The posts I’ve been writing on the Bible have had two main themes running through them: What is the Bible? and What happens when we read the Bible?
I want to sort through some of the major doctrines about the Bible, but before I do, I want to stop and talk about doctrine. Far too many people relegate doctrine as the hobby of those who enjoy old libraries and musty books. Why is doctrine important? What is doctrine anyway? Why isn’t just knowing Jesus enough for any Christian except a pastor? Let’s begin with the what? and then move on to the whys?
What is doctrine? The Latin word doctrina means teaching. Christian doctrine about a particular topic refers to the teaching of the Bible on that topic.
Why is doctrine important? R. C. Sproul writes in Knowing Scripture:
“Countless times I have heard Christians say, “Why do I need to study doctrine or theology when all I need to know is Jesus?” My immediate reply is, “Who is Jesus?” As soon as we begin to answer this question, we are involved in doctrine and theology. No Christian can avoid theology. Every Christian is a theologian. Perhaps not a theologian in the technical or professional sense, but a theologian nevertheless. The issue for Christians is not whether we are going to be theologians, but whether we are going to be good theologians. A good theologian is one who is instructed by God.”
Have you ever thought that when you understand and hold to correct biblical doctrine, you honor God? Or that sound doctrine can enable you to grow in your love for God? Or that sound doctrine can correct false misunderstandings about God that are harmful to you? What about teaching you about who you are and about your life? Paul admonished not a select few, but all the Corinthians:
Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.
1 Corinthians 14:20b
Why, then, does doctrine have such a bad reputation amongst so many Christians? First of all, when doctrine is pursued as mere knowledge, knowledge by itself has a damaging effect. Paul had already driven that point home to those in Corinth.
“Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.”
1 Corinthians 8:1b
He also placed things into perspective when knowledge is possessed without love:
“If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”
1 Corinthians 13:2
We cannot equate knowledge of doctrine with godly character or spiritual growth. We are to be doers of the Word, and not merely hearers. Those who become puffed up with their knowledge have heard the Word, but failed to obey it.
“Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”
We cannot equate knowledge of doctrine as proof of wisdom:
“Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.”
We must have the right attitude of heart. We cannot search the Scriptures for the wrong reasons.
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.”
We must, however, also lay aside whatever prejudices we may have towards doctrine because of those who have misused knowledge or even bludgeoned us with it. The writer of Hebrews urges us to grow beyond milk to solid food.
“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.”
In the Bible sound doctrine (orthodoxy) and sound living (orthopraxy) are not seen as two stand alone entities, but the Bible teaches our conduct flows from our thinking. Paul’s letters are of great help in showing us this. As you read them, you see Paul teach about the Gospel, and then urge Christians to live in a manner worthy of the Gospel. In Paul’s letter to Titus, he tells Titus to “speak the things fitting for sound doctrine” and he then proceeds to give instructions on conduct. In Ephesians and Colossians he lays a foundation of who God is and what He has done for believers in the first part of each letter, and then spends the second part telling them how they are to live because of what he has just taught them. Paul tells the Ephesians to “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil,” and the one offensive weapon he gives for that armor is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” The schemes of the devil can come in numerous forms ranging from personal discouragement and affliction to false teaching comprised of a toxic mix of lies and truth that subverts the Christian faith. We must know the Bible to be able to stand firm.
Paul always equates sound thinking with transformed living:
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Old Library Books, The Literary and Philosophical Society Of Newcastle upon Tyne: FreeFoto.com
R. C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture, 1977, p. 22.