What Is Doctrine and Why Is It Important?

Doctrine is the way the central themes of God’s revelation in Scripture are summarized and taught.

Satan’s strategy is to oppose, subvert, and mute the content of biblical doctrine and dislodge it from its place in the church’s life. God, though, has placed in the Christian’s hand a weapon for defense. It is the very truth under attack. It is what Paul calls the “belt of truth” and “sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:14, 17)—the Bible. These are parts of the Christian’s armor.

 

What Is Doctrine?

No one can say “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor. 12:3; Rom. 10:9) without speaking in a deeply doctrinal way, because this simple statement rests on profound biblical truths. It assumes that Christ is the eternal second member of the Trinity, who became uniquely God incarnate, was set forth as our substitutionary atonement, was raised from the dead having conquered all evil, and is now reigning sovereignly over all reality (Eph. 1:20–22).

But what is doctrine? Put simply, it is the way the central themes of God’s revelation in Scripture are summarized and taught. This teaching builds on their development through the Old Testament. It sees them as having culminated in Christ’s incarnation, words, and work. His teaching (Matt. 7:28; Mark. 1:22; John 7:16) was then expanded and applied by the apostles. Paul placed his own teaching side-by-side with the “preaching of Jesus Christ” (Rom. 16:25; cf. 1 Thess. 4:2). All of this was committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. These inspired writings are now preserved within the biblical canon. This revealed Word defines for us how we should think about God, ourselves, our world, the church, and the future.

Christian doctrine is present in different ways in the New Testament. Most often, of course, we meet it in the doctrinal sections in the epistles (e.g., Romans 1–8; Ephesians 1–3). But it is there in other ways too, pointing to the fact that doctrine had become part of the daily life of the early churches. Some early hymns are now embedded in the New Testament text (e.g., Phil. 2:5–11; probably 1 Tim. 3:16), and in them we see strong doctrinal elements. At other times, the apostolic teaching is crystallized into small creedal statements (e.g., Paul’s set of “trustworthy” sayings in 1 Tim. 1:15; 3:1; 4:8–9; 2 Tim. 2:11–13; Titus 3:4–8). Other passages seem to have a creedal form (e.g., Rom. 1:3–4; 10:8–9; Col. 1:13–20).

This doctrine underlies and, indeed, explains the practice of Christian faith. There is, in fact, no Christian ethic without a foundation of Christian doctrine. The daily practice of this faith is the daily living out of its doctrine. Apostolic Christianity was doctrinal in both shape and substance. It was about the doctrines of God, creation, human nature, Christ, redemption, the church, and the consummation of Christ’s kingdom. Apart from these doctrines, there is no Christian faith.

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