Introduction to Christian Doctrine

April 30, 2007     Time: 00:21:55

Defenders class is a class on Christian doctrine. It is a survey of the whole body of Christian doctrinal claims, of Christian truth, with an apologetics emphasis. The class verse is 1 Peter 3:15 which says “Always be prepared to give a defense to any one who calls you to give a reason for the hope that is in you, yet do this with gentleness and respect.” That is the class verse.

The purpose statement of the class is three-fold. We have a three-fold mission in the Defenders class:

1. To train Christians to understand, articulate, and defend basic Christian truths. We want you to understand the Christian world and life view, what we as Christians believe. We want you to be able to explain this to others, to be able to articulate what you believe (not just to believe it but to be able to explain it and share it). Then we want you to be able to defend the truth of what you believe. That is the first and primary purpose of this class.

2. To reach out with the Gospel to those who have not yet come to know Christ, always being ready to give a defense to anyone who should ask for a reason for our hope. We welcome seekers in this class, and I hope that you will see this class as an evangelistic opportunity to bring a non-believing friend who is seeking for truth to come to an environment that will be welcoming, that will be open to questions, and not feel threatened by his unbelief. So we want to have an evangelistic impact as well.

3. To be an incendiary fellowship of mutual encouragement and care. When logs on a fire are gathered together, the fire burns brightly. It is an incendiary experience. But when the logs are pulled apart, the embers soon die and go out. We want Defenders to be an incendiary fellowship where together we care for one another, we encourage one another, we stimulate one another. [inaudible] burns very bright as we are in this fellowship of mutual encouragement, love, and stimulus. That is the third goal of Defenders class – to be an incendiary fellowship of mutual encouragement and care.

What is Christian doctrine? If Defenders is a survey of Christian doctrine, what exactly do we mean by Christian doctrine? Some of you might not even know what the word means. I remember when I was in college and took my first class in Christian doctrine, I didn't really know, as someone only two years old in the Lord, what Christian doctrine even was!

Well, Jaroslav Pelikan, a great historian of Christian doctrine, has defined Christian doctrine as “what the church believes and teaches.” In other words, doctrine concerns the truth content of the Christian religion, not the practical living out of the Christian faith; not the moral virtues or the spiritual virtues of the Christian faith. Rather, doctrine is the truth content of the Christian religion. Doctrine is what the church believes and teaches. It is belief that as opposed to belief in – belief that is followed by a proposition, and by that I mean you could substitute in a declarative sentence here. “We believe that God exists as a Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” “We believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins.” “We believe that we shall live immortally in glorified resurrection bodies.” Belief that is propositional belief. It is belief in certain doctrines.[1]

Belief in is trust or commitment. It is not enough to have just belief that – even the devils, the Bible says, believe that God exists, for example. But they do not have belief in God. They don't trust in him; they don't commit their lives to him.

So Christian doctrine is obviously not the whole of the Christian faith. In addition to belief that, you must have belief in. It is not enough just to have propositional beliefs that are correct in order to be a Christian. Nevertheless, doctrine is a key component of the Christian faith.

Now you might say, “Why is it important to study Christian doctrine if Christian doctrine alone isn't enough to save you?” If what is really saving is belief in rather than belief that, why do we need to study Christian doctrine? Let me give you four reasons why the study of Christian doctrine is vitally important to every Christian.

1. Every Christian is called to doctrinal maturity. It is not enough just to follow Christ, to believe in him, to do good works, to go to church, and so forth. We are also called as Christians to doctrinal maturity; to maturity in thinking about Christian truth.

Look with me at some passages. First, Ephesians 4:13-15. The context here is that Paul is talking about the gifts given to the church. He says that God has given some people to be pastors and teachers. Teacher is my role. That is the gifting that the Lord has given to me. He says the teacher is to equip the saints – that is you! The teacher is to equip the saints for the work of ministry, not just to entertain them, not just to make them feel good. He is to equip them so that they in turn can minister. Why? Well, he goes on to say in verse 13:

. . . until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.

Here Paul explains that part of becoming a mature Christian, of attaining the stature of Christ, is doctrinal maturity so that you aren't buffeted about like a ship on a stormy sea by every wind of doctrine that comes along. Rather you will have a solid anchored faith that will be immune to the turbulence of various doctrines or of the seductions of various false teachings that come along. So if you want to become a mature Christian, and I trust that is your desire, doctrinal maturity is part of Christian maturity.

Look also at Galatians 1:6-9. The context here is that the churches in which Paul had founded in Galatia were confronted with people who were teaching false doctrine. Paul writes this letter to the churches in a white heat of anger that these false teachers would be leading astray these young Christian fellowships that he had founded. He says:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel – not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. [translated: “let him be damned” he is saying.] As we have said before, so now I say again, If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.

Paul could not speak in stronger language here. He sees doctrinal error as separating people from Christ and therefore it is vitally important that we have right doctrine if we are to follow Christ.[2]

Finally, look at Titus 1:9. Here Paul is laying out the qualifications to be an elder in the church. Even if you are not going to be an elder, certainly we ought to aspire to have the same qualities that qualify a person to be an elder. Elder [inaudible] paradigms of Christian maturity for us. So even if you will not be an elder yourself, you will want to exhibit the same kind of character and qualities that an elder must have in order to serve the church in this way. Notice what he says in verse 9 about the qualities of an elder. Not only must he have all these moral and spiritual qualities, but in verse 9 he says, “He must hold firm to the sure Word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it.” So part of the qualifications for being an elder in the church is to be able to teach sound doctrine. You should be able to teach a small group or Sunday School class yourself after going through Defenders class. To teach doctrine and then to refute those who contradict sound doctrine. This is the goal to which we as Christians ought to aspire.

So the first reason to study Christian doctrine is that every Christian is called to doctrinal maturity. Part of being a mature Christian is understanding the truth content of the Christian faith.

2. Right living presupposes right thinking about God. If your thinking goes astray, it is going to affect your living because if you don't have the right doctrinal basis then you are going to be led astray in how you live. Paul always bases his practical moral exhortations in his letters upon the doctrinal foundation that he has laid. This is his pattern in his epistles. For example, if you look at the letter to the Ephesians, chapters 1 to 3, he lays out the doctrinal foundation for what he wants to explain. Then, in the beginning of chapter 4, he starts with the practical exhortations. “I, therefore, a prisoner of the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” So in the first three chapters the doctrinal foundation is laid, then in chapter 4 there is that hinge verse (4:1).

Same thing in Philippians for the same pattern. In the first three chapters of this letter the doctrinal foundations are laid, and then in verse 1 of chapter 4, “Therefore, my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.”

So the practical, moral, and spiritual exhortations are only given after the sound doctrinal basis for living has been laid. Right living presupposes right thinking. If we want to live right, you need first of all to think right.

3. The study of doctrine is an expression of loving God with all our minds. Matthew 22:37-38 is the story of a man who comes to Jesus and asks him “What is the greatest commandment in the law?” And Jesus said to him, in verse 37, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” We are, as Christians, not simply to have a warm fuzzy relationship with the Lord. We are to have that, but in addition to that we are to love God with our minds as well. We bring our minds into submission to Christ. It is part of Christian discipleship to love God with your mind. One way to do that is to study his truth. By studying the truth that God has revealed to us, we express our love for him with our minds.

In fact, did you know that is what the word “disciple” means. The word “disciple” means “learner.” It doesn't just mean a follower or believer. A disciple – the word means – learner. That is what we are called to be. We are called to be learners of Jesus Christ. Part of that will be the love that we show him by studying the truth that he has revealed to us about God. So studying doctrine is an expression of loving God with all our minds.[3]

4. Christ cannot be separated from truths about Christ. Someone may claim to say, “Yes, I believe in Jesus. Oh, Jesus is Lord!” He may have a wonderful spiritual experience of Jesus. But if they don't have right doctrine, that experience is spurious. The Scripture says that you cannot separate Christ from the fundamental truths about Christ. Look at 2 John 9-11. Here John is warning against false teachers who would come into the fellowship. He says,

Anyone who goes ahead and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into the house or give him any greeting; for he who greets him shares his wicked work.

There John is very clear that you can't separate Christ from truths about Christ. The doctrine about Christ is vitally important to having a relationship with Christ. Indeed, I would say that whereas doctrine without the Spirit leads to the dead letter of the law, to dead, dry orthodoxy. The Spirit without doctrine leads to fanaticism. What we want to have is a combination of sound doctrine and Spirit-filled Christian living. That is power – to combine both the Word and the Spirit together. So doctrine is not the whole of the Christian life, obviously, but it is an important component of the Christian life and cannot be separated from a genuine relationship with Christ.

Those are four aspects or reasons why the study of Christian doctrine is important and why in the Defenders class we focus on the study of Christian doctrine.

We are also a class in apologetics. We want to learn how to defend Christian doctrine. What is apologetics? Well, apologetics is that branch of Christian theology which seeks to explore the rational warrant for Christian truth claims. Why do we believe that these claims are true? Why are we justified or warranted in thinking that Christian claims are true? As we go through this study of doctrine, what you will find is that over and over again issues of apologetic significance arise that will require our attention.

For example, if we talk about Christology (the doctrine of Christ) we will be confronted with the question of Jesus' resurrection. Therefore, we will want to know – are there any historical grounds for believing that Jesus was raised from the dead? How does one respond to people like James Cameron and others who claim that the family tomb of Jesus has been found by archaeologists? These are questions of apologetic significance which will require us to take a diversion, as it were, from the study of Christian doctrine and to highlight the apologetic issues that arise in each area. So what we try to do in Defenders is to take a broad survey of Christian doctrine which will probably last about three or four years and then, as we do so, we will take excursions out from those doctrines to look at various apologetic issues on the way. So that at the end of that three or four years you will be equipped hopefully not only to understand and explain Christian doctrine but also to defend it.

This is what we are about in Defenders class. I welcome anybody and everybody to be a part of this group.

DISCUSSION

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: I was asked to address the question that very often people will raise. I hear this all the time. “I just want to have a child-like faith. I don't want to explore these deep questions or think about these things.”[4] I think here it is vitally important that we distinguish between a child-like faith and a childish faith. A child-like faith means a whole soul trust in God as our heavenly Father. It is the trust of a little baby as he lies in your arms looking up into your face trusting that you are going to hold him and not drop him as you easily could. You could do him harm but you won't. He just has a wholehearted repose in you and in your love. We are called to have a child-like faith. Christ calls us to that. A childish faith, by contrast, is an immature faith, an unreflective faith, a brain-dead faith that doesn't seek to explore Christian doctrine or Christian truth. Brothers and sisters, we are not called to a childish faith. Quite the contrary, what does Paul say in 1 Corinthians 14:20: “Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; be babes in evil, but in thinking be mature.” Everyone of us should memorize that verse. Do not be children in your thinking; be babes in evil. Be naive when it comes to participating in evil things. But in your thinking be mature. This is an important distinction to understand when people say, “I just want to have a child-like faith.” Say “Amen” but that doesn't mean that you have to have a brain-dead faith; a faith that is unreflective and immature. We are not called to do that.[5]



[1] 5:07

[2] 10:01

[3] 15:15

[4] 20:01

[5] Total Running Time: 21:55 (Copyright © 2007 William Lane Craig)