Church Doctrine: A Primer

By Elder Durrell Brown

Perhaps more than 200,000,000 Americans have no church affiliation, making America one of the largest “un-churched” nations in the world. Lee Stroebel tells us “Un-churched Harry and Mary” are still interested in discussing God but convinced Christians have no answers. So what a summons to review basic Christian doctrine!

1 Peter 3:15 tells us clearly to be ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within us. I have found Hank Hanagraef’s little pocket-size chart with the acronym D-O-C-T-R-I-N-E to be very very helpful. It works like this:

D = Christ’s Divinity. Jesus is always the issue it seems across the centuries and it took even the early church some ups and downs to make this clear. They finally came to see that this was not just the Messiah, or the Son of God (as important as that was), but God in the flesh. Notice what “doubting Thomas” confessed in John 20: 28. He fell at Jesus’ feet saying “My Lord and my God!” Paul told the Colossian church very clearly that “in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). It doesn‘t get much clearer than this and in an age when people think “what difference does it make, don’t all religions teach the same thing?” – the answer is an emphatic No. Some religions such as Buddhism, Taoism, Scientology don’t even conceive of a God. Jesus Christ was God made flesh and dwelt among us. That is a unique confession.

O = Original Sin. Now some Christians have made this teaching a be-all and end-all across the centuries and that is too bad. But however you want to describe it, the Bible’s philosophical framework is clear: something happened in Genesis 3 that radically affected the “very good” creation of Genesis 1. In Romans 1-4 Paul does what Augustine and the great reformers did: he paints in bold strokes how dastardly the human race has become at times. Paul applies this truth to his own corrupt First Century Roman world. While this is always true we should never forget the Biblical antidote to sin. Romans 5:20 says – “where sin abounded grace did much more abound.” That’s the important part of the good news we should never forget. The human race has already been reconciled back to God through the work of Jesus on the cross and we have been given a share in that Ministry of Reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:20).

C = Canon of Scripture. This is an exceedingly big subject as there are variations on the canon even across Christian tradition. The Protestant world, Roman Catholicism and Greek Orthodoxy all differ slightly on what should be considered inspired Scripture but the glaring fact is they all accept the books any NIV or NKJV lists from Genesis to Revelation. God’s inspiration is meaningless without God’s preservation of Scripture and that story makes up a book as big as the Bible itself. For a short, tough-minded summary of this issue see F.F. Bruce’s slim volume The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? The inner testimony of the Holy Spirit is the key factor here and very few Christians are not moved by what we read and hear from Genesis to Revelation.

T = Trinity. Down through the ages history shows that people who reject or downplay the Trinity always end up with a distorted understanding of Christianity. We’ve seen that Jesus was the fullness of Deity in bodily form. The best way to express that Jesus is God, the Father is God and the Holy Spirit is God is to compare the superb opening of John 1 with many other texts that speak to a threeness within the One God. For one thing, all Christians are baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19-20). Many texts assert the three-fold working of the One God such as 1 Peter 1:2 and 2 Corinthians 14:12. Our church has a new booklet which explains the relevance of this in depth – the fact that the harmonious and loving relationships inside the Godhead has now come to include us. God is inclusive, not exclusive. That is a cornerstone of the message Paul preached and which gives us hope in our Gospel proclamation.

R = Resurrection. Paul steps on this very hard – the events surrounding the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ were to him “of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:1-3). The apostle said he determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). Jesus’ resurrection from a rock tomb in Jerusalem was a space-time event which

  1. validated his claims as to who he was
  2. ransomed sinful humans from the power of Death
  3. broke the power of Satan and sin and death
  4. pioneered the process of salvation we would all have to take and
  5. established his body of witnesses known as the Church.

The empty tomb is the cradle of the Christian church and all that flows from it. Indeed, without the strongest possible belief in Jesus and the resurrection our faith is vain.

I = Incarnation (lit. “in-carnu” = in the flesh). This reiterates the importance of the points made above. Jesus took on our flawed human nature at Bethlehem and by so doing revealed God’s loving care for His creation. The Incarnation shows that human beings, their cares, their worries, their woes really matters to God. He has come down to be involved in our struggles and by coming down he has also lifted us up to the heavenly places with him.

N = New Creation or New Birth. This is a wonderful teaching. If anyone is in Christ he is already now a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17). The old has passed away including the dictates and requirements of the Law. The Law was temporary, the new creation is spiritual and points beyond this mundane physical realm to the New Heavens and New Earth, to where God is going. Our pastor says that this one teaching more than any other made him realize that the Sabbaths, the festivals of the Levitical system and all that had gone before were now subsumed into and caught up in Jesus Christ. This is an ever-new fact worth our daily meditation and should spur us on to the last point.

E = Eschatology. That’s a big word borrowed from the Greek “eschata” which relates to the last matters or end-time things. Christians need to know that their faith and service is assured by the One who knows the end from the beginning, who is not only the Author but the Finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). This can be a great comfort when we find our faith wavering or our spirit buckling under tests and trials. That is the essential meaning, in fact, of this controversial word “Predestination.” Predestination as taught in Ephesians 1:1-10 was not meant to be a doctrinal strait-jacket but a message of assurance and hope that God will let nothing come between us and him (Romans 8:38-39). That is how the original Reformers meant it.

So there it is, a short, introductory review of Christian doctrine. It is only a beginning, an introduction but it lays out the basic parameters of what the vast majority of Christians have always believed down through time and what we need to know to be effective ambassadors for Jesus Christ.