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49. Introduction to Doctrine, Theological Hierarchy

Purpose: The purpose of this session is to introduce the importance of Christian Doctrine.


1. The disciple will come to appreciate the study of doctrine for theChristian life and the Church.

2. The disciple will understand the nature and categories of systematic Theology.

3. The disciple will be able to distinguish doctrines that are central to the Christian faith from those on which Christians may differ and that some are worth dying for.

4. The disciple will understand the necessity of the doctrines in Scripture for living a holy life.

Scripture Memory

Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Do not be conceited.

Romans 12:16


1. Mutual accountability and prayer.

2. Discuss theological terms and concepts.

3. Discuss the study of materials.

4. Discuss new items.

5. Mutual sharing of Scripture memory.

Defining Doctrine

In previous sessions, we reviewed some of the major competitors to Christianity, particularly their views and why they cannot properly be called “Christians.” Some of these other religions have “holy” writings. Some have their own deities. A world-view will come with its own set of core beliefs, ways of knowing, and a set of behaviors that make them unique.

What, then, are the characteristics of Christianity which comes from a ___________ world-view? What is unique about Christian faith that sets it apart from other belief systems? To define Christianity and understand how it is unique from all other belief systems is a major element of the theological task.

A second element of theology is to differentiate primary from secondary doctrines. Even Paul spelled out what was most important in his preaching.

“For I deliver to you as of first importance, what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures , and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”

1 Corinthians 15:3-5

But first, we must define doctrine. Many Christians (and non-Christians) have preconceived ideas about the term without ever investigating it. These ideas are often negative, reflecting a long history on the part of the church to emphasize “correct theology” as more important than the Bible, obedience to God, or sometimes, even God Himself.

As a result, theology has encountered hard times in recent decades, making Paul’s warning in 2 Timothy 4:3 an increasing reality: the creation of false doctrine for the purpose of satisfying personal desires.

What, then, is “doctrine?”

Doctrine is truth revealed from Scripture regarding God, His ways, and His purposes. D____________, then, comes from the Bible itself. Doctrine is what the Scriptures tell us about God and the things of God. Although nature portrays His existence and His attributes, we receive clarity in Scripture concerning His teaching.

The Need For Doctrine

Someone has said that everyone is a theologian. Although very few Christians have actually written down what they believe in a systematic manner, it is nonetheless true that every Christian has a belief system. Although belief systems are usually unconscious, they form the structure by which people make sense of their world. They help us decide what is right and what is wrong; they govern our relationships and interpret our experiences.

Theology is not an option. We all have governing belief systems, whether we want to or not. The question becomes for us: how will we “take charge” of our beliefs and thereby grow and develop in the Christian life? Will our beliefs be formed primarily from experience, from the teaching of authority figures, or from the Word of God?

The Categories of Doctrine

Although doctrine come to us from the Word, it is not usually revealed to us in a tidy package of definitive statements. For example, a great deal of the Bible has come to us in the form of narrative literature or stories. They tell us about what God has done more than they define Him or His attributes.

Therefore, through the history of the church, Christians have divided the Scriptures into categories. These theological categories, while themselves not derived directly from Scripture, allow us to speak and think about God in ways the human mind can grasp more easily.

  • Theology is the study of God and His attributes, including His triune nature.
  • Christology is the doctrine of Christ, including His divine and human natures, as well as His work on the cross on behalf of humanity.
  • Pneumatology is the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, including his nature and His operation in the church and the world.
  • Bibliology is the doctrine of Scripture, including its inspiration and authority.
  • Anthropology is the doctrine of humanity (man).
  • Hamartiology is the doctrine of sin.
  • Soteriology is the doctrine of salvation.
  • Angelology is the doctrine of angels, including Satan and demons.
  • Eschatology is the doctrine of last things, including the return of Christ and the ultimate destiny of individuals.

The upcoming sessions will deal with each of these theological categories in turn. You have already been introduced to some of them, such as the doctrine of sin in session 11.

When we arrange doctrines into categories, we call them systematic theology. Such an arrangement is useful for the categorization of biblical doctrine for the human mind. However, a theological system also allows us to observe the interrelationship between doctrines.

For example, before we can understand salvation (Soteriology), we must understand the nature of sin (Hamartiology). Knowing the depths of our sinful state helps us to more fully understand and appreciate our salvation in Jesus Christ. Paul discusses this relationship in Ephesians 2:1-10.

In addition, since Jesus Christ was the God-man, we can begin to glimpse through the person of Jesus what humanity was intended to be (Anthropology). Our obedience to Christ is founded in our identification with him, particularly in His death and resurrection (Christology). The apostle Paul discusses this in Romans 6:1-10.

A Hierarchy of Doctrine

Not everything revealed in Scripture is of equal importance to the Christian. As one grows in the Christian life, it will be important to differentiate between doctrines that are of primary importance and those that are secondary in nature. Some are worth dying for while others are not.

Tragically, Christians are sometimes divided over doctrines that may be important, but not absolutely necessary. This creates rifts in the body of Christ. Just as tragic, Christians often fail to stand up for what is most important, capitulating to views that may actually be in opposition to true Christianity.

While we will not be able to describe all such views in this section, the hierarchy on the following page will give examples of primary doctrines and those that are of less importance.

The Doctrinal Hierarchy

Doctrine And Life: An Example From Scripture

Many wonder why it is important to believe certain things about God and Christ. They believe that “mere facts” about God are sterile things, and that our relationship with God is all that counts. Life is more important than facts, relationship more important than doctrine.

Our assertion is that doctrine is a vital element of the Christian life. It cannot be separated from our relationship with God, any more than what we know about people can be separated from our relationship with them.

In Christianity, there is a definite link between believing correct doctrine and living rightly before God. The biblical view of doctrine is that one lives what he believes, and thus an understanding of God and his ways are indispensable to the Christian life. Theology and life are intimately connected.


In his epistle to the Colossians, the apostle Paul gave an example of the application of doctrine to life. The church at Colossae was embracing a kind of false teaching, as we know from reading Paul’s letter to them. The false teaching was not in the form of “getting their facts wrong” about God so much as it was in the form of living in ways inconsistent with the gospel. Colossians 2:16-23 refers to some of these ways. What are they?

Verse 16

Verse 18

Verse 21

Verse 23

The believers of Colossae had apparently embraced a combination of elements of Judaism, angel worship, and asceticism. False humility and “spirituality” in an unbiblical sense seem to have been the root attitudes that supported such forms of religious expression.

What was Paul’s response to the Colossians when he heard what was happening in their church? He could have simply told them to stop certain practices and to change their attitude. To be sure, he did tell them to change their ways; chapter 3 in particular is full of ethical instruction. However, the particular situation at Colossae required a deeper understanding of the Christian faith, especially an understanding of the identity of Christ.

Paul’s teaching about Jesus Christ was necessary in order to lay a foundation for correcting the Colossians’ behavior. As we will see, Paul’s doctrine of Christ was crucial for addressing the situation at this church. What are the important elements of Paul’s Christology from Colossians 1:15-20?

Verse 15

Verse 16

Verse 17

Verse 18

Verse 19

Verse 20

Why would Paul write to the Colossian church regarding correct belief in the nature of Christ? What does the supremacy of Christ in the universe—His deity, His authority, and His ultimate reconciliation of the universe to God—have to do with the situation of false worship in Colossae? (Colossians 2:6-8)

The Colossians’ false Christology had much to do with their false worship. In these verses, Paul begins his discussion of the Colossians’ particular problems with an exhortation to continue living in the faith, along with a distinction between Christ and the “basic principles of this world” that were the foundation of the church’s problem.

Verses 9-15 of Chapter 2 go on to describe the relationship between Christ and the Christian. Building on the idea of the supremacy of Christ that he began in Chapter 1, Paul discusses the relevance of Christ’s high position to salvation and to the Christian life. What are the links between Christ and the believer in this passage?

Verses 9,10

Verse 11,12

Verse 13,14

Verse 15

Now that he has identified the Person of Christ with the life of the Christian, Paul is ready to address the specific issues that are disrupting the Colossian church. We have already discovered the elements of false worship that Paul describes in Colossians 2:16-23. However, as you read the passage again, how does Paul relate the supremacy of Christ to specific issues of church life?

Verse 17

Verse 19

Verse 20

Our life and worship have their roots ultimately in our concept of God and Christ. That is, right living is founded on right doctrine, while a failure to grasp sound doctrine can have profound effects on the Christian life and the church.

Questions for Review and Discussion

1. It has been said that “everyone is a theologian.” What are some of the unconscious assumptions that guide the spiritual life of most Christians?

2. Not every doctrine is of equal importance. What issue(s) has caused a church division that was not a primary doctrine?

3. Think! What are some beliefs you hold for which you would suffer martyrdom?

What are some beliefs you hold for which you would not suffer martyrdom?

4. What practices in the Christian life or in the church might be affected by how one thinks about God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, or the nature of humanity and sin?

Related Topics: Discipleship

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