The balance between sound doctrine and love is imperative. Doctrine is important, and the Word will always be our final authority, keeping us on course; but love must always remain our means of travel.
There are those who say that all we have to be concerned about is full-fledged ecumenism among all churches and denominations, regardless of what they believe or do not believe. Keep in mind, however, that the apostle Paul spent half of his life defending the faith that he preached because of the apostasy that began to creep in and destroy so many churches. As you read the writings of Paul, you will see that he was a man aching with such a burden for the purity of the faith and the truth of the Word of God.
Church history clearly shows that when the Word of God is not taught and commitment to doctrinal purity is not maintained, the Church enters into a dark age. Examples of this are found throughout the centuries. Had it not been for Martin Luther, who in the sixteenth century stood up to defend the purity of doctrines, risking his very own life, the Church might have remained in utter darkness. The Reformation, which was the fruit of his life, took place because of the preaching and defending of God’s Word.
Even today, all over the world, the Church at large is once again moving toward another dark period due to the liberalism being taught and perpetuated in great numbers in many theological institutions. Not giving heed to sound doctrine will lead to syncretism and pluralism. And these have become some of the most serious, destructive forces throughout the church today.
Paul warned Timothy to take care of the sound doctrine he received, while at the same time continuing in the grace and love of Christ. In his letters to Timothy we read Paul’s exhortations concerning this balance: “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13). “O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge—by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith” (1 Timothy 6:20–21). “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:1–2).
Another example of this balance to be kept is found in Revelation 2:2–5, a passage in which Christ speaks to the church at Ephesus. These believers had pure doctrine and were extremely fundamental in their faith. Yet the Lord said that He would put out their light because of their lack of love.
Love must be the root and foundation of all that we do in our service for the Lord. Let us not forget the exhortation in 1 Corinthians 13—“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. Now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:1–3, 8, 13, emphasis added). Without love, all means nothing.
The Church is called to evangelize the world and to call all men to become part of the Body of Christ. But this purpose can only be carried out as we walk in love. In John 13:34–35, Jesus said to His disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (NIV). In his classic book Love Covers,1 Paul Billheimer says the biggest hindrance for the world to come to know the Lord Jesus Christ is the sin of unloving attitudes and division in the Body of Christ. I fully agree.
We must be very careful not to make rigid boxes of “our doctrine” and try to squeeze people into them. People have asked me, “Was Mother Teresa a Christian? Is she in heaven?” By some people’s denominational teachings, Mother Teresa is not in heaven. Based on what some churches believe today, many people who headed the Reformation—bringing enlightenment to the entire Christian world—will go to hell because they didn’t fit in with “sound” doctrine.
Satan knows that a house divided against itself cannot stand (see Mark 3:25, NIV). And so he cunningly seeks to divide the Body of the Lord Jesus Christ on many minor issues. Particular subjects that create disunity include specific views on the Holy Spirit, Calvinism, Armenians, translations of the Bible, the second coming of Christ, and many others. I am convinced that the thousands of divisions in the Body of Christ today have very little to do with doctrine. The majority is based on the overemphasis of minor issues and traditions. Once we start investigating, it is amazing how few differences there actually are in fundamental doctrines among most churches. Yet there is such an unloving attitude and division at large.
Please remember: God is much more concerned about our heart than our head. I have met people who are a little “off” in some doctrines that I consider important. But they are still people deeply devoted to the Lord, knowing Him intimately.
How do we explain all this? I am not sure. I don’t have all the answers. But one thing is certain: The Pharisees, who knew all the answers and had “sound doctrine,” are the ones who crucified Christ. Let us keep in mind that the most important evidence of those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ is not seen in their commitment to fundamental doctrines, but in their life of love. The world will know we are Christians by our love, not by our doctrines. When love is absent, doctrines have no use. Truth without love is a lie. We must maintain a balance.
1 Paul Billheimer, Love Covers (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1980).
© 2003 by KP Yohannan, the president and founder of Gospel for Asia. It was written with the intention of encouraging and edifying the Body of Christ. To learn more about Gospel for Asia or to receive additional free resources, visit Gospel for Asia’s website.