PART I: The words "theology" and "doctrine" are not only widely misunderstood, but brushed aside by many who do not recognize that they are both are crucial to saving faith. All Christians have theology and doctrine - the question is whether or not we learned good theology, resulting in right doctrine, or whether we learned bad theology resulting in false doctrine. If you don't think this is all that important, consider for a moment the many New Testament warnings about sound doctrine. Saul of Tarsus and Apollos underscore the point that someone can be sincere and religious, but sincerely and religiously wrong. Many argue that some doctrinal issues are more important than others except that some wrong beliefs can have unforeseen and far-reaching consequences. Is Biblical doctrine too difficult to grasp?
PART II: Is doctrine really that important? - It certainly is if you consider that doctrine determines practice (what a person does (practice) is based on what they believe (doctrine), right doctrine is essential to salvation and evangelization, and the consequence of false doctrine are catastrophic.
PART III: Discerning the difference. The ONLY way to recognize the counterfeit is by knowing what is genuine. How NOT to decide what to believe. For example, never assume that a person, or a group, is orthodox simply because they uses orthodox language, can quote Scriptures at the drop of a hat, sound very "Biblical", claim to perform miracles, are very charismatic and/or are very "successful"
PART I (THIS PAGE)
Introduction: Defining Theology and Doctrine
Theology and Doctrine Are For All Christians. The Question is...
whether we have good theology, resulting in good doctrine, or whether we have we have bad theology, resulting in bad doctrine.
Considering the many New Testament warnings about sound doctrine, one has to wonder whether those Christians who treat doctrine as minimally important actually read their Bibles.
Religious and Sincere, But Still Wrong
Saul of Tarsus and Apollos underscore the point that someone can be sincere and religious, but sincerely and 'religiously' wrong.
Levels of Importance
Many argue that some doctrinal issues are more important than others however, although a wrong belief may seem harmless enough, there may be unseen and far-reaching consequences.
Is Biblical Doctrine Too Difficult To Be Grasped? and Spiritual Babes
The fact is, precluding the few who are truly incapable of understanding doctrinal matters, such as the very young or the mentally incapacitated, too many adults have simply not taken the time to go beyond the very basics, frequently getting even those wrong. The author of the book of Hebrews was quite vexed with Christians who refused to proceed beyond the most basic of beliefs, and thus remained spiritual babes.
"Knowing" or "Experiencing" God
Our entertainment oriented, anti-intellectual, often lazy and superficial culture, that wants everything, including religion, in pre-digested, convenient little packages, is giving less and less heed to in-depth Biblical study and understanding, which leads to right doctrine.
In part, thanks to apostate, so called "Christian" leaders like Paul Crouch, all too many Christians seem to be under the impression that "theology" and "doctrine" are of minimal importance with little relevance to their religious life. They have been taught to believe that their faith must be based in the heart, therefore all that is important will be "experienced". Some perhaps want no challenges to their shallow 'easy Christianity' which requires no intellectual effort and allows people to coast along, never being stretched, or using their God given brains.
The word "ology" is a branch of knowledge, the subject defined by the first part of the word. For example,
Biology is the study of living organisms.
Cardiology is the study of the structure, function, and disorders of the heart
Oncology is the branch of medicine that deals with tumors, including study of their development, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.
Psychology is the science that deals with mental processes and behavior
Zoology deals with animals and animal life
Therefore, since theos means God, theology can be simply defined as the 'study of God'. However this study is not necessarily confined to the God of the Bible, but can include the "god" or "gods" of other religions. However, Christian theology is the study of God only as outlined by the Bible. This study can include His deity, nature, purpose, attributes, relationship to the world, etc.
Although some Christians think "theology" is completely irrelevant, even their most basic beliefs ... that there is one God who created the world, comes from theology. The very gospel - that Jesus as God in human flesh died to pay the penalty of our sin thus saving us from the wrath to come and giving us eternal life in His kingdom is nothing but 100% theology.
See The End of The Age The Message of The Bible and Salvation
Christian theology can only be based on Divine revelation and cannot, in any part, come from human experience, ideas, or imagination People sometimes express their idea of what God is like with no explanation as to how they come to the conclusions that they do. However, since the person doesn't exist who has met God in person and is thus qualified to tell the rest of us about Him, our knowledge of God and His relationship to us depends solely on what He chooses to reveal.
Note: Systematic theology, is an attempt to formulate an orderly, rational, and coherent, account of the Christian faith and beliefs. Since not all the Bible's teachings on any particular topic are all found in one place, humans have organized the teachings of the Scriptures by subject, collating as many of the pertinent passages as possible. Because this makes it easier to read and study Biblical doctrine in a more systematic way, it can be an extremely useful aid to learning the Scriptures.
However, it pays to remember that all works of systematic theology are, in the final analysis, based on the judgment and conclusions of one or more individuals. And, since even the best of theologians have been known to misinterpret and misconstrue passages, all man's work has to be carefully compared with the Bible. The Scriptures themselves have to be the final word, regardless of how scholarly the work appears to be.
The word doctrine seems to have become associated with suffocating laws that are designed to severely limit, if not completely take away all people's freedom. This is far from the truth as it gets. Perhaps Crouch should have looked up the definition of the word before he opened his mouth and put his foot in it, blabbing about 'doctrinal doo-doo' on public television
The word "doctrine" comes from from the Latin doctrina, which simply means instruction or teaching. Simply put - doctrine is what a person or organization believes and teaches. Thus, the doctrine of the church is simply the creed or body of teachings that the church holds to be true and therefore teaches.
Biblical doctrine is confined to only what is taught in the Bible. The word of God very clearly tells us tells us that it provides a lamp for our feet, and is sufficient for teaching, correction, and training in righteousness, equipping us for every good work. [Psalms 119:105 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17]. Therefore, it is the word of God that must dictate our doctrine and practice.
Denominations and churches often use their own creed or written statement of belief that others are expected to agree with. These creeds are often held up as a standard of orthodoxy by which others are judged faithful or unfaithful. The test of orthodoxy should not necessarily be agreement with any denomination or group's creed, which may differ from the doctrine of the Bible. See The Problem With Creeds
Note: Although church and Biblical doctrines are supposed to be identical, this is often not the case. This does not mean that all traditions are based on false doctrine, but that many do not agree with what the Bible says.
All Christians are Theologians - All Christians Have Doctrine, However
All Christians are theologians. Based on however much study they have done they all have some knowledge and thoughts about God.
All Christians have doctrine. When it comes to their faith, all Christians believe something that stems from whatever theology, they have been exposed to.
The question is... whether or not we have theology and doctrine, but whether or not we learned good theology, resulting in true doctrine, or whether we learned bad theology resulting in false doctrine.
Christians who think that theology is best left to the pastor or other church leader are treading very dangerous ground. placing their faith and, possibly, their eternal destiny not in the hands of the God of the universe, but in the hands of a fallible human.
If you do not scour the Scriptures yourself to see if all said pastor/leader is teaching is Biblical truth (note that a few out of context "proof texts" don't count. then how will you know if your church veers off course and starts teaching false doctrine? Where will you stand if your pastor decides that his church needs to join the 21st century and become a seeker-sensitive, or purpose driven church. How many others in the congregation who without the benefit of sound Biblical doctrine, will meekly go along with his ideas (after all, he "should know about such things" and he does quote best selling authors in his arguments for the changes). See Context is Crucial
Considering the astronomical stakes, are you willing to risk that you are being "tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming"? (Ephesians 4:14 NASB)
Considering the many New Testament warnings about sound doctrine, one has to wonder whether those Christians who treat doctrine as minimally important actually read their Bibles. God's word includes principles, teachings and commandments that no one can presume to modify in any way until, if and when, God himself provides evidence that they are no longer in effect. Numerous New Testament passages stress that the Divine standard is to be adhered to. For example, in 1 Timothy 4:6-7 below, sound doctrine is contrasted with "worldly fables" and the people who contradict it are to be refuted (Titus 1:9}. In 1 Timothy 4:16 Paul warned Timothy to watch his doctrine very carefully .
Notice that the three thousand souls that were added to the church on Pentecost"... "continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer". (Acts 2:42 NASB)
Paul gave thanks that although the Romans had once been slaves to sin they "became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching" to which they were committed, (Romans 6:17 NASB)
He also urged the the Roman Christians to "mark"and turn away from those who were causing divisions "contrary to the teaching" which they had learned (Romans 16:17 NASB)
Paul instructed the Corinthians not to go "exceed what is written" (1 Corinthians 4:6).
Paul urger Timothy to remain in Ephesus so that he could "instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines" (1 Timothy 1:3 NASB) - "strange doctrines" being obviously different from Biblical doctrine.
In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; (1 Timothy 4:6-7 NASB}
holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. (Titus 1:9 NASB}
Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.... Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching (didaskalia); persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4: 13,16 NASB}
in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, (Titus 2:7 NASB}
As Paul said about the Jews who had rejected Jesus.
"For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. (Romans 10:2 NASB)
Religious and Sincere, But Still Wrong
A common belief today is that provided a person is sincere, whatever doctrine they happen to believe in is acceptable to God who will save him.
But is this true?
Let us consider two cases from the New Testament that make the point that someone can be sincere and religious, but sincerely and religiously wrong.
Saul of Tarsus
Saul of Tarsus was no heathen but worshipped the God of his ancestors. He believed himself to be being true to that religion when he persecuted Christians. He consented to the death of Stephen, and began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, whom he would put in prison. (Acts 8:3). In his words...
"I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel (a highly respected Pharisee and teacher of the Law. Acts 5:34), strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today. "I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify. From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished. (Acts 22:3-5 NASB)
However, God was having none of it just because Saul was very zealous for Him. The Father knocked Saul off his horse, blinded him, and told him that he was persecuting God Himself, which must have shocked Paul more than words can describe. Saul was then told to go into the city of Damascus where he met the devout Ananias who told Saul not to delay, but to
Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.' (Acts 22:16 NASB)
As Ray Ferris, who wrote for Truth Magazine more than half a century ago, said "You may be able to point to the teaching of your mother and father, your grandparents, and great-grandparents; even to the "great doctors of religion" such as Gamaliel was, but this does not assure you that your religion is right. Remember, Paul could even point to the origin of his religion as being with God! He was still wrong".
This leaves the question of whether less 'serious' wrong beliefs are to be corrected?
who was obviously instrumental in founding the church in Corinth. as Paul wrote.. "I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth" (3:6). The book of Acts speaks very highly of Apollos, telling us that he was "mighty in the Scriptures", a "fervent" and "eloquent" man that had been instructed in the way of the Lord. He was obviously very courageous, since he spoke out "boldly" in the synagogue. (Acts 18:24-25)
It is certain, that any modern reader of this passage would take Apollos to be a very "religious" man. However, Luke adds an interesting detail, one that we would be well advised to pay close attention to. All Apollo's positive qualities, all the instruction that had been given him, and all his zeal, had taken him so far and no further.
Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. (Acts 18:24-28 NASB. Emphasis Added)
Apparently Apollos was not aware that John's baptism was designed to point people towards Jesus and the baptism that His followers would submit to.
When Priscilla and Aquila heard Apollos speak, they obviously realized that there was a huge gap in Apollos' knowledge and took him aside and "explained to him the way of God more accurately". Unlike so many modern Christians, Apollos did not get on the defensive when he was told that he was wrong (or at least deficient) in what he was preaching. I am fairly certain that he did not claim that he was being insulted and call Priscilla and Aquila 'heresy hunters', or something equally derogatory. All indications are that Apollos learned, and then went from strength to strength, becoming one of the founding fathers of the fledgling church, often working with Paul.
It is not enough to be merely religious. It is not enough to be sincere and zealous. It is not enough to have our 'hearts in the right place'. ... We have to be right in what we are religious, sincere, and zealous about.
It is not a disgrace or a shame for one to be ignorant of certain things, but it is a disgrace for a person to refuse to admit they may be wrong.
Levels of Importance
Many argue that some doctrinal issues are more important than others and I am imagine that (at least in a few instances) this may be true. However, we should note that in 1 Timothy 4:1 when Paul warned that "in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons", verse three shows that Paul was referring to more than what we consider primary doctrines. He warned against those who were forbidding marriage and prohibiting certain foods.
Although a wrong belief may seem harmless enough, there may be unseen and far-reaching consequences. For example any Christians say that the timing of the "rapture" is a non-crucial issue however, I beg to differ -believing the wrong thing could, at some point, lead to a complete breakdown of faith. I can but imagine the shock, bitterness, confusion that will result when someone who staunchly believed they would be wafted away to heaven before the situation gets really bad finds themself not only face to face with the anti-Christ, but smack bang in the middle of the Great Tribulation. How many will fall away believing that the Bible lied to them?
However, when the going gets really rough, you need to remember that it was not the Bible that lied to you, but that you yourself were more than willing to "accept Jesus" if it wasn't going to cost you anything. Perhaps it was you that wanted to have your ears tickled, therefore you never checked what what the Scriptures said, but cheerfully believed the baloney spewed out by authors of best selling novels, and other proponents of Easy Christianity.
The Bible itself is very clear...there will be no rapture before the Tribulation. [See The Rapture]
Is Biblical Doctrine Too Difficult To Grasp?
There seems to be Christians who are under the impression that Biblical doctrine is too difficult and complex to be grasped.
See Bible Study - Some Useful (And Very Important) Guidelines. Helpful Hints and Golden Rules - Some Things You Should Do And What To Avoid Like The Plague. HERE
This is only true in the case of the very young or the mentally incapacitated. In fact, far too many believers do not study their Bibles for themselves, choosing instead to pay a professional to spoon-feed them from the Scriptures once a week. They seem perfectly content to settle for the never ending pleas for money, backed up with the usual "sow a seed and receive a hundredfold in return" hogwash, in place of sound, in-depth, Biblical study. Sadly many of them will never experience the confidence that knowing their faith is objectively true brings.
They coast along, never maturing in their faith, never digging any deeper than they absolutely have to. As a result many believers remain...
While there is no question that Jesus said (Matthew 18:3) that unless we became like little children we would not enter the kingdom of heaven, the childlike faith that Jesus commended is a whole hearted, unquestioning, trust in God as our heavenly Father and Savior. It bears no resemblance to a childish and immature faith, which Paul warned us about, when he said
Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature. (1 Corinthians 14:20 NASB)
The author of the book of Hebrews was quite vexed with Christians who refused to proceed beyond the most basic of beliefs, and thus remained spiritual infants.
In chapter 5, he introduced Melchizedek with the comment that he had much to say on the topic, but he feared that his readers who had become dull and seemed to need instruction in the most basic elements of their religion, would not comprehend what he had to say. He then temporarily dropped the whole Melchizedek issue, and focused on going beyond the "elementary principles" of the religion [Vs. 12-13], acquiring the maturity necessary to comprehend the sublime mysteries taught by the Bible [6:1-3], and the danger of apostasy [6:4-6]. In his words...
Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14 NASB)
What is truly tragic is that these people will never discover the many, many riveting facets of the Scriptures that leave one absolutely enthralled, and even more in awe of the God who planned it down to the last minute detail. For instance see
Prophecy and Typology
Western Protestants interpret prophecy in one of four different ways: Preterism, Historicism, Idealism, or Futurism... Four or five basic schools of thought have lent themselves to several offshoots. To a Western Gentile mind, one of these four methods, (or a derivative of) is the correct view of all Biblical prophecy. However a Jew in the first century, as Jesus was Himself, would have seen all four simultaneously. Western ideas of prophecy involve prediction and fulfillment. The Hebrew idea of prophecy is a pattern that is repeated several times. The initial prophecy is fulfilled more than once, leading up to a final, ultimate fulfillment. Each of the multiple fulfillments is both a type of, and a lesson on, the ultimate fulfillment.
The Seven Feasts of Israel
The most complete description of the Jewish feasts is found in Leviticus 23, each of which have both a historic and prophetic significance. They celebrate a historical event in Israel's past, but also are a prophecy of future events four of which have already come to pass. It is important to note that the Feasts that symbolize a sequence of events, were given by God in a set chronological order. Therefore the events that they symbolize will take place in the same exact order. I have read way too many interpretations of the Feasts that jump backwards and forwards between them in an effort to make them fit into pre-conceived end time scenarios. What we need to do is make the order of the Feasts our guideline to coming events, instead of scrambling them to fit our ideas.
"Knowing" or "Experiencing" God
Although emotions and feelings are an integral part of what makes us human it has to be noted that there is not a single example in the Bible of a godly person's beliefs stemming from their feeling, emotions, or experiences.
Unfortunately, our entertainment oriented, anti-intellectual, often lazy and superficial culture that wants everything in pre-digested, convenient little packages, is giving less and less heed to in-depth Biblical study and understanding, which leads to right doctrine. We have substituted entertainment for solid Biblical study. Which is why, as said by Eric Schumacher
... books like "Experiencing God" are so popular, as opposed to "Knowing God". This is demonstrated in our Christian book stores which sell so many collections of inspirational stories, how-to-books, novels, and Christian-entertainment, instead of profound, concentrated doctrinal teachings! This is why the depth of so many church-goer's theology goes no further than a collection of Biblical sounding, pop-Christian slogans and catch-phrases. Their theology is summed up in 'Let go and let God!', 'Do your best and God will do the rest', 'You need to expect to meet God when you...' and 'What Would Jesus Do?', instead of "Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart"(Ps. 37:4) 
Not only is the contemporary American culture doing all it can to dissuade us from using our minds, but that trend has carried over into the church. Many modern day Christians assure us that we do not need to know God, but merely need to feel His presence. Those who appear to do so, are often believed to be spiritually superior. The fact that mystical methods so common in the church today bring instant gratification is more than enough to guarantee their success with an experience oriented generation, who do not even bother to question whether they are actually having an encounter with Jesus/God. Because it feels right, or because they imagine they feel God's presence, Christians have been led by the nose down the very treacherous paths, venturing into areas where, I am sure, even angels fear to tread.
This experience oriented generation rarely seems to bother to question whether they are actually having an encounter with Jesus/God. Because it feels right, or because they imagine they feel God's presence, Christians have been led by the nose down the very treacherous paths, venturing into areas where even angels probably fear to tread.
Few realize that these feelings of "holiness" and "spirituality" are little but the Alpha, or "resting state" of the brain often associated with the transportation to a "higher realm of consciousness". This passive state, often induced by a certain rhythms, like the repetition of a single word or prayer, walking in circles etc. causes the individual concerned to be non-critical and non-analytical, and is well known to teachers of various mystic methods. See section on Contemplative Prayer and article on Labyrinths
Note: While the heart, or subjective experiences can play no part in determining what to believe, emotions and feelings are an integral part of what makes us human. We, as people, are made up of body, mind, and spirit, therefore head and heart have to work in tandem. Endeavoring to turn off either one can produce lopsided Christians.
If we turn off our heads, there is a very real danger of becoming spiritually weird, unbalanced Christians, who are not on the path to salvation
If we turn off our hearts, there is a danger of a cold, sterile, religion, full of orthodox ideas, but bereft of any warmth.
Although no Biblical study and knowledge should ever bar us from spontaneous feelings, no amount of emotion or feelings can be allowed to dictate what we believe. Without sound Biblical theology and doctrine we are like rudderless ships easily blown off course by any passing wind.
 Eric Schumacher. Theology and the Christian. http://contendforthefaith2.com/theo.html
Continue On To PART II - Is doctrine really that important? - It certainly is if you consider that doctrine determines practice (what a person does (practice) is based on what they believe (doctrine), right doctrine is essential to salvation and evangelization, and the consequence of false doctrine are catastrophic.