4 Principles for Finding Doctrinal Security
Throughout my time as a Christian, I’ve noticed a problem, chiefly within myself. In the age of information, doctrinal security can be hard to come by. Just as memes and soundbites fly through the cyber-waves, tweet-sized doctrinal statements flood the web. Variety has enveloped the study of God in ways which the Reformers could only dream of.
This is a good thing, in one sense, because it has enabled Christians to learn new things about other people and about other positions which they never would have heard of before. This access to information has led to positive changes in many people’s theology. On the other hand, the bad aspect of all this, is that it’s much easier to “blown about by every wind of doctrine.”
The temptation, for many of us, is to adopt the latest pop-theological position. It’s possible that this position could be biblically correct, but that’s not the issue. The troubling issue here is the reason one adopts said position. Sometimes, we can become convinced of certain beliefs, not as a result of our study of Scripture, but as a result of pressure from other areas.
Below I have written an article purposed to provide four principles which prayerfully will equip the Christian in establishing a position grounded in God’s Word. We ought not be “blown about.” Rather, we ought to be solidly grounded in God’s revelation, changing our stance only when God, through His Word, makes it necessary.
The world is a vast place.
From the study of the cosmos, to the study of bacteria, from the construction of an automobile, to planting a garden; there are many, many areas to be explored in this world. In fact, for people, this world seems infinite. We can’t fathom coming to a full understanding of everything there is to know in the universe.
The diverse quest for wisdom and knowledge doesn’t get any narrower when approaching philosophical themes. Ethics plays a huge roll in the lives of all people, believe it or not. While many facets of ethics may be agreed upon by the majority of humans, there are many, many obscure nuances. The obscureness doesn’t make them any less important. Positions must be taken and defended by individuals.
When we step into the study of theology, a study which touches every corner of the universe, we find a whole new, infinite, field of exploration.
When I first became a Christian, I had no idea what a systematic theology was. Systematic theology is, to simply state it, the organization of biblical facts either explicitly or necessarily revealed by Scripture.
There was a time when I probably thought ill of something which seemed to me at the time to make God a matter of the intellect only. While I was mistaken, it took me some time to gather my thoughts on the idea of systematics. I eventually changed my position of systematic theology.
Later I found myself struggling with the Bible’s teaching on salvation. I began exploring different positions on who God saves and how God saves, etc. After I finally, by the grace of God, came to a position on salvation, I studied eschatology, or the doctrine of the last things.
I bounced around on the “last things” quite a bit, going from premillennialism, to amillennialism, dabbling in postmillennialism, and then back to amillennialism.
When I look back, I can say with a measure of confidence that I waffled between amillennialism and postmillennialism for the wrong reasons.
I was not doctrinally secure.
These switches among Christians happen a lot. Many of us waffle on things like baptism, eschatology, ecclesiology, and so on and so forth.
This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily.
Perhaps it just means a person is growing spiritually. But, it can be a bad thing if it’s done for the wrong reasons.
Positions you reject could end up making more biblical sense than those you’ve accepted!
Below are four principles which have helped me to more carefully consider what I believe, why I believe it, and why I would ever change positions if such an instance arose.
#1) CONSIDER THEOLOGY A LIFE OR DEATH SITUATION
“If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.”
— 1 Timothy 4:6 (ESV)
The things of God are important.
I am 26 years old.
I know, because I readily admit that I don’t know everything about Christian theology, there will come a point where I may change some of my beliefs.
My prayer is this, That the reason I change what I believe will be grounded in Scripture and the way in which I prayerfully think it’s to be interpreted.
A theological change, for me, involves tools. I have not always thought of it this way, but not so long ago, I came to realize that all Christians ought to treat the study of God as a life or death situation.
This isn’t because our salvation is necessarily contingent upon different positions we may take within the bounds of orthodoxy, but because the study of theology is the highest science a person could possibly involve themselves in.
Throughout Scripture, God has revealed the importance of the information which He has conveyed to us through His revelation. Theological information does not originate from a denomination or association. Rather, a biblical theology is the standard upon which all denominational and associational statements must be built.
Sometimes we get this backwards.
Perhaps we are tempted to change what we believe for the wrong reasons. Maybe your friends believe something that you didn’t believe initially, but in order to build additional fellowship, you adopted their thought. This is never a good reason to switch your theological position.
Honestly ask yourself, without telling anyone, Have I done this? Is any of what I believe a product of this?
If your answer is “yes,” what are you going to do about it? The Bible is full of unmined treasure!
#2) THINK OF THE BIBLE AS THE FOUNDATION FOR ANY BELIEFS YOU MAY HOLD
Many times I have heard brothers cite the confessions as if they, in and of themselves, were authoritative.
This isn’t always indicative of a mistake.
There are a few confessions which seem to contain wonderful, and very accurate, interpretations of Scripture. However, it’s easy for us to develop blind spots in our theology and adopt a position simply because those in history have adopted that same position.
Those men were theologically able men, so what they thought must’ve been right, it’s often imagined. I mean, think of the rich history behind those positions! The history should represent the truth, right?
Well, many times it does, but not every time.
It’s not wrong to think historically. It’s important for us to gather data from history so that we can learn about how others interpreted certain parts of Scripture before us. This study through what we would call historical theology is very beneficial and humbling, to say the least.
Historical theology, however, is not a placeholder for Scripture. Scripture has driven historical theology to where it is, or where it should be. There are many people in the past who were demonstrably wrong about what they believed and taught.
We could think of Charles Finney, whose influence was counter-Scriptural in many areas. Or, we could even think of contemporary false teachers, like Benny Hinn or Joel Osteen, who preach a new age mysticism cloaked under the guise of Jesus, and a prosperity gospel heralded as supposed truth from the “Bible.”
While Scripture is not the singular authority, it is the ultimate authority by which we ought to determine our theological positions. God has much to say in His Word about finding, and sticking with, our own beliefs. We have a responsibility to do this as Christians.
Jesus gives us a key interpretive tool here:
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, (Jn 5:39)
And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Lk 24:25-27).
There is this Christocentricity about the Bible. The Word of God therefore has declared a method, or way, according to which it is to be interpreted. We are not left to our own, fallible, selves to determine an interpretive framework for Scripture.
Our framework for interpreting the Bible is ultimately Christ, and the science of hermeneutics works out from there.
Through Paul, the Lord reveals the importance of being grounded in biblical doctrine:
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them (Rom 16:17)
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes (Eph 4:11-14, emphasis mine).
As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, (1 Tim 1:3)
It’s important for us to come to positions. It’s important for us to have a deep commitment to those theological convictions. But that commitment, and those convictions, ought not be founded on anything but the Word of Christ.
#3) FIND SOMEONE TO LOOK UP TO
At a time in the Church, where many like to downplay the significance of other people in the personal Christian life, it’s profitable to keep in mind that we are relational creatures.
We were not meant to be, or operate, alone. In the book of Proverbs we are exhorted to listen to sound advice. Luke, in Acts, records that the early Church committed themselves “to the teaching of the apostles” (Acts 2:42).
It’s important to have solid people in our lives who care about our spiritual well-being, and who want to see the best for us throughout the course of our progressive sanctification.
A mentor who is chiefly committed to Scripture can accomplish much in the life of a younger Christian. I can look back over at the previous year and name the people who have affected my life to the glory of God. These people are important to me and have been instrumental in me coming to some of the conclusions I now accept as biblical truth.
While these people are not replacements of the Bible, they are supplemental in understanding the biblical text. Without mentors, our tendency is to become arrogant, thinking we know it all. With mentors, who have more experience than us, we are humbled, yet built up in godliness.
This is the design of the Church.
The writer of Hebrews states, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (10:24, 25).” Solomon, in Proverbs, says this, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice (12:15).”
There is absolutely no biblical precedent for isolationism. On the contrary, Scripture mandates godly fellowship and discipleship. Without being surrounded by the people of God, there is no way to make truly informed decisions about what we believe.
#4) ACCOMPANY YOUR READING OF SCRIPTURE AND OTHER THEOLOGICAL WORKS WITH MUCH PRAYER
We often forget that the Holy Spirit is living and active in the lives of every believer. The third Person of the Holy Trinity is working to conform God’s children to the image of Christ restlessly, day and night.
Because we have this close relationship to our great God, as His children, our prayers are not made in vain. We pray, not to move God, but as a result of our faith in His promises, that He has ordained the means through which His plan will come to pass.
Prayer is not the invocation of a genie who grants wishes. Prayer is an act of faith done in the context of certain knowledge that God actually works through those means.
It’s clear then, if this is true, that God can and will establish your theological footsteps as you come to conclusions about what you think the Bible says.
This is not, however, to undermine an intellectual approach to reading the Bible.
Remember, God works through means. We need to approach Scripture seriously and not flippantly. What does the Bible say? How do I know it’s actually saying what I think it says? What’s the context? The original language?
Questions like those above are questions we need to ask ourselves when reading Scripture. Asking these questions are ethical, they are honest and sincere. The Holy Spirit will work through honesty and sincerity as we read the Word of God in order to guide us unto all truth.
Paul says this:
For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, (Rom 8:13-16)
The Spirit of God is the informing Spirit. He, the third Person of the Trinity, informs the child of God; He bears witness with our spirit. Without this informing, through the Word of God, the Christian could not be “led by the Spirit” in any meaningful sense, nor could we be thought to possess the tools necessary to mortify our sin, or to put to death the deeds of the body.
These are the four principles which have induced a sense of reverence for biblical doctrine in my personal life. I’m reluctant to switch theological beliefs as fast as I previously would have because of the considerations we’ve discussed above.
The study of God, broadly speaking, must be treated as a life or death situation; not because it determines one’s salvation, but because it’s an infinitely important endeavor.
The Bible must be thought of as the foundation of all our beliefs about God and about the world in which we live. No theological position ought to be constructed upon anything other than God’s Word.
Beliefs formed on the basis of popularity, understandability, or pressure from denominational entities, or even friends, may be correct, formally speaking, but they have been arrived at for all the wrong reasons.
Moreover, the ultimate foundation (i.e. the Bible) for those beliefs is neglected and unconsulted when positions are taken for unscriptural reasons.
God has built into the Church, and into the Christian life in general, a principle of mentorship. As Christians, whether we know it or not, we need mentorship, and we actually desire the fellowship found in a mentoring relationship.
If you don’t desire this, it doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t saved, but it does mean that you’ve probably never been involved in a biblical discipling relationship. I would encourage anyone reading this to find a mentor within your local body, if you haven’t already. This is crucial for the Christian life.
Finally, prayer plays an integral part in the life of the Christian. God works through the means of prayer to increase understanding in His saints. This can be seen in the passages we talked about above.
The Holy Spirit, often through means of prayer, can open our eyes, in concursus with the Word of God, as to what the biblical truth actually is. Without a prayer life, one will always be searching for the latest and greatest theological musing.