Doctrine Revealed

Many Christians have become distracted by what they know as ‘doctrine’. Many people believe that the way to heaven is by correctly interpreted Biblical truth. Churches split and new denominations emerge, based on different ideas of what is correct doctrine.

Doctrine has a strange power to subvert people’s hearts. While they may believe in love, truth and noble things which make up our Christian walk, they will quickly violate those things when they meet someone who doesn’t agree with their doctrine. Worse still, if someone contends with them about their interpretation of some doctrinal point, Christians can be known to become vigorous in their opposition of each other.

The notion of loving our enemies goes out the window for some people. It is as if they worship their ‘doctrine’ not the Lord. It is as if they believe their doctrine will save them, not the blood of Christ.

Doctrine Defined

The general concept of ‘doctrine’ which is taken as gospel by Christians, theologians and Bible students today, is that doctrine is “accurate interpretation of Bible truth”. Some of the dictionary definitions for the word ‘doctrine’ give us: a belief (or system of beliefs) accepted as authoritative by some group or school; a belief or teaching of the Church; a body of instruction which expresses the Church’s faith.

The Bible, however, gives a much richer dimension to ‘doctrine’ than our didactic concepts allow. We think of doctrine as subject matter which is taught, as in a class lesson. We may then ask that the body of truth be ascribed to, examined in a test, faithfully repeated to us, or the like.

However, the use of the term doctrine in the New Testament was linked much more to lifestyle and actions than to a set of beliefs written in a book.

New Testament Doctrine

Consider this quote from Paul’s letter to his associate Titus.

“But speak the things which become sound doctrine” Titus 2:1

That instruction, if given to today’s Christians, might lead to the preparation of a study course or a sermon series on right beliefs. We might explain how our set of beliefs differs from those of another branch of Christendom, and sell our audience on the superior correctness of our particular interpretations and doctrinal perspectives.

But before we get too carried away on that endeavour, let’s see what Paul was really asking Titus to do.

“But speak the things which become sound doctrine: That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becomes holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things” Titus 2:1-3

Paul’s reference to “sound doctrine” was not about a set of beliefs but practical Christian living. It mentions the correct behaviour of aged men and aged women. It goes on in the following verses in Titus 2 to discuss young women, young men and servants. Sound doctrine did not lead to a theology exam, but could be seen in the way of life of those who had it.

That’s radically different to the concept of ‘doctrine’ which has dominated the Christian mindset for centuries. And if you take that perspective and apply it to the many other verses which mention doctrine a different picture emerges, than that of theological exactitude.

Consider these examples…

“In all things showing yourself a pattern of good works: in doctrine showing un-corruptness, gravity, sincerity, Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.” Titus 2:7,8

“And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, What thing is this? what new doctrine is this? for with authority he even commands the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” Mark 1:27

“Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord.” Acts 13:12

Theology and Doctrine

Many years ago I was required to study a book titled “All the Doctrines of the Bible”. However that book did not have any doctrine about aged men or aged women, young men or servants. It had no doctrine of casting our demons (see Mark 1:27,28) or calling blindness onto a man who opposed the gospel (Acts 13:10-12).

How could a book be titled ALL the doctrines when it clearly leaves out things which the Bible describes as ‘doctrine’? The reason is that our church world has become besotted with theology and superimposed that concept over the meaning of the word doctrine.

Knowledge puffs people up (1Corinthians 8:1) and so when people have knowledge of theology they want to elevate the status of their mental powers, giving themselves credits that they do not deserve. Paul would not have looked at the Theology test scores of his followers, but at their lifestyle. Yet today we take note of Bible college grades and not the evidence seen in a person’s life. What fools we have become!!!

Doctrine is not accurate interpretation of Bible truth, but proving the truth of what you believe by your lifestyle. When Jesus broke the power of a demon (Mark 1: 21-27) the people marveled at His doctrine. The action proved the power of the truth that Jesus taught. Sound Doctrine is action not theology. Your doctrine is seen in your actions not in your test results.

Live Your Sound Doctrine

If you cannot live the things you have studied then you only have empty head knowledge. If you live with Christ or Paul as your example you will have sound doctrine, even if you can’t pass a theology exam. Get real about what the Bible is talking about.

We are not saved by our correct answers to theological questions. We are saved by faith. Then that faith is to be seen in our lifestyle as we bring forth fruits which prove that we have repented. We become a new creature and live differently from the worldly way we once lived. We do not love the world any more and we don’t love any of the things in the world any more. We die to self, crucify our flesh, take up our cross, love not our lives to the death, and let God’s kingdom be established over our whole lives.

If you are a theology student then watch out. You may well become seduced by the foolish idea that your head knowledge counts for something, when it is nothing but ego feeding knowledge that puffs you up. You will not get to heaven by what your brain cells do, but by what your heart, mind, soul and strength are committed to.

Calvinism is Born

This is the day that … John Calvin was born in 1509, in Noyon, France.

He was to become the outstanding theologian of the Protestant Reformation … although not all Protestants would agree with some of his doctrines. But it must be confessed that many a giant of Christian history acknowledges the impact of Calvinism upon his life. Knox, Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Martyn Lloyd-Jones and James Packer are names that immediately spring to mind. “The longer I live,” wrote Spurgeon, “the clearer does it appear that John Calvin’s system (of theology) is the nearest to perfection.”

Calvin was one of the few reformers who were not an ex-priest. He studied law in France – had a “sudden conversion” in his early 20’s, and in 1536 published the first edition of his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion. This volume has been described as among the “world’s 10 most influential works”.

From 1541 until his death (on 27 May, 1564), Calvin dominated the social and religious life of Geneva … despite the fact that he held no government position, nor was an actual citizen until 1559.

From the pulpit of St Peter’s Cathedral he preached his way through book after book of Holy Writ, lecturing to theological students and preaching five times a week. Taken down by a stenographer, these messages have found their way into print. There is a commentary on every book of the Bible – except Revelation! For example, Calvin preached 200 consecutive sermons on the book of Deuteronomy – published by Banner of Truth in a 1,300 page facsimile edition of the 1583 original.

It was said by his friend, Beza, that when Calvin preached “every word weighed a pound”.

Harsh discipline was meted out (at least, by today’s standards) to law-breakers, a system of education was devised, a prosperous trade in cloth and velvet was established with other countries, even a sewerage system was introduced that made Geneva “one of the cleanest cities in Europe” (Who’s Who in Christian History, page 131).

And his Institutes grew from six chapters to 79.

W. Stanford Reid writes that Calvin became “the dominant figure of the Protestant Reformation in the middle of the (16th) century” (John Calvin – His Influence in the Western World) – an assessment surely none would question.

When he died in 1564 he was buried in a common cemetery without a headstone, according to his wishes. His gravesite is unknown to this day (Christian History magazine, Volume 5/4).

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

Psalm or Bucket? Do you Give or Take?

Today’s church is beset by people who are keen to “get” and not so keen to “give”. This should be surprising considering Christ’s injunction that Christians are to be a giving people. We are to “give” and consequently things will be given to us (Luke 6:38). Jesus did not say, “IF you give”, but “When you give….” (Matthew 6:3). 

A self-serving attitude can often be seen in the way people approach church. When someone is looking for a new church home they are likely to be quite fussy about what they want and what suits them. This is especially so when a whole family has to be accommodated. Each family member will have their own idea of an ‘ideal’ church, and will measure each possible spiritual home against that wish-list. Then, when it comes to attending church people often come with a “meet my needs” mentality.

There is a popular idea that church is the place to be re-charged and restored. The imagery is almost that of the desperate Christians finally getting to church for their re-charge – where they can escape the pressures of everyday life and be recharged to face the pressures of tomorrow. Each Sunday is a chance for people to get enough of a charge to get them through to the mid-week meeting, and so on. 

The New Testament church had a different concept of church life. It was a place where people brought something of their own spiritual blessing to share with others. Paul described the situation in the church at Corinth as one where “everyone has a psalm, doctrine, message in tongues, revelation or interpretation” 1Corinthians 14:26). Today, however, people come to church empty handed. Rather than coming to make a contribution, with a generosity of spirit, they come to make a withdrawal. Instead of coming with a psalm or prophecy, they come with a bucket! 

I have written a poem about this modern approach to church life and I’ll share that will you in the next few days.