What Is Sound Doctrine?

Derek Ouellette —  January 15, 2010

Welcome to the first edition of Opposing Views Friday. This is the place where I post a question that invites your comments and views on various subjects. The floor is open to you with only three simple requests: 1. Keep your comments short (one thought at a time is helpful) 2. Be respectful and 3. Stay on topic!


Many today talk about “teaching” and the need to “teach sound doctrine”. Paul seemed to know what sound doctrine was. But today ask ten church leaders from ten different denominations, “what is sound doctrine?”, and you will in all probability get ten very different answers.

Many call for a return to teaching “sound doctrine.” I agree. Would someone please tell me what that means!?

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • http://wearethestories.org Eric Gregory

    Sound doctrine is the following:

    – Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength
    – Love your neighbor as yourself (ex: visit orphans and widows in their distress)

    Additionally, be baptised with water into the death and resurrection of Christ, and be filled continually with the Holy Spirit so that you lack nothing. This, however, is for the purpose of the two-fold sound doctrine that Jesus left us with.

  • http://josecolucci.net Jose HC

    I will go away and think about it… but in the meantime I REALLY like Eric’s answer (above).

  • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

    Hi Eric,

    Your thoughts are good of course. But when I hear people say “We need to get back to teaching sound doctrine”, it is usually in context to what they consider to not be sound doctrine.

    For example, someone may hear someone else teach a prosperity gospel, to which they may say “we need to return to sound doctrine”. Another example, many denominations recently have allowed practicing homosexuals to be ordained clergy, to which others respond, “we need to return to sound doctrine”.

    I like what you say above, no one would dispute it, but I wonder if it is too broad a definition?

    Maybe not. I don’t know.

    What you say is sound doctrine (to be sure), but the ELCA would agree with you and yet still allow non-celibate Gay Clergy.

    I’m not comfortable with such a broad definition – though as I think this through, I don’t have a better answer yet.

  • http://josecolucci.net Jose HC

    The catch is that if we love the Lord with all of our hearts and we are continually filled with the Holy Spirit then that will lead us to sound doctrine. The Holy Spirit will lead us to the truth found in the Word of God and reveal Christ to us.

    Of course many think they are on the right path and therefore fight vehemently for ’causes’ that are not of God. I would go back to saying that we should look at the fruits (but really look at them) and that will be the tell all sign. Not only the public ones… but also they way we behave in our homes and in secret.

    At the end only God knows the truth of where our hearts are.

    I also find that spending too much time debating denominational differences takes our eyes off Jesus and the work He wants us to do here on earth… on His behalf. Let’s look at Haiti for example, this is not the time to think of our denomination differences… this is the time to serve and help.

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      Hi Jose!

      I admit that I struggle with the passage which states that the Spirit will lead us into all truth, because if no one agrees about anything (fundamentals of the faith excluded) then either: 1. no one has the Spirit (we know this not to be true), 2. the Spirit’s not doing his job (we know this not to be true), 3. Someone’s getting all truth, but since we all disagree there’s no way to know which one is being led into that truth or 4. there’s another interpretation to that passage.

      Fighting with each denomination is of course not right. But dialogue I think is right – indeed necessary. To quote Ecclesiastes, “there is a time for everything”. The key is to be sensitive to what time it is. I agree with you, lets do our part for Haiti and wherever else we can be the hands and feet of Christ extended. But that doesn’t mean – I don’t think anyways – that everything else has to cease.

      Let’s continue to study, continue to dialoge and also do those more practically things of the faith.

      You’re a blessing to me!

  • http://bethyada.blogspot.com/ bethyada

    Do you mean what does “sound doctrine” mean fundamentally? What does the phrase mean? Or which doctrines are sound?

    I take it to mean the former. Sound doctrine is true doctrine, facts that coincide with what God thinks. All doctrine that fits in t=with that statement is sound. This leaves open the question as to the weightings of various doctrines, which are the most important doctrine that we should be teaching. The fact of the resurrection is more important than correct eschatology. Though the correct eschatology (whatever it is) is also sound doctrine.

  • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

    Hi Bethyada,

    That is a very good question(!), thanks for exploring with me.

    My question was not so much “what is sound doctrine funtamentally”, but when people say, “we need to return to sound doctrine”, what is meant by that statement – not fundamentally, but conceptually!

    In other words, when that statement is made, there as a perceived universal understanding: we need to return to right teaching in keeping with the scriptures. That’s the concept. Everyone seems to know that.

    But then ask two or more people “what defines that right teaching”, and – I believe – you will get a different answer every time unless you keep your creed broad enough so as avoid standing for anything – say belief in the incarnation, the resurrection, original sin and so on.

    So in that sense, I always hear people say, “we need to return to sound doctrine”. Everyone fundamentally agrees with that statement, but no one can seem to agree with how to define which doctrines are sound.

    I hope that helps and look forward to your thoughts.

  • http://wearethestories.org Eric Gregory


    I thought I’d at least be the first to give the broad definition, which is the only one Jesus himself seems to give us along with the promise that the Spirit would be with us.

    I suppose “sound doctrine” defined more myopically would completely depend upon one’s understanding of the place of the Scriptures and Holy Tradition in one’s life. Which do you trust more? Why? Many conservative or self-proclaimed evangelicals will shy away from Holy Tradition, but, as it is through Holy Tradition that we even have the Scriptures as we do, it’s hard to discount them without doing some unnecessary mental gymnastics, or pulling Scriptures into place in defense of a position they never intended to make on their own.

    Perhaps a more fruitful discussion concerns ecclesiology and theology – should they be different?

  • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

    Hi Eric, let me think this through out loud:

    So the only thing Jesus taught that we should consider to be “sound” is to love. Are you saying that Jesus, in all of the gospels, had no other sound teaching?

    I agree with you that “sound doctrine” does depend on how one understands the Word of God and/or Tradition – that’s one thought that I’m glad came out of this discussion. But I posed this question so that we could think through “common language”. I don’t know if you have heard people use the phrase I have referred to repeatedly, but when I hear that phrase used I am struck by what seems to be a perceived acknowledgement that everyone knows what sound doctrine involves when – on quite the contrary – no one can agree.

    I think it poses an interesting discussion and a fruitful exercise (to critically think through some of our commonly held worldviews) so long as it remains tamed by the heart of the Law: Love God and Love man – as Jesus put it and as you and Jose remind us.

  • http://wearethestories.org Eric Gregory

    My thought was that, perhaps, “sound doctrine”, when used in the context you’re referring to, is more shorthand for “what my church believes” – even though one might wish it to be “what all Christians should believe”. It doesn’t seem like a phrase that carries much weight or merit to it if you are talking across “party lines” as most theological debate centers around beliefs and practices that haven’t been true of the entire Body of Christ from Athanasius to Zwingli. If we boil “sound doctrine” down to the heart of what Jesus gave us, perhaps there would be some clarity (though that’s probably a stretch).

    Taken broadly, yes – I think Jesus summative teaching on the commission of His followers was to “love God and one’s neighbor”. He instills that as the new commandment (more complete and concise then the previous ten), does He not? He didn’t teach Trinitarian doctrine, that the Holy Spirit is co-eternal with both Him (it’s unlikely that Jesus knew Himself to be the 2nd part of the Godhead) and the Father, set up a specific ecclesiological structure the church had to shape itself around, or anything else that we normally mean by “doctrine”. Even His parables serve to show us about the Kingdom of Heaven that we proclaim by “loving God and one’s neighbor”. “Love one another” is His mantra, and one we would do well to emulate – we can’t really go wrong with that can we?

    It’s not until the Spirit comes that we seem to get theological dissent (probably because Jesus was no longer present to answer those questions Himself, and the Spirit’s guidance isn’t always as forthcoming as we would like).

  • Geneinne

    For me sound doctrine would be the gospel free from my oppinion or anyone else’s oppinions and interpertation.

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      That’s an interesting thought Geneinne, thanks for the in-put.

  • Josh

    I agree with your thoughts Derek, and your criticism of how the individual always assumes that everyone believes or lives by his/her understanding of “sound doctrince”. I think that statement typically means (here in Western NA Christianity) that we need to return to a conservative, fundamentalistic view and practice of Christian life and doctrine… But the problem (as you indicated) with that (oft stated) statement is that words or concepts like “conservative” or “fundamentals” can have greatly different meanings (e.g. a Reformed view vs. a dispensational Brethren’s view”)…

    Sure, it usually means – the church needs to get back to a moral/Christ-like teaching and living (implying they are in a spiritual fight against some of those evil tribes of the liberal mainliners). But many/most denominations hold to the kind of morality that Christ and the Apostles have outlined for us as believers and we’re still segregated on doctrine, even on what “sound doctrine” is.
    I think that statement (beyond the understanding of Christ’s redemptive work and the call for us Christian’s to love God/one another) fails to recognize that it’s simply not a “white or black issue”. There are so many different views on any given doctrine and to start saying that we should get back to “sound doctrine” is like saying that we individually or corporately (in this particular time and place in history) are completely objective and have all the facts… Modernism had that pride. Postmodernism has sort of humbly unearthed the fact that we are actually quite often subjective in our views!

    So, out of this place of humility, let’s dialogue! And be open to what Spirit and Word are saying to us as we are led along the Way. I think that there IS much that is clear in Scripture. Or, that much of “sound doctrine” can be ascertained and agreed upon. But we as Christians and Christianity MUST humbly admit that we (individually and corporately) are fallible. AND have been wrong many, many times before (e.g. anti-Semitic writings and persectution, the Inquisitions, Protestant persecution of Catholics… the lists of dumb doctrines and devilish decisions goes on and on!). Most of this was said and done out of pride instead of humility I might add!

    SO, if we can learn anything?! Let us learn that there is so much we ALL need to learn from Christ in His character and love, towards one another and this world. “The name of YHWH has been blasphemed countless time because…

    • Geneinne

      I liked that Josh! There is ‘ much that is clear in scripture’.
      We sometimes like to blur that lines so we can justify living according to our own choices.

  • Josh

    “The name of YHWH has been blasphemed countless time because of us so-called Chrisians” (unfortunately just like the church of the OT, Israel) and I’d like to be part of changing that. So, let’s grow up! And begin to dialogue with sobriety and humility. All of this doctrine talk does matter! But it is just as important how we talk and act with one another and with this world. If we have lost sight of this, then we truly have lost sight of “sound doctrine”!

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      Hey Josh, thanks for the thoughts. What we believe does matter and that is why humble dialogue can be very fruitful and beneficial.

      Be blessed brother.

  • http://wearethestories.org Eric Gregory

    For more on “sound doctrine”, I rather liked this post by Steve at Undeception.com: http://undeception.com/how-do-you-know-youre-in-the-faith/

    For me, it wasn’t so much about “sound doctrine” as it was about being assured that we are in the faith (which is a rather large piece of doctrine that we would like to be sound). Here’s what is taken from 2 Cor. 13:

    “Paul’s actual answer here [to the question: “How do you know you’re in the faith?”] is quite subjective — intolerably so for those who insist that our sole source of what-to-believe, the Bible, must be somehow flawless or else we might as well not believe at all. Here Paul turns that on its head: you’ll know what is genuine based upon whether it makes a genuine difference within you. “How do you know whether what I say (and you believed) is true? Why, perform a self-test, of course! Examine yourselves. Look inside yourselves and see if Christ is there. If he’s not, you’ll know it because you won’t find anything.” Even Paul the doctrine hound, who emphatically insisted that false beliefs be torn down and replaced with his own teaching, seems to acknowledge here that what God does in a person was not so much dependent on what they believe as vice versa.”

    Please take a look at the site – it will challenge!

  • Erik

    Great discussion. I have been reading the book of Acts to remind myself of the early church and how they lived after Jesus was taken up into heaven. I find that the following scripture sums up all that Jesus himself taught while on earth. This seemed to be the doctrine of the beginning of the church and is one I know that our church is trying hard to stay at.

    Acts 2:42-47 (New International Version)

    The Fellowship of the Believers
    42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.