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The Apostles’ Doctrine

By David A. DePra

Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. (Acts 2:41-42)

Those that "gladly received the Word," in this passage, were said to do a number of things. But before we examine those things they did, notice that it was all based on their RECEPTION of the Word with gladness. In other words, they EMBRACED the Truth. And once they embraced the Truth, that Truth had such an effect upon them, that they did the things described in the passage.

You cannot "receive the Word with gladness" and be the same as you were before. You can’t. You cannot remain passive either. If all we were talking about is giving intellectual assent to doctrines, we must see how there would not be much effect in our lives. But once we understand that what these people received was eternal Truth – well, then we see that what was going on here was that they were being set free to worship Jesus, to walk with Jesus. They began, at this point, to act like it.

Do we actually think that we can encounter Jesus Christ and have it NOT affect us? Do we think that Christianity is nothing more than, "getting religion," or "learning a belief system?" Christianity is a new birth. It is "Christ in you, the hope of glory." You cannot repent, and place your faith in Christ, and become one with God through His Son, and be the same! You aren’t the same. That’s the whole point!

What we find in the book of Acts is a group of people who had their lives drastically altered by a revelation to them of Jesus Christ, and by a conversion to Him which was real and life-changing. This wasn’t about agreeing with teaching, or about joining a church. It was about having God come and live inside of you.

The Apostles' Doctrine

Luke writes that these new Christians, "continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine." There are three questions here. First, what does that mean, "to continue steadfastly?" Secondly, what is meant by the term, "the apostles’ doctrine?" Thirdly, what was that doctrine?

First, "to continue steadfastly," means to LIVE IN. It means to seek the Truth, discuss the Truth, find the Truth, and practice the Truth. In other words, these folks adjusted their lives in accordance with their new life in Jesus Christ. The apostles were instructing them along those lines. This is what they CONTINUED in.

They were not doing this on their own. They had the Holy Spirit, who was seeking to guide them into all Truth. They also had the apostles’ themselves. Today, we have the apostles’ doctrine. It is the Bible. The entire New Testament was written by an apostle, or a close associate. All the authors of the NT were personal eye-witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So "to continue steadfastly," means to keep walking in the Truth. It means to be growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. These people had "gladly received the Word of Truth." Now, having received it, and been converted to Christ, they CONTINUED STEADFASTLY in it, by coming under it’s power, and by living in it.

What does the term, "apostles’ doctrine" mean? It means the teachings of the apostles; of those who had walked and talked with Jesus, and had been called for this special purpose. The apostles had been given great revelation from God. They passed it on to the church.

We see here that God uses people. He is in charge, of course, by His Holy Spirit. But all of us need articulation and explanation we can understand. So despite the fact that the Holy Spirit is really the One who is doing all of it, God uses people as instruments. The apostles were the first of these, and once they all died, there were never any other apostles.

What was the apostles’ doctrine? Well, their doctrine was about a PERSON: Jesus Christ. We see that this was the first of a number of ESSENTIALS, if we read the writings of the apostle John:

Whosoever transgresses, and abides not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abides in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that bids him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds. (2 John 1:9-11)

Note the words of John carefully. He is not merely saying, "You must talk about Jesus in correct doctrinal terms." He is not simply saying, "Your statement of faith must reflect true Biblical doctrine. Both those things ARE necessary. But John is saying more. He is saying to us, "You must LIVE IN the doctrine of Christ." "If you don’t, " John says, "You have no access to God." John also warns against giving any place whatsoever to those who do not teach, brings, or live in that doctrine, or Truth, of Jesus Christ.

In those days, church was held in houses. Thus, when John says not to receive these false teachers "into your house," he is warning against making room for such ones in any church. Furthermore, John says we should not "bid him God speed." Does this mean that we aren’t to say, "hello," or, "goodbye," to someone who might be a heretic? No. To bid someone, "God speed," means to affirm them, and to wish them well in their false teaching and heresy!

Don’t misunderstand. John is not talking about those who are ignorant, or even deceived, if they are open to the Truth. No. Rather, he is talking about those who BRING error about the Person of Jesus – who teach and promote error – and who, when they are approached about it, DEFEND the error. There is nothing to work with in some people. They must not be given place in the church.

Unfortunately, today if you have an advanced degree, it doesn’t matter what you preach. If we were to follow the commands of the Bible, the landscape of our churches would change in a hurry. There would be a big upheaval to be sure. But it would adjust things back to where they need to be: Centered in Jesus Christ.

Other Doctrines

What else constituted, "the apostles’ doctrine?" Well, not only the Person of Jesus Christ, but His redemptive work. And of course, HOW we might be saved through Him.

Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: (1 Cor 15:1-4)

Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do, if God permit. (Heb 6:1-3)

Know you not, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. (Rom 6:16-18)

The apostles’ doctrine included just about everything you find in the New Testament. It was their teaching. Thus, "to continue in it," is to continue in scripture. It is to walk in the Truth.

Now, obviously, if the doctrine of the apostle’s was the Truth about Jesus Christ, and all that comes with it, then error is all that is outside of that. There are a number of scriptures which indicate specifically what some of those things are:

Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. (Rom 16:17)

Here we see that to cause division and offences – which is anything which takes the focus off of Jesus – is considered to be "contrary to the doctrine" of the apostles.

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Savior, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope; Unto Timothy, my own son in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord. As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou might charge some that they teach no other doctrine, Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do. Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm. (1 Tim 1:1-7)

Paul charges Timothy to give heed to no other doctrine than that of, "grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord." He says not to give heed to fables, etc., or anything which does not edify – built up – people in their faith in Jesus Christ. He goes on to elaborate and say that the "doctrine" which is acceptable is, "charity out of a pure heart, and a good conscience."

What we are seeing here, once again, is that doctrine, while it IS teaching, is also CONDUCT. Sure. Conduct speaks just as loudly as teaching. Thus, to continue in the apostolic doctrine meant, as we saw, to live a life in Christ reflective of the Truth.

For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine; According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust. (1 Tim 1:10-11)

Conduct as the outcome and representation of doctrine is clearly seen in this passage. According to Paul, those who commit fornication, homosexuality, lies, and are false witnesses, are all walking contrary to sound doctrine. Of course. We are supposed to be "living doctrines," or "living epistles." When people read our lives, they should be reading the result of what happens when Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of a human being.

Truth Matters

If you will notice, those first Christians in the book of Acts knew that it mattered as to WHAT they believed and practiced. It was not OK to believe and practice any thing they wished, and we have just read a number of passages which state the seriousness of this matter. But we do need to understand something about this. It is not as if God sat down in heaven the day before He started the church, and wrote down a bunch of doctrines, and then handed them to the church, saying, "This is the stuff you must believe, or I am going to be very upset with you." No. This isn’t a matter of merely adopting a bunch of teachings. Rather, this is a matter of discovering the TRUTH HIMSELF.

What we see here is that my Christianity is not merely the product of memorizing and swearing allegiance to doctrine. Rather, my doctrine is the product of allegiance to Jesus Christ. This is true, despite the fact that God tells us all about the Truth of Jesus even before we do surrender to Him. Thus, doctrine points to Christ and points back to Him. But Christ isn’t a doctrine. He is a Person – Lord and Savior.

If we did not have a single Christian doctrine at our disposal, save that of Jesus Christ crucified and raised, it should be a fact that we would eventually discover the same Truth as is revealed in the Bible. Why? Because Jesus is the same Christ as is in the Bible, and HE IS THE TRUTH!

Thank God He has given us His Word, with all the doctrines and teachings. Thank God He provided the apostles, the eyewitnesses to Jesus Christ. These gifts make things easier and provide a guide for us. But I say again, if we had none of these, but came to place our faith in Christ, we would end up discovering all of those Truths anyways – if we continued believing and obeying that which edifies us in Christ. How can we know this? By the early church. By the apostles. The Holy Spirit guided them into the Truth.

It is always much easier to be told what you are going to find out before you find it out. But the apostles did not have that luxury. They were used of God to provide us with that luxury. So just as the early church, "continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine," so should we. The Bible IS that for us today. It is the final authority with regard to the Truth.

If you look at the churches today, you find all kinds of heresy, immorality, and spiritual sickness. You also find some wonderful things too. But every place you see bad things, you can trace it back to a wholesale neglect or rejection of scripture – the apostles’ doctrine. We ignore their mandates about church leadership. We do not take seriously the holiness of God in our churches. The only solution is to pay the price of repentance and obedience.

Right now, you and I are "continuing" in SOME doctrine. God’s wants it to be Biblical and according to Jesus Christ. If it is, it WILL be the, "apostles’ doctrine." God never contradicts Himself. He is the same, yesterday, and today. The same Christ who dwelt in those first Christians, is in us. *

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