In this session, we'll take a look at theology and doctrine - both terms that can make any head spin. Don't worry though, Pastor Sam approaches it in a way that is easy to understand and meaningful for your journey in life. You'll find that this is an important cornerstone of your faith.
Hi, and welcome to Faith Track. We’ve been exploring what it means to be a disciple and how the term disciple is just another word for dedicated student. So as we seek to follow Jesus with intention and dedication, we become His disciples. In our last session, we looked at how we can know God. In this session we are going to be looking at another important aspect of being discipled, standing on God’s word by looking at theology and doctrine. I know those two terms, theology and doctrine, just get us all going woohoo, but I promise there’s some great stuff here.
In Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul describes discipleship and explains the role of leaders in the church to help prepare the members of the church for ministry. This involves learning about Jesus and builds towards this idea of maturity in Christ. Then he explains why this is so important in verse 14, so Ephesians 4:14, “So that we may no longer be children tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” So this idea that coming to maturity in Christ and getting to know Him and His words helps protect us from being tossed about, being led astray by other voices in the world.
Looking back at the early years when I was just starting to explore my faith in earnest, I realized that I was ruled by my emotions. I was like a child tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine. I would watch the news, attend a lecture, or listen to a podcast, and I’d be drawn into other people’s passion and purpose. However, I realized I was like a chameleon. I was being changed by what I surrounded myself with. I wasn’t really sure who I was, or who I was meant to become. Trying to ascertain what is important and meaningful is difficult when there are so many conflicting and competing voices out there.
There’s an old quote to the effect of, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” What we stand for and what we build our lives upon matters. In Matthew 7:24-27, this is right at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explains, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell and the floods came and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell and the floods came and the winds blew and beat against that house and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
Looking back at the last year, there were some major storms. For many of us, our faith was tested. Some of us made it through the year feeling battered, maybe pummeled by all that occurred but reassured of God’s faithfulness and the benefit of building our lives upon His promises. The hurricane-like storm came, but our faith life and our priorities stayed intact. Others of us may have had our foundations eroded away and discovered that where we were building was not on solid and reliable ground, and now we are having to rebuild. We are re-exploring our priorities, and we are ready to do whatever it takes to not have to suffer through another year like that.
Sometimes we might feel like we’re somewhere in between, where we’ve started to build on our faith, but we’re not quite on that solid ground. We may still be standing, but just barely. It’s important to realize our faith does not keep us from facing storms, but it does reduce the severity of the damage done. It is extremely important that we learn what Jesus said and did, and then implement His teaching into our lives. As disciples, we must build our lives upon His words. In order to find a solid footing for our faith, we need to understand what good and sound doctrine is. So what is doctrine? Doctrine is a set of beliefs held and taught by any group, political party, or Church. I’ll say that again, doctrine is a belief or set of beliefs held and taught by any group, political party, or Church. So doctrine is good when those beliefs bring things like health, life, strength, purpose, hope, and truth, in essence when they come from and align with God.
When I was first starting out in my faith, I was being indoctrinated by the culture around me. Hollywood, new sources, educational institutions, and even popular culture have doctrine. Their doctrine, or sets of beliefs, that guide what is produced, valued, and prioritized. However, the motivations, intentions, and desired outcomes that guide these beliefs are usually somewhat veiled. More often than not established by somewhat self-serving and self-seeking motives. What we read, watch, and expose ourselves to can and will become normative in our lives over time. Like the old saying, you are what you eat, what we consume will ultimately affect how healthy we are physically. Where we turn for information, guidance, and how we interpret the world around us shapes us into who we become, how we view the world, and the choices we make. This is sometimes described as our worldview.
The respective worldviews of Hollywood news sources, educational institutions, and popular culture have doctrines that are driven by a mixture of motivators. Some are relatively neutral, but many are driven by profit influence in varying agendas. For instance, companies have a vested interest in drawing out our insecurities so that we can see their products as a solution in order to become more secure or to become happier. Hollywood and social media influencers want to make us feel that the life that they portray is normal and ideal, so that the products they produce and are paid to endorse earn the money, and the beliefs that they support can become normative. Educational institutions and news media have an inherent bias that is built around their core beliefs and values as well.
As students of Jesus, we must be discerning. Do the doctrines of those who we turn to for education, news, entertainment, and guidance align with the teachings of Jesus? We need to ask that question. As disciples, we must be aware of doctrine in the culture around us that is contrary to God. As those who follow Jesus, it’s important that our worldview comes first and foremost from a God-honoring perspective, and that we are aware of when the doctrine of those informing our lives are different than biblical doctrine.
So doctrine is a set of beliefs, what is theology? Simply theology is the study of God. As we dig into this discipleship initiative more, we will explore key theological concepts that help us understand God in ourselves better. As we study about God, we will see His guidance around what is good, right, beneficial, just, and ideal. Theology takes just wide concepts in the Bible and summarizes it in terms that just helps us wrestle with, and to be able to understand things better.
As disciples, students of Jesus, how do we ensure that our doctrine is sound and our theology is true? You guessed it, the Bible. I’m going to let you in on a secret here. This multi-phase discipleship strategy has many parts, but it’s extremely simple. The Bible is going to be our source always. We do this because it’s God’s revelation of Himself and His worldview, which ultimately can and should become our worldview. If there’s anyone who knows what brings health, life, strength, purpose, hope, and truth, it’s God. He wrote the book on it.
In 2nd Timothy 3:16-17, we read, “All scripture is breathed out by God, and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God, the person of God, maybe complete, equipped for every good work.” I love that, so that training and being able to do what is right, that we can be complete, we can be made whole and equipped to be part of and do the good work that he has created us to be part of.
We are seeking to live according to what is good and right in God’s eyes, we need to familiarize ourselves with the Bible, and when it is unclear, we can invite in trusted people who also love God to help us explore how the principles that are addressed directly might relate to things that may be less clear. But even then we should test this against the Bible. In Acts 17:10-11, we see this principle demonstrated. “The brothers, so the church immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now, these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica. They received the word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” These people from Berea wanted to honor God and receive the teaching of credible leaders, teachers Paul and Silas, but they tested what they were hearing against the scriptures to ensure the teaching was sound. As disciples, we should test what we hear against the scriptures.
A couple of years ago I was helping to lead a men’s group. During our time together one of the guys let us know that he was thinking of leaving our church for another. As we talked he shared about the specific church he was joining. Now let me just say, there are a number of great churches in San Francisco that love and honor God, so we bless people when they are called by God to become part of a church that teaches the Bible faithfully and without conceding important areas of truth, whether it is here or elsewhere.
However, one of the men in our group knew of this particular church and that they were notorious for using scripture to manipulate people out of their savings and isolate them from friends and family to better control their lives. We shared our concerns, encouraged him to dig into their core beliefs and test them against scripture, and to seek the Lord and trusted people for guidance. Unfortunately, they appealed to his pride, they tried to have him build up himself in his own eyes so that he wouldn’t take anything but affirmation from others, and within weeks he had been indoctrinated. The leaders had used scripture out of context to justify what they were asking and requiring them to do
At its worst at times, things like slavery and genocide have come as a result of people not knowing the Bible well. Scripture has also at times been used by people to manipulate others and justify sinful behavior. We must not forget that not only people who want to love and serve God know the Bible, others know the Bible as well. In the tempting of Jesus, we see this occur. In Matthew 4, as Jesus was being tempted, in verse 5, “Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,” and he quotes the Bible, “He will command his angels concerning you, and,” again, quoting the Bible, “On their hands, they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” And Jesus said to him, again, it is written, quoting the Bible, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” If the devil uses Scripture, anyone can.
So as disciples we must learn what the Bible says in order to discern good and right application, and we can stand against wrong use of scripture with the right use of scripture, just as Jesus did. In Romans 16:17-18, “I appeal to you brothers and sisters to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught, avoid them, for such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.” As much as I don’t like to say this, there are people who delight in dividing the church for their own agenda. I don’t like to see myself as naive or prone to conspiracy theories, I try to give people the benefit of the doubt and trust rather than distrust anybody. However, there are people who are more than willing to do whatever it takes and say whatever they must, in order to accomplish what they want from trusting believers.
But if we pursue God in His wisdom, in the form of sound doctrine, we see what comes from that. In James 3:17-18, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere, and a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” I love that. The idea of being open to reason, full of mercy, being impartial and sincere, and that idea of harvesting what is right, bringing about peace as we seek to make peace. So let’s seek after sound doctrine and good theology that comes from knowing God’s Word and applying it to our lives. The world needs people who make peace and are open to reason, full of mercy, whose lives bear good fruit, can be impartial and sincere in showing love, whose lives bring forth a harvest of what is right.
In a moment I’m going to pray, and then we’ll hop over to our Zoom conversation. The link will be in the chat. If you’re watching this after its original airing, or if you’re unable to join us for the conversation tonight, this is meant to be gone through in community. Faith trackers, disciples, always walk things out at least in pairs. So join us for the conversation if you can, or find another person or a group of people to embark on this journey together. Our primary goal is that these teachings would be a tool that can help us dig into these key areas of growth as a disciple of Jesus but also be a place in which we can ask questions and grow as we move together as a community. So let’s pray, and then we’ll hop over.
Lord, thank you that your word is a lamp unto our feet and a light into our path, and we call this Faith Track because of that way. There is a path for us to follow, a track for us to be on. You said you are the way, the truth, and the life. That no one comes to the Father except through you. Lord, help us to walk the walk of the disciple, as students of yours, help us to build our lives upon a foundation of your truth so that when the inevitable storms of life come, that we would find our lives secure in you, here and beyond.
Lord, I pray that the fruit of our lives would be of that peacemaking, Lord, the people that can love well, to be open-minded and adaptive and caring. So that when we hear things, Lord, we can discern what is good, true, and right in you. But still love those who are wrestling with things of the world, or maybe you’ve been trying to deceive people, we can respond to that in a way that’s not drawn in, but with mercy, grace, and love as well.
And so Lord, we invite you into our conversations, help us to apply wisdom to our lives, and thank you that you said you delight in giving wisdom to those who ask. So we ask for your wisdom and just pray for your blessing over the Zoom conversation and all of our conversations with friends and family going forward as well. We just pray this in Jesus name, amen. So have a great week, we hope to see you next Wednesday, and please join us for the Zoom call if you can. God bless.