The Foundations Of Faith: The Division Of Biblical Doctrine
By: Renald Showers
This is the introductory article in a series on Bible doctrine that will supply our readers with a firm understanding of the foundations of our faith. The word doctrine comes from the Latin term doctrina, which means “ instruction, education, learning. ” In light of these meanings, we can conclude that biblical doctrine consists of those divine truths that are recorded in the Scriptures and intended by God to be taught. Thus, the Apostle Paul wrote that “ All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine [lit., teaching] ” ( 2 Tim. 3:16 ).
The Division Of Biblical Doctrine
Over centuries of diligent study, students of the Bible have discovered that the divine truths recorded in its pages fall into several categories or divisions of doctrine. The names assigned to those divisions and their meanings are as follows:
Bibliology: the study of the Bible
Theology Proper: the study of God
Angelology: the study of angels, including Satanology, the study of Satan, and Demonology, the study of demons
Anthropology: the study of man
Hamartiology: the study of sin
Christology: the study of Christ
Soteriology: the study of salvation
Pneumatology: the study of the Spirit
Ecclesiology: the study of the church
Eschatology: the study of last things
Negative Attitude Toward Doctrine
Tragically, many Christians have a negative attitude toward doctrine. They express this negativity in various ways. Some claim that doctrine divides people; therefore, it should not be taught. Apparently they do not recognize the serious implication of that claim. Since biblical doctrine consists of those divine truths that are recorded in the Scriptures, in essence they are saying that God ’s truth divides; therefore, His truth should not be taught.
If division takes place when correct doctrine is taught, it is not the fault of doctrine or the teaching of doctrine. Instead, it is because of world reactions to the doctrine by people. They refuse to accept that biblical truth and its implications, so they separate from those who do accept and teach it.
Some others say, “ Doctrine is not important. What is important is experience. ” Several years ago, when a pastor visited a couple from his church who were beginning to move in a dangerous direction, the man raised his hand to his chin and said, “ Pastor, we ’re fed up to here with the Word of God. We don ’t want God ’s Word any more. What we want is experience. ” Probably without realizing it, that man revealed that he had been greatly influenced by the existentialist philosophy that so thoroughly permeates our society and says, “ The only thing that is important is what is meaningful to me personally. ”
Is it true that doctrine is not important God doesn ’t think so. Many years ago I read an article that so impressed me that, in spite of the fact that I cannot remember the name and date of the publication, I have never forgotten its content. At the beginning of a seminary course on New Testament studies, the instructor told the students that they would work together on one major project during that semester. They would move systematically through the New Testament to categorize every area of truth and determine how many times each area is addressed. Their goal was to find what one thing is emphasized more than any other in the New Testament. When they completed the project, they were amazed to see that warning against false doctrine is emphasized more than any other thing, even more than love, unity, and experience.
Since God inspired the Scriptures, this finding is very significant. It indicates that doctrine is of paramount importance to God. Since it is so important to Him, it had better be important to His people.
There is valid spiritual experience, and such experience is important, but in order to be valid it must be in agreement with God ’s truth. There are many false spiritual experiences available to people. In light of this, it is critical that God ’s people have an objective, authoritative standard by which to evaluate experiences and determine which are valid and which are false. That standard consists of the doctrinal truths of God ’s Word. Thus, in order to avoid the false, it is imperative that God ’s people know biblical doctrine. Those who do not are vulnerable and are like a ship without its anchor.
Still others assert, “ Doctrine is not important. Love and unity are important. ” Indeed, proper love and unity are important, but, as we have seen, so is doctrine. The Apostle John used the words love and truth many times in his gospel and epistles, indicating that God ’s people are to hold onto both. Several times John tied love and truth together, implying that they are to be related to each other. Doctrine that is not united with love becomes dead orthodoxy, but love that is divorced from correct doctrine can be perverted or false. For this reason John talked about loving people “ in the truth ” ( 2 Jn. 1 ; 3 Jn. 1 ).
Today there is a dangerous tendency to sacrifice and compromise God ’s truth for the sake of unity. For example, for the sake of unity with people who do not hold to the true gospel necessary for salvation, some have gone so far as to say that those people are to be regarded as true Christians, and no attempt should be made to evangelize them. This tendency stands in stark contrast with the examples of Christ, who refused to sacrifice God’s truth for the sake of unity with the Pharisees and Sadducees ( Mt. 16:5–12 ; 23 ), and Paul, who would not compromise the true gospel for the sake of unity with the Judaizers ( Gal. 1:6–12 ).
The tragedy of love and unity being divorced from doctrinal truth is expressed graphically in a poem about two sisters (Love and Unity) who married two husbands (Doctrine and Truth).
A Tale of Two Sisters, or The Tragedy of Ecumenical Unfaithfulness
With heart so kind and gentle,
And sympathetic eye;
With touching, deep affection,
And loyal, tender tie—
Was LOVE betrothed to DOCTRINE
To hold him all her days:
And walk the aisle of gladness
United in His ways.
Her younger sister also
Had qualities as fair,
Of caring, selfless, kindness,
And warmth without compare;
Thus UNITY was drawn to
The husband of her youth:
And pledged herself for ever
To be the bride of TRUTH.
But TIME, with bitter envy,
Across the testing years,
Pursued the slow erosion
Of happiness to tears;
Till LOVE began to weary
Of DOCTRINE ’S pleasant voice,
And UNITY grew cold to
The partner of her choice.
Then LOVE began to notice
The charms of HERESY,
And awed by his opinions,
She wanted to be free;
And UNITY perceived that
Her virtues were desired
By many, many others
Whose ways she so admired.
At length, two precious unions,
So promising, so blest,
Were darkened by delusion,
Till came the day of sorrows,
And rending vows of youth,
When LOVE divorced her DOCTRINE,
And UNITY her TRUTH.
Still others claim that the study of doctrine can cause a person to lose his or her zeal for the Lord and grow spiritually lukewarm or even cold. This assertion also has a serious implication. Since biblical doctrine consists of those divine truths that are recorded in the Scriptures, in essence they are saying that God ’s truth can cause loss of zeal for the Lord and a lukewarm or cold spiritual condition.
Some people do lose their zeal and grow lukewarm or cold while studying doctrine, but that is not the fault of biblical doctrine or the study of doctrine. Instead, it is because of a person’s wrong response to doctrine. He or she is not allowing God ’s truth to make its intended lifechanging impact.
Those Christians who make these negative statements about doctrine and the teaching of doctrine thereby expose their spiritual deformity. The Scriptures assert that inability to receive indepth teaching of God’s truth is an indication of carnality and lack of spiritually ( 1 Cor. 3:1–3 ) as well as immaturity ( Heb. 5:11–14 ).
Why would God go to the trouble of revealing His doctrinal truths and having them recorded in inspired, permanent form in the Bible if He weren’t vitally concerned that His people learn them.
A Dangerous Trend
There is a discernible, growing trend to move away from the systematic teaching of doctrine in churches that claim to be Bible-believing. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to find a church that provides such instruction. This situation is so prevalent that a Bible conference recently conducted a forum entitled “ Doctrine—The Endangered Species. ”
This trend stands in stark contrast to the practice of the early church. The believers of the first century “ continued steadfastly in the apostles ’ doctrine ” ( Acts 2:42 ). The word proskarterein, translated “ continued steadfastly, ” means “ to occupy oneself diligently with something, ” “ to pay persistent attention to, ” “ to hold fast to something. ” Thus, the early Christians apparently occupied themselves diligently with, paid persistent attention to, or held fast to doctrine every time they gathered together. With this in mind, Walter Grundmann wrote,
Luke sketches the Christian community for us in Ac. 2:42 . With assembly for prayer we find the common meal, fellowship and apostolic doctrine. Persistence in these things is a practical fulfillment of the direction of the Lord to “ continue in my word ” ( Jn. 8:31 ). Hence the word proskarterein, used to describe the life of the community, expresses one aspect of the power and vitality of primitive Christianity.
Paul issued the following command to Timothy: “ And the things that thou hast heard from me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also ” ( 2 Tim. 2:2 ). The fact that this is a command indicates that each generation of Christians has a divinely imposed obligation to teach biblical doctrine to the next generation. This command contains a frightening implication. If one generation fails to teach doctrine to the next generation, that generation and every generation thereafter will be ignorant of God ’s truth and vulnerable to every kind of error. The church will be severely harmed and will change radically into something that God never intended.
In light of this, the present trend of churches moving away from the systematic teaching of biblical doctrine is not only dangerous but has frightening implications for the spiritual welfare of individual believers and the church.