Thursday, October 19, 2006

How Do We Know What We Know? Part Four

Some Misunderstood Terms

Before we begin to build upon this foundation and make the pieces fit, we need to understand a few matters about how the structure of our beliefs will be organized.

Do you have a ‘systematic’? Yes, you do. You just found out that you have a first principle and now I’m telling you that you have a ‘systematic’ as well. By ‘systematic’ I mean a systematic theology. I have spoke to people, even some pastors who insist they don’t follow a systematic theology and they don’t like the term, but every believer has one. Once we have established our foundation, the Word of God, we are ready to start building our framework upon it. A systematic theology is a summary and organization of what we believe.

You may believe that your sock drawer has no system of organization but ‘no system’ IS a form of organization. It may not be very efficient and it may take you longer to find what you’re looking for but that is your system. A systematic theology of what we believe is necessary because it forms the link between the numerous topics and teachings of the Bible. I cannot say to you, “Ok, let’s learn what the Bible teaches about sin. Everyone turn in your Bibles to the Book of Sin.” There is no such book. There is no book of God’s Mercy, there is not Book of Prayer, instead we find books titled with ancient people’s names and the names of ancient cities. Each book is organized according to the purpose of the writer but they are not systematized according to specific topics. We need an outline to help us organize the wonderful truths that we learn each day in our Bible reading. This outline is like a tree for the leaves of gold that we will find in scripture.

Another word that gets a bad rap is ‘doctrine’. I have heard more than one preacher who, if they use the word at all, will add qualifying adjectives to the front such as, ‘cold’, ‘dry’, ‘dead’, ‘stale’. I’m not sure how this distrust of the word ‘doctrine’ got started. Perhaps they are remembering the tests and pop quizzes on doctrine from their school days but the association is not fair.

‘Doctrine’ simply means ‘teaching’. In other words, when we speak of Bible doctrine we are speaking of Bible teaching. When we say, “Let’s see what the Bible has to say about divorce” we are asking, “Is there a doctrine of divorce and if so, what is it?” Doctrine is the topic heading, and the information brought together and organized beneath that heading. Our systematic will contain a Doctrine of Sin, a Doctrine of the Cross, a Doctrine of Salvation and so on.

A well organized systematic theology begins with the fundamental or basic doctrines that form a new foundation for the doctrines that grow out of the first level. So we ask ourselves, “What is the most important doctrine?” You may be thinking that the most important doctrine is the doctrine of God. Without God there could be nothing else and so it must form the basis of our beliefs. However, the question quickly arises “Which god?”
Many believers have said things like, “Just look at a tree, doesn’t that tell you there is a God?” Well, yes it does because for the believer the Holy Spirit is interpreting everything we see to speak of the glory of God in light of His Word. But to the mind that is still in spiritual darkness it may be saying that long ago there was a great tree and the tree was god and the tree created lots of little trees.

We need to understand that the God we are speaking of is the God of the Bible. We may then conclude that the most basic doctrine is the doctrine of the Bible and again we are close. It is my hope that chapter, however, demonstrated that we must first establish that there is something called truth, that we can know it and that there must be a way to measure and confirm truth. So the first doctrine we encountered is the Doctrine of Knowledge. Once we establish that we recognize the Holy Scripture as the rule of knowledge and truth we are ready to build upon this sure foundation and place the rest of the great blocks of glorious doctrines upon it. This foundation and no other foundation will hold the weight of all that we will read in God’s Word and encounter in God’s marvelous creation.

All scriptures have been taken from the The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles

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