What is the Basic Structure of Doctrine?

The word “doctrine” means “instruction, especially as it applies to lifestyle application.” In other words, doctrine is teaching imparted by an authoritative source. In the Bible, the word always refers to spiritually related fields of study.

The Bible says of itself.. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:” 2 Timothy 3:16.

We are to be careful about what we believe and present as truth. “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” 1 Timothy 4:16

Biblical doctrine helps us understand the will of God for our lives. Biblical doctrine teaches us the nature and the character of God (Psalm 90:2; 97:2; John 4:24), the path of salvation through faith (Ephesians 2:8–9; Romans 10:9–10), instruction for the church (1 Corinthians 14:26; Titus 2:1–10), and God’s standard of holiness for mans life (1 Peter 1:14–17; 1 Corinthians 6:18–20). When the Bible is accepted as God’s Word (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20–21), it becomes the solid foundation for doctrine. There can be disagreement within the body of Christ over secondary points of doctrine, such as eschatology, church organization, or the gifts of the Holy Spirit. But biblical doctrine is that which incorporates the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) and draws conclusions based on that which seems most closely aligned with the character of God (Numbers 23:19; Hebrews 13:8).

However, the Bible is not always the foundation upon which people or churches build their doctrinal statements. Mans sinful natures does not easily submit to God’s decrees, so we often pick and choose the parts of the Bible we are comfortable with and discard the rest. Or we replace what God says with a man-made doctrine or tradition. This is nothing new, Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees.. “Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” (Mark 7:7, cf. Isaiah 29:13). False doctrine was rampant in New Testament times, and the Scriptures say it will continue (Matthew 7:15; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1).

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;” 2 Timothy 4:3

The Bible gives stern warning to those who would teach false or incomplete doctrine simply because it is more compatible with man’s ideas. “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings,” 1 Timothy 6:3–4

The apostle Paul wrote harsh words about perverting the gospel with false doctrine: “Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:7–9

Doctrine is the worldview by which we govern our lives. If Biblical doctrine is based soundly upon Scripture, we can know we are walking in the path God designed for us. However, if we do not study the Word of God for ourselves (2 Timothy 2:15), we are led more easily into error. Although there are a variety of minor issues upon which Christians disagree, true doctrine is clearer than many imply.

“Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.” 2 Peter 1:20

There is a right interpretation of everything God says, and it is our job to discern that meaning through the Holy Spirit, not create an interpretation to suit our tastes. God wants us to know His heart and has given us His Word upon which we can build godly lives (Matthew 7:24). The more we study true doctrine, the more we understand God and ourselves.

A doctrine can only be considered truly biblical when it is explicitly taught in the Bible. An issue could be unbiblical (opposed to the teachings of the Bible), extra-biblical (outside of or not mentioned in the Bible), biblically based (connected to the teachings of the Bible), or biblical.

An unbiblical doctrine is any teaching that stands opposed to the Bible’s clear teaching. For example, a belief that Jesus sinned is unbiblical. It stands in direct contrast to what the Bible teaches in many places, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”Hebrews 4:15

An extra-biblical doctrine would be any teaching that is not directly taught in the Bible. It can be either good or bad. For example, voting in a democratic election is a positive practice, but it is not explicitly commanded in the Bible. To observe certain holidays is often neither good nor bad: “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” Romans 14:5. Any teaching about the observance of Lent, for example, is extra-biblical.

Other teachings can be based on biblical principles, yet not directly taught in the Bible. For example, smoking is never mentioned in the Bible. Yet we can assert that the practice should be avoided, based on 1 Corinthians 6..

“What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.

When a biblical principle applies, we canteach it as a biblically based doctrine.

Biblical doctrines are teachings explicitly taught in the Bible. Examples of these include God’s creation of the heavens and earth (Genesis 1:1), the sinfulness of all people (Romans 3), the virgin birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 1:26-38), the physical death and literal resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:3-11), salvation by grace alone through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), the inspiration of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17), and many others.

Problems occur when people confuse these categories. For example, to teach that the virgin birth is an optional doctrine that Christians are free to believe or not believe is to reject a core teaching of the Bible. It presents a biblical doctrine as non-essential. Then there are those who present extra-biblical teachings as if they were biblical doctrines. A person’s opinions and preferences are given the weight of God’s law; this happens sometimes in matters of clothing, music style, and food choice. When we “teach as doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:7), we become like the Pharisees whom Jesus strongly condemned.

Our goal must be to speak clearly and firmly when Scripture is plain. In extra-biblical matters, we must be careful to avoid dogmatism. As it is written: In the essentials unity; in the non-essentials, diversity; in all things, charity.

Why Christians Believe What They Believe 

© Tony - W.A.M