Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Is Doctrine and Theology Important?

How would you answer this statement. "I don't feel the need to intensively study the Bible and learn theology. All that creates is division in the Church and we only need to follow the words of Jesus anyway."

A friend asked me this the other day and here is how I replied.

The claim that all we need to do is to follow the words of Jesus is not valid for several reasons. First, the Bible clearly teaches us that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. (2 Tim 3:16) When we limit ourselves to the words of Jesus, we lose all of the important teaching of the rest of Scripture, especially the rest of the New Testament. We would not know about justification by faith, the establishment and order in the church and many other important things. So God has graciously provided us with much more than just the teachings of Jesus.

In referring to the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” This was a prophecy about how the Holy Spirit would teach truth to the apostles in the days following Jesus' ascension into heaven. These truths which they learned from Him make the content of the rest of the New Testament. It was Jesus who told us this would happen.

Even if all we had was the words of Jesus, there would be differences of opinion about what He meant and we would need creeds and doctrinal statements to clarify what a particular church believes about what Jesus said. I have heard it said that we don't need creeds or doctrinal statements. All we need is to say that our creed is the Bible. What it says is what we believe. However, that is not enough because Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Baptists, Presbyterians and others all say that they believe the Bible and yet it is obvious that their doctrines differ.

That brings me to the next comment about what your friend asked. The concern is that doctrine divides. That is true. It does. But don't we want to know the truth? There is truth. There is falsehood. The problem that modern people have is either that they don't believe that truth exists or they don't believe we can know what it is. The Bible says there is truth and we can know it. But doesn't everyone claim that their view is the truth? Yes. But they can't all be true because many are contradicting each other. But just because there are many who claim truth doesn't mean that truth doesn't exist. It just means we have to work hard and diligently to discern what the truth is.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:19, “For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you.” He is acknowledging the importance of factions because that way the truth can come out. If everyone acquiesces to some commonly held belief, the truth will be lost.

Here are some things that the Bible clearly teaches about teaching and doctrine. These are in no particular order and I'll comment after each one.

Acts 17:11 These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.

It's important to actively search the Scriptures during and after any teaching in order to verify whether what the teacher has taught is true. The Scripture encourages this and lifts up the person who is engaged in this endeavor. It is to be active and continuous. We are not to accept any teaching without searching the Scripture. Searching the Scripture takes work. But it is a required work.

2 Timothy 2:15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

Diligence in the Christian life is a requirement. Part of that diligence is to rightly divide the Word. Dividing the Word means to learn to understand the different contexts in which teaching and events occurred. It means to understand what is a word picture and what is literal. An old song used to say, “All the promises in the book are mine – every chapter, every verse, every line.” But that is not true. God made promises to Abraham that He did not make to you and me. We need to know the difference.

1 Timothy 6:3 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing.

There is such a thing as correct teaching and “teaching otherwise”. The one who teaches otherwise is proud and knows nothing. That is what the Bible says.

2 Timothy 4:3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers;

People want to hear what they want to hear. Their ears are itching. Sound doctrine is foreign to them and they would rather not hear it.

Romans 16:17 Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.

There is a correct doctrine and those who teach contrary to that are to be avoided.

2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,

Not just the teachings of Jesus but all Scripture. It is to be used for reproof and correction. If it is used for correction, that must mean some things are wrong and need to be corrected.

Titus 1:9 holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.

There is such a thing as sound and correct teaching. Exhortation is needed to be applied to those who contradict. In other words we can't just have the belief that whatever anyone believes is ok. Obviously he is talking about within the Christian community. The continual teaching of sound doctrine will exhort those who are wrong and bring conviction to them.

Heb 5:11-14 of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first 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 unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

God wants every Christian to be taught well enough that they can teach others. Some things in Scripture are hard to understand, such as the teaching about Melchizidek. The author of Hebrews criticized them because they were not ready for this teaching. It was necessary to go over the basics again and this was not good. Those who were still feeding on milk were considered unskilled in the word of righteousness and he referred to them as babes. This is not a good description. God wants each believer to grow in the word and become strong in the doctrine.

The bottom line is that there is truth and there is error. God has given us the Holy Spirit in order to help us to learn from all of the Scripture. This takes work, diligence and effort. It takes digging into the truth of the whole Bible learning how to discern one kind of text from another. It is necessary to learn the important teachings about salvation, redemption, justification, sanctification, etc. because in so doing we learn to know God better and to love Him more. Then we are better prepared, especially as Christian men, to lead and teach our families so that they too become godly people who can have an impact in the world.

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