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Scott Swain – What Is Doctrine?

Posted On January 2, 2016

When I was young, I only thought of my future: Whom would I marry? What vocation would I pursue? Where would I live? Now that I am the father of four children, I think only of their futures.

As he approached the final days of his ministry, the Apostle Paul set his thoughts on the future well-being of Timothy, his “beloved child” in the faith (2 Tim. 1:2). He wrote to him about the things that matter most for life and ministry. Not only did Paul commend to his young protégé the glorious gospel of God (vv. 8–10) and the divinely inspired Scriptures (3:16–17), but he also instructed Timothy regarding the importance of sound doctrine: “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (1:13– 14). According to Paul, doctrine is among the things that matter most for the well-being of the Christian and the church. Sound, or “healthy,” doctrine provides a pattern that, when followed, promotes healthy faith and love. Sound doctrine is a valuable heritage that is to be treasured in this generation and faithfully transmitted to the next (2:2).

What is doctrine? In its basic sense, doctrine is any sort of teaching. The Bible, for example, talks about the teachings of men (Mark 7:7–8), the teachings of demons (1 Tim. 4:1; Rev. 2:24), and the teachings of God (John 6:45; 1 Thess. 4:9; 1 John 2:27). Here, we are concerned with divine teaching, the teaching of God. According to one definition, doctrine is teaching from God about God that directs us to the glory of God. This definition provides a helpful anatomy of sound doctrine, identifying doctrine’s source, object, and ultimate end. We will consider these elements of sound doctrine.

The Source of Sound Doctrine

The triune God is the ultimate “doctor,” or teacher, when it comes to Christian doctrine. The God who knows and loves Himself in the perfect fellowship of the Trinity has graciously willed to make Himself known to us and loved by us (Matt. 11:25–27; 1 Cor. 2:10–12). This doctrine, taught by the Father through the son in the Holy Spirit, informs our faith and guides our love.

Though the triune God is the ultimate source of doctrine, He has chosen to minister doctrine to us through His prophets and Apostles in Holy Scripture. until the day when God speaks to us face-to-face in His eternal kingdom, Holy Scripture is the source and norm of sound doctrine (2 Tim. 3:16; see Mark 7:7–8). Doctrine is drawn from Holy Scripture as from a fountain. Doctrine is measured by Holy Scripture as by a rule. Furthermore, doctrine leads us back to Scripture by equipping us to become better readers. Indeed, those “untaught” in sound doctrine are most prone to twisting the Scriptures “to their own destruction” (2 peter 3:16).

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