Is the Study of Doctrine Important?

In several places in the New Testament, the Word of God is served up in culinary terms:

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal? (1Co 3:1-4 NKJV)

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Heb 5:12-14 NKJV)

So put away all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander. Like newborn babes, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation; for you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. (1Pe 2:1-3 RSV)

The state of the Corinthian Church was deplorable. They had welcomed in envying and strife, warfare among brethren, by aligning themselves with one or another. 1st Corinthians is written to a congregation of the Church in turmoil. Factionalism had divided the people; Paul was now writing, warning, hoping, that they could pull themselves together. Not finding our topic this factionalism, we turn to the meat of the issue, Paul’s desire to have the congregation move past the simple things of the word of God and into things that will give them growth.

Robertson, in his Word Pictures, states, “Paul did not glory in making his sermons thin and watery. Simplicity does not require lack of ideas or dulness. It is pathetic to think how the preacher has to clip the wings of thought and imagination because the hearers cannot go with him. But nothing hinders great preaching like the dulness caused by sin on the part of auditors who are impatient with the high demands of the gospel.”

Paul essentially calls the Corinthian Christians infants, childish, in need of parenting. He chastises them over their quarrelsome nature and it was this nature that prevented them from growing in God. They lacked the strength to move from milk to solid food, to meat.

In Hebrews 5:12-14, the author then expresses his disappointment that his readers have not become teachers by now, but are still in need of receiving elemental teaching. He says that they have need of someone to teach them “the elemental teachings of the words of God.” What they need to be taught is the basic teaching from the “words of God” by which is meant the scriptures. In the author’s view, something has gone wrong in the spiritual development of his readers, and that seems to be their wavering in their faith, their lack of interest in going forward into spiritual maturity. The author’s statement could imply that his intended readers were an elite group who should have been exercising leadership in the larger community by now. The author then in 5:12b uses the metaphor of milk and solid food to represent their spiritual state: they are still, to use accurate language, breast feeding at the word when they should have been weaned long ago. He says, “You have come to need milk and not solid food.” The use of the metaphors of milk was common in the Hellenistic world, including Philo. It is clear that “milk” is synonymous with “the elemental teachings of the words of God” (5:12a). The use of the verb “you have come to” implies that the readers have slipped back into the spiritual state of infancy.

Paul is talking not about those that are new, or truly infants, but those that had refused, or slipped back from, maturity. These people, we all know of them, refuse good sound doctrine. They refuse to grow, often times cutting off their legs so that they may doing nothing but sit.

From John Chyrsostom

But how do our “senses” become “exercised”? By continual hearing; by experience of the Scriptures. For when we set forth the error of those , and thou hearest today and to-morrow; and provest that it is not right, thou hast learnt the whole, thou hast known the whole: and even if thou shouldest not comprehend to-day, thou wilt comprehend to-morrow.

“That have,” he says, their “senses exercised.” Thou seest that it is needful to exercise our hearing by divine studies, so that they may not sound strangely. “Exercised,” saith he, “for discerning,” that is, to be skilled. (Chrysostom )

Chrysostom is right – spiritual exercise is the constant reading, or hearing, and the experience of the Scriptures. We must first have repentance, and then baptism, and them the indwelling, but beyond that is the life of the Christian. The life of the Christian is not an immediate stop, but a journey. To discuss doctrine is a futile –or religious – exercise, but a necessary element of the Christian life.

For a moment, Chrysostom points our the main part of a developed doctrine, of a doctrine that is known and experienced by the entire Church – heretics. When the Church meets these false prophets, it must have a ground on which to stand, and an experience is generally not enough – if it was, then at no point would any heresy developed to the point of schism. When we know the doctrine, when we have feasted upon the very Word of God, then when we hear these heresies, and they will become more apparent as the Day wanes, then we may prove what is right and what is Godly.

Finally, we see Peter encouraging his readers to long for that pure spiritual milk that gives strength to the infant Christian, but in way does it mean for the Christian to stop there. We must grow as Christians beyond repentance, beyond baptism, beyond the indwelling. We must explore the Church, the doctrines behind repentance, baptism, and the Spirit of the Living God. The doctrines of the Godhead, of the Church, of the Incarnation – the every essentials of salvation – must be learned, and thus taught.

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