Tuesday, August 24, 2010

To Live is Christ — paying attention to doctrine

Doctrine is not a popular word. I’ve heard people say, “I don’t want to hear a bunch of stuffy doctrine. Just tell me what the Bible teaches” or “Doctrine divides, so let’s not get into it.”

The word doctrine comes from the same Greek work as didactic. It means “teaching” or “that which is taught.” I’m not sure where the bad reputation comes from. Perhaps it relates to the way doctrine is interpreted (or disobeyed) than the actual teachings themselves.

Paul puts a positive spin on this word in these two verses:

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16–17)
The word doctrine appears mostly in the Pastoral Epistles where Paul used it often to refer to a body of teaching rather than the points he was writing about. This body of teaching, sometimes called “the Apostles’ doctrine”was the standard used to measure genuine faith. Paul also talked about false doctrine and warned people to not listen to the doctrines of men rather the Word of God.

This word has good connotations for me. I think of it as referring to the things Jesus taught, and to the teachings God inspired others to write about. In both cases, this isn’t about my interpretation of those teachings, but about what the Bible says. Various people and denominations could have various views on what those doctrines mean or how to apply them. Nevertheless, the teachings of God are in Scripture and, as Paul wrote to Timothy, Scripture profits us.

For one thing, those teachings help me become more mature in my faith (complete). They also equip me for the good things God wants me to do. When I was young, my parents were told that my childhood illness would take my life before sixteen. They didn’t teach me many things. (I understand how difficult that must have been for them.)

However, my heavenly Father fills in what they missed. His Word is complete for everything I need to know. Part of that equipping is in passages like this one that offers instruction about how to think! 

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8–9)
Other doctrines show me how to treat people, do my work, and how to respond to unfairness, or abuse. The teachings of the Bible cover moral issues, relationships, leadership, using God-given gifts, money, even eating and exercise. Of course the more important topics get the most coverage.

No, it does not tell me what brand of soap to buy or how to unlock my car without a key. Nevertheless, it does tell me how to keep my heart clean. I also know how to escape many mental and psychological prisons where my spiritual enemy would love to trap me. The keys are in God’s Word and the Holy Spirit hands them to me when I need them — with one caveat. I must keep reading His Book and doing what it says.

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