Doctrine and Life

It is Saturday evening, the children are snuggly tucked under the covers and in the safekeeping of the usual babysitter, while the Joneses are out to late dinner with some casual acquaintances. The dinners are sumptuous; after all, it is a night out on the town, the drinks flow freely. Before the night is over, all are in a laughing and carefree mood. As the evening comes to an end, the babysitter is hustled home before the Sunday morning deadline, and the Joneses place their heads upon their pillows, and promptly fall asleep. After all, it is not right to pray in this state of mind. They had a “good” time. 

It is Friday evening, this is the big date that Paul has long awaited. His car has been polished on the outside, and thoroughly cleaned on the inside for this occasion. Paul has the night all planned; they will bowl and perhaps stop for a sundae afterwards. But, the bowling alley is jammed. Paul places his name on an hour waiting list. The first half hour passes so slowly and the Devil, as he always does, takes advantage of boredom. Carefully negotiating, Paul and his girl justify going to see a movie. They have placed themselves in the clutches of the Devil, and he pursues the opportunity by using the strong visual and auditory senses to excite the lust of the carnal flesh. Paul and his date live along with the sins portrayed before them. They, too, find it hard to pray, for the sin is yet too fresh in their minds. 

On Tuesday evening the Smith’s attend society while their children in the low teens take care of themselves. The standard rule applies now as always; no garbage is to be watched on T.V. The older ones indoctrinate the younger that silence to mother and father is to their profit. The teenagers turn on the television, after quickly checking the movie guide. “Don’t forget on which channel Dad last watched the news!” “OK, help me remember channel three.'” The time quickly, passes for eager eyes of the children and soon it is 9:30. There is yet a half hour of the “garbage” left, but the eldest turns off the television because it has to have time to cool before Dad places his testing hand upon the cabinet. “Remember, it was on channel three!” 

I am sure that parents, children, young people, as well as the aged, if they were candid and honest, could add numerous accounts to these various portrayals. But, though much could be said about the novels read, soap-operas watched, and entertainment engaged in, the purpose has been served and we must move on to a nearer treatment of the above title.

What do we mean by doctrine? We use the word often. We speak of doctrinal differences, of being doctrinally correct or incorrect, of doctrinal preaching, etc. Yet, what do we actually mean when we say doctrine? The English word is etymologically derived from the Latin word doctrina, which means a theory on a certain instruction as it is related to a particular doctor or teacher. Therefore a certain doctrine is a body of principles which are set forth regarding a particular branch of knowledge. For our purpose, doctrine has reference to a certain body of religious principles which are logically set forth on the basis of the Scriptures. Thus, they are not the teaching of a certain man. But they are the principles which the church of Jesus Christ sets forth in a logical way, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. They are, for example, the truths as we know them in the five points of Calvinism: total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints. Or, to take an example peculiar to our history as Protestant Reformed people, the eternal covenant of grace which God has unilaterally established with His people in Christ, belongs to those principles. These Scriptural truths, that are systematically taught us in catechism class and detailedly expounded to us from the pulpit, are doctrine. 

Then, besides the connective, there is the other term in our caption: life. You say, yes, how basic and elementary. But we must carefully elucidate exactly what we mean by this term. We speak of life in the sense that the Bible uses the words walk and conversation. The figure of walking upon a way calls to mind the picture of a pilgrim’s path, with each experience and activity of life being but a footstep upon that path. Likewise, conversation refers to one’s conduct and manner of living. We mean by life, the sum total of the experiences of a person that constitutes the history of his being from birth unto death. It is an all inclusive term, that excludes none of our activities here below. Our every word, thought, and deed is comprehended in this term life. 

So much for the terms life and doctrine, as far as definition is concerned. For, we are not so much interested in these terms as they stand segregated from one another, rather as they are integrated. Our concern is well expressed by the old cliché; “doctrineis life.” Or to put it in practical terms, one ought to practice that which he believes. 

The child of God makes a fundamental error when he divorces doctrine from his life. It is a very grievous mistake to live in a way that is not in harmony with the doctrines which we hold to be true and valid. To do this is to be a “Sunday Christian.” That is to say, we hear the truths of the Bible expounded to us and we even express whole-hearted agreement with the admonitions that are applied to us, but somehow on Monday morning the recollections of Sunday’s sermon are suppressed. And we often rationalize to ourselves, that things are different on Monday and Tuesday. All these doctrines which are laid out so clearly for us make more sense on Sunday than during the week. The minister (God’s Word) doesn’t seem to fit in with the dealings and concerns of the work-a-day world. It is much easier and causes a lot less friction if we put our doctrines aside at certain times and engage in a little compromising of principles. After all, if you are in the world you have to play the game by the rules of the world, else you lose! 

To take this sort of an attitude in life is spiritually demoralizing. To live in such a way, whereby we segregate doctrine from life to one degree or another, is to be infected by a sort of dead orthodoxy. Such a dead orthodoxy is nothing more than a mere intellectual assent to the truth, without any practical application thereof. It is to confess the doctrines of the Scriptures and to understand them mentally, without striving to make them a vital part of our daily lives. James speaks of this problem. “Faith without works is dead.” (James 2:26) “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue (or does not live according to his religious principles, or doctrines). . .this man’s religion is vain.” (James 1:26) What James means to say is, that if our religiosity consists of holding doctrines and principles without practicing them, or then our religion is empty. And such an empty religion is despicable in the eyes of the Most High and can never expect His blessing. That is why it is such a grievous error to separate doctrine from life!

Furthermore, the error of which we are speaking has a tendency to lead us toward antinomianism. But, interrupts someone, do we not stand in the freedom wherein Christ has made us free? We ought not therefore to fall into this opposite error of legalism. But, rest assured, this is not what we have in mind. The child of God ought to be careful that he not use his liberty for license! Never may we excuse our non-Christian conduct by the fact that after all we are children of God. It is a terrible thing when we say to ourselves, “I know better than to do this, but God’s not going to send me to hell on this account.” It terrifies me when I hear comments of this nature. We have all heard them, if not regarding someone else, then we have spoken them in our own mind. We hear this expressed about our young people sometimes: “O well, they have to have a few years in which they sow their wild oats,” or, when young people begin to partake liberally of the things of this world, “they’ll straighten out; we all went through it, you know.” Our young people, or any of us, may not conduct his life, thinking that it will all be straightened out in the end. This comes pretty close to that which Paul condemns so vehemently in Rom. 6:1ff. . . “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid.” 

If we may yet come a little closer to home, we might warn in the following manner. Our confidence and assurance may never be founded upon a particular name or a mere abstract body of truths. As churches, we have a beautiful heritage. The cardinal truths of the Bible are clearly set forth in our midst, and our children, as well as we ourselves, are continually exposed to them. We must be careful, lest these glorious truths make us careless and profane in our daily lives. The truths and doctrines which we hold so precious, may never be relegated to the shelf or contained in un-opened books; rather, they must be a living and vital reality in our every day living. 

That brings us to the positive aspect of the subject at hand. Doctrine and life must be unified. This is a necessary unity, for the doctrines which we hold are derived from the Scriptures which guide our feet during our pilgrim’s journey toward the heavenly Canaan. O, if the doctrines we held were merely founded upon the rationale of men, then not to live them would not be a grievous wrong. But the doctrines which are our precious heritage are the truths of the Bible as they are systematically set forth throughout history by the guiding of the Holy Spirit. He has led us in all the way of the truth. In that truth we ought to walk. The Word of God is a light upon our pathway and a lamp unto our feet. 

When we willingly segregate doctrine from our life, then we are as a traveler in a strange land who willingly refuses to follow the map provided him. That is foolishness. That is sin. Rather we must integrate scripturally-based doctrine into our daily lives. Then we walk in wisdom, as a traveler who diligently searches his map that he may not stray from the path leading to Mt. Zion. That constitutes sanctification, a walking in His fear!