Call me Ali

They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory.
~ Mark 10:37

’cause I’m the greatest

Doctrine. To some, the word causes fear, trembling, and gnashing of teeth. May the hooves of a thousand camels stamp it and may the last camel die upon it under the burning noon sun of the desert. May doctrine be as the filthiness of the Gentiles and not be once named among us. Don’t talk to me about doctrine. In other words, some people would rather avoid it.

To some others, doctrine is where it’s at. They’re all about it. Give me some of that doctrine. Though Isaac sustained Jacob with grain and wine, I will run in the strength of that doctrine for forty days. Though I start on the journey of a thousand miles and the sun is hidden from me behind wet, stone gray clouds, I will fear no evil as long as doctrine is beside me, beneath me, and before me. In other words, it’s all in all to such folks.

I suppose, by now, you suspect me of dealing in extremes and setting up my heroism in forging some middle way. Why would I do that? Why would I want to find a way to be in between follies? I could be slathered with mayo and mustard and paired with cheddar between two slices of problems and I still would only be lunch meat. No, I want to find a better road entirely, the biblical road. What does the Bible have to say about doctrine?

What is doctrine?

2 Timothy 3:16 tells us all Scripture is inspired by God and all of Scripture is useful for doctrine, or teaching. That is what doctrine is. It’s teaching. The Greek noun here is didaskalian, and it means that which is taught. When Luke refers to the Apostles’ teaching in Acts 2:42, he refers to their doctrine, the body of teaching they taught.

The doctrine of the Bible is simply what the Bible teaches. The biblical writers wrote consciously of a body, or system, of instruction in the Bible. Paul charged Timothy to stick to the pattern of Paul’s teaching (2 Timothy 1:13). The Apostles’ doctrine is sufficiently formalized so as to be a standard of measure for all teaching (1 Timothy 6:3-5).

Biblical doctrine is never imposed on the Bible in part or in whole. Biblical doctrine is the Bible. The Bible is a book of sixty-six books and each of those books is made up of narratives, poetry, and paragraphs of prose. We have to give detailed attention to the words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs of the biblical books. We have to study the flow, the logic, the grammar, the rhetoric, and the parallels and contrasts with similar passages in the other books of the Bible. Through this process, we come to the contextual meaning of the passage, and that is doctrine.

What is the purpose of doctrine?

The aim of the Bible’s teaching is not mere knowledge. Mere knowledge results in pride (1 Corinthians 8:1). Mere knowledge, no matter how vast its scope, is worthless (1 Corinthians 13:2). Paul often described doctrine in the pastoral letters with a Greek word that means sound, or healthy. The word literally means having good physical health. Biblical doctrine is healthy like a human body free of disease or sickness, but it also healthy like a nutritious meal that nourishes and enriches the body to perform its tasks (1 Timothy 4:6; 2 Timothy 3:17).

Biblical doctrine is foundational to growing in faith, obedience, and practical righteousness (1 Timothy 6:3; Titus 1:1; 2:11-14; 2 Peter 1:3-7). Doctrine sanctifies us and fills us with joy (John 17:13-17). Doctrine grows our discernment and protects us from error (Hebrews 5:11-14; Ephesians 4:4). Doctrine is also instrumental in making disciples, as God’s word creates God’s people (Matthew 28:18-20).

Conclusion

As pastors minister in their congregations, we aim for people to be brought to faith, grow in grace, grow in love, grow in unity, grow in witness, grow in joy, grow in worship, and grow in expectation of Christ’s return. That does not, or will not, happen apart from good doctrine. We simply cannot feed the sheep without exposition of all the words God gave us that forms accurate doctrine, which is then applied to the very people in front of us. Doctrine is a vital part of connecting people today to the Bible written so long ago.

In other words doctrine is essential to ministry. You cannot jettison doctrine and maintain ministry. Ministry without doctrine becomes manipulation. Whatever the means employed, people are conformed to whatever vision the pastor has for them, but they are not really transformed by the teaching of God’s word. On the other hand, often doctrine is not viewed as essential to ministry but the entire goal of ministry. Doctrine becomes a measuring stick by which we can tell who will be the greatest in Heaven. It is a quick check by which we can measure our distinctiveness from our neighbor. People are prepped by such a ministry as if Heaven requires a No. 2 pencil and fully filled ovals.

Doctrine is essential. Doctrine that does not lead us to making more and more of Jesus Christ and less and less of ourselves, is not sound and is not biblical. On second thought, my name is not Ali after all.

Chapter-and-Verse

Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. ~ Matthew 22:29

Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. ~ Matthew 22:29

The double-edged sword I do not use.

When someone says, “Show me chapter and verse,” they are using an idiom derived from the religious study and use of the Bible. Used secularly, it means the speaker is requesting to be shown a pertinent reference from an authoritative source that substantiates the claim in question. I have heard engineers use this phrase in reference to manuals or other specifications that govern the design and manufacture of items.

If you spend much time at church and around Christians, you will hear this expression. At best, the phrase means we demand biblical support for our doctrine and practice. It means we hold the Bible to be our only and all-sufficient rule for faith and practice. At least, that’s the ideal.

The other edge is when chapter-and-verse becomes a mentality. Then it does not mean biblical support is required, but rather prooftexting is required. In more extreme cases, it means the proponent demands at least one verse that unequivocally states the claim in the proper formula, or they will not accept it. In other words, the Bible has to say we should not do X exactly or we should do Y exactly. If this criteria is not met, they remain belligerent.

I chose that last word carefully because the chapter-and-verse mentality does not reveal the heart of someone devoted to Scripture. Rather, it reveals the obstinate heart of someone who is rejecting God’s Word and doing what is right in their own eyes. This is not someone who is searching, comparing, interpreting, and applying God’s Word.

Three Biblical Problems with the Chapter-And-Verse Mentality

  1. It demands something of the Bible that it was not written to provide. The Bible was not written as a list of dos and don’ts. It contains some lists, but even those need interpretation, as we will see in a moment. Think about it. This mentality is demanding the Bible have an unequivocal statement that addresses a particular situation and, if it doesn’t have such, they feel justified in doing whatever they want. The second most used phrase from people with this mentality is: The Bible doesn’t say anything about that.
  2. The Bible self-testifies that not everyone uses it rightly. Consider this passage from Hebrews:

    Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing. For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
    – Hebrews 5:11-14

    Those that need milk are “unskilful in the word,” and they are not able to “discern both good and evil.” It is the mature who use the word, exercising their senses, and are able to discern between good and evil. Note that it requires discernment to determine what is good and what is evil. Reading a list of dos and don’ts to find your specific situation does not require discernment.

  3. This mentality is not how Jesus viewed the Bible. Look at one instance that demonstrates how Jesus read and understood the Scriptures. Immediately after declaring that the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees fell woefully short, He corrected their teaching. They taught: “Thou shalt not kill” (Matthew 5:21) and if one does kill another, he will go to judgment. If you check Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17, that is exactly what those verses say: “Thou shalt not kill.” But Jesus said their teaching was incomplete because He went on to speak about being guilty if you were unjustly angry with your brother, but did not physically kill him.

    Jesus indicated that Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17 were not the only word. He referenced Leviticus 19:17-18 to show that the law did not end with physical murder. They were to go beyond chapter-and-verse and search, compare, think, and rightly use the Word of God.

The study of the Bible is not about finding prooftexts to accuse or excuse. It is about knowing God in all that He has revealed of Himself. We are also told we need our minds renewed because they have a sinful bent and we have constant worldly pressure on us (Romans 12:1-2).

Three Reasons to Study Bible Doctrine

Study to Show Thyself Approved

Study to Show Thyself Approved

1. Learning the truth, we grow in faith, obedience, and righteousness.

  • Doctrine is the real foundation of good works (1 Timothy 6:3; Titus 1:1; Titus 2:11-14; 2 Peter 1:3-7)

2. Using the milk of the Word and growing to the meat, we increase in discernment (Hebrews 5:11-14).

  • Wisdom and discernment is what is needed in a thousand questions of everyday life
  • It betrays immaturity when people only want the short, quick answers

3. Doctrinal study gives clarity, focus, and ultimate meaning to our lives.

  • Without it we do not know who we are, where we are, nor where we are going, and we certainly don’t know much of who God is. This leaves us open and vulnerable to deception (Ephesians 4:4)
    • One example is the insecurity and lack of assurance of many professed Christians
      • John wrote that we may know (1 John 5:3)

The question is: Are you studying? (2 Timothy 2:15)