For some, it's a point to be argued. For others, a topic to be avoided. But for the devoted follower of Christ, it is essential for our mission.
Am I saying that we must all have a degree from a seminary before we can reach our neighbors for Christ? I hope not, because I don't have one. And no, that's not the point. But our doctrine does determine how we live, so it better be good.
Ephesians 4 tells us that we were given pastors, teachers, evangelists and shepherds to equip us (the saints) for the work of ministry - essentially, to teach us good doctrine and then send us out on mission.
But wait...how are those connected?
In essence, our knowledge of God will change 1) how we live and 2) whom we proclaim:
1. HOW WE LIVE
Do we really believe that God is glorious and worthy of praise and honor from all nations? Do we really believe that, as our Creator, we owe Him our complete allegiance and our lives, and that He can do what He pleases with us? Do we really believe that Jesus is the only way to know the Father, and thus the only way to an eternity with Him in Heaven, and that those who don't know the Father through Jesus will spend an eternity separated from Him in a place called Hell?
If we believe these truths, we will live our lives devoted to God and to the proclamation of His Name among all nations. If we believe these truths, we will go anywhere, do anything, give it all, to see Him worshipped among all peoples.
2. WHOM WE PROCLAIM
Think about the way things worked in the Old Testament: why did God choose a people and give them the Law? Why did God have the Temple built to such specifications? What we see in Scripture is that God set apart a people (the Israelites) and a place (the Temple) to SHOW HIMSELF, his nature and character, to the other nations. That people could look at Israel, look at the Temple, and see a Holy God, a set-apart God, a God worthy of worship and praise, a God who is powerful and unlike any other false god.
What about now? We don't go to the temple anymore. Most of us aren't Israelites by birth. Has the plan changed?
NO! When we follow Christ, we are "grafted in" to Israel, and 1 Corinthians tells us that WE are now the Temple of the Holy Spirit. We carry the Spirit of the living God, Creator of the Universe, wherever we go. And with our lives and our words we proclaim what He is like, His nature and character. What was once SEEN in Israel and in the Temple is now TOLD by the living temples of the people of God.
So we better know the God that we are supposed to proclaim. We better have good doctrine if we are going to go and tell the nations about Him. As Peter reminds us, we must be prepared to give an answer to those who ask us about the hope that we have.
OK, I get the theory: give it to me practically.
Doctrine: We serve one God in three persons, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
Importance for mission: 1) This is a hard teaching for our kids to understand. If we are going to raise them as disciples that know and trust God, we must be prepared to explain the Trinity (even to a 5-yr-old: my son asks more questions about this than anything else). 2) This doctrine is a stumbling block to Muslims, who believe that we (Christians) worship God the Father, Mary the Mother and Jesus the Son. That we worship multiple gods, and that we worship a God who had intercourse with Mary to produce Jesus. We must be prepared to explain the truth of this doctrine. 3) Hindus worship multiple gods (polytheism) and would likely be quick to "accept" Christianity as just another set of 3 gods to add to the list, instead of submitting to the total Lordship of the ONE TRUE GOD.
Doctrine: Our God is a personal God
Importance for mission: every other religion in the world has holy books and holy prophets that offer lists of rules and maxims; Christianity is different because God didn't just send information about Himself through a messenger...He sent HIMSELF, because He wants a personal relationship with us. THIS is the good news.
Doctrine: God is all-loving (and is Himself the definition of love)
Importance for mission: our world is defining love by its own standards of acceptance and tolerance, and then judging God and Christianity for not conforming to such a definition. We must be able to define "love" from what we see and know about God, and be prepared to teach and demonstrate true and full love to the world
Doctrine: Jesus is the only way to God and an eternity with Him in Heaven
Importance for mission: no matter how offensive this is, if we truly believe it, we cannot be silent - we must tell everyone and plead with our lost friends and family to believe the truth. If we truly believe this, we will pray desperately, give sacrificially and go strategically to the hard places, the dark places, proclaiming the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.
Doctrine: The Bible is authoritative, infallible, inerrant, sufficient and eternal
Importance for mission: 1) The Bible is how we know what our mission is, and if it is authoritatively without error...we must submit our lives to it and live on that mission; 2) The teachings of the Bible are the only way we know the Gospel that we are to proclaim, and the only way we know what a "disciple" is, so we cannot complete our mission if we do not trust it entirely
I could go on, but you get the point: Doctrine matters for mission. And doctrine INSPIRES a life on mission. If we truly believe all the things we claim, our lives will be radically abandoned to the cause of Christ. Now it's time to check ourselves - is our doctrine about God and the Bible simply an accurate set of answers to a test? Or is it guiding our decisions and the way we live our lives? Do we really believe the things we believe?