Introduction To Christian Doctrines
By Rev. Prasad Mathew

Doctrine is a set of accepted beliefs held by a group. In religion, it is the set of true beliefs that define the parameters of that belief system. Hence, there is true doctrine and false doctrine relative to each belief set. For example, in Christianity, when we talk about God, a true Biblical doctrine is that there is only one God in all existence. If anybody teaches that there are more than one God it is a false doctrine.

Doctrinal theology is the enterprise to construct a coherent system of belief and practice based primarily upon the texts of the Old Testament and the New Testament as well as the historic traditions of the faithful. In this area of study the Christian theologians use biblical exegesis, rationality, analysis, and argument to develop, articulate and make the believers understand, explicate, clarify, examine, critique, defend or promote Christian faith. Doctrinal theology might be undertaken to help the members of the Church better understand Christian tenets, make comparative and analytical study between Christianity and other traditions, Christianity against objections and criticism, facilitate reforms in the Christian church. It also assists in the evangelistic activities of Christianity by providing basic materials for teaching and preaching the faith of the Church. It draws from the resources of the Christian traditions in the past and brings it into the present to help us address some issues in todays life situations or need, or for a variety of other reasons.

In such a situation it is necessary to consider the place of doctrines in the process of the faith formation of a Christian person/ community and thus we have to have a detailed knowledge regarding the doctrines of the Church. So in this article I am trying to enlist the possible influences the doctrines can make in the life of a Christian both in the growing stage and in the practicing stage. Also, I will try to give an outline of the major doctrines in the Church.

A Short Historical Search

In the process of the development, formulation and articulation of the doctrines of the Church, many general councils of the Church met in the past. The Councils of Nicea (325 CE), Constantinople (381 CE), Ephesus (431 CE) were the most important ones in this connection.

The Council of Chalcedon (457 CE) was also very important in this series but not agreed by all Churches. The Mar Thoma Church considers the first three councils as the universally accepted ones and agreed by the undivided Christian Church. Behind each Council there were some false teachings (heresies) brought forwarded by some responsible leaders in the Church, who were otherwise well reputed, popular and useful leaders. There were exchanges of heated arguments, agreements, disagreements etc. as part of the proceedings of the councils. The leaders of the Church have given clarifications regarding the official position of the Church and those who have not agreed to it have been declared as heretics as per the decisions of such councils.

In the course of such councils the arguments and counter arguments led to the condemnation of the other school of thought without considering (in our/ further perspective) whether such actions were right or not. This led to denominational divisions and fractions in the Church, which formed many major ecclesiastical traditions. This doesnt mean that all such efforts of the councils were futile or meaningless. True and genuine leaders of the Church, some of them were considered as the apologists or the defenders of faith, were there in all generations. Such Fathers in the past are remembered with much respect and their teachings are considered as the foundations of the doctrinal theology of the Church.

Why do we study doctrines today in the Church?

Many members of the Church may have the opinion that it is not so necessary and important to learn the doctrines today. Such opinions are raised even in some official fora of the Church by some members who are either ignorant of the importance of such foundations or by some who are not interested to invest their time for such indispensable learning or by some others with some ulterior denominational motives. For some it is very old and irrelevant and they label the learners as conservatives. Some are concerned only about the other worldly life and they do not consider anything in this world, even the Church and its teachings, as important for Christian life.

Some may find it difficult when some others are concerned only on those things which fetch them immediate material or monetary benefit. Some others are so particular in learning and observing even the minute details and any deviation from such doctrinal discipline would make them so uncomfortable, concerned and anxious of losing the authenticity and relevance of the existence of the Church today.

It is very important to teach the basic foundations of our faith to the younger members of the Church through Sunday School curricula and youth Bible studies. Also there must be different fora for the people of all age groups, according to their level of intellectual and comprehensive ability to have on-going discussions and updated learning of such doctrines. It is especially important in a diaspora context where the members are otherwise busy with their livelihood prospects and are not so regularly available for learning in the Church.

Basic doctrines of the Church
A. Doctrine of God/ Faith in God
  • God is our Creator
  • God is our Sustainer
  • God is our Redeemer
  • Transcendence and Immanence of God
  • Personhood of God/ God as Person
  • The Power of God
  • Different Attributes/ Characters/ Gunas of God
    • Love (agape - in GK) and loving kindness (chesed - in HB)
    • Reason/ Intelligence
    • Holiness
    • Patience and forgiveness
    • Justice and fairness
    • Judgement

 

B. Doctrine of Christ/ Christology
  • The Revelation of God/ The revealed God/ The Incarnated God
  • God the Son - Co-essential, Co-equal and Co-eternal with the Father
  • Co-creator - in and through him
  • Fully Devine and fully Human
  • Born but not made/ created
  • The earthly life of Christ - The Supreme example/ model of a human being/ or lived just like a common human being
  • Sinlessness of Christ
  • The Baptism of Christ
  • The temptations of Christ
  • Transfiguration of Christ
  • The Passion and Death of Christ
  • The Resurrection of Christ
  • Different Titles used in the Gospels
    • Jesus of Nazareth
    • Son Of Man
    • Son of God
    • Messiah
    • Lord
    • Christ
    • Son of David

 

C. The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit/ Pneumatology
  • Holy Spirit as the third Person in Trinity/ Holy Spirit as God
  • Co-creator - brooding over the waters
  • Holy Spirit and the interpreter of God and Christ
  • Holy Spirit as the Comforter/ Counsellor and Guide/ the present day feeling presence of God among the people of God
  • The Procession of the Holy Spirit - In the Old Testament and in the New Testament
  • The Single Procession and the Double Precession
  • The work of the Holy Spirit
    • Giving as awareness about sin, justice and judgement
    • Guiding us to all Truth/ New meanings of the Truth
    • Unitive Being and the unifying Being
    • Helps us to grow and live daily in faith
D. The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity
  • Father, Son and the Holy Spirit are ONE God but THREE expressions of the same God
  • Co-essential, Co-equal and Co-eternal
  • The Community in Trinity - the model for our communities
E. The Doctrine of Creation
  • It is the basic assertion of the relationship of God to the World and the relation of Human to God and to the World
  • Biblical testimony –
    • Genesis 1 & 2;
    • The two accounts of creation; differences between the two
  • Created out of nothing (Creatio-ex-nihilo)
  • Sharing of Gods Being/ Life with the Creation
  • Creation and Science
  • Continuing Creation
F. The Doctrine of Human
  • Created in the Image of God (Imago-Dei)/ in the likeness of God
  • Humans - finite and limited being (God is infinite and unlimited)
  • Human - dependent being (God is independent)
  • Contingent/ temporal being
  • Fellowship (koinonia) with God in the beginning
  • Sinful nature of human after the fall
  • New Humanity in Christ
G. The Doctrine of Sin
  • The Biblical View (Gen. 3)
  • Sin is disobedience to God / rebellion against God
  • Sin is something that involves our whole personality
H. The Doctrine of Evil
  • The Biblical view
  • Sin is related to evil/ Evil is a direct consequence to human sin
  • Evil in the nature is not directly connected to human sinfulness - but there are human made natural problems
  • The Problem of Evil
I. The Doctrine of the Church/ Ecclesiology
  • The called out Community (ecclesia - in GK and Qahal - in HB)
  • The origin of the Church - from the beginning, from creation
  • The Church and the world - called out from the World but to be in the world (In the world but different from the world; for the world not of the world)
  • Church is the New Creation in Christ
  • Church is the New Community of Incarnation
    • The Church recognizes the incarnation of Christ
    • The Church witnesses to the Christ event and
    • The Church is the just successor of Christ (the incarnated God)
  • The Church and the Kingdom of God
    • Church is the replica or the visible example and expression of the Kingdom
    • Church is not the Kingdom but Church is in the Kingdom
  • The Visible Church and the invisible Church
  • The four attributes of the Church in the Nicene Creed
    • One;
    • Holy;
    • Catholic;
    • Apostolic
  • The two natures of the Church
    • Gathered Church
    • Dispersed Church
  • Mission of the Church
    • Mission of God (Miisio-Dei)
    • The Great Commission: Matthew 28: 19-20
    • As Father has sent me, even so I send you

 

J. The Sacraments in the Church
  • Sacraments are the visible/ external expressions of the invisible/ internal spiritual experiences
  • Sacraments are the means of Grace
  • Sacraments are the means of relationship with fellow believers
  • Sacraments are the daily expressions of faith in practical life
  • Sacraments are the affirmations of the Church to uphold and continue its faith
  • Sacraments are the cultural and Cultic expressions of the faith of the Church
  • Sacraments become meaningful and relevant in the community of believers and in the worship experience of the Church
  • There are seven recognized/ accepted/ official Sacraments in the Church
    • Holy Baptism
    • Confirmation
    • Confession
    • Holy Communion
    • Holy Matrimony
    • Holy Ordination
    • Extreme Unction/ Anointing with the Holy Oil (Thailabhishekam in Malayalam)

 

K. The Doctrine of Salvation
  • The Saving/ redemptive Act of God in the divine plan and purpose
  • The Salvation History
  • Christ died for Saving the Whole Creation
  • Forgiveness of Sin and lifting up to eternal life
  • Life through death
  • Cross the symbol of Salvation
  • The Gospel of Salvation the message/ preaching of the Church/ Preaching the Christ crucified

 

L. The Doctrine of Eschatology/ the End things
  • The Parousia or the (second) coming of Christ
  • The day of consummation
  • The day of judgement
  • The awarding of the life eternal


Rev. Prasad Mathew
St. Stephens Mar Thoma Church
No.3, Mar Thoma Road
Mayur Vihar Phase - 3
Delhi 110096
Phone: 011-22615224, 9891321154, 9968864650
E- mail: prasadmathewachen@gmail.com