“Doctrine” is a word that has fallen on hard times. It has become a “loaded” word, pronounced with a sneer. It is associated with authoritarianism and legalism, labels designed to produce prejudiced conclusions without thinking and without evidence. Doctrine smacks of right or wrong and true or false, unacceptable concepts in this postmodern relativistic age. Thus, doctrinal preaching, always difficult, is now disdained and despised.
Doctrinal preaching is as important as any type of preaching. Doctrinal preaching was essential to the establishment of the church, the perpetuation of the church, the well-being of the church, and the growth of the church. Even if there were no Biblical support for the importance of doctrinal preaching, there is common sense support. It is incontestable that membership in mainline denominations declined concomitantly with the decline in doctrinal preaching.
The experience of the church of Christ is no different. While gimmicks and gags may stem or reverse the flow for a while, the world will reject and members will forsake the church when they learn, as they will, that feelings provide only temporary respite and entertainment has no food for the soul. Psychologists and sociologists speak with greater worldly wisdom than preachers untrained in those disciplines. Politicians and pundits speak with greater insight into worldly affairs. Stockbrokers give better financial advice.
The church has something to say that no one else can say, and it must say it.
And I, brethren, when I came unto you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. 1 Cor. 2:1-5.
Some ears and minds will close at this point, declaring that it must be the hearer’s fault if the gospel message is dull. The preacher, however, should first examine himself. Some preachers, like some cooks, can take the best of recipes and produce that which is inedible. Some preachers have wrongly concluded that “reprove, rebuke, and exhort,” really means “skin, salt, and shame.”
Because doctrinal preaching is difficult to prepare and present, it is often rigid and dull rather than dynamic and edifying. Can doctrinal preaching be interesting? Arresting? Edifying? Can hearers barraged with dull doctrinal sermons be reclaimed? Absolutely! The preacher must remember that doctrinal preaching and practical preaching are not mutually exclusive approaches between which he must choose. Conflict between the doctrinal and the practical is appropriate only, if ever, in the esoteric ivory towers of Biblical scholars and systematic theologians. Conflict between the doctrinal and the practical in the pulpit is disastrous.
All doctrinal teaching must have practical application. Romans 1 - 11 is “heavy” doctrine; Romans 12 - 16 is practical application of that doctrine. 1 Corinthians 15:1-57 proclaims the doctrine of the resurrection; 1 Corinthians 15:58 is the practical application of that doctrine. Paul’s example here and elsewhere establishes that doctrinal preaching is never complete until the practical application has been made. The purpose of doctrinal preaching should never be to dispense information or, worse yet, showcase the oratory or intelligence of the preacher.
To apply doctrine, the preacher must be as good a student of the congregation and human nature as he is of the word. Then he can bring the doctrine of the Lord to bear upon the soul of the hearer in a manner that moves the soul to God.
You Must Hear the Gospel
You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)
You Must Believe
You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)
You Must Repent
You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)
You Must Confess
You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)
You Must Be Baptized
Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!
You Must Be Faithful Unto Death
Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)