Teaching Doctrine in Disciple-making: Academic elective or life-giving essential?

In contemporary literature on church planting and disciple-making doctrine is often downplayed. Doctrine is seen as secondary or primarily the intellectual concern of academics. But Paul put great emphasis on doctrine when he wrote to his church planting partners, Timothy and Titus. Kevin Vanhoozer writes,

Christian doctrine is the disciple’s meat and drink. You may think that I am overemphasizing the role of doctrine in the Christian life because I am a theologian, but doctrine is biblical. The Greek term didaskalia (teaching; doctrine) occurs twenty-one times in the New Testament. Fifteen of these occurrences are found in the Pastoral Epistles alone, which strongly suggests that doctrine finds its fitting place in the church, as a means to pastor congregations and teach disciples. Indeed, Paul says Timothy’s duty is to teach (didaskô, 1 Tim 4:11; 6:2).

Vanhoozer, Hearers and Doers, 206. See book review on this blog.

Paul is very concerned about passing on sound doctrine as he anticipates the end of his ministry on earth. He commands Timothy to guard the deposit entrusted to him (1 Tim 6:20; 2 Tim 1:14). The reason teaching sound doctrine is essential is that false doctrine exists; it was already present in the churches Paul planted. Sound doctrine is what is “in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I [Paul] have been entrusted” (1 Tim 1:11). Paul was convinced that the gospel which he and the other Apostles preached was revealed by God. We who believe that God has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, the living Word, and in the Bible, the written Word, should make teaching sound doctrine a priority in church planting and disciple-making.

Doctrine is downplayed when it is seen as primarily cognitive. But sound doctrine is not just information or ideas. Simply assenting to correct statements about the gospel without living in light of them is not sound doctrine. In his letters to Timothy and Titus Paul links doctrine to practice. Kevin Vanhoozer finds it interesting that Paul describes doctrine as “sound.”

… Paul’s use of the term “sound” (Greek: hygiainô) to qualify “doctrine” (didaskalia) is striking. In classical Greek, hygiainô meant “to be healthy” (the adjectival form meant “healthy, well”). Our English term hygienic derives from the Greek. The point is that doctrine is “sound” not simply because it is true, but because it is health-giving.

Vanhoozer, Hearers and Doers, 207.

Sound doctrine produces healthy disciples that live according to the gospel in fellowship with other believers in the church. Sound doctrine is true, as Paul repeatedly refers to the message as “the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4; 2 Tim 2:25; 3:7; Titus 1:1). Christians are those who believe and know the truth (1 Tim 4:3). Knowing the truth of sound doctrine produces a life of godliness (Titus 1:1). Paul urges both Timothy (1 Tim 4:11-16; 6:11,12; 2 Tim 2:22) and Titus (Titus 2:7,8) to be examples of those who hold sound doctrine. The grace of God, which is central to sound doctrine, trains us “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12). This healthy lifestyle results from Christ giving himself for us and purifying us (Titus 2:14). Christians are “justified by his grace” (Titus 3:7) and are “careful to devote ourselves to good works” (Titus 3:8).

Teaching is necessary for guarding sound doctrine in church planting and disciple-making. Paul describes Timothy as “being trained in the words of faith and of good doctrine” (1 Tim 4:6). He “learned and firmly believed” the teaching he received from Paul (2 Tim 3:14). Scripture made him “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15). Timothy is charged to devote himself to “the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Tim 4:13). He is to “keep a close watch” on himself “and on his teaching” (1 Tim 4:16). The teaching is to be entrusted to “faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2). In writing to Titus, Paul insists that an elder “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he might be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). Sound doctrine will only be guarded when it is passed on by faithful teaching.

If our church planting and disciple-making methods are in step with what Paul writes in his letters to Timothy and Titus, then we will highlight teaching sound, healthy doctrine that produces knowledge of the truth together with a godly lifestyle. Teaching sound doctrine is essential because false doctrine (the topic of my next post) is ever-present.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.