As a sea with many ports and joining canals, the Bible is one body of truth with many smaller bodies of truth joined to it. In order to safely navigate through the Bible, it is important to understand it as a whole, and how all the separate bodies fit. This is why we have Doctrine.
Pay close attention to yourself and to your “teaching”; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. (1Tim.4:16)
Doctrine has become a stuffy and misunderstood word. When a new Christian hears the word doctrine, they probably think of elite schools and Ivory towers. But the word doctrine, in itself, is a simple word. Its function is essential to understanding the Word of God.
In the New Testament, the word didachē is translated doctrine, meaning teaching. It refers to particular summaries of teaching on a theological topic. Doctrine can be simplified, such as the doctrine of Man, of Sin, or of Salvation. As a tree with branches, it can become more complex, such as the doctrine of the Creation of Man, of The Fall, of Mankind’s Universal Guilt. And then it can become even more distinct, such as Adam’s Transgression, Original Sin, Personal Sin, Imputed Sin, Radical Depravity and more. The list could go on and on.
There are hundreds of threads of doctrine in the Bible. Some are very evident and some are not. For instance, the word Trinity is not used in the Bible, but we have a doctrine of the Trinity. The word providence is used nowhere in the Bible, but we have the doctrine of God’s Providence. These are called deductive truths. They are deductive, because though they are not explicitly mentioned by name, they are implicitly seen even in a casual reading of scripture. We can “deduct” these doctrinal truths from the Bible as a whole because the equation is clearly there. (Example: the doctrine of 2 isn’t mention explicitly, but the equation 6-4 is, and we know that 6-4=2.)
Some doctrinal truths are explicitly mentioned. The Bible uses words that act as doctrinal billboards, such as, Salvation, Justification, Redemption, Propitiation, and Sanctification. There’s no need to create a name for these bodies of teaching, as the Bible has already done that for us. These words are like coat hangers that we can hang our Christians articles on. But then, even these become more complex. There are not only “single hook” coat hangers, but multiple hooks. Take as an example the doctrine of Justification. Which hook would you like to hang it on? Justification by faith alone? Justification by grace alone? Or Justification in Christ alone?
We didn’t make doctrine, God put it in the Bible. Understanding scripture in light of it’s summarized teachings on theological topics is how God always intended us to learn. It was commanded by God, through Paul, to Timothy, and down to us…
1 Tim.4:6: 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.
Also in Titus…
Titus 2:1: But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine.
But not all doctrine is good. There are dangerous winds of “false doctrine” used by the enemy to carry us away from the true gospel (Eph.4:14). There are teachings that collide with the sound teaching of 1st century Christianity and the Protestant Reformation. And they are abounding: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but [wanting] to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires” (2Tim.4:3). This is why God has given us the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and the Apostolic and Prophetic writings; Evangelists, Shepherds, and Teachers. All of these have one task: to instruct the Church in sound doctrine so that she grows mature in the sight of God.
Therefore, we must study to show ourselves approved of God. For the sake of our own salvation, we must pursue sound doctrine and reject erroneous doctrine. Throughout the New Testament, we see these two themes: The truth is being taught and error is being confronted. We must stand for truth and stand against that which is false. When one of these elements is missing, error creeps into the Church. When both are missing, you have ceased to function as the true Church.
Image you wanted to bake. You knew it was supposed to be sweet. You were certain you needed flour, sugar, butter and even an oven. But you didn’t know exactly what you were baking. Was it a cookie? A cake? A pie? How long should I bake it? And what do I mix first? It’s only when you know that your baking a cookie, when you have all the ingredients, and when you have a recipe that out comes a cookie.
Anyone can throw ingredients together and come up with a blob of something sweet. But sound doctrine is cleanly put together and clearly cohesive. Men and women have poured over scripture for centuries. They have tried the different recipes. After careful study, prayer, and with the help of God, sound doctrine has been identified -not formulated. We have the Word of God and the backing of the Historical Christian Faith standing with us. As 21st Century Christians we don’t need to rewrite doctrine and make it fit the Bible, we need to go to the Bible and rediscover the doctrines of old!
-by Jonathan Michael Dean