Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.

Developing Sound Doctrine

You have to work at it, but it's worth it.

The Mind of Christ in His Word: Part 2 (5)

These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Acts 17.11

A community project
Every believer has the mind of Christ and is growing in the right use of that mind. Every believer in Jesus Christ is therefore a theologian, in that we want sound doctrine to guide our thinking, planning, decision-making, and actions. But since sound doctrine doesn’t come to us all at once or without some effort, it’s important that we understand what’s involved in acquiring the doctrine that shapes our mind to the mind of Jesus Christ.

Developing sound doctrine is not the work of isolated individuals. Since we all tend to read the Scriptures through a particular lens – our background, learning, experience, interests, and biases – and since we are naturally inclined to find in Scripture whatever reinforces our inclinations or views, we need an approach to deriving sound doctrine from Scripture that can keep us from drifting away from true knowledge of Christ and His will because of some false wind of doctrine.

Deriving sound doctrine from Scripture is a work of the whole Church – present and past. And each of us has a role in this work. Only as we come together over the Word of God, submitting to the Spirit of Christ, can we expect to avoid the pitfalls of whatever wind of doctrine may distract us from being renewed in the mind of Christ. The believers in Berea desired to know whether what they were being taught by Paul and his companions could be relied on as sound doctrine, so they searched the Scriptures daily. This would have been an act of communal conversation and discussion, since it’s likely the only available Scriptures were to be found in the local synagogue. But the Bereans understood what was at stake, so searching the Scriptures daily became the task of the entire believing community.

We can follow their example in taking up the work of discerning and practicing sound doctrine. Luke’s concise comment about the believers in Berea offers four guidelines for acquiring sound doctrine, four disciplines in which we must participate if we are to learn the true teachings of Scripture and use these to renew our minds against doctrinal revulsion and other spiritual ills.

Four disciplines
Note first that we cannot do sound doctrine apart from the Word of God. We have considered already the importance of daily reading and study so that all members of the community both receive teaching from the Word of God and learn to practice that teaching in their daily lives. Here I simply want to reinforce this point as the foundation of the four disciplines involved in acquiring sound doctrine. The Scriptures are the touchstone of sound doctrine. Reading, studying, meditating, and being taught the Word of God are thus indispensable to having one’s soul readied against any false wind of doctrine. Every member of the community can learn to delight in the reading and study of God’s Word as a daily discipline, so that every member becomes increasingly equipped by God’s Spirit to make their contribution to a healthy, growing church (Eph. 4.11-16).

But notice as well, in the second place, that this is not done in a merely individual way, as I have said. While each of us should work to develop good disciplines of Scripture reading and study, we need to come together with other believers to compare our notes, discuss our insights, and discover the applications God would have for us as a community. Only by searching the Scriptures together can we hope to find the best answers to our questions, and to make sure we’re asking all the right questions.

Since leaders in the Christian movement have been doing the work of discerning sound doctrine for nearly 2,000 years, we would be wise to consult the community of our believing forebears on matters of doctrine, to learn their insights and understandings on sound doctrine. In the writings of the Church Fathers, medieval thinkers, Reformation pastors and theologians, Puritan divines, historic creeds and confessions,  and even more recent and contemporary Christian thinkers, we can find wisdom to flesh out the bones of doctrinal understanding, and keep from drifting into false thinking about the mind of Christ.

In the theological work of our forebears, we find a consistent thread of sound doctrine which can be of great help to us in renewing our mind and growing into the mind of Christ. Happily, many of their most important works are readily available for us to consult, and we should make a point to do so. Those who will not consult the voices of our forebears will be just that much more vulnerable to being led astray into false teaching and doctrinal revulsion. This great cloud of witnesses can be of great help to us in learning to address issues and questions about belief and life.

Third, we need to work together in studying the Scripture with specific questions or concerns in mind. In our Bible study group, for example, we may want to learn whether there is a Biblical teaching about marriage and family life (there is). Or we might join with a few friends to discover the teaching of Scripture on such matters as work, loving our neighbors, arts and culture, current issues and events, and more – how to think about such matters from our perspective in the Kingdom of God. In the early Church, part of the time for worship involved people sharing insights from Scripture with a view to edifying one another in the faith (1 Cor. 14.26, 31). Many questions might prompt us to seek out partners or groups to read and study a particular matter.

So in cases like these, we’ll get together a raft of questions to ask the Bible, and assemble some useful resources to guide us in our study – such as a concordance, a Bible dictionary, a few of the venerable creeds and confessions of the Church, and perhaps a synopsis of historical theology to enable us to see how our questions have been addressed throughout the ages. We’ll also seek wisdom and insight from our pastor. We continue asking questions and searching Scripture and other sources until all our concerns have been satisfied and all the gems of Scripture have been mined. Then we will be ready to do the hard work of synthesizing our findings into specific answers.

Since new questions will always emerge, it will be good for us to understand the broad framework of sound doctrine, and how to practice the skills of searching the Scripture together for answers to all our questions within that framework of orthodoxy. We ought not simply receive any teaching from one source, whether a pastor, a favorite writer, or our own thinking. The more each of us engages the questions of the day with a systematic approach for acquiring sound doctrine, the more we will discern the truth on any matter as God has made it known throughout the ages.

Finally, and looping back to our first discipline, the work of sound doctrine is an ongoing, daily duty. Even though the faith of Christ has been handed down once for all, and our forebears in the faith have hammered out the major doctrinal issues already, still, we have not learned all that has been taught or that must be learned, nor are we skilled in knowing how sound doctrine should be applied to our daily experience in every case. What better way to use part of our precious time each day than to practice the skills for developing sound doctrine and engaging in the adventure of learning Jesus?

So this work of seeking the sound doctrine of Scripture on all matters of faith and life is one to which we must become devoted, a spiritual discipline that we neglect to our peril, and at the risk of lapsing into doctrinal revulsion over time. If it seems like hard work, well, it is. But gaining the solid food of sound doctrine can become an exciting and highly satisfying discipline for growing into the mind of Christ (Heb. 5.12-14). 

For reflection
1.  How should doctrine factor into the daily life of a believer? What if it doesn’t?

2.  Suggest some ways that, let’s say, a Bible study group could work together to make sure that their efforts were guarded by sound doctrine.

3.  How might you integrate the work of developing sound doctrine as part of your daily spiritual disciplines?

Next steps – Preparation: What resources do you currently possess to help you in the work of developing sound doctrine?
T. M. Moore

This might be a good time to review our ReVision series on “Winds of Doctrine.” You can download all the studies in that series by clicking here.

All the installments in this “Strong Souls” series are available in PDF by clicking here. Check out our newest feature, Readings from the Celtic Revival (click here).

Thanks for your prayers and support
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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