Grace to you and Happy Easter!
I conclude the reflection centered on the lessons from the First Christian Council, which I started two days ago. Here I make some comments about the place of doctrine in our faith.
Nowadays, as it has been since the time of the enlightenment, some people seem to have strong objections to a church shaped by doctrinal teachings. Some claim it is a mere tool of the "institutional Church," designed to restrict the free spirit of the Gospel. Others suggest its role is pedantic and old-fashioned. They propose that a return to the true spirit of the Gospel frees from doctrinal teachings. Nevertheless, we see from the experience of the early Church something different.
We read of the way and manner in which the early Church resolved the first debate about justification and salvation. They sided with Christ's standards and proposed to the gentiles that they didn't need circumcision to be saved. Instead, the apostles and presbyters proposed four things they should avoid. They included abstaining from what has been sacrificed to idols, from blood, from strangled meat, and unchastity (Acts 15:29).
I was captivated, more importantly, by how the message was presented to the gentile faithful. The apostles emphasized that “it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and us to lay upon you no greater burden than is necessary” (Acts 15:28).
Which suggests they were convinced that the Holy Spirit inspired their teaching. I believe their resolution was rooted in pure love for the faithful, the law of charity since they were concerned not to burden the faithful with what was unnecessary. Such teaching is consistent with the Christian core belief (dogma), the law of charity. It is in line with the central mandate of love the Lord Jesus set forth for his body, the Church (see Jn 15:12, 17).
Doctrine (doctrina) is simply the Latin word for teaching or instruction. It is from the Greek διδαχή (didache), or more specifically relating to apostolic teachings, διδασκαλία (didaskalia), which also means teaching or instruction. This word appears about fifty-one times in the New Testament. There is much more to the use of these concepts beyond my expertise. Biblical and Scripture experts and linguists are more equipped for such specificities.
However, in simple terms, one could say that doctrine is the codification, or the summary of the core beliefs of any institution, in this case, the Church. The core beliefs could be described as dogma. So, doctrines are the teachings of the dogmas of a faith tradition. In our Christian faith, it is the condensed version of our faith designed for teaching, serving instructional purposes as well.
One of the earliest documents of the Church, which systemized the way the Eucharist was celebrated in the first century of the Church was titled Didache. The long title is about the "Lord's teaching through the twelve apostles to the nations" (gentiles). These teachings were praxis-oriented doctrines of the early Church.
Consider most of the things you know today about Christ and the Church. If there were no doctrines, how would one articulate the belief in the Trinity, Christ as Lord, the Eucharist, Marriage, morality, etc.? We read from Saint Paul that all Scripture is useful for teaching (didache, doctrine), rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16).
Teaching is an essential aspect of our faith. And teachings, for the most part, are expressed in doctrinal terms. Theology gives us the language as well as ways to articulate these teachings and adapt them to different settings. Dogmas are the core beliefs taught. You see how these three go together.
Imagine a church without doctrine. Imagine a faith without condensed codes of belief. Such would be a world without order and faith without direction. Such would be like an information technology web without mark-up languages. Such is a recipe for communicative futility.
May God continue to guide us as we shape our lives by sound doctrine. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu.
[Saturday Week 5: Acts 15:22-31; Jn 15:12-17]
Author and Goal
Father Maurice Emelu Ph.D., provides a daily blog of reflections based on the Scriptural readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. The goal is to teach, inspire, encourage, and foster healing through the grace of God's word. They are written in a language that is appropriate for a general audience. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration, and developing your thoughts. They may also be useful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.