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Zeal Without Doctrine Is Like a Sword in the Hand of a Lunatic

“The tragedy of the last hundred years has been due to the fallacy of imagining that you can shed Christian doctrine but hold on to Christian ethics.”


There would be many weaknesses in the church in the West today, but a major one would be the failure to teach and appreciate Christian doctrine. Our churches today are awash with those who run on emotions but not on biblical truth. The need of the hour is to restore sound theology into our churches.

Of course, it goes without saying that right doctrine must always be accompanied by right living. Orthodoxy must be wed to orthopraxis. One can have right doctrines and live wrongly, but it is quite hard to live right if we do not believe right.

Many have spoken about these matters. Some I have devoted entire articles to, sharing meaty quotes from their works. For example, John Stott spoke much about this

And Dorothy Sayers was also not afraid to champion the need for right doctrine.

Here I offer 40 quotes by 23 individuals that help make the case for the importance of sound teaching:

“Doctrine is not an affair of the tongue, but of the life; is not apprehended by the intellect and memory merely, like other branches of learning; but is received only when it possesses the whole soul and finds its seat and habitation in the inmost recesses of the heart.” John Calvin

“Zeal without doctrine is like a sword in the hand of a lunatic.” John Calvin

“It is easy to be a heretic. . . . It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands.” G. K. Chesterton

“I am convinced that there is an urgent need in the church today for much greater understanding of Christian doctrine, or systematic theology. Not only pastors and teachers need to understand theology in greater depth – the WHOLE CHURCH does as well. One day by God’s grace we may have churches full of Christians who can discuss, apply and LIVE the doctrinal teachings of the Bible as readily as they can discuss the details of their own jobs or hobbies – or the fortunes of their favorite sports team or television program.” Wayne Grudem

“The devil is not fighting religion. He’s too smart for that. He is producing a counterfeit Christianity, so much like the real one that good Christians are afraid to speak out against it. We are plainly told in the Scriptures that in the last days men will not endure sound doctrine and will depart from the faith and heap to themselves teachers to tickle their ears. We live in an epidemic of this itch, and popular preachers have developed ‘ear-tickling’ into a fine art.” Vance Havner

“Seducers are more dangerous enemies to the church than persecutors.” Matthew Henry

“Those who teach by their doctrine must teach by their life, or else they pull down with one hand what they build up with the other.” Matthew Henry

“Secularism cannot be blamed on the secularists, many of whom were raised in the church. We are the problem. If most churchgoers cannot tell us anything specific about the God they consider meaningful or explain basic doctrines of creation in God’s image, original sin, the atonement, justification, sanctification, the means of grace, or the hope of glory, then the blame can hardly be placed at the feet of secular humanists.” Michael Horton

“Ironically, the insistence that doctrines do not matter is really a doctrine itself.” Tim Keller

“I spend half my time telling Christians to study doctrine and the other half telling them that doctrine is not enough.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones

“If we go astray in our doctrine, eventually our life will go astray as well. You cannot separate what a man believes from what he is. For this reason doctrine is vitally important.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones

“The tragedy of the last hundred years has been due to the fallacy of imagining that you can shed Christian doctrine but hold on to Christian ethics.” Martyn Lloyd Jones

“The visible church in our generation has become astonishingly tolerant of aberrant teaching and outlandish ideas – and frighteningly intolerant of sound teaching.” John MacArthur

“The principle is clear: the closer any given doctrine is to the heart of the gospel, the core of sound Christology, or the fundamental teachings of Christ, the more diligently we ought to be on guard against perversion of the truth – and the more aggressively we need to fight error and defend sound doctrine.” John MacArthur

“It never occurred to Paul that a gospel might be true for one man and not for another; the blight of pragmatism had never fallen upon his soul. Paul was convinced of the objective truth of the gospel message, and devotion to that truth was the great passion of his life. Christianity for Paul was not only a life, but also a doctrine, and logically the doctrine came first.” J. Gresham Machen

“What many men despise today as ‘doctrine’ the New Testament calls the gospel; and the New Testament treats it as the message upon which salvation depends.” J. Gresham Machen

“Men tell us that our preaching should be positive and not negative, that we can preach the truth without attacking error. But if we follow that advice we shall have to close our Bible and desert its teachings. The New Testament is a polemic book almost from beginning to end.” J. Gresham Machen

“The foundation of true holiness and true Christian worship is the doctrine of the gospel, what we are to believe. So when Christian doctrine is neglected, forsaken, or corrupted, true holiness and worship will also be neglected, forsaken, and corrupted.” John Owen

“Doctrine and experience without practice would turn me into a knowledgeable spiritual paralytic; experience and practice without doctrine would leave me a restless spiritual sleepwalker. If Christ is to be formed in me, doctrine, experience, and practice must all be there together.” J. I. Packer

“To the question, ‘Should one preach doctrine?’, the Puritan answer would have been, ‘Why, what else is there to preach?’ Puritan preachers were not afraid to bring the profoundest theology into the pulpit if it bore on their hearers’ salvation, nor to demand that men and women apply themselves to mastering it, nor to diagnose unwillingness to do so as a sign of insincerity. Doctrinal preaching certainly bores the hypocrites; but it is only doctrinal preaching that will save Christ’s sheep. The preacher’s job is to proclaim the faith, not to provide entertainment for unbelievers – in other words, to feed the sheep rather than amuse the goats.” J. I. Packer

“Teach and urge these things. If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing.” Paul in 1 Timothy 6:2-4

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” Paul in 2 Timothy 4:3-4

“But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine.” Paul in Titus 2:1

“Bad theology dishonors God and hurts people. Churches that sever the root of truth may flourish for a season, but they will wither eventually or turn into something besides a Christian church.” John Piper

“Adjust your doctrine – or just minimize doctrine – to attract the world, and in the very process of attracting them, lose the radical truth that alone can set them free.” John Piper

“Jelly fish Christianity is an epidemic which is just now doing great harm, and especially among young people. . . . It produces what I must venture to call . . . a ‘jelly-fish’ Christianity . . . a Christianity without bone, or muscle, or power. . . . Alas! It is a type of much of the religion of this day, of which the leading principle is, ‘no dogma, no distinct tenets, no positive doctrine.’ . . . And worst of all, we have myriads of ‘jellyfish’ worshipers—respectable Church-gone people, who have no distinct and definite views about any point in theology. They cannot discern things that differ, any more than colorblind people can distinguish colors. . . . They are ‘tossed to and fro, like children, by every wind of doctrine’; . . . ever ready for new things, because they have no firm grasp on the old.” J. C. Ryle

“We should no more tolerate false doctrine that we would tolerate sin.” J. C. Ryle

“He that is not zealous against error, is not likely to be zealous for truth.” J. C. Ryle

“Reformation is a return to the sound doctrine of the Bible. Revival is the practice of that sound doctrine under the power of the Holy Spirit.” Francis Schaeffer

“Modern religion has enunciated one great and fundamental dogma that is at the basis of all the other dogmas, and that is, that religion must be freed from dogmas. Creeds and confessions of faith are no longer the fashion; religious leaders have agreed not to disagree and those beliefs for which some of our ancestors would have died they have melted into a spineless Humanism. Like other Pilates they have turned their backs on the uniqueness of truth and have opened their arms wide to all the moods and fancies the hour might dictate. The passing of creeds and dogmas means the passing of controversies. Creeds and dogmas are social; prejudices are private.” Fulton J. Sheen

“When a man believes wrongly, he will soon act wrongly.” Charles Spurgeon

“To be effective preachers you must be sound theologians. Be sure you read Owen, Charnock, and Augustine.” Charles Spurgeon

“Some preachers seem to be afraid lest their sermons should be too rich in doctrine, and so injure the spiritual digestions of their hearers. The fear is superfluous. . . . This is not a theological age, and therefore it rails at sound doctrinal teaching, on the principle that ignorance despises wisdom. The glorious giants of the Puritan age fed on something better than the whipped creams and pastries which are now so much in vogue.” Charles Spurgeon

“Those who do away with Christian doctrine are, whether they are aware of it or not, the worst enemies of Christian living… The coals of orthodoxy are necessary to the fire of piety.” Charles Spurgeon

“The purity of the church (ethical and doctrinal) is as much a proper Christian quest as its unity. Indeed we should be seeking its unity and purity simultaneously.” John Stott

“You can be straight as a gun barrel theologically and as empty as one spiritually.” A. W. Tozer

“All great Christian leaders have been dogmatic.” A. W. Tozer

“The chief dangers to Christianity do not come from the anti-Christian systems. Mohammedanism has never made inroads upon Christendom save by the sword. Nobody fears that Christianity will be swallowed up by Buddhism. It is corrupt forms of Christianity itself which menace from time to time the life of Christianity.” B. B. Warfield

“False teachers are God’s judgment on people who don’t want God, but in the name of religion plan on getting everything their carnal heart desires. That’s why a Joel Osteen is raised up! Those people who sit under him are not victims of him, he is the judgment of God upon them because they want exactly what he wants and it’s not God!” Paul Washer

“I’m talking about what I see arising in the church. And I want to say in no uncertain terms tonight: It’s dangerous, critically dangerous to sit under false teaching. False doctrine can DAMN you probably quicker as any other sin on the face of the earth. And I believe that false doctrine by false teachers are sending more people to hell than all the drug pushers and all the booze sellers and all the atheists on the face of the earth.” David Wilkerson

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