the weblog of Alan Knox

Doctrine is not doctrine anymore

Posted by on Aug 14, 2008 in community, scripture, service | 12 comments

In Acts 2:42, Luke begins to describe the response of those first Christians after receiving the promised Holy Spirit:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42 ESV)

What does it mean that these early followers of Jesus “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching”? As long as I can remember, I’ve been taught that this means that they listened to sermons by the apostles, or at least by those who had heard sermons by the apostles. So, they “devoted themselves” or they “continued in” or they “persevered in” listening to someone teach them.

This sounds good. We all know that “teaching” or “doctrine” is a set of biblical fact, so it makes sense that those early believers would spend time listening to what the apostles had to say. They studied “doctrine” so that they would know what they needed to know.

But, there’s a problem with this picture. “Teaching” or “doctrine” or “instruction” (they are translations of the same word – no difference) in Scripture does not point to something that is simply known. Instead, “teaching” points to something that is demonstrated in both word and deed. Words alone would not be considered a “teaching”; but words combined with a living example would be considered a “teaching”.

Don’t misunderstand me… When I say “words combined with a living example”, I’m not talking about a sermon with application points. “Applications points” are still words. Instead, I’m saying that someone who brings a “teaching” or “doctrine” only does so when the life of the “teacher” matches the words and is demonstrated before the ones who are learning. In other words, a “teaching” combines both words and a way of living that is witnessed and imitated by those who are learning.

Consider Paul’s words to the church in Phillipi:

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:9 ESV)

Consider his reminder to the Thessalonians:

For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed – God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. (1 Thessalonians 2:5-10 ESV)

Finally, in his letter to Titus, Paul specifically connects “doctrine” and “teaching” to more than words, as he parallels “teach what accords with sound doctrine” with “show yourself”:

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. (Titus 2:1-10 ESV)

Titus was to teach with his words, but just as importantly, he was to teach with his life. For Paul, teaching with words could not be separated from teaching with lifestyle. Of course, this means that Titus would have to live his life among those he was teaching. It was not enough to simply see them occasionally. In order to Titus to teach “sound doctrine” he would have to live “sound doctrine” with the people.

So, those early believers that Luke described in Acts 2 were devoting themselves to the words and lifestyle of the apostles. They heard what the apostles said, and they saw how the apostles lived. In response to this and to the Spirit’s work in their lives, they spoke and lived in the same way. They did not simply listen to sermons about what to belief. They heard, watched, and lived with the apostles and other believers, and learned from their “living doctrine”.

What does this mean for us? It means that when we make a list of “beliefs” and call it “doctrine”, we are not using the word “doctrine” in a scriptural sense. It means that when we stand before a group of strangers and give them good, biblical information, we are not bringing a “teaching” in the way that the word is used in Scripture.

Primarily, for those of us who desire to make disciples of Jesus Christ, it means that our lives must demonstrate what our mouth is saying. We must live among and with people who are learning from us. Teaching cannot be done at a distance to an audience of strangers. Teaching (in the scriptural sense) occurs when people share their lives together, not when the teacher stands behind a podium.


12 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 8-14-2008

    Thanks for this post Alan. This is of great benefit to me, and I bet others. I have felt there was something wrong with the way the modern church views doctrine.

    It seems intellectually dishonest to cherry pick a few scriptures from all over the Bible, form ties between them that may or may not be relevant, and them make an interpretation that may or may not be right and call it doctrine. It always seemed to me doctrine was based more on assumptions, guesswork, and personal opinion than fact in modern church.

    The view of doctrine you have presented here gives new insights that help me to understand. Thanks again.

  2. 8-14-2008

    Alan,

    Acts 2:42ff have loomed large for me for many years. Especially the idea that is promoted by the word “devoted”. It seems, today, that MAINTAINING a doctrinal stance is far more important than diligent perseverance towards BEING what our revered doctrinal statements claim we are .

    Those whom I’ve been privileged to walk with and learn with as as an elder, have heard me say many times,”We must be seen to be what we say are”.

  3. 8-14-2008

    Orthodoxy-Orthopraxy=False Religion.

    God is really dealing with me on a lot of this stuff. I just about finished the “Untold Story” by Viola and in it the greatest thing that jumped out to me (and can’t figure out how I missed it) was when Paul after warning the soldiers about the storm and the boat being torn apart when they land on the island Paul goes and picks up sticks for the fire.

    They may not be much but boy it slapped me into another dimension brother. I thought I would have been standing back with my lips poked out telling them “you should have listened to me dirtbags”.

  4. 8-14-2008

    There is a danger though in replacing objective truth with moralism. I believe it is more accurate to say “othopraxy-orthodoxy=false religion as there are many people who are better “christians” than those who actually believe in Christ.

    Christianity is based on the objective facts of Christ and these can be taught as truth despite the the life of the person teaching.

    Of course we should model a Christ like life but our lifestyle is not the be all end all of Christianity, Christ is.

  5. 8-14-2008

    Jason,

    I hear what you are saying but James would disagree with you. I am not talking moralism (stop sexing, don’t be a drunkard, don’t lie, don’t steal). I am talking about a lively faith that produces works of righteousness. I am not replacing objectivity with moralism I am combing the two as the bible does. I believe Matthew 25 alludes that also. Christ talks about Goats and Sheep. How does He seperate the two? They both say they have faith. The same goes for Matthew 7. Both say they have faith, how does Christ seperate the two?

    Christ doesn’t just expect a mere intellectual assent as far as I read in the Gospels and the Epistles. Correct Christ is the end but there are purposes to our salvation (Eph 2, and James 1-2). What do you think?

  6. 8-14-2008

    Alan,

    JESUS CHRIST–AND WE

    Christ has no hands but our hands
    To do His work today;
    He has no feet but our feet
    To lead men in His way;
    He has no tongue but our tongues
    To tell men how He died;
    He has no help but our help
    To bring them to His side.

    We are the only Bible
    The careless world will read;
    We are the sinner’s Gospel,
    We are the scoffer’s creed;
    We are the Lord’s last message
    Written in deed and word–
    What if the line is crooked?
    What if the type is blurred?

    What if our hands are busy
    With other work than His?
    What if our feet are walking
    Where sin’s allurement is?
    What if our tongues are speaking
    Of things His lips would spurn?
    How can we hope to help Him
    Unless from Him we learn?

    – Annie Johnson Flint (1866-1932)

  7. 8-14-2008

    Mark,

    I agree that we should not “cherry pick” Scriptures to form our beliefs about God and the world. The point here, though, if we desire to teach according to Scripture, we must do so with our words and with our way of life. Otherwise, we may be conveying information, but we’re not teaching.

    Aussie John,

    Yes! “We must be seen to be what we say we are”. Of course, this means we must live what we say, and we must be SEEN living that way.

    Lionel,

    Yes, it is important to have both right beliefs and right conduct. The purpose of this post is to show that teaching – according to Scripture – must include both words and actions, not just words.

    Jason,

    I’ve read back over what I wrote. I don’t see a call to replace objectivism with moralism. Instead, I’m saying that scriptural teaching includes both words and actions. We may be able to convey information without actions, but we cannot teach in the scriptural sense without using both words and actions. We can convey information (even factual information) without allowing people into our lives, but we cannot teach in the scriptural sense if people cannot hear our words and see our way of living.

    -Alan

  8. 8-14-2008

    It’s really sad for me to think about this topic. From my experience you hear the pastor talk about what he believes from the pulpit, and THAT”S IT. No one ever really saw him outside of that context of sermon delivery. Not only that, but I worked under him for two years and I still have yet to actually see him perform any kind of application to the Biblical concepts that he had preached for so many years. That’s not to say he’s in some kind of hidden sin, by the way. I don’t, however, feel like Ive really been taught much by him.

  9. 8-14-2008

    Skwirl,

    I think what you’ve expressed is normal, unfortunately. Pastors are taught that their primary responsibility is to convey information about God and Scripture. All of us can begin now making disciples with our words and our way of living.

    -Alan

  10. 8-15-2008

    Alan – I truly did get the point that doctrine is something that should be lived out.

    As a matter of fact that is more or less what I was getting at. I have grown weary of watching doctrine be only about belief of rules and regulations that may or may not be correct, rather than practical ways to live our lives as followers of Christ.

  11. 8-15-2008

    Mark,

    Ok. Thanks for the clarification. I agree that we should live out our doctrine and not simply speak it or write about it.

    -Alan

  12. 8-27-2008

    In the classic writing on john, he writes that the word became John 1:14. I see it as the word encased in a bodily form. I agree with you Alan that you can not divorce th two.