And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.
The word “doctrine” is a translation of the Greek word διδασκαλία (didaskalia) meaning “teachings,” and is used generally to speak of the entirety of the teachings of the Bible, but more specifically regarding what the Bible teaches on any particular subject. Biblical doctrine is important because the gospel is based on a specific message that cannot be altered, changed, added to or subtracted from. As Christians what we believe will affect how we live. It becomes the responsibility of the student of Scripture to accurately uncover what the Bible says regarding the subjects it addresses and how to use those principles to guide us in subjects that are never mentioned within the Word of God. There are a few simple principles to keep in mind when attempting to uncover biblical doctrine.
First, doctrines are developed by looking at everything the Bible has to say on the subject.
We cannot formulate our position on any subject by only looking at a few select verses and ignoring others. An example of this might be the Sabbath. The Bible clearly teaches that Israel was to rest on the Sabbath by avoiding regular activities that constituted work. However, the law also required a child to be circumcised on the eighth day. That meant that any male child born on Friday would need to be circumcised on the following Sabbath. An operation of that nature clearly constituted a form of work. These truths do not contradict one another but complete one another. So observance of the Sabbath, or we might even say proper worship on the Sabbath, included the circumcision of the child. This principle must be applied to every doctrine within Scripture.
Second, we need to make a distinction between doctrinal texts, support texts and those that illustrate doctrine.
For example, the Bible teaches that a generation of believers will enter heaven without going through the doorway of death. This doctrine is referred to as the rapture of the church and is taught, supported and illustrated within Scripture. The texts where the rapture is the primary subject of the writing are found in John 14:3, 1Thessalonians 4 and 1Corinthians 15. We are told that in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, we will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air.
These passages form the primary doctrinal texts on the rapture, but there are a host of passages that both support the subject and illustrate it. We have text like Revelation 4 where John is called through a doorway that takes him from earth and into heaven. It is from here that John watches the events of the tribulation unfold. It seems clear that this passage illustrates not only the event of the rapture, but its timing as it relates to the tribulation. In Revelation 4 it is John that is being caught up, not the church. The rapture might also be seen in Enoch's translation and in Elijah being taken to heaven in a chariot. These texts are clearly not about the rapture but certainly seem to illustrate it in one way or another. As a student of Scripture it is important that we learn to make a distinction between doctrinal passages and those that illustrate doctrine.
Some of the doctrines that seem to be getting a lot of press today are God's view of drinking and of sexual orientation and practice. A lot of the discussions could easily be avoided by simply taking the time to look into Scripture and uncovering exactly what the Bible says on each of these subjects. Be sure you take the time to be a careful student of Scripture and avoid the temptation to explain away certain things just because you do not understand, agree with or like them.