Introduction to Doctrine

January 17, 2016 Preacher: Luis A. Cardenas Series: Doctrine

Topic: English

I invite you this morning to take your Bible and open it to  Acts 28. I’d like to start our time today by drawing your attention to the final verse of the book. Here, Luke tells about Paul’s ministry while he was a prisoner in Rome. Read Acts 28:30-31.

Paul wasn’t doing anything new in Rome. He was doing what he always did—teach. Teaching about God’s kingdom and teaching about Jesus Christ.

What does it mean to teach? It’s a tough question because it’s a simple word we’re all familiar with. The 1988 Webster’s New World Dictionary says the basic sense of “teach” is “to show” or “to demonstrate.” The Greek word for teaching carries the idea of giving someone something. So teaching is to help a person learn something. To give lessons. To give instruction. It’s a simple idea.

But such a simple word and a simple concept is at the heart of Christianity. Like I said, everywhere Paul went, he was teaching. Why? A good answer to that comes in the beginning of Acts. Go back with me to Acts 1:1. When we compare the last verse of the book to the first verse, we see that there is a word Luke uses both times. Read Acts 1:1.

There’s that word again: teach. But this time, Paul is not the teacher, Jesus is. Paul had a teaching ministry, because he was following in the footsteps of Jesus.

There are all kinds of ways people describe Jesus’ ministry, but maybe the most appropriate way to describe it is to say that He was a teacher.

At the age of 12, he spent time in the Temple, sitting among teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And then when His own ministry begins, we read many times that people were amazed at His teaching. He was called “Rabbi” which is the Hebrew word for Teacher.

What I’m getting at with all of this is that, at the heart of Jesus’ ministry was to teach. And at the heart of the ministry of the Apostle’s was teaching. That’s because that’s what Jesus called them to do in the Great Commission. Go, make disciples. How? By baptizing people. And by teaching them to observe all that Christ commanded.

After the day of Pentecost, when about 3,000 souls were added to the church, Acts 2:42 describes what the church did in. They were continually devoting themselves to the teaching of the Apostles and to the fellowship and to the breaking of bread and to the prayers. [Y se dedicaban continuamente a las enseñanzas de los apóstoles, a la comunión, al partimiento del pan, y a las oraciones.]

The first one listed is the teaching. The Greek word for the “teaching” is Didaché.. It’s from the Greek verb Didásko, which means to teach. It’s where we get our English “didactic,” which means something is related to teaching. The Church is supposed to be a place of teaching. A place of learning. Those who follow Jesus are called “disciples,” which means they are learners or students.

Well, in religion, there is a word we use to talk about any group’s official teaching. The official teaching of a group is called its doctrine. That’s all doctrine means. It’s the teaching.

Another word related to teaching or doctrine is theology. And all “Theology” means is the teaching about God. Biology is the study of life. Chronology has to do with studying time. Geology is the study of the earth. Theology is the study of God. It comes from the Greek word for God which is theos.

I’m saying this to you because, now that we have finished studying Acts, for the next few months, what we’re going to be doing is focusing on the doctrine or theology of Christianity. What is it that Christianity actually teaches? If you claim to be a Christian, then what does that mean you believe? I’m not going to answer that question this morning. That’s the question we’ll be answering over the next few months.

We’re going to talk about the Bible. We’re going to talk about God, the Trinity, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. We’ll also take some weeks to talk about Mankind and Sin and Salvation.

These are major doctrines. They are very important teachings. It is these teachings that set us apart from other faiths, other religions. It is these doctrines that outline what it means to be a Christian. If you reject these doctrines, you are not a true Christian. You might talk about God or Jesus or the Bible, but you are not actually a disciple of Christ.

Today is intended to be an introduction to our extended study of Christian doctrine, Christian theology. And I want to start by addressing some common problems people have with doctrine or theology. Any these may even be things that you’re thinking right now…

One reason people don’t like doctrine is because they say they don’t understand it. They don’t like learning new words or new ideas. Well, my response to that is very simple. That was not a good enough excuse for the first-century believers. Jesus and the Apostles didn’t shy away from teaching doctrine, even though their audience included poor slaves, who were not formally educated.

God didn’t intend doctrine or theology to lead to confusion and frustration. Some people say they don’t like learning new words, but the reality is we learn new words all the time. We learn words like mp3 or Gigabyte or Twitter, and they help us understand the world. The same is true with a job or with a sport. When I was a waiter, someone might say, “I have three downs left, and then I’m off, but one of them is camping.” And we all knew what that meant. Or when I started playing football, someone said, “they just lost 15 yards for roughing the passer, so now they’re out of field goal range.” To some of you, that makes sense.

The same is true with theology. You might learn some new words along the way, but what’s important is not just the words; it’s understanding the idea behind the word. That’s what we want to get. And that’s what I’m going to be teaching. And, by God’s grace, it will be clear to all of us. Because God has made it clear for us.

And because you have the best teacher in the world. You have the Holy Spirit. First John 2:27 says you received an anointing from God that abides in You. And He teaches you about all things. You might not have all the words for it yet, but you can understand doctrine and theology.

Another problem people have with doctrine is that it’s not practical. Some people say it too theoretical. It’s too “out there.” It doesn’t really make any difference in my life. Well, some people might teach theology like that, but that’s not how the Bible teaches theology. Theology is foundational to our Christian life. It’s not an “extra.” It’s not the advanced track. It’s the ABCs. It’s the building blocks.

Think about Paul’s letters in the New Testament—Romans, for example. A clear explanation of Christian doctrine. But scattered throughout is praise. And then come the exhortations to holiness. Paul’s other letters are similar. There’s doctrine, and then there’s instruction given based on those beliefs. Don’t let anybody fool you. Doctrine is intensely practical. In fact, the message of the Bible is that unhealthy doctrine leads to an sinful life. And good doctrine is connected to a holy life. If doctrine doesn’t seem practical, you either aren’t studying it right, or you aren’t studying any doctrine God intended you to study.

A third contention is this: Doctrine is divisive. Doctrine splits churches and families. Doctrine is mean. It puts up boundaries. Well, in some cases, yes that happens. But what you need to know is that it is false doctrine is what divides. Anytime you have true teaching, you need to make a distinction between the true and the false. And so it’s inevitable that there are divisions according to doctrine.

At the same time, a true understanding of theology helps us realize what doctrines are absolutely essential, and what doctrines we can agree to disagree on. And when that is clear to us, the result is unity. I can be united with a brother in Christ, even if he has a different view on Christ’s return or the Rapture or spiritual gifts. But if we have agreement on the essentials, we can have unity in Christ. So doctrine is not about creating divisions. It’s about strengthening the unity we have in Jesus.

There’s one final objection people might have to theology. They might say they don’t understand it. They might say it’s not practical. They might say it’s divisive. But they might also say it’s too restrictive. What right does the church have to tell me what I’m supposed to believe and how I’m supposed to live. Just leave me alone.

How do we respond to that? Well, I would say they’re right in saying that the Church doesn’t have the authority in deciding how they live or what they believe. But who DOES have that authority? Jesus does. That’s what it means to be a Christian. Deny yourself. Take up your cross daily, and follow Jesus. You are dead. And Christ is your Lord, your Master.

And so, as a church of Jesus Christ, our elders’ job is not to tell you what to believe or how to live your life. It’s to help you understand and obey Jesus Christ. If you want to be in charge of your own life, if you want to pick and choose which doctrines you like and don’t like, or which teachings you’ll follow or ignore, then you’re not a Christian. Because to be a Christian means you’ve bowed before Jesus as your King.

So yes, doctrine can seem restrictive on your life. But is comes to us from our Lord Jesus Christ who came to give us freedom in His name and to give us eternal life, abundant life. And so we can receive it with joy and gratitude and humility.

I want to spend the rest of our time together answering 3 simple questions. And here they are: Number (1) What do we need in order to study theology or doctrine? Number (2) Where do we get theology from? And number (3) Why should we study theology? … What, where, and why. We’ll address the first two questions briefly and then spend most of our time on the third.

Question number (1): What do we need to study theology or doctrine? … Well, the first thing we need is God’s help. We need God’s help, His enabling. We’re dealing with God—an eternal, infinite, holy, pure being. And we are selfish, tiny, sinners. So on our own we can’t study God and hope to get it right. We need God’s help.

First Corinthians 2 says that God has revealed his truth to us through the Spirit, which we have received. And verses 14-16 say this: The natural person [the unbelieving non-Christian] does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly [foolishness] to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person, however, can evaluate everything… Who has understood the mind of the Lord? ... But we have the mind of Christ.

[El hombre natural no percibe las cosas que son del Espíritu de Dios, porque para él son una locura; y tampoco las puede entender, porque tienen que discernirse espiritualmente. En cambio, el hombre espiritual juzga todas las cosas… ¿quién conoció la mente del Señor? … Pero nosotros tenemos la mente de Cristo.]

So we need God’s help, by His Spirit. Second, we need the Bible as our authority. God’s Spirit gave us the mind of Christ. Where do we have the mind of Christ? In the Bible. Jesus taught His Apostles. And then the Apostles wrote the Scriptures. And through all of this, the Holy Spirit was guiding the process. So we don’t just sit down in a small group and say: “What do you think about God?” No. That is subjective. It depends on each person’s opinion. Instead, we gather around a book, given to us by God, and we say: “What has God told us about Himself and ourselves and this world.” We need the Bible. It’s our objective source of truth.

Third, we need an organized approach. What I mean by that is that we approach the Bible with a clear and consistent system of interpretation. God gave us His word through men. So in one sense, we approach His Word the same way we approach other human writings. We don’t just assign it a meaning. We have clear rules for how we interpret it. We understand words. We understand the difference between a name and an action verb and a descriptive adjective. We understand that sometimes an author uses poetic language or figures of speech. But our goal is to understand what the author mean by what he wrote.

When my wife asks me to do the dishes, she doesn’t mean get them wet and then go to bed. She means something by her words.

Also, having an organized approach means connecting the dots between different passages. We don’t want to leave any Bible passages out, and we want to do the best we can to make it all fit together. That’s called Systematic Theology. We pick a topic. We collect all the verses on that topic. And then we arrange what they teach into a system.

Anytime someone asks you: “What does the Bible teach about [this or that topic]?” That’s a question for systematic theology. And that’s what we’re going to be doing in the next few months. But since we’re developing a systematic theology, we need to be very cautious. And this leads us to the final thing we need to study theology.

Last of all, we need humility. We need to be humble. We don’t come to the Bible with a preconceived system and then force the Bible to say what our system says. We don’t force our system onto the Bible. We have to come with humility, a willingness to allow our understanding of God and the world to be shaped and molded. Maybe it’s better that we think of theology, not just as something we believe, but as something we DO. Every time we study the Bible, we are doing theology. We’re sharpening our understanding of God and creation. So we need to come with humility. If we have that, we will learn from Christ, and we’ll mature.

So if you want to do theology, if you want to study doctrine, you need God’s help. You need the Bible as your authority. You need an organized approach. And you need humility.

The second question for today is this: Where do we get theology from? Where does our doctrine come from? Well, I think by now you know that the primary answer is the Bible. The Bible is not just a handbook for doctrine. It’s God’s story and plan of the redemption of creation. It’s supposed to mold how we think, how we feel, and how we live. And it calls us to participate in what God is doing. The Bible is not God, but it is how God has come into contact with us. So the Bible is our only authoritative source of theology. But it’s not the only thing that contributes to it. There are 3 other contributors to what we believe.

First we have tradition—the doctrine that previous generations have passed down to us. Unlike what Roman Catholicism teaches, tradition is not authoritative. Scripture is our only authority. But that doesn’t mean that tradition is meaningless. It allows us to pull the wisdom from generations of men and women who were also committed to Christ and guided by His Spirit. Tradition can help us interpret and evaluate doctrine. And it can help us avoid wasting time on an issue that has already been brought up. If there’s ever some tradition that teaches something completely new, that no one has ever taught, then we know to be cautious of it.

Another contributor to our church’s teaching is Experience. Experience can help us think of questions to ask. And experience can deepen what you learn. It can give you a practical understanding. It helps you know God, instead of just knowing about Him. Again, though, experience is not authoritative. Our final conclusion has to come from the authority of the Bible. If experience becomes an authority, then you start running into problems because everyone’s experience is personal; it’s subjective.

A final contributor is reason, or human knowledge. God is a rational being. He created us as rational, thinking people. So we want to use reason or logic as we think about God. That doesn’t mean that every questions has a nice-neat logical answer. But still, we’re called to love God with all our mind. We need to take every thought captive. If something sounds completely absurd or wacky [ridículo], either we’re not understanding it correctly, or it’s not a true biblical doctrine. We’re not going to resolve every issue about God, because He’s infinite and we are finite. But the Bible says Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So we can be confident that as God’s plan is being worked out there will be some unity and some consistency. We should expect things to be related.

So the final authority on theology and doctrine is the Bible. But we also have contributions from tradition, experience, and human reason, but none of those are the final authority.

This leads us to our final question for today… Why is it important to study theology? There are a few ways we could answer that question, but I’ve chosen to boil it down to three responses, three aspects of Christian maturity. And they are Proclamation, Protection, and Praise.

Let’s start with Proclamation. What I mean by this is that learning theology, learning doctrine, enables us to defend our beliefs. It improves our ability to tell others about Jesus. First Peter 3:15 says we are to always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks us a reason for the hope that is in us. [Tenemos que estar siempre preparados para presentar defensa ante todo el que nos demande razón de la esperanza que tenemos].

What happens when someone asks you: Well what does your church teach about God? What does the Bible say about Jesus? What’s the difference between us and the Catholics or the Mormons? Or what if a teacher at school challenges your faith? What happens when your own son or daughter asks you about your faith? Are you going to be able to give a clear answer?

Being able to defend or talk about what you believe is going to depend on how well you know it, how well you understand it. We all have a Christian experience, but we don’t all have the words to describe that experience. It’s like a toddler trying to talk about a topic he doesn’t have words for. Well, theology gives you those words. It fills in the gaps. And a study of theology enables you to defend and explain your beliefs in a more effective way. So theology brings maturity for the purpose of proclamation.

A second reason to study theology is Protection. Studying theology protects you from falling away into false teaching. Or falling away into a life of sin, which would ultimately lead you to hell.

Theology and doctrine is a good thing, but keep in mind that not all theology is good. Not all doctrine is good. Jesus warned his disciples about the teaching or the doctrine of the Pharisees. Jesus taught the truth so that they would be protected from error.

And that is the same charge Jesus gives to the leaders in the church today. Go with me to Ephesians 4. Even though believers are united in Christ, they’re not all the same. There are roles in the church. And the reason Jesus gave the church pastors and teachers is found in Ephesians 4:12. Read Eph 4:12-14.

Without a good understanding of true doctrine, you’re still a spiritual child. And you’re going to get battered by the waves of false doctrine. You hear something form a teacher on TV, and you don’t know if it’s the truth or not. You’re in danger of being tricked, deceived.

Paul says the same thing in First Timothy. First Timothy is about the doctrine or teaching of the church. Paul is writing to Timothy, whom he had left in charge of the church in Ephesus. And notice what Paul tells Timothy in chapter 1. He’s going to again make the connection between false doctrine and wrong living. Read 1 Tim 1:3-10.

Later in chapter 4, Paul says it again. The church needs to be protected from false doctrine. 1 Timothy 4:1.

And since Timothy is a leader in the church Paul gives him this command. 1 Tim 4:6,   11, 13,   16.

And listen to what Paul says in chapter 6. 1 Tim 6:3-5.

Again, false doctrine leads to a sinful life. So we want to teach true doctrine in order to protect you. One pastor wrote this, and I’m paraphrasing. He said:

Knowing great things about God will help make us ready not to collapse under conflict and catastrophe. I’m aware these teachings might seem emotionally distant and unrelated to the personal pains of life. We may feel like all this talk about the grandeur of God is like trying to heal a broken heart with a tire iron…

But I also know something else. If catastrophe strikes, I will need a way of seeing the world that involves more than the tenderness of God… My mental and spiritual survival will depend on more than the precious gifts of God’s intimacy… To save your faith and strengthen your courage [in a time of calamity] you need big, deep, weighty, strong truths. These truths are made of steel. I know that a tire iron can’t caress a bruised heart, but if your car is rolling over on you and about to crush you, a cold, steel perpendicular tire iron might save your life.

True theology, strong doctrine, will protect you. We need it. It matures us. It protects us. And, being faithful shepherds or elders, means we feed you and protect you. That’s why Titus 1:9 says an elder must be able to exhort in sound doctrine, and to refute those who contradict. For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers… They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.

You need to study theology. You need to learn about God. You need to be rooted and grounded in an unstable world. You need to know doctrine because it enables you to proclaim the truth. And it protects you from error. It will protect you from hell.

One final point, and with this we’ll end for today. You need to learn doctrine for the sake of proclamation, for the sake of protection, and lastly, for the sake of praise. Worship.

Listen, we do not study doctrine for its own sake. When you get to heaven, there is not going to be a final exam waiting for you, with some poor angel assigned to grade your paper. That’s not what we’re working toward. Doctrine is intended to move us toward a greater awareness of who God is, what He has done, and what His plan is. And the result is worship.

The attributes of a person lead us to respond, right? Because my wife is trustworthy, I believe her. Because my wife is wise, I listen to her. Because my wife is beautiful, I stare at her. How much more so with God and with Jesus Christ?!

Learning theology, learning doctrine shows us how faithful, how true, how wise, how holy, and how glorious our God is. And our response is worship. Jesus said in John 4, the Father is seeking people to worship Him in spirit and in truth. And the more we understand the truth of God, the more equipped we will be to worship Him the way He designed us to worship.

Our songs won’t just be words sung with a tune. Our prayers won’t just be words whispered aloud. They will be the humble words of one who has been informed by the truth of how God loved us and saved us and gave us all things in Christ.

This is what characterized the words of the Psalmists and of the Apostles. There are so many passages we could turn to, but I just want to end by reading Romans 11:33-36. This is the end of Paul’s doctrinal section in the book. And before he starts giving instructions for our life, his thoughts ascend in praise. Romans 11:33-36.

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