Our pastor has developed a "Systematic Theology" series for us teachers. It does not come close to the volume of work by men like Grudem or Carson, but that is not the intent. He developed it to kinda systematize our core beliefs, what we believe and why, using biblical support. The first topic is doctrine--a four-letter word in some churches. Because, after all, they "Just preach the love of Jesus!!" Of course, that statement begs the question--"WHICH JESUS?"
We are going to use it to begin a new series—taking a break from Philippians, as we have the last few weeks—and dive into a study called “Systematic Theology.” Basically, it means studying theology in a systematic manner. No kidding! Taking the subjects that are probably the most important, and studying what the Bible says about these subjects. We’re not going to read every single verse that talks about each subject, because that would mean reading the entire Bible. Which wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, mind you. But what we will be doing is reading the verses that are the clearest and most emphatic touching on the various subjects.
Because we need to know what the Bible says about certain subjects. The apostle Peter axhorts us to make an apologia--a defense--for our faith. 1st Peter 3:15—But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear. Jude 1:3—I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. Which is why he name of the other site I blog at is called Defending.Contending. We defend the truth, and we attack the doctrines of demons. Because these verses encourage us to not only read the Scriptures for personal comfort and peace and. So many people just look at this as a book of stories, and “It’s something that gives me peace.” We are encouraged to not only read it, but to study it, so that when someone asks us why we believe “that Jesus stuff” or when we get a knock at the door and we see two very nice, well-dressed young men in white shirts and neckties come knocking at our door and deliver a neatly-packed, well-rehearsed presentation of why THEY have the "restored" truth—we can respond by not only showing them how they have been deceived, but we can also show them the truth.
Many people think they can't understand the Bible. “I could never figure all that stuff out. I'll leave that to the scholars and the theologians.” Nothing could be father from the truth. God gave us this book, and He also helps us understand it. John 16:13—“However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth.” 2nd Timothy 3:15—from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. That word “able” literally means “to be capable; strong and powerful.” In other words, the Holy Scriptures have the power and are strong enough and capable of teaching you salvation through Christ. And if we do get stuck on a passage, who is the first person we should ask for help? God Himself! James 1:5—If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. Every saint of God has the capability to understand the Scriptures. So, over the course of the next about 8-10 weeks, we will study these subjects systematically.
We’re going to start by talking about the importance of doctrine. Doctrine is one area that many churches in America have drifted away from teaching. And in fact, there are many churches that say—and it’s almost like they're bragging about this—“We don’t teach doctrine! We just teach the love of Jesus!” Fingernails, chalkboard, do the math. Or they—oh, this gem—“Doctrine divides! Christ unites!” OK, you don’t teach doctrine, you just teach Jesus. What is the question that begs to be asked?
The Jehovah's Witness Jesus? Who is nothing more than a glorified angel? The Mormon Jesus? Who had to "earn" the right to be a god through obedience to ordinances and principles? Or maybe they're preaching the Muslim Jesus? Who was no more than a wise prophet. How about the Baha’i Jesus? He was just another way to the ultimate truth that was taught by Allah and Muhammed and Buddha and (fill in your own pagan god here). The Buddhist Jesus? Who is one of billions of gods? I mean, which Jesus are you teaching? And if you are teaching one Jesus over another, aren't you in fact teaching…um, what do they call that...starts with a “D.” Now, let me say this: The implication that “Christ unites.” It's a lie straight from the pit of Hell. Because one day a false Christ will unite the entire world.
Revelation 13:8, 16-17—All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world…Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon. And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived. He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.
The whole world will, one day, be united by the one we know as the Antichrist. But as for the real Christ, He tells us in Matthew 10:34-35—“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.’” Jesus Christ is the most divisive man in the history of all the world. He separates people into one of two categories—saved and lost.
No “door #3” no second chances. And in order to know the true Christ we have to have the proper doctrine. I'll give you an example from the early days of the church. In the 3rd Century AD, there was a priest in Alexandria, Egypt. His name was Arius. He taught that Jesus was a created being—he was “like God, but not God.” Basically, “God created Jesus out of the same stuff God is made of.”
There was, however, another bishop in Alexandria, named Athanasius. He sought to stem this tide of heresy being taught by Arius. He taught a doctrine that said, “Jesus IS GOD. In every way—substance, essence, power. Jesus IS God.” The debate raged on for many years, and finally, in 325 AD, Emperor Constantine called a council at the city of Nicea, which was located in what we now call Turkey. Out of this council at Nicea came a creed. Care to guess as to what this creed was called? That's right, it was in fact the Nicene Creed. And contrary to what the Jehovah's Witness or the Mormon or the atheist will tell you, the Council of Nicea was NOT called to “invent” Christianity. It was called to defend the truth of Christ. It was called to correct…what? Yes, that's right! DOCTRINE!
Jesus had a thing or two to say about doctrine. Matthew 16:6—Then Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” What did the disciples think He was talking about? “We forgot to take bread.” You know, there had to be some times when Jesus just kinda shook His head at some of the things these disciples said and did. Verses 11-12, “How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?—but to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the--say it with me now!--doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The apostle Paul had a little bit to say about doctrine. In fact, Galatians and Colossians were both written to correct doctrine. The Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 was called by the apostles to correct doctrine. If doctrine was not important, then a lot of ink was wasted writing about something that wasn’t important.
1st Timothy 4:6--If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed.
Titus 1:9--For a bishop must be blameless...holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.
Titus 2:1--But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine.
So let’s look at what doctrine does.
Doctrine Gives Substance to Faith. Yes, it is important to believe. But what do we believe? And is it enough to just believe? Is it enough to just believe in some kind of Jesus? Have you ever heard someone quote a Bible verse, and they take it so far out of context that it would be laughable if it wasn’t so sad. How many times have you heard someone say, “The truth shall set you free.” again--fingernails. Chalkboard. Do the math. They conveniently leave out the verse before that. We find it in John 8:31-32—Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” It’s an “if-then-and” statement. IF you abide in the word of Christ, THEN you will be His disciple AND you shall know the truth AND that truth shall set you free. What’s the FIRST thing you have to do? Abide. If you don’t abide in His word, then you can forget about knowing the truth and you can forget about the truth setting you free.
This verse also speaks against those Emerging types (Bell, McLaren, Paggitt, McManus, Manning, etc) who are going around today saying “We can't really know the truth! The truth is whatever we believe! The truth is open to interpretation…” These people are going around, calling themselves “Christian”--and yet they deny the truth of Christ. And they have this smugness about them. “I'm too smart to think that I know the truth!” If anyone says that we cannot know the truth, they are calling Jesus a liar. Because Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you WILL know the truth.” What is that truth? Rather, WHO is that truth? John 14:6—“I AM the Way, the TRUTH, and the Life.” We need to know the truth. Proverbs 14:12—There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is destruction. The book of Judges ends with Judges 21:25—In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did what was right in his own eyes. We need to believe, but we need to believe rightly.
The Jews believed in YHVH. They believed they were serving God by having Jesus crucified. They believed. But did they believe rightly? No. John 3:18—“He who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” People who say, “Well, I just haven’t made my mind up yet.” Yeah they have. You are either 100% WITH Him, or 100% AGAINST Him.
Doctrine Gives Structure to Interpretation. Boy, this is a biggie. There are so many false religions and false teachings that come from people misinterpreting a single verse of Scripture, taking it out of context, and reading their own meaning into it. We need to remember that any belief we have has to be grounded in truth, and it has to square up with the rest of Scripture. If I take one verse, and I think it means one thing, I need to search and find other passages that talk about the same subject, and if my interpretation goes against what this whole list of verses says, then it’s probably my interpretation that is wrong.
Some examples. 1st Corinthians 15:29—…what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead? Mormons use this verse—this ONE verse—to build their doctrine of baptism for the dead—that we can somehow do something to benefit a person who is already dead and somehow lessen that person’s punishment in the afterlife. There is nothing WE can do for someone who is already dead. We cannot apply anything WE do to someone else period, let alone someone who is dead. Ecclesiastes 12:7—Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it. Jehovah's Witnesses use this verse to say that there is no Hell. That when we die, our spirit goes back to God. There is just so much wrong with that thinking. Matthew 10:28, Jesus says, “…do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Catholics try to use Matthew 16:18 to defend their belief that Peter was the first Pope. “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Real quick, the word Jesus uses here that is translated “rock” is not the kind of rock you can build anything on. And indeed, the church is NOT built on Peter, but on the Chief Cornerstone, which is Christ. (I posted on this here and here.) Ephesians 2:20-21—having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. If we are going to build a doctrine, we need to build it on Scripture, and we need to do more than just take one verse and make it say something it doesn’t say.
Finally, Doctrine Enables Errors to be Spotted. I have studied Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, a little bit of Islam. Simply so that I may know what they believe, and I don’t go around saying they believe something they don’t believe. But here’s the thing: in order to show a Jehovah's Witness the truth, I don’t need to know everything about Jehovah's Witnesses. In order to show the truth to a Mormon I don’t need to know everything about Mormonism. I don’t need to know the five pillars of Islam. In other words, I don’t need to know every single thing about every false religion in order to show the truth to someone who is deceived. All I need to do is know the truth. And if I know the truth, I can spot the error a mile away.
So many times people get sucked into Mormonism—they leave their Christian church and start following the cult of Joseph Smith. And it’s because they have not studied the word of God properly. They get sucked into the Watchtower. Or the whole Word of Faith nonsense. Because they did not study. Or because they have not been properly taught by the one who claims to be their "pastor"--but is nothing more than a life-coach or motivational speaker. So when these errors came around, the people did not know it was error, how to answer them, and they were drawn away into error. Sometimes these people find their way out. Many don’t.
But if we go back to that passage in 2nd Timothy 3:16-17—All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. We have to have the proper doctrine and it has to come from the God-breathed Scriptures. The prophet Amos had a vision in Amos 7:8-9—And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said: “Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of My people Israel; I will not pass by them anymore.” He set a plumb line in Israel when He sent His Son. Anything that claims to be truth must be measured using that plumb line. Jesus was the perfection of God on earth. He never sinned, deceit was never found even in His mouth. So when a doctrine comes along that is opposed to the truth of Christ—get rid of it! Don’t even consider it.
Doctrine is important. We need to have proper doctrine to know God (John 17:3). When it comes to interpreting doctrine, interpreting the Scriptures, who or what is our final authority? Ain’t no man on earth has the final authority on interpreting Scripture.