by Doy Moyer
When we think of “doctrinal” issues, we tend to think of matters like marriage and divorce, the work of the church, baptism, etc. We work hard to try to get these right, and there are often sharp disagreements over the nature of these “doctrinal” matters.
“Doctrine” means teaching, and anything we teach is, definitionally, doctrinal. We often elevate the word “doctrinal” to some special status to mean the really important teachings, whereas “non-doctrinal” means those areas that we can disagree about. Then, we arbitrarily assign the various teachings in Scripture to one or the other status. Never mind that we can’t find this kind of use of “doctrinal” or “non-doctrinal” in Scripture.
Yet there is something else we may be missing. Do we realize that issues like loving neighbor as self, treating each other as we want to be treated, forgiving others, seeking peace, doing justice, and showing mercy are also doctrinal matters? In fact, so great are these teachings in Scripture that our own salvation depends on our actions relative to these issues. If I don’t love my neighbor, I am in violation of the most significant teaching that relates to how I think about other people. It is second only to loving God (Matthew 22:36-40). If I don’t treat others as I want to be treated, I am guilty of injustice, failing in the most basic task of seeing others as made in God’s image (James 3:9). If I don’t show mercy, I won’t be shown mercy (James 2:13). If I don’t forgive, I won’t be forgiven (Mark 11:25). If I am not seeking peace, I am not standing for Christ and His kingdom (cf. Romans 14:17).
Can it get any more important than that? We need to know that being wrong about these doctrinal matters most certainly puts our souls at eternal risk. We often stress the works of the flesh that will keep us from inheriting the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21), yet failing to love, forgive, and show mercy will have the same effect. If we are not bearing the fruit of the Spirit (i.e., love, joy, peace, etc.), then the Spirit of God is not in us. We are lost.
I’m not saying that other doctrinal matters aren’t important—if Scripture teaches it, who are we to downplay it? Yet let’s not forget that love and mercy are at the heart of what it means to be servants of Christ and others. These are, indeed, the weightier matters, and the last thing we want is to find ourselves to be the hypocrites of Matthew 23:23: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!”
Christians, we need to shine right now. The world is in desperate need of the light of Christ. Love one another. Love your neighbors. Treat others as you want to be treated. Be merciful. Be forgiving. Do justice. Seek peace. Pray hard. May God forbid that we neglect these doctrines through mistreating others.