“The Bible, Theology, and Discipleship”
Walker Family Discipleship #1
Saturday, October 06, 2012
Matthew 28:19-20 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
(Matthew 28:19-20 ESV) http://www.esvbible.org/search/Matthew+28/
2Timothy 3:14-17 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 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 may be complete, equipped for every good work.
(2 Timothy 3:14-17 ESV) http://www.esvbible.org/search/2Timothy+3/
Today I want to look at the idea of doctrine or theology. Can we get past the idea of theology and just let the Spirit lead us? Can we bypass doctrine and just get to the Bible? Can we lay aside theological systems like Calvinism or Arminianism and just stick with the Bible?
In the two Bible passages I printed above you will find the words, “make disciples” and “teaching”; it is these words and ideas I want to examine first. The Greek word for “make disciples” in Matt. 28:19 is matheteuo which means to teach, instruct. A mathetes is a learner, student, disciple of a teacher; hence our term for the 12 men who followed Jesus- Disciples.
This passage is known as the Great Commission and gives the Church, as well as individual Christians, our marching orders; this is what we are to be doing- making disciples. (We are also to be worshiping, encouraging one another and doing all things for the glory of God…but those are different topics.)
When it comes to making disciples there are methods, there are tasks, but there is also Content. In the Great Commission itself Jesus tells us to [teach] “them [that is, all who are baptized from the larger group of “all nations”] “to observe all that I have commanded you.” Notice that we are not to merely ‘teach them to KNOW all that I have taught you’. Knowledge is NOT ENOUGH. While Christianity is the most intellectual of all the world’s religions, it is not primarily about head knowledge. What does Jesus say? “teaching them to OBSERVE all that I have commanded you”. The goal is OBEDIENCE, becoming CHRISTLIKE, taking in the New Nature and walking by the Spirit. HOWEVER, one must FIRST learn the content, absorb the material, know the teachings which are commanded, BEFORE you can obey them in faith out of love.
FAITH itself must begin with head knowledge. We must first hear and understand the gospel with our minds, then, as the Holy Spirit changes our hearts we accept that it is for us, and finally, as the Holy Spirit completely gives us a new heart and we are born again, we surrender wholly to the LORD and trust completely that He has saved us. The problem is when we are satisfied ONLY with a head knowledge or even if we accept the importance of the gospel for us, but do not actually repent, trust and follow. Faith itself, if it is a genuine faith that leads to salvation, is a miraculous gift from the Holy Spirit and is always accompanied by repentance.
So there is a content to the gospel which we must believe, put into practice, and then proclaim and teach to the nations. Those who do believe in Jesus we must Disciple by Teaching them BOTH the Content of the Bible and How to put it into practice.
Jesus himself follows this practice as he gives the Greatest Commandment in Mark 12:28-34 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.
(Mark 12:28-34 ESV)
NOTICE that when Jesus is asked the question he begins with a quote from the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) which is a foundational Doctrinal statement of the Jews. Jesus begins his answer with doctrine, another word for teaching. In other words, the Greatest Commandment begins with Doctrine, the official, recognized Teaching of Scripture and then moves into matters of the heart- “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your mind and with all your strength.” Jesus does not neglect the mental, the intellectual side of faith and loving God. Jesus is here teaching doctrine.
The doctrine Jesus teaches here should affect our understanding of God, salvation, Scripture, worship, etc. THEN he moves to the Second Commandment, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Again this is an Old Testament quote (Lev.19:18). This is both doctrine, it is a teaching commanded by the Lord, and it is practical, it is something we are to DO. Know, Believe, Obey, Teach is the sequence. It Is Impossible to make Disciples without knowing, believing, obeying and teaching sound doctrine.
We see this pattern also in some of Paul’s letters. In the book of Romans Paul begins with a doctrinal section (1-11) and then moves into the practical section (12-16). We see this in Galatians with 1-5:12 being more doctrinal and 5:13-6:18 more practical. Again in Ephesians, 1-3 is more doctrinal and 4-6 more practical. A similar pattern exists in his other letters. All of this is Not to say that the doctrinal passages in Paul are not also practical nor do I mean that there is no doctrine in the last half of Paul’s letters; I am just pointing out the general tone seems to always move from more doctrine to more practical. It takes BOTH to be a disciple.
The big idea here is that doctrine precedes and informs ethics; teaching leads to understanding first, then application. We cannot just “do” Christianity; we must first think and believe, then do. Neither can we just “think” Christianity; we must put our faith in action. James 1:22 “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”
Back in Matt. 28:19-20 and 2Tim.3:14-17, the other word I want to look at is translated as “teaching”. This word in Greek is didasko and can sometimes be translated as “doctrine” (compare the ESV to the KJV in 2Tim.3:16-17). What does the Christian Teacher teach? He/she teaches his disciples “the teaching”, “the doctrine” of scripture. He teaches what the Bible presents as the truth. He teaches what the Church has consistently taught.
In 2Tim.2:2 Paul writes, “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” This corresponds nicely to Matt. 28:19-20 as we see Paul telling Timothy to disciple others who will go on and disciple others, etc.
But there is a problem. What about those who warp or misunderstand the teaching of the scriptures? What about bad doctrine? 2Tim.4:3,4 warns us, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” And 2Peter 2:1 also warns “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in disruptive heresies…”
How do we pass on the teaching of scripture from one generation to the next? How do we pass down warnings against false teachings, heresies, to the next generation? From the Old Testament prophets to the Apostles, to the early church through the middle ages, the Reformation, to this day God has used faithful men to write down their teachings about the scriptures, their sermons, and their histories. The writings of the men after the apostles are Not as important as Scripture which is inspired by the Holy Spirit, but they can certainly be useful and very beneficial to the church and to us.
The word “Theology” is a compound word using two biblical words Theos (God)and logos (Word). The meaning of “theology” is God-talk, reasoning about God, the study of God. Thus, theology is studying what the scriptures say about God. In its broadest sense it is the teaching of scripture, in its narrow sense it is specifically the study of the doctrine of God the Father, who He is and what he does. This is to distinguish theology from Christology (the study of the Son of God, the person and work of Christ) or pneumatology (the study of God the Holy Spirit). For now I want to just discuss the study of Theology in its broadest sense of all things about God, the teaching of scripture on everything.
A Theologian is a person who has been educated and trained in theology, usually complete with a Ph.D. and teaching/writing professionally. But, a pastor/preacher is also a theologian as he studies the Word and writes/preaches what he learns. Beyond that however, EVERY CHRISTIAN is necessarily a THEOLOGIAN as they study the Bible in faith seeking to understand the Word, apply the Word, and pass the Word on to others. EVERY Christian has a THEOLOGY, be it strong or weak, good or bad.
It is impossible to look past theology or ignore theology, as you study the Bible. Of course some people can have a very inconsistent, uninformed, unbiblical theology and some can be too slavish to a particular theology such as Calvinism, Arminianism, Lutherism or Baptist theology. Any theology can be carried to an unbiblical extreme or become cold and dead.
But what the great theologians of the past have done is very simply study the Bible to see what the Bible teaches, and then write down their understanding of Bible doctrine. The Church over history recognizes that some past theologians have been used by God in a big way. Calvin and Luther for example, the Puritans, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, etc. We do not look at these men as substitutes for scripture, but rather as great expositors of scripture. What these men did was to force the Church to return to the Bible after 1,000 years of Catholic corruption. Calvin, Luther, Knox, the Puritans and early Baptists were the bold revolutionary missionaries of their day…and they paid a heavy price. Their faith, passed down to us, was a faith that withstood the burning at the stake, the drownings in the icy rivers, and other horrible tortures from the Catholics and others.
Very often when you hear guys say disparaging remarks against these older theologians it is because they are either ignorant of church history or they have a particular theology of their own that goes against the theology of the great men of the faith. Everyone has a theology and everyone learns from someone.
Obviously we want to go to the scriptures first and foremost, but there is safety and accountability in checking our findings with godly men from the Church past, as well as godly men in the Church present. The man who doesn’t want to check his understanding of scripture with others is usually arrogant, in error, and wants to interpret the Bible in a way that is merely pleasing to the flesh. When someone is teaching us the Bible, even in an informal Bible study or a sermon in church, it is wise to know who has fed the person feeding us. What church background do they have? Who do they read? What school did they attend? How do they understand the key doctrines of the Bible? Which preachers do they like to listen to on the radio or podcast? Do they have a man-centered theology (Arminian) or a God-centered theology (Calvinism)?
We believe in the doctrine of the perspicacity of scripture (the scriptures are understandable by the average person), but that does not mean we can ignore sound rules of hermeneutics (rules for interpreting literature). Arminians have a hermeneutic that is man-centered, that is they value the freedom of man’s will first and foremost. This is the key to interpreting scripture for them. Calvinists have a hermeneutic that is God-centered, focusing on God’s sovereignty and glory. When you go to the scriptures what you find with these two different theologies is that as Arminianism tries to account for the paradox of God’s sovereignty vis a vis man’s freedom in the end it is God’s sovereignty which must be curtailed. In Calvinism however, the doctrine of man’s free will is limited to whichever nature he has (sinful or redeemed) thus preserving God’s sovereignty and giving greater glory to God. In other words, a man who is lost CANNOT, on his own, choose to repent and believe because his heart is by nature opposed to God; similarly, a saved man CANNOT choose to ultimately give up Christ and lose his salvation. Prior to being born again we are dead in our trespasses and sins and cannot cause ourselves to be born again because we are powerless and do not want God at all. The born again man, though remaining sinful until heaven, has a heart for God, has the indwelling Spirit, and is in an eternal covenant with God who cannot break his word. A person’s theological presuppositions, whichever theology they adhere to, will lead them to very different positions on salvation, so while the scriptures are clear, our sinful minds can make things very complicated. Hence the need for checking our theology with godly men from the past and present.
In conclusion, we must never reach the point of ignoring the teaching of scripture. Doctrine is simply what the Scriptures teach and is essential for the Christian life. Everyone has a theology; we must just be sure our theology is biblical, sound, consistent and vibrant. Whoever is teaching me has a theology. We ignore the godly men of the past and their works to our loss and peril as unsound doctrine and heresies abound in our age.