Doctrine vs. Commands


I think sometimes, confusion regarding the differences between doctrines and commands keeps us from fully obeying our LORD in love and faithfulness.  I’ve come to call this confusion “category error.”

A category is a “division or class” of a thing.  Inadvertently, we sometimes mix up these categories and hurt ourselves and our churches.

For example, a doctrine is a teaching.  To some extent, both theological doctrines and biblical commands can be called “doctrines.”  But there is a finer point to consider.  When we consider the “most important” doctrines found in the Bible, certain ones come to mind:

  • The Sovereignty and Power of our Eternal God

  • The Triune Godhead

  • The Deity and Humanity of Christ

  • The Sufficiency of Scripture

  • The Doctrine of the Church

  • Salvation by Grace through Faith Alone

  • The Return of Christ

Most believers would consider these doctrines “primary” or “first tier.”  Then there are doctrines like:

  • Modes and kinds of Baptism (immersion or sprinkling, babies or just confessing adults)

  • End Times views (Eschatology)

For most, these would be considered “secondary” or “second tier” teachings.  Then there are a few important moral/liberty issues that aren’t as well defined and about which Christians might use certain biblical principles to stake out a position (also called “tertiary” issues):

  • Acceptable foods

  • Which Day to worship

  • Which holidays to celebrate

  • Which kinds of music to use in LORD’s Day worship

  • Order of Service

  • How often to serve the LORD’s Table

  • How to educate our children

Concerning these things there are wide-ranging views among sincere believers.  But here are a few teachings (for our purposes, I’m calling them “Commands”) we MUST NOT place onto the sliding scale of doctrinal importance:

  • Idolatry

  • Murder

  • Adultery and fornication

  • Lying

  • Stealing

…and other “sins.”  God has “commanded” that these things not be done.  They are not up for debate; they are not “non-essential” doctrines.  They are in a different category altogether.  They are sins.

Do you see the difference?  Whereas we might have a vigorous but loving debate over amillennialism vs postmillennialism or casual church vs. formal church, we should never debate whether committing adultery is right or wrong.  That issue has been settled by God.  It is in the “Command Category.”  A church might debate modes of baptism, but it must never debate whether baptism is required.  Lying isn’t “no big deal” or a “secondary issue.”  It is sin.

Again, theological doctrines tend to be assembled using the whole counsel of God in an attempt to understand God better.  Moral commands are given to us by God to execute without delay.

Beloved, I submit that sometimes we slide our sins into the systematic theology category and act as if disobedience is up for debate.  If God says "do not do" and we do…that is sin.  If God says “do these things” and we refuse to, that is sin.  Sin is always a big deal.  The remedy isn’t a committee; it’s repentance!

There are several issues in our current day that believers are calling “second tier” and “small issues” that are actually against the commands of God; they are transgressions.  We're making little progress with them because we have them in the wrong category and are treating them as mere doctrinal differences or personal preferences.  As a result we are attempting to implement wrong solutions.

May we learn the difference between theological understanding and rebellion. Much is at stake.