Eighteen centuries ago the apostle Paul forewarned us, “The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear!” 2 Timothy 4:3

The natural man hates the Gospel and all its distinctive doctrines — and delights in any vain excuse for refusing it. The plain truth is, that the root of the whole evil lies in the fallen nature of man, and his deeply-seated unbelief in God’s infallible Word. I suspect we have no idea how little saving faith there is on earth, and how few people entirely believe Bible truths.

One man is proud — he dislikes the distinctive doctrines of Christianity, because they leave him no room to boast. Another is lazy and indolent — he dislikes distinctive doctrine, because it summons him to troublesome thought, and self-inquiry, and mental self-exertion. Another is grossly ignorant — he imagines that all distinctive doctrine is a mere matter of words and names, and that it does not matter a jot what we believe. Another is thoroughly worldly — he shrinks from distinctive doctrine, because it condemns his darling world. But in one form or another, I am satisfied that “original sin” is the cause of all the mischief.

And the whole result is, that vast numbers of men greedily swallow down the seemingly new idea that doctrine is of no great importance. It supplies a convenient excuse for their sins. The consequences of this widespread dislike to doctrine are very serious in the present day.

Whether we like to allow it or not, it is an epidemic which is doing great harm. It creates, fosters, and keeps up an immense amount of instability in religion. It produces what I must venture to call, if I may coin the phrase, a Jellyfish Christianity in the churches — that is, a Christianity without bone, or muscle, or power.

A jellyfish, as everyone knows who has been much by the sea-side, is a pretty and graceful object when it floats in the sea, contracting and expanding like a little, delicate, transparent umbrella. Yet the same jellyfish, when cast on the shore — is a mere helpless lump, without capacity for movement, self-defense, or self-preservation.

Alas! It is a vivid type of much of the religion of this day, of which the leading principle is, “No dogma, no distinct tenets, no positive doctrine.”

We have hundreds of jellyfish clergymen, who seem not to have a single bone in their body of divinity. They have no definite opinions — they belong to no school or party. They are so afraid of “extreme views” — that they have no views at all.

We have thousands of jellyfish sermons preached every year — sermons without an edge or a point. They are as smooth as billiard balls — awakening no sinner, and edifying no saint.

We have legions of jellyfish young men annually turned out from our seminaries, armed with a few scraps of second-hand philosophy, who think it a mark of cleverness and intellect to have no decided opinions about anything in religion, and to be utterly unable to make up their minds as to what Christian truth is.

Their proud hearts are not satisfied with truths which satisfied the godly of former years. Their only creed is a kind of “Anythingism.” They believe everything — and are sure and positive about nothing!

And last, and worst of all, we have myriads of jellyfish worshipers — respectable church-going people, who have no distinct and definite views about any point in theology. They cannot discern things that differ, any more than color-blind people can distinguish colors!

They think that . . . everybody is right — and nobody is wrong, everything is true — and nothing is false, all sermons are good — and none are bad, every minister is sound — and none are unsound. They are “tossed to and fro, like children, by every wind of doctrine!”

They are often carried away by any new excitement and sensational movement. They are ever ready for new things, because they have no firm grasp on the old Scripture truths. All this, and much more, of which I cannot now speak particularly, is the result of the unhappy dread of “dogma” which has been so strongly developed, and has laid such hold on many Churchmen, in these latter days.

I turn from the sad picture I have exhibited with a sorrowful heart. I grant that it is a gloomy one; but I am afraid it is only too accurate and true. Let us not deceive ourselves — “Dogma” and positive doctrine are at a discount just now. Instability and unsettled notions are the natural result, and meet us in every direction.

Never was it so important for laymen to hold systematic views of truth, and for ordained ministers to “enunciate dogma” very clearly and distinctly in their teaching.

From J.C Ryle’s “The Importance of Dogma” [1900]