Doctrine – Classifications

Act 2:42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
2Ti 3:15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
2Ti 3:16 All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
2Ti 3:17 That the man of God may be perfect {mature}, throughly furnished unto all good works.

–  Ike Sweesy on Bible Doctrine

The biblical word “Doctrine” is derived from the Greek word “didake” meaning ‘teachings‘ or ‘instruction‘.

‘Teachingsencompasses a wide range from mere facts, stories, practices, and narrative, up to what conservatives consider as essential elements of the Christian faith.  Some teachings are straight-forward, and are clearly taught with multiple citations throughout the Bible, while other ‘teachings’ may not be as clearly or completely presented in the scriptures.   “Salvation by Grace through Faith” is very clear, and is taught in many passages; while “the baptism for the dead” is only referred to in one single passage, and its context, use, interpretation, and application is very obscure.  Some teachings are very important, and the scriptures emphasize their importance (such as the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, 1Cr 15:17), while others are merely mentioned in passing as a part of a single narrative, and have obscure meaning and limited application (such as the prayer of Jabez, 1Ch 4:10).   Generally, biblical ‘narrative’ is just that, and shouldn’t be taken as ‘normative’ behavior or “Doctrine” standing alone.  Examples are plural marriage or slavery or even warfare methods of King David and others.  Doctrine can sometimes be extracted from ‘narrative’ when other scripture confirms it or interprets it (“comparing scripture with scripture”).

Doctrine   –  Along with many scholars, I make a distinction between “Cardinal Doctrines”, and “Secondary Doctrines”, and even “other Doctrines”.   These distinctions are not actually identified in the scriptures, but are useful for distinguishing what to fight about (“earnestly contend for the faith” – Jude 1:3), what to teach, what to obey, how to live, and what to “agree to disagree” and still fellowship as believers.

“Cardinal Doctrines” –  For the sake of categories, I include in “Cardinal Doctrines” those clear doctrines that distinguish “Theology” (the Doctrine of God, and who He is), and Soteriology (Salvation through Jesus Christ).   Cults & Apostasy from the faith can generally be identified by deviation from Cardinal Doctrines.    
I would welcome anyone else’s list.

“Secondary Doctrines” –   For me, these include clear teachings of Scripture, which are important for the Christian to understand and to “grow in Grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ2Pe 3:18, but which are not essential to Salvation or an understanding of the Almighty God.  Such would include the Inspiration of the Scripture, personal Sanctification, Morality, & Christian Love and Service of others.   Christians living uncommitted lives, or in rebellion & disobedience can generally be identified by deviation from Secondary Doctrines. 
I would welcome anyone else’s list.

“other Doctrines” (teachings in scripture) –   For me, these include teachings of Scripture where the scripture is pretty clear with a sound hermeneutic, but the subject matter does not rise in importance to Cardinal or Secondary Doctrines.   Some would place here the Inspiration of the Scripture,  but I include biblical history & narratives (know your Bible), Spiritual Gifts, Angelology, Biblical Chronology,  Genesis & ‘origins’ (although some would include this below in ‘Convictions’ or just “Opinions’).   Christians living uncommitted lives, or in ignorance of God’s Holy Word to believers can generally be identified by unfamiliarity or deviation from Other Biblical Teachings.    
I would welcome anyone else’s list.

Convictions –    many Christians do not discern the differences between ‘doctrine’ and ‘convictions’, and much un-Christian discord has arisen from differing ‘convictions’ about scripture, bringing discredit upon the name of Christ and Christian unity.  To me, Convictions include those teachings where there is scripture that can support varying positions, or where there isn’t much clear, unequivocal scripture, and godly men and women disagree.  This can include Denominational differences such as Baptismal methods, some Eschatology (prophecy), Role of Women, Cultural matters, and others.    I also include here interpretation “systems” such as Calvinism, Dispensationalism, Covenant Theology, or even Pentecostalism (or Charismatics), but others would see their favorite system as “Doctrine”.      Many immature Christians or those living uncommitted lives either have few Convictions, or spend lots of their time emphasizing their own Convictions and Feelings, and in criticizing Other Christians.

Personal Convictions on Christian Living –  This includes some biblical Christian living principles which could be “secondary” or “other” Doctrines, but also includes how the Holy Spirit has ‘convicted’ the individual Christian to live out their own life, and where other Christians are not so convicted.  Examples could be personal Celibacy, Alcohol, ‘Dress Code’,  Tongues.     Many immature Christians or those living uncommitted lives spend lots of their time emphasizing their own Christian Life and Feelings, and in criticizing Other Christians.
I would welcome anyone else’s list.

Opinions –   With Opinions, we can have mature tolerance with lively and even enjoyable discussion. The ‘strong’ don’t offend the ‘weak’ in faith.  With opinions, there can be wide variation in belief due to little ‘clear’ scripture to lean on, scripture that is of small importance, or scripture of mere interest or curiosity.  Here also, as with ‘Convictions’, many Christians have separated from each other’s fellowship over “doubtful disputations”, much to the hurt of the church and our impact on the world.  To me, I include some Eschatology (prophecy),  “Prosperity”, space aliens, and “the hairs of your head being numbered”, 
I would welcome anyone else’s list.

Speculation –   Speculation is worse than opinion.  Speculation is where there is minimal or no scripture, but some just can’t resist delving into the things of God where God has not revealed Himself.  This is dangerous territory, and is usually the province of the presumptuous or of cults.  Many strange doctrines come from speculation, and are pushed off on the weak-minded and biblically uneducated.  Examples are “Baptism for the Dead”, ‘created’ status of Jesus Christ, or a ‘pre-tribulational Rapture’ (just seeing if you were paying attention).
I would welcome anyone else’s list.

Translation   –  refers to putting the words and meaning from the original languages of the scriptures into the personal language of a group.  There are thousands of languages in the world, and most people do not speak the original languages of the Bible such as Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.  Usually, different “translations” do not differ significantly from each other, but rather use words, phrases, or sentence structure that relate more clearly to different segments of a language group.  Several popular and widely accepted examples would be the King James Version (KJV), and it’s many variations through the centuries since 1611, the New King James (NKJV), the American Standard Version (ASV), The New American Standard Bible (NASB), the New International Version (NIV), and other popular versions.  However, “paraphrases” are not to be considered as authoritative “translations”.   Likewise, editorial notes in Bibles are likewise, not authoritative, but are inserted as ‘helps’ for the reader.    It is a common ploy of unbelievers to question the validity of scripture by citing “all those translations”, or by doubting that the modern Bible as “God’s Word” can be trusted since we are so far removed in time from the autographs (original manuscript of the biblical author).  In fact, there are thousands of manuscripts dating back to within one hundred years of the originals, and they have remarkable consistency.  We can trust that our ‘translations’ are in fact, “God’s Word”.

Interpretation –  this is a very overused, and abused word.  In its truest sense, it is how a particular word or passage is to be understood.         However, many times, it is thrown around to negate the clear teaching of scripture about a particular practice that someone doesn’t want to be challenged on.

“Well, that’s just your interpretation.”   

When presented with this ‘interpretation’ argument, I ask the person to ‘interpret’ for me 2Th 1:8.  That’s when they usually reveal their true unbelief and jump straight to the “all those contradictions” argument.  I ask them to show me one or two ‘contradictions’, and they then change the subject to football.  Now of course, I’m really actually pretty gentle with unbelievers, but ‘mockers’ and ‘scoffers’ are very easily baffled with biblical truth, and they aren’t really looking for answers so don’t waste your time once that attitude becomes clear.  Politely change the subject to something like …well .. football.

For me, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is interpreted to mean that scripture is from God, is trustworthy, and those teachings will have the result that a Christian will mature under them and produce good works.


Application –   How a word or verse or teaching is to be used practically in our own lives.    For instance, the application of 2 Timothy 3:17 above, can be applied as a Christian being convinced in his mind & spirit to personally respond to the previous two verses leading directly to maturity and good works.

However, in its ‘popular’ usage, it has been what people traditionally fight over – either verbally, or violently.  This includes those who value biblical doctrine, as well as those who generally do not consider any ‘doctrine’ as important, but will still argue about ‘beliefs’.

bullet “Conservative”  vs. “Liberal”    –    Most ‘conservative’ churches would consider that “Doctrines” are important, and that “Hermeneutics”, or “Interpretation”, are important for our approach and understanding of scripture.    “Liberal” churches, on the other hand, would not even consider any belief as ‘cardinal’ or even ‘secondary’, since there is usually no consideration of any divine authority in biblical writings, and so anyone’s personal ‘interpretation’ is just fine.  There is generally no consideration of “objective truth”, but rather that each person determines “the truth for themselves”.

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