Doctrine: The Essential Foundation
- Wednesday, July 23, 2008
It's become increasingly apparent that the contemporary mind is suspicious of propositional truth. The culture has imbibed the postmodernism construct: propositions lead to doctrines, which lead to theologies, which form the meta-narratives that the elite and powerful use to dominate, manipulate, and take advantage of the masses. "No more propositions, doctrines, and imperialistic meta-narratives," they say. "Just show us Jesus by what you do."
That may sound good, but it's fundamentally flawed. If you can't use propositions, who's to say what kind of living is more or less like Jesus? At some point, the propositions are brought out, doctrines are stated, theologies take shape, and it's one meta-narrative versus another.
At the heart of contemporary concern is what many have observed-cold, dead, compassionless "Christians" touting doctrines they don't really believe. They are like those Paul warned Timothy about: they hold "to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power" (2 Timothy 3:5).
True biblical doctrine is practical. In fact, nothing is more practical than sound doctrine. Those who listen to right doctrine and put it into practice are transformed by it.
The pastor who turns away from preaching sound doctrine abdicates the primary responsibility of an elder: "holding fast the faithful word which is accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict" (Titus 1:9). We teach the truth, error, or nothing at all.
Practical insights, gimmicks, and illustrations (the Seeker Movement), and ethical mandates, philosophical musings, and social action (the Emergent Movement) mean little if they're not anchored in a foundation of divine principle. There's no basis for godly behavior apart from the truth of God's Word. Before the preacher asks anyone to perform a certain duty, he must first deal with doctrine. He must develop his message around theological themes and draw out the principles of the text. Only then can people apply the truth.
Romans provides the clearest biblical example. Paul didn't even give any exhortation until he had given eleven chapters of theology. He scaled incredible heights of truth, culminating in 11:33-36:
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
Then in chapter 12, he turns immediately to the practical consequences of the doctrine of the first eleven chapters. No passage in Scripture captures the Christian's responsibility in the face of truth more clearly than Romans 12:1-2.
Resting on eleven chapters of profound doctrine, Paul called each believer to a supreme act of spiritual worship-giving oneself as a living sacrifice. Doctrine gives rise to dedication to Christ, the greatest practical act. And the remainder of the book of Romans goes on to explain the many practical outworkings of a Christian's dedication to Christ.
Paul followed the same pattern in Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and 1 Thessalonians. The doctrinal message comes first. Upon that foundation he built the practical application, making the logical connection with the word therefore (Romans 12:1; Galatians 5:1; Ephesians 4:1; Philippians 2:1) or then (Colossians 3:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:1).
We have imposed an artificial meaning on the word doctrine. We've made it something abstract and threatening, unrelated to daily living. That has brought about the disastrous idea that doctrinal preaching and teaching are unrelated to living.
But the scriptural concept of doctrine includes the entire message of the gospel-its teaching about God, salvation, sin, and righteousness. Those concepts are so tightly bound to daily living that the first-century mind saw them as inseparably linked to practical truth.
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