“But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.” (Titus 2:1, ESV)
“Doctrine divides, love unites!” This has been a standard rallying cry of theological liberalism and other manifestations of doctrinal indifferentism. A similar slogan may be heard today, even in supposedly “evangelical” circles: “Deeds, not Creeds!” But here’s the question: Is it factually true? That is to say, is it really true that “doctrine divides, love unites”? (And, therefore, is it really true that the church should focus its main energies on “deeds, not creeds,” on doing good stuff rather than on believing and confessing and propagating the faith once-for-all delivered to the saints?)
Was it “love” alone, without any doctrinal convictions whatsoever, that brought together into the united fellowship of the early apostolic church both Jews and Gentiles, slaves and freemen, men and women, rich and poor, people from different racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, class and cultural backgrounds? Or did doctrine also have something to do with the amazing and surprising bringing together into one community known as the church of people from different backgrounds who would otherwise have had little in common with each other due to the racial, economic, national, tribal, social, cultural and religious differences that had previously separated them?
First off, let’s examine the slogan itself. Ironically, “doctrine divides, love unites” is actually a doctrinal statement. It is a modernist doctrine about the supposed divisiveness of doctrine. As such it is logically self-defeating and irrational.
Think about it: If doctrine is divisive, then it is harmful. If doctrine is harmful, then it should be avoided. If doctrine is thus, in principle, a bad thing which should be avoided at all costs, then the same principle must apply to the modernist doctrine of doctrinal indifferentism. In other words, the modernist doctrine which asserts that “doctrine divides, love unites” is a divisive, harmful doctrine which should be avoided at all costs. So the slogan itself is meaningless, empty and self-defeating.
Secondly, the witness of the New Testament Scriptures is crystal clear that it was actually the apostolic doctrine (i.e., the teaching) and proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ which drew people from radically different backgrounds together into the one Body of Christ’s church. The early Christians in New Testament times, like all Bible-believing, orthodox Christians today, shared in common “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:5-6a, ESV).
They shared together a common confession of faith, witnessing together to the truth that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Messiah promised by God in the Old Testament Scriptures, the Son of the living God, the Lord incarnate, who died for our sins and rose victorious from the dead (Matt. 16:16; Acts 2:30-36; 3:15; Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 15:3-8; etc.).
They shared together one baptism into the Triune Name of God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit – Matt. 28:19). (And I would remind the reader that Christian baptism implies and witnesses to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.)
They shared together in the one bread and the one cup of the Lord’s Supper, which signified their union and communion with the crucified, risen Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 10:14-17).
In sum, the Scriptures make it abundantly clear that it was the doctrine of the good news of Jesus Christ that united people from diverse backgrounds into the one Body of Christ. God’s Word also makes it clear that the doctrine of the gospel, when consistently believed, embraced and lived out, inspires within God’s people a deep love for fellow believers — believers who are spiritual brothers and sisters in the family of God! So any kind of statement or slogan or saying which pits sound doctrine against Christian love is a false dichotomy. Such a false dichotomy is foreign to the teaching of God’s Word. In Scripture, sound doctrine and genuine Christian love are inextricably intertwined with one another, and any attempt to separate the two is actually itself a false doctrine.
Certainly it is true that sound doctrine can be held to and propagated in an unloving way. I’m sure many of us have encountered cold, callous, unloving Christians who wield sound orthodox doctrine as a weapon to tear down and divide. But I would argue that such manifestations of “dead orthodoxy” are actually not orthodox at all, at least not in terms of a biblical understanding of sound doctrinal orthodoxy. In Scripture, orthodoxy (i.e., right belief) is intended to produce the fruit of oathpraxis (i.e., right practice). Sound doctrine and godly living are meant to walk hand-in-hand. And unloving behavior in the name of orthodoxy is certainly not a godly thing.
So, does sound doctrine divide? It “divides” only in the sense that it separates believers from unbelievers. Such “division” between those who profess sound doctrine and those who reject it is actually a wholesome and honest division. But from a biblical standpoint sound doctrine profoundly unites those who profess it, and it has the power to tear down walls of division between peoples of diverse backgrounds as they come together to confess their common faith in the gospel of our one Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Unbelief, false doctrine and impenitence divides. But doctrine — true, sound, gospel doctrine — unites!