5 Components of Discipleship: Doctrine

The entire ministry of the local church is to be centered on Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and driven by discipleship. In Acts 2:42-47, we see how the early church practiced discipleship. In this passage, we find five key components that drove the ministry of the early church. These components, rightly practiced and put in place, are the driving forces behind a disciple making church.

The first key component of discipleship as seen in Acts chapter two; is doctrine or teaching. Acts 2:42 says, And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”[1] In the KJV and other English versions we find the term ‘doctrine’ is used. The word ‘doctrine’ literally means ‘teaching’. The New Bible Dictionary shares the following information concerning the Biblical word of ‘doctrine’: “In the OT the word occurs chiefly as a translation of leqaḥ, meaning ‘what is received’ (Dt. 32:2; Jb. 11:4; Pr. 4:2; Is. 29:24). The idea of a body of revealed teaching is chiefly expressed by tôrâ, which occurs 216 times and is rendered as ‘law’. In the NT two words are used.  didaskalia means both the act and the content of teaching. It is used of the Pharisees’ teaching (Mt. 15:9; Mk. 7:7). Apart from one instance in Colossians and one in Ephesians, it is otherwise confined to the Pastoral Epistles (and seems to refer often to some ‘body’ of teaching used as a standard of orthodoxy). didachē is used in more parts of the NT. It too can mean either the act or the content of teaching. It occurs of the teaching of Jesus (Mt. 7:28, etc.) which he claimed to be divine (Jn. 7:16–17). After Pentecost Christian doctrine began to be formulated (Acts 2:42) as the instruction given to those who had responded to the kērygma (Rom. 6:17). There were some in the church whose official function was to teach this to new converts (e.g. 1 Cor. 12:28–29).”[2] So, we see here that a primary purpose of the church is to teach the contents of true Christian doctrine. In other words, the church has the responsibility of teaching the scriptures.

There are three things that we should consider when it comes to the doctrine or teaching of the church. Those three things are: the role of teaching, the content of teaching, and the response to the teaching. Notice first of all, the role of teaching. The converts in the early church was said to have ‘devoted themselves to the apostles teaching.’ In the early church, the apostles carried the majority of the load when it came to the teaching that took placed in the church. Therefore, we see that the role of teaching in the church begins with the pastor.  It was the apostles teaching that they devoted themselves to. This is emphasized in a more greater way in Acts 6:1-7. In this passage, we see the appointing of the first deacons of the church. These men were appointed to care for the physical needs in the church in order that the apostles may focus on prayer and teaching. Notice what the text says in Acts 6:2-4, “And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”[3] Though we do not have actual ‘apostles’ today, this primary role of teaching in the church has been transferred to the ‘pastor’ or ‘pastors’ of the church.

The apostle Paul instructed a young pastor, Timothy, concerning his primary responsibility as a pastor. Notice what 2 Timothy 4:12-16 says, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” [4] Notice the emphasis that is placed on the reading of scriptures, exhortation, and teaching. Paul tells Timothy to ‘immerse’ himself in these things. He tells Timothy to ‘keep a close watch on himself and on the teaching.’ In other words, Paul tells Timothy to focus on his personal purity and on his teaching. When people see how the preacher lives and what he says, they will grow in their faith. As the pastor grows in his faith, so does the church. As a pastor, it is my responsibility before God to instruct and teach the people that God has placed into my care, the complete counsel of God’s Word. I must preach and teach the scriptures and nothing else. Long hours must be given in the study and in the prayer closet in order to provide the spiritual food that the church so desperately needs.

The teaching which primarily comes from the pastor enables believers to serve others and do the work of the ministry. Notice what Ephesians 4:11-16 says,  “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” [5]God has given to us pastors and teachers in order that we may be taught the truth and not deceived by false doctrine. The pastors and teachers instruct or equip us in doing the work of the ministry. The purpose for their teaching is so that we will become mature followers of Jesus Christ. It is through such teaching and our response to such teaching that the church has a united purpose and is built up in love.

Not only should we understand the role of teaching in the church, but we should also consider the content of the teaching. What exactly is the pastor or teacher supposed to teach? The content of the teaching may be summarized in Paul’s charge to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:1-5. “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” [6] Paul tells Timothy to preach the Word. The ‘word’ includes the entire counsel of God’s Word. In other words, the pastor/teacher is to teach the Bible. He is to teach the whole Bible. This is why I often will preach through various books of the Bible. As a pastor, I have the responsibility to preach and teach all of God’s Word. I should just pick and choose topics or pet doctrines that I hold dear. I should preach all of God’s Word, even the difficult parts. As the Word of God is preached there are several things that take place.

First of all, there is reproving or convincing. In other words, as the Word of God is preached, people will be convinced of its truth. The preacher or teacher has the responsibility to reveal or correct that which is false and to point people to the truth. This is why the preacher or teacher should be well studied. Ample time should be spent in the study of God’s Word in order to assure that nothing but the truth is declared.

Secondly, there is rebuke. This is a part of preaching and teaching that is not fun. People do not like to be rebuked. When they are rebuked, they often become defensive and they will attack the one who is doing the rebuking. However, we need to understand that we cannot preach and teach all of God’s Word without being rebuked. Notice what Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”[7] This passage describes the Word of God as a sharp two-edged sword. Last I checked, if you are cut by a sword, it’s going to hurt. It’s not going to feel good. You may not like it. You are not necessarily going to enjoy it. God’s Word has convicting power. It convicts us of sin and reveals to us who we really are. It cuts through the layers of our lives and reveals our sin and our need for change. If the Word of God is being faithfully preached in the church, there will be conviction. There will be rebuking of sin. As a result, there will always be those who will attack and criticize the preacher who is faithful to declaring the Word. It is not an easy task, but, when the Word of God is preached, there will be rebuke.

A third thing that takes place when the Word of God is preached is exhortation. To exhort someone is to encourage them in doing what is right. It includes the ‘equipping’ ministry of the pastor/teacher. Through the faithful preaching of the Word of God, the church is exhorted or encouraged to live out their faith in a very real and practical way.

Therefore, the content of the teaching is the Word of God, which, when faithfully preached, brings about reproof, rebuke, and exhortation. The preacher or teacher must also be patient as he pulls people along in the truth. He is not to ‘shove’ them, but rather, he is to pull them along, teaching them the truth on step at a time.

Now that we have looked at the role of teaching and the content of teaching, let us know turn our attention to our response to the teaching. What is our responsibility in response to the teaching ministry of the church? The answer is found in James 1:22. “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”[8] The principle here is that we are to respond in obedience. When we hear the Word of God taught and preached, our responsibility is to listen and obey. In other words, when we are rebuked, we should repent. When we are exhorted, we should answer the call to action. We are to obey what we are taught. Notice what Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” [9] In other words, we are to follow the example of our teachers. Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.“[10] These are some strong words. We are to obey the leaders of the church. Particularly, we are to obey those who teach us. When we are convinced that what we are being taught is the truth; when we grow to trust and believe what are teachers are teaching us, we have no other choice but to obey. How do we know what we are taught is the truth? We examine the scriptures. If what is being declared to us is found in scripture, then we cannot refuse it, we must obey it.

As the truth of God’s Word is taught and as we respond to that truth in obedience, disciples are made and the church will grow. In order to be a disciple making church, the teaching and preaching of God’s Word must be central to everything that we do.

 


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ac 2:42). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] Nixon, R. E. (1996). Doctrine. In (D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer, & D. J. Wiseman, Eds.)New Bible dictionary. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ac 6:2–4). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (1 Ti 4:12–16). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Eph 4:11–16). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (2 Ti 4:1–5). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Heb 4:12). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Jas 1:22). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Heb 13:7). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Heb 13:17). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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