Many of us have picked up a Bible for the first time and simply started reading in Genesis 1 only to stop in Genesis 5. The reasons for this are extensive. For me personally it was simply because the translation that I was reading was difficult to understand. But in my opinion I think that one of the main reasons many people pick up the Bible, start reading but never finish is because they fail to see the larger storyline of God and they get lost in a part and end up disconnected from the whole.
When reading our Bible’s we must keep in mind that we are not simply reading about facts, history, geography and humanity; but about God Himself and His relationship with both humanity and creation in general. Hidden within the 66 books of the Bible are what scholars and teachers from several thousands of years ago have called the major truths about God. The Bible calls these major truths the doctrines of God, the doctrines of Christ and the doctrines of the apostles. When we study these doctrines we begin to create Christian theology, or thoughts about God. As we begin breaking down the major truths or doctrines into groups, those doctrines are then studied and we start to form theology. This post will examine what is doctrine/theology, what the importance of having good Christian doctrine is, where all doctrine, Christian or none Christian comes from and what is the nature of Christian doctrine.
God has given Jennifer and I a mission statement and it reads this way, “We are building a resting place for Jesus Christ; we are encountering His presence; we are living as Jesus lived; and we are sharing both Jesus’ presence and our lives with those inside and outside the Church.” This is broken down into four simple words, “Building, Encountering, Living and Sharing.” The reason this is important when talking about the subject of Christian doctrine is because many of us struggle to do the second part of our mission statement, which is encountering Jesus’ presence consistently. I believe that one of the main reasons we struggle with this is because we haven’t built a resting place within our hearts of right understanding about who God is.
The goal of the Christian life is to become a resting place for Jesus Christ on the earth so that God doesn’t have to strive with us when He wants to interact with us throughout the course of our lives. You may ask how do humans strive or fight with God when we are already in relationship with Him? We do this in many ways. Some examples include: when God comes to love on us, we don’t allow Him because we still see ourselves dirty before Him even though Jesus has cleaned us from our past; when God comes to us as our heavenly Father, we don’t trust Him very much because we liken Him to our earthly father who often disappointed us and hurt us; when God comes to us and wants to use us, we remind Him of our past; and when we suffer we become bitter towards God, failing to see that His own Son, Jesus Christ suffered and wasn’t delivered from death but trusted His Father’s leadership over His life. These are just a few of the ways that we strive against God instead of cooperating with Him, and I believe we do this mainly because we don’t know who God is and how God acts towards those who receive His free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.
What Is Doctrine And Theology?
The word doctrine appears nearly 56 times in the Bible and is spoken of as both a positive and a negative. Sixteen of those references to doctrine appear in three New Testament letters, 1st Timothy, 2nd Timothy and Titus. What’s so interesting about this word doctrine appearing so many times in just three short books of the Bible is that those three books are the pastoral books of the New Testament. These pastoral books are the words of a more mature Christian leader to young Christian leaders dealing with the importance of understanding truth about God.
Doctrine simply means “teaching,” “teachings,” or “a set of instructions.” The word doctrine isn’t a Bible word. It speaks of the teachings of God the Father, of Jesus Christ and the early Church apostles. The word “theology” combines two Greek words “Theos” which means “God” and “logos” which means “words.” So doctrine is a set of teachings, or instructions and theology is words about God. When we talk about doctrine we are talking about the major truths about God, humanity and creation and theology is the study of those truths from which we form words about God. So the major truths are doctrines and as we study those truths (doctrines) we begin to form theology or our thoughts about God. We find these major doctrines about God scattered throughout 66 books of the Bible and not necessarily arranged in order.
When we take those major doctrines of the Bible and arrange them in an orderly fashion for study, we call this systematic theology. In a poor example we could compare the study of systematic theology to a grocery store on freight day. All the products enter the store on one really large pallet. That pallet is then broken down and the products are placed in their specific isles to make stocking the shelves much easier. Systematic theology does something similar. The Bible represents that really large pallet with lots of major truths on it. And the isles represent the various doctrines laid out in order starting with isle one and continuing to create systematic theology, or the systematic study of those major doctrines as they are laid out in order. Arranging doctrines in a systematic order helps us see the big picture and allows us to see the story of God from start to finish.
The culture in which we live is constantly changing and in some ways it’s improving but in many ways is moving further and further away from Jesus Christ. It’s important that as Christians and those interested in becoming Christian’s we have a proper understanding of what the future will hold for the Church and Christianity. The Bible speaks of a current dark day, with much darker days increasing and coming. Currently these are dark days marked with great deception, false prophets, false apostles, false Christ’s, false doctrines, demonic doctrines and lies meant to deceive Christians (Matthew 24:22-28; 1st Timothy 4:1-3;2nd Timothy 4:2-5; 2nd Thessalonians 2:2-4).
It is with this in mind that the Bible challenges us to give ourselves to right doctrine in order to make sure that our theology has right words or thoughts about the God of the Bible. Throughout the ages there have been many arguments about the subject of doctrine from those inside the Church and those outside. Some have said that we don’t need doctrine because it is always divisive. To this comment I would say, the subject of doctrine has existed before the Church did, and it is usually those that disagree with the major doctrines of God that create division, not the doctrines themselves. Some have said it doesn’t matter what you believe only Who you believe. To this I would ask, how can you separate Christ from His doctrine (teachings)? What Jesus said when He was on the earth and what the Father has spoken throughout the ages, is actually who He is, not just some thoughts outside of Himself. You cannot separate Jesus’ teachings from Jesus Himself, for He is what He has said. Just like the Old Testament prophets, who literally embodied the message that they were preaching, so also was Christ. Not only what Jesus said was His message, but His physical Person was also the message. You can’t separate the message of Jesus from the Man Christ Jesus.
Something else that comes up in the conversation about Christian doctrine, is also another counter argument against it, fighting for less doctrine (teachings) and more experience of Jesus. The problem with this argument is that it is only a partial truth. What do I mean by that? Well, it’s not that you have to choose one or the other; either learning about God or experiencing God. I would say that we best experience God when we have learned rightly about who God is. It’s not that we have to fully understand the doctrines of the Bible to experience Christ, but I believe that it helps us to experience Jesus’ presence on a regular, ongoing basis when we understand who God is. The goal of studying Christian doctrine and developing our own personal theology (thoughts about God), is for the purpose of encountering Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit unto the glory of God the Father. Instead of trying to divorce the study of Christian doctrine from the Christian experience, we should allow them to marry and fulfill their intended purposes.
Where Does Doctrine Come From?
Within the Gospel of Matthew chapter 16 we can clearly see that the three streams which produce doctrines are earthly, Godly and demonic.
Matthew 16:13-14,16-17,21-23 says this;
When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, who do men say that I, the Son of Man am? So they said, “some say Elijah, some say John the Baptist, and others say Jeremiah or one of the prophets…Simon Peter answered and said, You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Jesus answered and said to him, blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven…From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed, and be raised the third day. Then Peter took Him aside, and began to rebuke Him, saying “far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You! But He turned and said to him (Peter), get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”
When Jesus first asks the disciples that are gathered together with Him, who the ones around them are saying that He is, their response is earthly by nature. Now, it wasn’t that it was bad, because truly Jesus was the fulfillment of those Old Testament prophets (Jeremiah, Elijah and John), but the thought they had and spoke out loud wasn’t a divinely inspired thought, but rather an earthly thought. We see here that doctrine can come from man, not bad, but also not divinely inspired by the God of the Bible.
The second place doctrines come from is divine revelation from the God of the Bible. Peter, rose up and said “Jesus, You are the Christ, the One who has come down from God.” We know that this thought from Peter was divinely inspired because Jesus tells us just that right after Peter speaks it. This is what we would call the doctrine of God, or doctrine inspired by God.
And thirdly, we see that there is demonic doctrine inspired by Satan. Right after Peter is praised by Jesus, he is then rebuked. Jesus told the disciples that He was now headed towards the Cross to die for their sins, and Peter spoke up and said, “Jesus, that isn’t going to happen, I will protect You, and make sure You never die.” Just after this comes out of Peter’s mouth, Jesus tells him, “Peter, the devil inspired your thought, it’s demonic, and it has nothing to do with Me and My mission.” Jesus, is clearly telling us in all three cases that the doctrines we have are either earthly, divine or they are demonic.
The reason this is so important for us to understand where doctrine comes from is when we think or hear something, then we can test it against the written word of God, making sure it lines up. 1st John 4:1 says;
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
The Bible rightly challenges Christians to test every thought or spirit to see if what we say or what others tell us is in accordance with the overall theme of sound doctrine throughout the Bible. Some doctrines are from us, some from God and others from the evil one. We must know how to trust some and reject others.
What is the Nature of Doctrine?
One of the goals of Christianity is to grow from immaturity to maturity through growth in Jesus Christ, through the power and Person of the Holy Spirit. We want to be moving from being childish in Christ, to becoming an adult so to speak in Christ, or being mature. To become mature and Christ-like is the aim and goal of every person who claims the name of Christ. And one of the main ways that we do that is through studying the doctrines of God and growing in the knowledge of God, so that we know what we are reaching for as we see it in Christ.
Here are some thoughts about the nature of Christian doctrine. For a doctrine to qualify as Christian it must be sound (1st Tim. 1:10; 2nd Timothy 4:2-4). What I mean by sound doctrine is that it’s a solid teaching found within the Bible, such as the Incarnation. That is a sound doctrine and is safe to give ourselves to. Doctrine must be obeyed (2nd Tim. 3:10). In this passage Paul is telling young Timothy that the doctrine that he has had, actually translated into a way of life. Our doctrine must move from being thoughts and studies about God into a way that we live our life in light of those truths. However good the study of doctrine, it is a waste if it isn’t actually practiced within our daily lives. We want to make sure what we are learning becomes experienced within us at the heart level, not only at the head level.
Our doctrine determines our character. What I mean by this is that what a person believes greatly affects the way he or she is. So this means that if we give ourselves to right, sound doctrine then it will change our character into something that is Christ-like as opposed to having false or crooked doctrine which would leave us living with a broken character before both God and man. What we believe changes the way we live our lives for the good and for the bad.
Your doctrine determines your destiny. This is a serious part of the nature of doctrine. 1st Timothy 4:16 says “take heed to yourself and unto the doctrine of God and continue in them, for in doing this you shall both save yourself and those that hear you.” Paul is talking to Timothy about the power of doctrine to save his soul in a positive way, but it could also be said in a negative way. Paul said, “I have given you sound doctrine which can save your soul.” This means that you could receive bad or unsound doctrine which could lead to the damning of your soul. It’s important that one know that what they are putting their trust into is good, because it is going to affect where you spend eternity; either with God in heaven forever, or in hell, separated from God forever.
There is no middle road when it comes to eternity according to the Bible. You are either with God forever, or you are with the devil forever. So it is important to know that your set of doctrines, which are either human, divinely inspired by the God of the Bible, or demonically inspired by Satan will determine where you spend eternity. Some people say, “hey, I am trying this new doctrine out, and it’s outside the Bible, but the people teaching it are so sincere and kind.” To this statement I would say, they may be sincere and still be sincerely wrong. Just because they are nice, seem honest and are really sincere, it doesn’t mean that what they are teaching, singing about or saying is the doctrine of the Bible. If it isn’t Jesus, then it’s either human or demonic and both human intellect and demons will separate you from Christ, not only right now in this age, but also in the age to come.
My goal in this chapter is for us to see the importance of sound, biblical Christian doctrine, not just for the Bible college student, but for the everyday Christian like you and me. In this hour it is critical that every one of us knows Who we believe, what we believe and why we believe it. For us to wander through life at this stage in the game is very unsafe if we don’t know those three things. It’s also important to know that God is not confined to doctrinal and theological statements. That means while it is good to listen to sermons, read blogs, study books and go to school, nothing takes the place of the Holy Bible. The Bible is the best way for us to get acquainted with the God who wrote it and begin to understand who He is, what He thinks and how He interacts within His creation.
Don’t let your Bible stay clean, gathering dust and be used as a paper weight, but rather pull it out, dust it off and open it up to see what God has to say about Himself. It has been said that a clean Bible leads to a dirty life and a dirty Bible leads to clean life. So dirty up your Bible, mark up its pages, highlight different verses, write in it and take it wherever you go. As you study the doctrines (teachings) of the Bible you will develop sound theology (or thoughts about God) and it will change the way you live your life.
Here is a Systematic Theology Narrative Of The Entire Bible
We believe God inspired the authors of Scripture by his Spirit to speak to all generations of believers, including us today. God calls us to immerse ourselves in this authoritative narrative communally and individually to faithfully interpret and live out that story today as we are led by the Spirit of God.
In the beginning God created all things good. He was and always will be in a communal relationship with himself-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God created us to be relational as well and marked us with an identity as his image bearers and a missional calling to serve, care for, and cultivate the earth. God created humans in his image to live in fellowship with him, one another, our inner self, and creation. The enemy tempted the first humans, and darkness and evil entered the story through human sin and are now a part of the world. This devastating event resulted in our relationships with God, others, ourselves, and creation being fractured and in desperate need of redeeming.
We believe God did not abandon his creation to destruction and decay; rather he promised to restore this broken world. As part of this purpose, God chose a people, Abraham and his descendants, to represent him in the world. God promised to bless them as a nation so that through them all nations would be blessed. In time they became enslaved in Egypt and cried out to God because of their oppression. God heard their cry, liberated them from their oppressor, and brought them to Sinai where he gave them an identity and a mission as his treasured possession, a kingdom of priests, a holy people. Throughout the story of Israel, God refused to give up on his people despite their frequent acts of unfaithfulness to him.
God brought his people into the Promised Land. Their state of blessing from God was intimately bound to their calling to embody the living God to other nations. They made movement toward this missional calling, yet they disobeyed and allowed foreign gods into the land, overlooked the poor, and mistreated the foreigner. The prophetic voices that emerge from the Scriptures held the calling of Israel to the mirror of how they treated the oppressed and marginalized. Through the prophets, God’s heart for the poor was made known, and we believe that God cares deeply for the marginalized and oppressed among us today.
In Israel’s disobedience, they became indifferent and in turn irrelevant to the purposes to which God had called them. For a time, they were sent into exile; yet a hopeful remnant was always looking ahead with longing and hope to a renewed reign of God, where peace and justice would prevail.
We believe these longings found their fulfillment in Jesus the Messiah, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin, mysteriously God having become flesh. Jesus came to preach good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted and set captives free, proclaiming a new arrival of the kingdom of God, bringing about a new exodus, and restoring our fractured world. He and his message were rejected by many as he confronted the oppressive nature of the religious elite and the empire of Rome. Yet His path of suffering, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection has brought hope to all creation. Jesus is our only hope for bringing peace and reconciliation between God and humans. Through Jesus we have been forgiven and brought into right relationship with God. God is now reconciling us to each other, ourselves, and creation. The Spirit of God affirms as children of God all those who trust Jesus. The Spirit empowers us with gifts, convicts, guides, comforts, counsels, and leads us into truth through a communal life of worship and a missional expression of our faith. The church is rooted and grounded in Christ, practicing spiritual disciplines and celebrating baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The church is a global and local expression of living out the way of Jesus through love, peace, sacrifice, and healing as we embody the resurrected Christ, who lives in and through us, to a broken and hurting world.
We believe the day is coming when Jesus will return to judge the world, bringing an end to injustice and restoring all things to God’s original intent. God will reclaim this world and rule forever. The earth’s groaning will cease and God will dwell with us here in a restored creation. On that day we will beat our swords into tools for cultivating the earth, the wolf will lie down with the lamb, there will be no more death, and God will wipe away all our tears. Our relationships with God, others, ourselves, and creation will be whole. All will flourish as God intends. This is what we long for. This is what we hope for. And we are giving our lives to living out that future reality now.