Doctrine has gotten a bad name in recent years. “Doctrine divides. Jesus unites,” or “Doctrine is religion, but Christianity is relationship,” are sentiments you might have heard. If these sentiments are true, should we even have doctrinal statements at all? Don’t they just create divisions between Christians that should be working in unity?
Let’s consider three more questions to answer the preceding two: What does doctrine refer to anyway? Does doctrine have any connection to a relationship with Jesus? Does the Bible give any instruction regarding whether we should have a doctrinal statement?Does doctrine have any connection to a relationship with Jesus? – Loren Gjesdal Click To Tweet
What Is Doctrine?
First, what is doctrine? Paul’s use of the word in his first letter to Timothy may be particularly helpful in aiding our understanding of what doctrine is:
If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, (1 Tim 6:3 NASB)
Here Paul equates doctrine with the “sound words” of our Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, doctrine is teaching or instruction (which is what the root Greek word translated as doctrine refers to). And the teaching we are particularly concerned with understanding and applying is the teaching of Jesus. Doctrine should never be set opposite Jesus—it is Jesus!
How Does Doctrine Connect to Our Relationship with Jesus?
Second, does doctrine have any connection to our relationship with Jesus? Yes! Our relationship with Jesus is not merely a warm feeling inside, nor is it thoughtless. When we have a relationship with someone, we say that we “know” them. Jesus went so far as to say our very salvation is based on this “knowing”:
This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. (John 17:3)
But what does it mean to know someone? It is much more than having a positive disposition towards someone, or a momentary encounter, or even to receive their assistance in some way. To know someone is to know what they are like, what they think. It is to know who they are.
Likewise, our relationship with Jesus is substantive, and its substance is what we know about who He is, what He has done, and what He values. A large part of our doctrine consists of what we know to be true about Jesus.
What Does the Bible Say about Doctrinal Statements?
Finally, does the Bible have anything to say about whether we should have formal doctrinal statements? Yes, and it says that such statements are crucial to the well-being of God’s church! Paul describes pure doctrine as a safeguard against heresy, preventing a departure from the teaching of Jesus, and he connects true doctrine to Christ-like maturity:
As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, (Eph 4:14-15)Paul describes pure doctrine as a safeguard against heresy. – Loren Gjesdal Click To Tweet
How might we combat being carried about by every wind of doctrine? By having a formal statement of belief, a list if you will, of the truths that we hold as valid. If false doctrine is the trickery of men, then right doctrine is the truth spoken in love by Jesus. Not only does doctrine come from Jesus’ teaching, but His teaching is meant to transform our thinking so that we become more like Him as a result. Not only is Jesus’ doctrine to inform us about who He is, it is to become who we are!
A Safeguard against Heresy
Doctrinal statements of truth serve as a brake against heresy. Instead of causing division, clear doctrinal statements can be the basis for putting an end to needless contention:
If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. (1 Tim 6:3-5)
If we think of doctrine as statements of truth learned from Jesus, then we can dismiss the false dichotomy of choosing between doctrine or Jesus. Instead, we can agree with Paul about the value of doctrine by agreeing with Jesus about the value of knowing the truth:
But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. (John 4:23)
…and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. (John 8:32)
This We Believe
The Church of God (Seventh Day) has a statement of doctrine, described at length in a book called “This We Believe.” A number of these doctrines are distinctive, forming the basis for being a unique denomination, but they need not be the basis for contention.
Rather they should be the basis for unity. These are statements that we agree, to the best of our understanding, are right, true, and good, informing us of who the one true God is, and His Son whom He sent.
Artios is offering a class on the doctrines of the Church of God (Seventh Day). Rather than thinking, “Doctrine, yuck!” our hope is that you will see the value of “knowing” Him—His heart, mind and will as revealed in Scripture and summarized in our doctrinal statements. Most are shared with all Christianity, and some are distinctive, but all describe important parts of how we know our God and our Savior.
If you’re interested in learning in the Church of God (Seventh Day) doctrines, Artios Christian College is here to equip you!
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