doctrine is “scriptural teaching on theological truths.” Adding the sound adjective to doctrine sharpens the definition with the ideas of ‘healthy’ or ‘accurate.' A good working definition of what the Bible means when it says sound doctrine is this:
Sound doctrine is accurate scriptural teaching on theological truths that leads to the spiritual health and transformed lives of both individuals and the church as a whole.
Sound doctrine should be the content of every sermon, Bible study, song, and book we read at church. And it should be loved. Here are a few reasons why:
1. We should love sound doctrine because God loves sound doctrine.
Scripture commands leaders to “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught” and to “give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). Sound doctrine flows from God’s words and revealed will in Scripture. God gave us His Word and sound doctrine so we could know Him, love Him, obey Him, and teach others about Him and what He’s done for us in Christ. Let us love it because we love Him.
2. We should love sound doctrine because it matures individuals and the church.
Unsound doctrine upsets faith, leads people astray, and ultimately wastes our time (like in Pastor Frank’s story). Teaching sound doctrine leads to spiritual maturity in both individuals and the church as a whole (Ephesians 4:11-14). As we feed on sound doctrine, we have less of a taste for theology that tickles our ears but ultimately leaves us unsatisfied and lacking what we truly need. Sound doctrine grows our faith and leads us invest time wisely for Christ and His Kingdom by maturing individuals and the church into the image of Christ.
3. We should love sound doctrine because it flows from the gospel.
In 1 Timothy 1:11, Paul says that sound doctrine is “in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God.” The gospel is a message to be proclaimed and taught. Sound doctrine is the substance of true gospel teaching. Our love for the gospel should be tightly bound with a love for sound doctrine because sound doctrine communicates gospel truths that bring salvation to their hearers (1 Timothy 4:16).
4. We should love sound doctrine because it leads us to holiness.
1 Timothy 1:10 tells us that there is a type of living that is contrary to sound doctrine. Correct doctrine is tied with correct living, which is what Paul means when he speaks of “a knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness” (Titus 1:1). Sound doctrine teaches us about a holy and wrath-filled God who hates sin but loves us enough to sacrifice His Son on our behalf to free us from that sin. True doctrine from a holy God produces holy people.
5. We should love sound doctrine because it keeps us from false doctrine.
Scripture points to three sources of doctrine: devils (1 Timothy 4:1), men (Matthew 15:9), and God Himself (Titus 2:10). Sound doctrine flows from God Himself and is both uncorrupted and life giving. Sound doctrine is an anchor of truth, which steadies us from being “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14). A love for sound doctrine will be a “shield of truth” against lies and doctrines of the enemy, which are rampant today–even in many churches.
6. We should love sound doctrine because it leads to action.
Scripture prepares men and women for every good work God (2 Timothy 3:17). Likewise, a healthy teaching of Scripture’s doctrine catalyzes both service and witness by instilling deep conviction and joy into Christians’ lives. Hearing the truth of Scripture taught clearly will exalt the mercy and grace of God, which will cause us to be thankful and obey His commands to be a light in the world and proclaim the gospel and “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior (Titus 2:7-10).
7. We should love sound doctrine because loving it is a love for Jesus Himself.
Nothing makes me cringe like hearing Christians say, “I don’t need doctrine, I just want to love Jesus!” These people misunderstand that doctrine is what tells us about Jesus, who is Truth in the flesh (John 14:6). Jesus came to preach (Mark 1:38). His preaching involved communicating doctrine that would proclaim who He is and how His followers are to live in relation to Him and the world.
8. We should love sound doctrine because it leads to worship
Contemplating truths about God and His works among men causes us to wonder in amazement at his goodness (Psalm 107). Worship is not just the end result of doctrine, it is also the reason it exists. Paul exemplifies this by concluding one of the most doctrine-rich portions of Scripture with this doxology: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11:33)
God wants the sound doctrine to fill the church with holy, Christ-exalting and Christ-proclaiming believers who are maturing daily in their knowledge of God and obedience to Him.
Pastor Frank has learned a lot since he stopped preaching the prosperity message and began focusing on Scriptural teaching. Although many people left the church, new people began to come eager to hear truth. Teens that used to sit in the back of the church and send text messages during the service have now moved to the front rows and have began to serve and reach out to their community. This is a picture of sound doctrine in action. Teaching sound doctrine matters.
Where Sound Doctrine Begins
While studying doctrine in the local church is one great way to grow, perhaps the most important thing we can do on a daily basis is study the Scriptures carefully and faithfully. As we have trained pastors to teach God’s Word with God’s heart, we have often seen how growth comes when the Word topples unsound doctrines rooted in a faulty theological framework, specific cultural values, or simply not reading Scripture in its proper historical, biblical, and literary context.
Let us heed Paul’s command in 2 Timothy 1:13 and, “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”
 Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology
Entry for ὑγιαίνω in Louw, Johannes P. and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. New York: United Bible Societies, 1996.