Why God’s Doctrine is for God’s People

What happens when Justification becomes peripheral and not the central article? I’ll tell you what happens: Doctrine becomes not life. Doctrine becomes something not for the people. The word Doctrine becomes theological jargon that is used only by theologians and a few pastors. You can’t expect the people to care about Doctrine when the central article does not remain that God justifies the ungodly for Christ’s sake through faith in His Name.

Why is this? This is because Justification is personal. Justification reaches you even when no one else knows your hidden faults, but your heart is kindled, and you are comforted by the saving Word that proclaims to you that God justifies the ungodly for Christ’s sake. And it is because of this Truth – the Truth that Jesus came to bear witness to – that you have peace with God. It is therefore because of this Truth that you should care about what is taught, that you should care about Doctrine. And when you care about Doctrine, you won’t care so much about your own planning and programs and methodologies.

The answer to the church’s struggles is not to learn more methodologies and strategies for church-growth. The answer has always been the same: learn more about God our Savior. We pray as Luther prayed:

Teach us to know our God aright
And call Him Father with delight.
From every error keep us free;
Let none but Christ our Master be
That we in living faith abide,
In Him, our Lord, with all our might confide.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

 I am convinced that the reason why people are more prone to follow their own strategic plans and methodologies for church growth is that they have divorced the gospel from Doctrine. Doctrine becomes a peripheral detail, and it becomes too intimidating for the average layman to know.

But Doctrine is not scary. Doctrine is comforting. It is not just something for pastors and seminary students. God’s Doctrine is for God’s people!

Why should we learn about the Trinity? Because it is God who justifies and makes us His own. Why should we learn about the office of the ministry? Because God justifies you through such preaching and administering of the sacraments. Why should we learn about the six chief parts of the Catechism? Because God justifies you for the sake of Jesus’ “holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death (SC II, 2).” So we do just as poorly by withholding God’s Doctrine from His people as we would by only using academic jargon. God wants to teach His people. He wants to teach them in the same way that He wants to justify them: personally.

God’s justification is personal. Therefore, His Doctrine is personal. The answer is not making God’s Word more relevant. The answer is teaching God’s Doctrine with Christ at the center. Those who struggle with their sins and wonder sometimes if they are really Christians don’t need to hear a minimal standard of Jesus loving them. They don’t need to hear about how they can share Jesus’ love as much as they need actually to hear about Jesus’ love for them. They need to hear the Counsel of God. And we should expect them to hear God’s Counsel with Christ and His saving merit is at the center. They don’t need to hear a pep-talk on how to share their faith. They need to hear that even their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. They need to learn more and more about their Heavenly Father who loves them. They don’t need to be attracted to “church” or motivated to be “active” in church. What is the church without Doctrine? And what is Doctrine without Christ and His righteousness at the center? So may the pastors preach Christ in season and out of season. Let the faithful pastors preach Jesus’ Doctrine to all who hear. Let those who preach preach, and let those who hear hear and believe. This is how God’s Kingdom comes (SC III, 2).


About Pastor Andrew Preus

Pastor Andrew Preus is the pastor of Trinity Lutheran/St. Paul Lutheran, Guttenberg/McGregor, IA. He is the eighth of eleven sons, with one sister. He received his seminary training at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catharines, ON (MDiv) from 2009 to 2013, and Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN (STM) from 2013 to 2014. His main theological interests include Justification and Church and Ministry. He is married to Leah Preus (nee Fehr), and they have five children: Jacob, Solveig, Kristiana, Robert, and Marian.


Why God’s Doctrine is for God’s People — 15 Comments

  1. Great Post. The problem is that the question has shifted from “How do I stand before a holy God?” to “How can I feel good about myself?” Doctrine is life when standing before God is important. Doctrine is not important when one is looking to “feel” good.

  2. I will preface my comment by saying that I am not a scholar, I have limited knowledge and limited tools, meaning what I’m about to say could and may be wrong, but this post makes me think of the woman of ill repute in Luke 7 at the house of Simon. Christ turns to her and says, your faith has saved you. I wonder if looking at the word for ‘faith’ I can push this and say, your belief has saved you, your doctrine has saved you, the Gospel has saved you; this ultimately being what Christ is telling her, as He had previously pronounced her sins as forgiven?

    How far have we strayed from the thoughts of this post, where people are caught up by comparative minutiae based on the tangents we run with in the Church. Thanks for the encouraging words.

  3. @Joe #3

    I wonder if looking at the word for ‘faith’ I can push this and say, your belief has saved you, your doctrine has saved you, the Gospel has saved you; this ultimately being what Christ is telling her, as He had previously pronounced her sins as forgiven?

    The word “Faith” is a very bad translation of the Greek word “pistis”. The text really should be translated “Your extensive knowledge of and your belief in Lutheran doctrine has saved you.” In fact, whenever you run across this word “faith” simply replace it with “Lutheran doctrine”.

  4. @Joe #3
    Joe, we need to distinguish between faith which is believed (fides quae creditur) and faith by which it is believed (fides qua creditur). The faith that is believed would be the correct belief or correct doctrine. The Faith by which we believe is the saving faith that receives the promised forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake.

    Chemnitz, in his Examination of the Council of Trent, in talking about faith, distinguishes between a general faith and a particular faith. We aren’t saved by the general faith, that is, a knowledge of historical events. He says, for example, that one is not justified by believing the the story of the destruction of the wall of Jericho. But we are saved by a particular faith, which clings to Jesus Christ and His merits alone. It would follow, however, that such faith would also say “amen” to the rest of the fides quae.

    In the passage you cited, you do have Jesus looking to her fruit as proof that her sins were forgiven, but not as the basis. It was her particular faith in Him and His mercy that saved her.

    I appreciate your observation, but we need to remember that although pure doctrine is crucial, we are not justified or saved by our orthodoxy. We pray that God’s doctrine be kept pure and taught rightly because it comes from God, and because Christ is at the center.

    So on the one hand, I would warn against confusing orthodoxy with saving faith. But on the other hand, I would warn against doctrinal minimalism where we only care about the simple gospel of forgiveness through faith alone in Christ alone. After all, if we reduce doctrine to the gospel, we actually reduce the gospel.

  5. This is a terrific post. Thanks. One observation I have with respect to Jesus’ declaration to the woman is that her “faith” (fides qua creditur) has saved her is that He created that faith Himself. His absolution creates the very faith it seeks. Christ’s encouragement to her is no less His encouragement to us. He desires we trust Him when He says, “I forgive you.” It is perhaps too nuanced, but I think it is important to stress that the Scriptures teach “Jesus saves me,” and not “I am saved because I believe Jesus saves me.”

  6. Pastor Preus, I approved of your recent “Open Letter” and I find this post interesting as well. I’m certain that my wife tires of hearing me rant about this, but I firmly believe that nothing is more important than the preservation (or in some cases restoration) of doctrinal purity. Church attendance should have no impact whatever on whether or not a pastor preaches and teaches correctly. A Lutheran pastor who maintains doctrinal orthodoxy in a congregation of 20 people is doing right and should be defended; a Lutheran pastor who apes the style and teaching of evengelicalism and preaches to bursting crowds is a wretched heretic who should dragged bodily from the pulpit. The pure doctrine (as it is summarized and explained in the B0C) brings consolation and sure peace because it is from God. Human-infected heterodoxy brings uncertainty and fear and reliance on subjective feelings and personal affirmations of faith. May God shatter and utterly destroy all those who pervert His pure doctrine. Amen to that.

  7. @Jim Hamilton #9

    Sounds like you’ve been reading some Luther, especially your last sentence sounds like him in his more blustery moments!

  8. Doctrine, increases faith. Doctrine gives us the how and why of the forgiveness that God gives. That is why I like to read sites that are heavy theologically and doctrinally like this one. But I know many people, in the church, who do not know, and who could care less about doctrine. It might be that training as a child is really important regarding this — although not a guarantee. Too many pastors “dumb down” teaching doctrine to accomodate the shallow atmosphere they encounter. I understand their position. Maybe they could initially present it simplistically and gradually ramp it up. I don’t know. I don’t stand in their shoes. All I know is, I can’t live without it. And the more the better. And the more I learn the more I know I don’t know. But what I know still gives me the underlying peace I could NOT have without this constant immersion.

  9. @Abby
    So true, doctrine increases faith. But trials also increase faith.
    Both are necessary, although I think most Christians would prefer only the former!

  10. @13 You are definately right about trials. Because I’ve been immersed in those also. But, to me, my trials drove me further towards the doctrine — to give me answers. Without the doctrine of saving grace, my trials would have led me only to crash and burn like others I know who experienced similar circumstances.

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