What is doctrine and why does it matter?
Have you ever been sailing?
It’s been a while for me, but I still remember what it felt like to be gliding on the mild ocean waves. I remember the adrenaline in my heart as we picked up pace and the feeling of salty wind on my skin as I stood at the bow. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever been sailing?
A map of the ocean, on the other hand, is not equal to the experience of sailing. Looking at a map is not the same as feeling the wind and the movement, the salt and the adrenalin. But any sailor will tell you that maps are not to be disregarded. Maps have an important role to play.
Maps are meant to indicate how various things are related by conveying important information such as direction, distance, scale, and other relevant data about the area. When I am out on the sea, I need a map – my vision is limited and it’s hard to judge the length of my journey without relating my experience to the data of a map.
Knowing God personally is like sailing. We can experience him just as sure as we can feel the wind and the salt of the sea.
Doctrine is like the map. It is a summary or a distillation of important information that helps us to understand how things are related with regards to our faith. Doctrine, in its most basic description, is a summary of scripture. Doctrine seeks to organize the teachings of scripture on a particular subject into categories of important information. This helps us to interpret our experiences of God in light of all the relevant data given to us in the Bible.
One thing I love about God is his dependability. God’s nature is constant, and all of his works are consistent with his character. Doctrine is the church’s work of finding those consistent connections; of defining as best we can, who God is and what He is like.
Over the next few weeks, I would like to invite you to a discussion about the doctrine of Providence. Often when people think of providence, they think of a higher power exercising that power in some unexpected way on their behalf, but that idea doesn’t really match up to all I’ve come to understand about what God is like in scripture. Providence is a doctrine that conveys relevant data collected from scripture about how God interacts with all that he has made which helps us, in turn, to understand how God is at work in the world today.
My study of Providence has led me to believe that in any circumstance confronting humanity living in a broken world, God is at work caring for and guiding his creation towards his intended purposes and that those who open the door to a relationship with him can experience the benefits of not only his general care but also participate in his particular will for their lives.
Intrigued? I hope so.
Until next time ~
1. How would you describe your experience of God in one or two-word phrases? How has scripture helped you understand your experience?
2. Sometimes experience alone can bring us to misleading conclusions. Read Acts 2:1-13. What were the conclusions of the witnesses in verses 12 and 13? How does Peter “navigate these seas” of questions about experience and answer the crowd in the following verses?
3. How have you seen scripture answer your deeper questions?
4. What is one question you have about God’s providential work?