Why Study Doctrine?

It’s early on Sunday evening and I’m putting the finishing touches on a lesson I’ll be teaching to my Journey 24/7 group tomorrow night. The lesson will be a very brief introduction into our study in basic Biblical doctrines. When I think of the study of doctrine, I think of my son-in-law, Jason, who graduated from seminary last year. According to the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary, a seminary is an institution for the training of candidates for the priesthood, ministry, or rabbinate. In my son-in-law’s case, it was training for the ministry.

A good portion of his education over the last few years has centered on doctrine, those core beliefs about God, the Bible, humankind, Christ, the church, and other concepts that my faith (Christianity) considers authoritative and accepted by all adherents. Simply put, doctrine helps us answer the question, “What does a person need to know to be a Christian?” In my mind, this question goes beyond the “steps” one takes to appropriate salvation. One might answer the question with the declaration that one must know that Jesus Christ died for our sins (yours and mine too, I might add). But to that, I’d ask, “How does one ‘learn’ that?” How does one come to understand that Jesus Christ indeed did just that? How does one grasp the significant impact that has on their life going forward? Again, all this presupposes the individual has trusted Jesus Christ as Savior. For me, the study of Christian doctrine guides us through the collected teaching about Christ’s sacrificial death and a good deal more we need to know as born-again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Read 1 Timothy 4:13-16

Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.

The Apostle Paul is planning to return to rejoin his young protégé, but until such time, what three things does he direct Timothy to pay particular attention to in verse 13? Reading, exhortation and doctrine.

If you accept, as I do, that what is written in the Bible is addressed to us as well as the stated recipients, then to what are we to give attention to reading? Scripture; We and Timothy are to practice the public reading and exposition of Scripture. This, in one form, is preaching, plain and simple. But it also encompasses the entire scope of public proclamation of the truths of Holy Scripture. Whenever I give testimony, in a public forum, to the affirmation of what Scripture teaches I am fulfilling Paul’s charge.

Next Paul encourages us to be attentive to exhortation. He’s calling us to challenge those who hear God’s Word to apply it in their daily lives. The world has many Christians who are content to live out their Christianity quietly and without challenging those brothers and sisters in their sphere of influence to live lives aligned with the teaching and example of Jesus Christ. Exhortation could include rebuking or warning a fellow believer when they are engaging in activities that Scripture clearly forbids or directs us to avoid. Exhortation may also be encouraging or comforting a believer who is discouraged or hurting. Note that both reading and exhortation are linked by a verbal component. Both require speaking to one another. Paul repeats his call to give our attention to doctrine in verse 16, where he urges us to learn and teach the personal applications of doctrine.

But why? Why study doctrine at all? Couldn’t I just as easily tell the young men and women in my Bible study to simply read the Bible? Well, in a very profound way, that’s exactly what I’m doing when I’m asking them to spend some time examining the basic doctrines of our faith. I am challenging them to read and understand the Bible in a way many of them have never considered before.

Read Matthew 28:18-20

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

This passage is familiar to every student of the Bible as “the Great Commission.” Here Matthew records Christ’s commissioning of His disciples, and each of us who have trusted Christ, to go out and evangelize. It is quite an eloquent call to action. By the authority given to Christ by His Heavenly Father, we are commanded to take positive, intentional action in going (leaving our comfort zones) and reproducing followers not of ourselves, but of Jesus Christ. However the only way they can know how to follow Jesus Christ is by examining our actions as we reflect Christ to them. That’s a very sobering prospect, when I think that if I am deficient in reflecting Jesus Christ; if I distort His holy image in any way, I am not reproducing followers of Jesus Christ, but of some perversion of Christ.

But the commission goes further by calling us to lead these new followers of Jesus to identify with Him through obedience in baptism. Furthermore, we’re to teach them in all the things Jesus commanded us to do. Here the Great Commission is fully rounded out, going from the call to be faithful and obedient in heeding His call to action that results in followers of Him and then to continue in our call to discipleship, by teaching them everything He taught.

Teaching in Biblical times was an oral exercise. So to teach all that Jesus commands includes all that He orally taught while here on earth. To do this I have to look no further than the Gospels, as they reveal Jesus Christ’s “lesson plans”, if you will. But if I stop there, I’ve not fulfilled the commission. To teach all that Jesus commands must include the interpretation of His teachings and examples and their application in the early assembly of His church, as recorded in the book of Acts. However, I’ve not faithfully discharged all that the commission requires unless I also teach what Paul and the authors of the Epistles wrote under the supervision of the Holy Spirit as they reflected the commands of our Lord. In effect, all that Jesus commands is what is recorded in the entire New Testament. But it goes further than that, as the New Testament repeatedly records that Jesus demonstrated an absolute confidence in the authority and accuracy of the Old Testament Scriptures as God’s Word, faithful and true. So all that Jesus commands must include the Old Testament too. Taken in this context, the Great Commission not only calls us to evangelize and preach the good news of Jesus Christ to the lost but to teach all the doctrines found in our Bible.

Why study doctrine? To fulfill the Great Commission, that’s why!

Grace 2 U All!


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