By Brian Boyles
“Doctrine doesn’t really matter, right? As long as we understand grace and point people to Jesus, then we don’t need doctrine.”
This is a direct quote someone in ministry said to me several years ago. Never mind that grace is a doctrine; this person truly believed his position.
Since then I’ve noticed that there are many who also hold to this position, even if they don’t quite articulate it that way. This position essentially means that heresy doesn’t exist anymore.
Do you have people in your congregation who jump at the opportunity to do the latest study from that well-known prosperity teacher?
I have. In fact, the justification for it was, “but their illustrations are so awesome!”
Or what about that group planning trips to visit that church with the special weekly fire-water instant-healing miracle baptism service? This isn’t a joke, it actually happened to me once. In fact, the group was upset with me for not supporting it!
If you don’t have one of these examples in your congregation, do you have people who happily inform you of decisions they’ve made, even when their decisions directly contradict the Bible?
“God is telling us to get divorced.”
“God is leading us to join the Mormon Church.”
“God doesn’t mind if I stop going to church altogether.”
Or, maybe your examples are less obvious, like the desire to get as many people as possible in the baptism pool, but completely ignore the need for ongoing discipleship.
It’s true that there are different levels of importance within theology and we would be wise to do, as Dr. Albert Mohler says, “theological triage.”
But in the instances where the doctrinal position held among members of the congregation is worthy of being corrected, I offer these pieces of advice.
1. Address bad theology face to face.
This is how I addressed the leader of the group going to the special fire-water instant healing service.
These people were friends of mine—people I truly cared about and whom I considered friends (I still do). I shared what I had heard, asked if it was accurate, and discussed my concerns about it.
This has to be done with the tenderness of a shepherd, not with the hammer of a debater. Some of what I had heard was false. Some of what I had heard was true. Without a calm, face-to-face conversation, there could’ve been a lot of confusion and hurt feelings.
2. Teach through entire books of the Bible.
Many false doctrines are the result of ripping a verse out of context and never seeing how it fits into a larger narrative within the Bible. I know this because I grew up Mormon and now I can see where much of their bad theology came from.
Teaching through large portions of Scripture, like entire books of the Bible over the course of several weeks or months, will give you an opportunity to feed your congregation a healthy diet of God’s word. This takes time and patience, but it’s absolutely worth it.
Consider, this not only forces you to teach everything God wants us to hear, but it teaches your people the importance of context and has a profound effect over time. Even if you want to teach specific topics to your people, simply look for a passage within God’s word that addresses that topic and teach that passage.
If you can’t find such a passage, then don’t teach on that topic. Your people need to hear God’s Word, not your opinion.
3. Confront the whole group.
We all know people who confront too harshly, and we all know people who refuse to ever confront at all.
I choose to take this approach when the subject is clearly confronted in the Bible, like the subject of racism, for example. However, address with clarity and compassion. We need more church leaders willing to confront false doctrines in truth and love.
There are many issues your people are dealing with but don’t realize how the Bible speaks to it. People have questions about gender and identity, same sex attraction, and abortion. Most church leaders wouldn’t touch these topics with a 10-foot pole. That’s a shame.
You are called to love people with biblical clarity on such topics. Consider the ministries of Paul the Apostle, John the Baptist, Nathan the Prophet—and of course, Jesus Christ Himself.
4. Hire staff and enlist volunteers cautiously.
While many churches only look for people who fit a certain appearance, or can generate a lot of excitement, I can’t over-stress how much their theology matters.
If you don’t ask church staff or volunteer candidates to articulate their theological position, then don’t be surprised when they start causing theological problems.
If you care enough to confront bad theology later, then care enough to protect your congregation with good theology now.
BRIAN BOYLES (@brian_boyles) is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Snellville, Georgia, and serves as a consultant for Revitalized Churches.