Scripture on the Importance of Doctrine

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1. Introduction

Even people who say that doctrine is boring or divisive have, whether one acknowleges it or not, doctrines that one holds onto. For example, “Jesus died for my sin” is a doctrine — that ‘Jesus died’ is a historical fact, but the theological statement that he ‘died for my sin’ is a doctrine.

There are some people who say “that ‘Jesus died for my sin’ is not a doctrine but the word of God.” But what does it mean to say that something is the “word of God”? There are two senses in which the expression “word of God” is usually used:

  1. The bible itself.
  2. The content of the bible.

In the sense of (1), we can not say that a preacher is delivering the word of God (except when he is simply reading the scriptures). But in the sense of (2), we may say, provided that the teaching of the preacher is congruent to the scriptures, that he has delivered the word of God. In the sense of (1), the Apostle’s Creed is not the word of God, but in the sense of (2), the content of the Apostle’s Creed delivers the word of God.

In the sesne of (2), the word of God records various things — historical facts, poems, songs — including theological statements and doctrines. When the scripture says that “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death,” the phrase “his death” is referring to a historical fact, whereas the phrase that we “were baptized into his death” is a theological statement, a doctrine. It is a doctrine explicitly stated by the scripture. (There are doctrines that are explicitly stated in the bible, and doctrines that are logically deduced from those explicitly stated. Let us focus on the explicitly stated ones for now.)

Before we move on, let us make it clear the definition of the word ‘doctrine’. The first two entries of Oxford Dictionary of English writes (note that Obs stands for obsolete):

1. a. The action of teaching or instructing; instruction; a piece of instruction, a lesson, precept. Obs.
b. Public instruction; preaching. Obs.
2. That which is taught.
a. In the most general sense: Instruction, teaching; a body of instruction or teaching.
b. esp. That which is taught or laid down as true concerning a particular subject or department of knowledge, as religion, politics, science, etc.; a belief, theoretical opinion; a dogma, tenet.

According to the above definition (especially entry 2), that “whoever believe in Jesus should not perish but have eternal life” is a teaching, a doctrine, recorded in the scripture. It is a scriptural doctrine.

Any instruction, teaching, knowledge that is laid down as true by God’s revelation is, by definition, a doctrine. To say that the word of God and doctrine are different things is to say that God does not teach us any instruction or knowledge. “I don’t need doctrine, I have the bible” might sound like an attitude reverent toward the scriptures, but in reality, it is a indication that the person does not really know what God teaches us through the scriptures. It is akin to worshipping the bible rather than God Himself. What is more important than the bible itself is its content, which is the decree of God that He wants us to know.

No one will deny the historical fact that Jesus of Nazareth was a teacher who lived in Israel around 2000 years ago. But Apostle John writes that the main purpose he writes the gospel is to have us believe the doctrine, namely “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (Jn 20:31). Likewise, the scripture makes it clear that one of its chief aim is to reveal doctrines attached to historical events. And Christianity and Christian Church, which came to existence by the word of God, stands upon those theological doctrines, namely the confessions, attached to historical events.

Hence, doctrine and theology are important. All the more since there are doctrine of man, not God. We must be diligent so that the doctrine of man would not pollute the church. The doctrine and theology taught by the word of God are truths and faithfulness, but those that deviate are falsehood and lies.

2. What It Means to Say that the Bible is the Word of God

Since we have mentioned the content of the bible, let us briefly examine what it means for the bible to be the “word of God” or the “special revelation” of God. Does that mean someone met God and transcribed what He said (though there are such portions in the bible, is that the prime reason we call bible the word of God)? So that even the dots and the commas contain the revelation of God? So that its power as the word of God is exerted, like a spell or charm, if and only if when read verbatim? Or does it mean that the verses in the bible have some kind of innate power so that even reading or listening to it causes spiritual effect? If that is so, then we can not expect the power of the word of God when read in other than the original language. (We need not explain why this is absurd.)

That is not what we mean when we say that the bible is the word of God. Laguage is, in the end, a means to deliever concepts, ideas, teachings, emotions, and so on. So when we say that the bible is the written revelation of God, the primary meaning is that its teachings, that is, the doctrines are revelations from God. And to experience the power of the word of God after reading the bible is not to remain in intellectual assent of the delivered doctrine and in emotional reverence, but to bring forth the faith that bears the fruit of salvation, which is possible only by the work of the Holy Spirit. Blindly reciting bible verses apart from the Holy Spirit does not bring one any closer to the saving grace.

Let us take the Epistle to the Romans for example. What is the reason we take Romans, among many other letters Paul probably had written, as part of the Holy Scriptures? Is it because Paul said “This letter is special; it contains God’s revelation.”? Or is it because some ecumenical concile decided that it is so? No. The Church merely “realized” that the teaching contained in Paul’s epistle to Romans was inspired by God. Of course that is not the only reason, but it is the prime reason that the Church “confessed” that Romans is part of the Holy Scriptures. As we can see from such instance, we can not take lightly the responsibility of discerning what the bible teaches regarding what we ought to believe to be true and faithful, that is, its doctrines.

3. Bible on the Importance of Doctrine

The biblical words corresponding to ‘doctrine’ are laqach(לֶקַח) or shĕma`ah(שְׁמוּעָה) in hebrew, and didaskalia(διδασκαλία) or didachē(διδαχή) in greek. Of related is the word hetrodidaskaleo(ἑτεροδιδασκαλέω), which means “different doctrine”.

Below are what we can find in the bible (ESV) regarding the importance of doctrine. They are grouped under subsections.

3.1 Christ Teaches and Uses Doctrines

Christ trains his servants using good doctrine. “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.” (1Tim 4:6)

Christ taught doctrine regarding himself and required that his followers believe it. “So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, […] Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.'” (Jn 11:20–27)

Christ appointed his apostles for the sake of faith and knowledge of the truth. “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness,” (Tit 1:1)

3.2 The Apostles Strived to Teach Good Doctrine Regarding Christ

Gospel of John was written so that we may believe the doctrine that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (Jn 20:30)

One reason the First Epistle of John was written is to teach the doctrine that we who believe in the name of the Son of God have eternal life. “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1Jn 5:13)

3.3 A Major Operation of the Holy Spirit is in Renewing Our Mind

The Holy Spirit works in us toward the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God. “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13)

Image of God encompasses the realm of the mind. “and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Col 3:10)

God renews the mind of believers. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12:2)

God desires that we come to the knowledge of the truth. “who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1Tim 2:4)

3.4 God is a God of Knowledge

God is a God of knowledge. “Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.” (1Sam 2:3)

God gives us sound knowledge. “He who disciplines the nations, does he not rebuke? He who teaches man knowledge” (Ps 94:10)

Shepherds after God’s own heart feed with knowledge and understanding. “And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jer 3:15)

The word of God teaches good judgement and knowledge. “Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments.” (Ps 119:66)

God brings forth knowledge and understanding from His mouth. “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;” (Prv 2:6)

3.5 Following the Lord is Impossible without Sound Doctrine

Error in doctrine lead to error in practice. “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” (1Tim 6:3–5)

Not arriving at a knowledge of truth is not a characteristic of one who follows the Lord. “For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith.” (2Tim 3:6–8)

Lack of knowledge leads to destruction. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.” (Hos 4:6)

Desire without knowledge is evil. “Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way.” (Prv 19:2)

God desires knowledge of God rather than offerings. “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hos 6:6)

A priest of God should guard knowledge. “For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.” (Mal 2:7)

Servants of God must posses knowledge. “but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: […] by purity, knowledge, […] by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left;” (2Cor 6:4–7)

Believers must make every effort to supplement their faith with knowledge. “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge” (1Pet 1:5)

Opposing the knowledge of truth needs repentance. “correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2Tim 2:25)

3.6 The Powers of Darkness Attacks Sound Doctrine

There are people who devote themselves to teachings of demons. “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” (1Tim 4:1)

Satan disguises as an angle of light, and so the false teachers present themselves as servants of Christ. “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.” (2Cor 11:13–15)

Satan leads to depravity by twisting the word of God and promoting false doctrine. “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” […] But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”” (Gen 3:1–5)

3.7 God Condemns Deviation from Sound Doctrine

The law of God condemns deviation from sound doctrine. “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine” (1Tim 1:8–10)

God condemns false teachers. “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” (2Pet 2:1–3)

God’s wrath is revealed against the unrighteousness of suppressing the truth. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Rom 1:18)

3.8 Church is a Pillar and Buttress of the Truth

Church is a pillar and buttress of the truth. “[…] you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” (1Tim 3:15)

Saints must contend for the faith that was delivered to them. “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Ju 1:3)

Spiritual warfare encompasses the realm of knowledge and thoughts. “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2Cor 10:4–5)

Church must examine her teaching. “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1Tim 4:16)

Church must teach sound doctrine. “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.” (Tit 2:1)

Church must raise men who would teach sound doctrine. “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2Tim 2:2)

Church must give instruction in sound doctrine and rebuke those who contradict it. “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” (Tit 1:9)

Believers should be filled with all knowledge and be able to instruct one another. “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.” (Rom 15:14)

Paul rebuked Peter for misleading the people with poor understanding of the doctrine of justification. “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. […] But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” (Gal 2:11–16)

But Paul was generous towards people teaching correct doctrine with wrong motives. On the other hand, he vehemently opposed any modification of the gospel, no matter how good the intention was. “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” (Phil 1:15–18)

Church must not allow teaching of false doctrine. “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” (1Tim 1:3–4)

Bible warns people deviating from sound doctrine and not following the apostolic teaching of scriptures. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2Tim 4:3–4) “not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Gal 1:7–9)

3.9 Church Must Separate From Opponents of the Apostolic Doctrine

Church must be wise in good, and avoid those who create obstacles contrary to the apostolic doctrine. “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.” (Rom 16:17–19)

Preaching a non-apostolic gospel is subject to being accursed. “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Gal 1:8–9)

Denying the doctrine of incarnation is a form of antichrist. “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting” (2Jn 1:7–10)

True love rejoices with truth. “Love […] does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” (1Cor 13:4–6)

4. How Are We to Contend for the Faith Once Delivered Unto the Saints?

There is now no question that how much emphasis the scripture puts on the importance of teaching of sound doctrine. So, then, how are we to teach and preach sound doctrine?

Explain with gentleness and respect. “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” (1Pet 3:15)

Knowledge without love is a seed-bed for arrogance. “Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up.” (1Cor 8:1)

Supplement knowledge with love. “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge […] with love.” (2Pet 1:5–7)

Respect the confessions handed down by the spiritual forefathers. “Do not move the ancient landmark
that your fathers have set.” (Prv 22:28)

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