“We have a relationship with Jesus. We are not interested in doctrine.” This talk is heard so frequently it has taken on an air of truth. But are such words true? Can we have a relationship with Jesus or with anyone apart from words, apart from doctrine? The word “doctrine” is a Greek loan word brought into English. Simply translated “doctrine” means, “teaching.” What is taught is no more than the data and facts that arise from Holy Scripture which is where Jesus speaks to us.
People claiming to have a relationship with Jesus apart from teaching, apart from doctrine have fallen for the postmodern belief that truth is a human construct employed in the pursuit of power and hence, truth is relative. Such thinking is not new at all. It is pursued by all false teachers who promote their wares. Adam and Eve were mesmerized under the spell of thinking they could have a relationship with God all-the-while not keeping his doctrine, his Words, i.e., doctrine:
“And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen 2:16-17).
Sadly, our first parents were the first to fall under the spell thinking one can have a relationship with God while not holding to doctrine—to what God has said. When we do not hold to doctrine the resultant relationship is sadly one of death. Human “relationships” in marriage quickly fall apart when one of the spouses does not hold, treasure, observe, or follow the words/doctrine of the other. Every marriage counselor and pastor who has worked with troubled marital relationships will attest to this sad truth. How much more does the heavenly relationship die when we, Christ’s bride, seek to have a relationship with Jesus irrespective of what he has said! Whenever one claims to have a relationship with Jesus apart from his doctrine it is a red flag that the relationship is on or heading towards rocky shoals.
As flowers bloom in the springtime every Christmas season (and Easter) we see secularists tearing down and slandering the Faith under the pretense of reporting the latest scholarly findings. Lately promulgated in the media is the news that Jesus had a wife. Never mind the fact that such spurious documents were not written by eye-witnesses of Christ’s life. These documents were written centuries after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and by followers of Gnosticism which denies the Trinity and the two natures of Christ.
Such beliefs and many others like them do not develop overnight in a vacuum. They grow and mature in an environment that says doctrine does not matter and what does matter is having a “relationship” with Jesus. The written Word is seen by many as nothing but a shackle inhibiting the leading of the spirit.
True love is a relationship built on doctrine—never apart from this lovely gift. When a man and woman meet the “chemistry” is invigorated when in their conversation they find they hold certain facts or data—can you say doctrine?—in common. Aware they hold certain things/data in common they are drawn closer to each other. Consumers of on-line dating sites freely admit they are drawn to those with whom they share common data and facts for upon this doctrine a relationship blossoms. Where the doctrine (data and facts) becomes ill-advised the relationship takes a turn toward separation.
This is why Jesus has given the Church and specifically his under shepherds—pastors—the responsibility of speaking and teaching the life of Christ to people. In sermons, Bible Study, Confirmation Class—when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise… you shall teach them to your neighbor (Dt 11:19). The Holy Spirit says that doctrine saves, that is, brings people to a relationship with Jesus with these words, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim 4:16). In John 8 we see that one has a relationship with Jesus though and only through doctrine: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,” (Jn 8:31). It is when we abide in Jesus’ doctrine—his Word—that we have a relationship with him, not apart from his doctrine.
Jesus also warns us against those who would seek to have a relationship with him that is not founded on doctrine. In other words, you can’t have a relationship with Jesus while falsifying or ignoring doctrine—that is, what Jesus said. Hear these words from our Lord,
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?” (Mt 7:15-16).
The fruit by which we recognize false and conversely true prophets is not their lifestyle or good works. Like me I am sure you have met many non-Christians who truly are nice people who excel at the good works of kindness, gentleness, patience and other such virtues. Should we think Jesus meant us to understand that false and true prophets are detected by their behavior—their good works—we have inadvertently veered into works’ righteousness which was the theology of the Medieval Church and is what Roman Catholicism teaches to this day. Then Jesus is no different from Buddha, Mohammed, Joseph Smith etc., who, standing on the sidelines coaches us towards salvation.
False prophets as well as true ones are detected and determined by the doctrinal facts and data they proclaim and teach. These doctrinal facts and data are communicated in Law – Gospel preaching as the Holy Spirit always is carried along in and through the sound waves of pure teaching.
When the pure preaching of the Word comes forth the ever present Holy Spirit elicits a trusting relationship with him who speaks these words; that is, Christ (Lk 10:17).
- When the right administration of the Sacrament of Baptism is conducted with the doctrine of water and the Triune name the recipient is brought into a loving and eternal relationship with Jesus who, incidentally, is the one baptizing us!
- A most loving and forgiving relationship is fostered when the data of the Words of Institution along with the facts of bread and wine are employed. With such facts a relationship of forgiveness, mercy, love, and trust are strengthened with Jesus who comes to us in, with, and under the bread and wine.
The whole tenor and theme of Scripture is that of the indissoluble unity between having a relationship with the living and Triune God in and through doctrine, i.e. keeping his Word. Two verses will be elicited.
- “Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father who sent me.” (Jn 14:23-24).
- “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away” (Jn 16:1).
So, away with misleading talk which says one can have a “relationship” with Jesus apart from doctrine—apart from Jesus’ Words. Instead, rejoice and be glad in the gift of doctrine which Jesus gives. For in the gift of pure doctrine given us by Jesus we have a loving relationship with the risen Lord!
– Pastor Weber