By Dave Jenkins, Crosswalk.com
Dogma is a set of beliefs that is accepted by a member of a group without being questioned or doubted. Within biblical Christianity, dogma is the body of biblical teaching proclaimed and accepted by orthodox Christians. Biblical Christianity is to be believed by every Christian, so to be orthodox, Christian dogma must align with the Scriptures.
The Criteria for Christian Dogma
There are three basic sets of convictions that separate biblical Christianity from other religions:
- The deity of Christ (John 1:1, 14)
- The substitutionary atonement and resurrection of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21)
- Salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9)
With that said, there are other essential Christian dogma such as:
- The Trinity
- The inspiration, inerrancy, authority, clarity, and sufficiency of the Word of God
- The Virgin Birth
- The indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and others
The deity of Christ, the atonement, and salvation by grace alone are the core doctrines of the Christian faith. Core doctrines are those teachings where if you reject them, you reject the gospel. Denying the nature of Christ and the sacrifice He made for sin rejects the only hope sinners have for eternal life (Acts 4:12; John 14:6).
Christian Dogma and a Watching World
Christian dogma is frowned upon in a pluralistic culture because Christians state definitively that there is salvation only in Christ (John 14:6). Christians are commanded to be dogmatic and loving (2 Thessalonians 2:15). To a watching world, Christian dogma is seen as divisive, unloving, and close-minded, but that is not true.
Christian dogma is divisive in that it rightly divides and understands truth from error, sound doctrine from heresy, and reality from wishful thinking. Christian dogma is divisive because it separates biblical Christians who accept, by faith, biblical Christianity’s basic tenets from those who don’t. Biblical Christians are not to be divisive in our attitude towards others but stand fast for truth in love (Ephesians 4:15; 1 Peter 3:15; Jude 3). Clinging to biblical truth requires rejecting falsehood (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
Christian dogma is not unloving; it is the epitome of love for it begins with God who first loved the world and sent His Son to provide salvation for sinners (John 3:16). Christian dogma is grounded in the love of Christ, who died out of love for all people on the cross (John 15:13). Christian dogma manifests itself in the love of Christians for God and one another (Mark 12:30; Matthew 22:37-40) as commanded by the Lord Jesus (John 13:34). To proclaim Christian dogma is the most loving thing Christians can do because it shares with others the only means of escaping the punishment of sin (Luke 13:24-28).
Before a watching world, Christians are called closed or narrow-minded, but what is often forgotten is that Christianity, by nature, is a very closed and narrow faith (Matthew 7:13-14). Jesus declared that He is the only way, truth, and life, and no one comes to the Lord except through Him (John 14:6). The exclusive and restricted statements of Jesus eliminate all other faiths and religions from consideration when it comes to eternal life.
Dogma differentiates between those who believe and those who do not. Dogma, though, does not mean that Christians are divisive, for they are always to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) seasoned with grace (Colossians 4:6).
The Apostle Paul, Timothy, and Sound Doctrine
The Apostle Paul called Timothy his “beloved child” in the faith (2 Timothy 1:2). Paul wrote to him about what mattered most for life and ministry commending the gospel to him (2 Timothy 1:8-10) and the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Additionally, Paul instructed Timothy about sound doctrine (2 Timothy 1:13-14). Doctrine is among the things that matters most to the well-being of the Christian and local churches. Sound doctrine provides a pattern for and promotes biblical faith and love. Sound doctrine also provides a valuable heritage that is to be treasured in our generation and faithfully transmitted to the text (2 Timothy 2:2).
Since we are discussing Christian dogma, we must also understand what that doctrine is and why it’s crucial. Doctrine is teaching from the Lord God about Himself that directs people to the glory of God. Sound doctrine helps the people of God know not only what it is, but its source and ultimate end.
The Source of Sound Doctrine
In the perfect fellowship of the Trinity, God has made Himself known to His creation and therefore, desires to be loved by His people (Matthew 11:25-27; 1 Corinthians 2:10-12). The Trinity informs the Christian faith and guides the Christian’s path.
The Triune God is the foundational source for doctrine. The Trinity is also the chosen instrument to minister biblical teaching through the apostles and prophets in the Word of God (2 Peter 1:20-21). In the eternal Kingdom of the Lord Jesus, the Lord will speak face-to-face to people. A fountain pours forth water, and in the same way, doctrine pours forth from the pages of Scripture. Doctrine is to be measured by the authoritative standard of the Word of the Lord in the Scriptures, which equips the people of God to become better readers of the Scriptures.
The Object of Sound Doctrine
The primary object of sound doctrine is the doctrine of God and secondarily all things in relation to the Lord. Doctrine helps the people of God see the Lord as the source from whom all things and through all things exist. Doctrine helps Christians to see their lives not as for themselves but to find their purpose in the glory of God (Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 8:6).
As we consider the object of doctrine, a very clear pattern emerges, for the pattern of sound doctrine is:
- Trinitarian (1 Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 4:4-6; Titus 3:4-7)
- Creation affirming (1 Timothy 2:13-15; 4:1-4)
- Gospel centered (1 Timothy 3:16; Titus 2:11-14)
- Local church focused (1 Timothy 3:14-16)
The following pattern has left its mark on the history of Christian teaching and on some of the greater creeds of the church, such as the Apostles’ Creed and the Heidelberg Catechism. Sound doctrine informs the faith, practice, and worship of Christianity for centuries and continues to do so to this day.
The End of Sound Doctrine
- Sound doctrine helps Christians to grow in the grace of God (Ephesians 4:14).
- Sound doctrine helps Christians to fight against discord in the local church (Romans 16:17).
- Sound doctrine serves as God’s saving work inside the church (1 Timothy 4:16).
- Sound doctrine serves God’s saving work outside the local church (Matthew 5:13-16; Titus 2:9-10; 1 Peter 3:16).
- Doctrine promotes the glory of the grace of God (1 Timothy 1:10-11).
- Sound doctrine directs Christian's faith towards God in Christ, enabling them to walk before His face (1 Peter 4:11; 2 Peter 3:18).
The Lord has given the people of God the gift of doctrine that they might learn about Him in the Word and walk in the manner He has prescribed. Doctrine is Trinitarian, a gift of the Father, revealed in Jesus, and transmitted by the Spirit in the Word to be received, confessed in the church all to the glory of God.
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Dave Jenkins is the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, and the Host of the Equipping You in Grace Podcast and Warriors of Grace Podcast. He received his MAR and M.Div. through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter at @davejjenkins, find him on Facebook at Dave Jenkins SOG, Instagram, read more of his writing at Servants of Grace, or sign to receive his newsletter. When Dave isn’t busy with ministry, he loves spending time with his wife, Sarah, reading the latest from Christian publishers, the Reformers, and the Puritans, playing golf, watching movies, sports, and spending time with his family.