Doctrine Always has a Place

The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord.    –Acts 11:23–24 (NASB)

There are a number of really interesting things going on in Acts 11, one of which is what we see in Barnabas when he arrives in Antioch. The apostles in Jerusalem did not know anything about the church there. They had only heard that a great number of Greeks had turned to the Lord. So, they dispatched Barnabas to investigate.

Luke tells us that when Barnabas arrives, he witnesses the grace of God and is glad. This means that he observed the fruit of the Spirit among them. Somehow, apart from the direct work of the apostles, the gospel had reached the ears of the people in Antioch, and Barnabas was happy to see it. In other words, the gospel had been faithfully preached in a way that bore fruit. Barnabas surely would not have been happy if it were otherwise.

What he does next is a relatively small detail in terms of the overall message of Acts 11, but sometimes the minor points can be just as important as the main point. After approving of the teaching they had already received, Barnabas teaches them. Luke does not use that terminology, but encouraging “them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord” is nothing less than teaching.

In modern times, doctrine can sometimes be seen in a negative light, but doctrine is merely a word that refers to the content of what is taught. Barnabas came across a group of sincere believers whose doctrine was in order, and he gave them more doctrine.

Surely the lesson here for the modern church is that doctrine is important. Most doctrine is not essential, but neither is changing the oil in your car every 3,000 miles. I had a Buick LeSabre in college that would regularly go 10,000 miles or more without an oil change. Just because it is not essential does not mean it is not important. If it was good for Barnabas to give more doctrine to the church in Antioch, shouldn’t it be good for all churches everywhere to study doctrine?

The saying “doctrine divides” is catchy but untrue. The reality is that people divide because we think we are more important or better than others, sometimes because our non-essential doctrines are different from theirs. Doctrine itself does not divide. It edifies and therefore always has a place, and important place, in the church.

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