The proper study of doctrine is not easy. It takes time, a lot of hard work, and much prayer. For those reasons, many people don’t study doctrine. Others don’t study doctrine because they think it is just for professionals, and even some pastors don’t study doctrine because they think it is just for scholars. Still, there are others who don’t study doctrine because they are indifferent to it. They are content with being fed milk and knowing only the basics of the faith, but they are largely apathetic to pursuing the doctrinal meat of the faith.
I find it hard to tolerate this kind of indifference in myself and in other Christians. Indifference when it comes to what we believe is deplorable, for how can we be indifferent to those vital truths that can save or damn our souls? As one Puritan pastor said, “Indifference is the mother of heresy.” If we become indifferent about doctrine, we will soon become indifferent about Scripture and eventually indifferent about God.
If the church is to understand and confess sound doctrine, reject unbiblical doctrines, and dispose of unbiblical presuppositions and doctrinal misunderstandings, we must begin by repenting of our indifference to doctrine.
In 1929, J. Gresham Machen left the once doctrinally sound Princeton Theological Seminary to help establish Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Machen and the men who left with him departed not simply because of Princeton’s liberal theological drift and not simply because its faculty denied certain historic confessional doctrines. They left Princeton, fundamentally, because of the growing lack of regard for doctrine itself. “Indifferentism about doctrine makes no heroes of the faith,” Machen wrote.
If knowing doctrine doesn’t matter, then nothing really matters. We live in a culture that often promotes indifference, and many churches have subscribed to this indifference because, they argue, doctrine is difficult, doctrine isn’t attractional, and doctrine divides. It’s true—doctrine does divide true Christians from false Christians. But doctrine also unites because by the Spirit of God, the orthodox confessional doctrines of Scripture alone can unite a bunch of wretched sinners so that we might have one Lord, one faith, one baptism (Eph. 4:5).
In many cases, people are indifferent to doctrine because they have not been taught how to study the Bible or because they have been taught by those who have misunderstood important doctrines. But many in the church do not understand biblical doctrines simply because they have never really studied them. If the church is to understand and confess sound doctrine, reject unbiblical doctrines, and dispose of unbiblical presuppositions and doctrinal misunderstandings, we must begin by repenting of our indifference to doctrine. Without sound doctrine, we are doomed.
Dr. Burk Parsons is editor of Tabletalk magazine and serves as senior pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla. He is editor of Assured by God: Living in the Fullness of God’s Grace. He is on Twitter at @BurkParsons.