The Science of Theology
Lesson 1
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Developing a Systematic Messianic Theology
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An Introduction to the
Science of Theology

Lesson 1. First Things First

"We will then no longer be infants tossed about by the waves and blown along by every wind of teaching, at the mercy of people clever in devising ways to deceive. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in every respect grow up into Him who is the head, the Messiah (Ephesians 4:14-15, CJB)

In This Lesson

The Benefits of Studying Theology

Most Believers Are Not Being Adequately Taught

Churches and Synagogues Don’t Teach Doctrine

Churches and Synagogues Don’t Evangelize

Where Real Evangelism Happens

The Gospel and the Pulpit

Sheep Food …

… Is More Than Baby Food

Let’s “Join” the Church/Synagogue

“Saving” the Saved

The Pastor/Rabbi’s Responsibility to Teach

Four Vital Activities of the Healthy Assembly

Confronting the Counterfeits

Sound Doctrine / Sound Words


Why Should Believers Need to Study Theology?

As I sat at my computer first writing this paragraph in late 1995, I had in front of me an article from the religion section of my local Sunday morning newspaper which reported “a proclamation” made by “the First Presidency of the Council of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.” In that proclamation, made by Gordon B. Hinkley as the Prophet and Revelator of the Mormon Church [and, according to the world’s Mormon millions, the only true prophet of God then living], he made several references to only a very few of the teachings which forever separate Mormonism from true Biblical faith.

How many of those doctrinal errors can you spot in the following quotation? President Hinkley says, in part:

All human beings — male and female — are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.

In the premortal realm, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshiped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize his or her divine destiny as an heir of eternal life. The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.

How many errors did you spot? Most of them are so subtle that they will not have been noticed by many “average Believers” (whatever that phrase might mean) during a casual reading. And many of them will not have been noticed even after careful study of the paragraphs.

But the doctrinal errors don't only come from groups that generally recognized as “cults.” Here is but one example:

This point was ever so starkly brought to my attention several years ago through a piece of Sunday school literature which came across my desk. It was written for grade school children and produced by a leading denominational publishing house. The part which caught my eye was a full-page drawing of Jesus. He was depicted as a boy and shown going up steps leading into a building. Underneath the drawing was this caption: ‘Jesus was a good Christian boy who went to church every Sunday.’ I scarcely could believe my eyes! Here were three glaring errors in one sentence: Jesus was a Christian, not a Jew; he attended church, not synagogue; and he went on Sunday, not the Sabbath. On seeing this I thought to myself, if this is what is being taught in certain church schools among the young, no wonder a problem persists today among many Christian adults. These Christians fail to grasp the Jewishness of Jesus and the Jewish background to the New Testament writings.[1]

I have personally seen versions of this same illustration in the literature of several different denominations.

The Benefits of Studying Theology

First and foremost, every Bible Believer should pay careful attention to the study of theology in order to be able to recognize and reject error when confronted with statements like that made by Mr. Hinkley, as well as the error being promoted by the Church. Yeshua told us plainly that in the last days there would be many false prophets and antichrists about, and the study of the the clear teachings of the Prophets and Shliachim (Apostles) as recorded in the Tanakh and Apostolic Scriptures will protect us from their false teachings.

Furthermore, He gave some people as emissaries, some as prophets, some as proclaimers of the Good News, and some as shepherds and teachers. Their task is to equip God’s people for the work of service that builds the body of the Messiah, until we all arrive at the unity implied by trusting and knowing the Son of God, at full manhood, at the standard of maturity set by the Messiah's perfection. We will then no longer be infants tossed about by the waves and blown along by every wind of teaching, at the mercy of people clever in devising ways to deceive. (Eph. 4:11-14)

Every Believer should establish at least these three goals for his or her personal study of theology:

1. Know what you believe.

Do all you can to present yourself to God as someone worthy of His approval, as a worker with no need to be ashamed, because he deals straightforwardly with the Word of the Truth. (2 Tim. 2:15)

For such lack of knowledge my people go into exile; this is also why their respected men starve and their masses are parched from thirst. (Isa. 5:13)

My people are destroyed for want of knowledge. Because you rejected knowledge, I will also reject you as cohen for me. Because you forgot the Torah of your God, I will also forget your children. (Hosea 4:6)[2]

2. Know why you believe it.

Set them apart for holiness by means of the truth — Your word is truth. (John 17:17)

… the Tanakh cannot be broken … (John 10:35)

See, the Word of God is alive! It is at work and is sharper than any double-edged sword — it cuts right through to where soul meets spirit and joints meet marrow, and it is quick to judge the inner reflections and attitudes of the heart. (Heb. 4:12)

Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away. (Matt. 24:35)

I have written you these things so that you may know that you have eternal life - you who keep trusting in the person and power of the Son of God. (1 John 5:13)

3. Know how to explain it to others.

… but treat the Messiah as holy, as Lord in your hearts, while remaining always ready to give a reasoned answer to anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you — yet with humility and fear. (1 Pet. 3:15)

Most Believers Are Not Being Adequately Taught

It wasn’t until my first year of seminary, a full 28 years after I first became a believer in Messiah, that I sat in my very first formal class in theology. That was in 1981.

Churches and Synagogues Don’t Teach Doctrine

Since then, I have been affiliated with nine different evangelical churches, served on the pastoral staff of seven of those churches, and have spoken as a guest speaker or teacher at scores of different churches and Messianic synagogues. Of all those congregations and all those pastors and all those Bible teachers, with the rare exception of a single sermon here and there, a very brief series on one or two special doctrinal subjects, or a brief “new members” class at which a congregation’s doctrinal statement is briefly reviewed, only one of those many churches offered a brief course on basic Bible doctrine for new believers. Not even one of the other congregations, to the very best of my knowledge, offered any form of systematic doctrinal training for their people.

Churches and Synagogues Don’t Evangelize

Why should it concern us as Messianic Believers that our congregations are not actively engaged in the formal, systematic teaching of Bible doctrine and theology? After all, isn’t it more important that our preachers clearly and passionately proclaim the Gospel message each time they stand behind the sacred desk? Isn’t that what God called them to the ministry to do? And aren’t most of the pastors of most evangelical churches doing just that?

Unfortunately, although I have heard stories of it happening on very rare occasions, I have never personally met one single person who has ever seen or known of an unbeliever walking off the street into an assembly where he or she heard the Gospel presented for the first time and came to a salvation experience in that meeting.

Where Real Evangelism Happens

For each person who has come to the Lord in this manner, there have probably been tens or even hundreds of thousands who have been introduced to the Lord by a loving friend or relative who lovingly and patiently — and repeatedly — told them of their personal relationship and experience with the Master, and gradually, over time, explained how they, too, could come to have such a saving relationship.

No, real evangelism is not conducted in Christian churches and Messianic synagogues on Erev Shabbat, Shabbat mornings, Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday evenings. Real evangelism is conducted in homes and offices and civic clubs and schools and youth activities organizations and business associations and carpools and commuter trains and, occasionally, during “chance” meetings.

It is in these environments that the lost are brought to a saving faith in the Messiah.

The Gospel and the Pulpit

One of the greatest misconceptions of modern Christianity and Messianic Judaism is that God has called the Pastor or Rabbi to a ministry of evangelism. This is because we live in a society of specialists. A hundred years ago, a “carpenter” was a person who was skilled in all aspects of construction of all kinds of structures. Today, we have specialists who only frame, some who only do finish work, some who only do cabinetry, some who only do dry wall, some who only paint, some who only do roofing.

Thirty years ago when you wanted any kind of vehicle repaired you took it to a mechanic. Today there are no mechanics — there are “automotive technicians” who only work on gasoline engines, others who only work on diesel engines, some who work only on suspension systems, some who only work on exhaust systems, some who only work on domestic vehiles and others who work only on imports.

Twenty-five years ago when you were sick, you went to a family physician …

You get the idea. Today, everybody in every trade and occupation has a specialty. So when a congregation of Believers decides that there needs to be an evangelistic outreach in their community, they hire a pastor or rabbi to do that evangelism for them, or they bring in an evangelist for a series of “evangelistic meetings” or a “revival.”

But what does the Bible say the role of the pastor or evangelist is supposed to be?

Furthermore, He [God] gave some people as … shepherds and teachers. Their task is to equip God's people for the work of service that builds the body of the Messiah, until we all arrive at the unity implied by trusting and knowing the Son of God, at full manhood, at the standard of maturity set by the Messiah's perfection. (Eph. 4:11-13)

According to the Bible, the pastor/teacher’s role is to equip the people to do the work of ministry by teaching them the Apostles’ Doctrine, which in turn builds up the saints, makes them strong and unified in “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3),” which in turn brings the saints to maturity and Messiah-like-ness.

Almost nobody ever becomes a Believer the very first time they hear the Gospel of Messiah presented, but Ruach HaKodesh works though many Believers to reach a lost person. One may plant the seed of saving faith, another may water that seed, another may cultivate the soil of the heart and mind, and still another may be the one fortunate to be present to witness the harvest (1 Cor. 3:6). And frequently the harvest will be triggered by something that Ruach HaKodesh speaks through the pastor/teacher’s message.

Am I suggesting that pastors/teachers/rabbis should stop presenting the Gospel in congregational meetings? God forbid that such a thing should ever happen! However, most pastors/teachers/rabbis who think they are presenting “the Gospel” are actually preaching a false Gospel and not the true Gospel taught by Yeshua and his Emissaries (Apostles). What they taught was a very simple nine-word message: “Repent, because the Kingdom of God is at hand.”[3]

What is being taught in churches today is simply not what Yeshua or any of the Apostles taught as “the Gospel.” As Messianic Pastor/Theologian D. Thomas Lancaster explains, at no place in the four Gospel accounts is it ever recorded that “Yeshua went up on a hill, and He sat down, and began to teach His disciples, ‘believe in Me for the forgiveness of your sins, so that you can have a personal relationship with Me and go to heaven when you die.’” Nor is that message ever taught by any of the Apostles in the entire collection of Apostolic Writings (identified as the “New Testament” in Christian Bibles).

The true Gospel message is not about “getting saved” to avoid going to hell. The true Gospel is about turning away from disobedience (sin) and turning back to God and His Torah (the definition of “repent”), and becoming a citizen in good standing of the Kingdom of God for now and eternity.

Sheep Food …

Every message ever spoken from every pulpit in every Bible-believing congregation should point both the lost and the saved to Yeshua HaMashiach. But every message spoken from behind the sacred desk should contain MUCH more than the bare essentials of the Gospel. When Yeshua commissioned Kefa, He commanded him to "feed" the lambs and the sheep (John 21:15-17); pastors need to faithfully “feed” the flock over which they have been entrusted.

… Is More Than Baby Food

A former pastor of mine, a dear man of God whom I loved like a father (and who encouraged me to go to seminary and was a member of my ordination council), used to tell me to “be sure to put the cookies on the bottom shelf so the children can reach them.” By this he meant that all Bible teaching within the local congregation should be structured to the lowest common denominator, directed toward the least mature Believer in the congregation, so that all present could clearly understand everything that was being taught.

I commend his desire that nobody should be confused by his teaching, but I cannot approve of the results of that practice, the success of which he and the congregation gauged by the number of people who “came forward” at the end of each service.

Nearly every Sunday morning, every Sunday evening, and every Wednesday evening, this dear man of God faithfully presented the Gospel of salvation (but not the Gospel of the Kingdom): “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” And nearly every Sunday morning, every Sunday evening, and every Wednesday evening, there were ten or more “Christians” who came forward at the end of the message because they had sinned during the week and were in fear they had lost their salvation and needed to be “saved” again. But in the eight years we were at that church I do not recall a single person who had actually made a decision to follow the Messiah during the worship service.

Let’s “Join” the Church/Synagogue

There were many who came to present themselves for membership by letter or statement of transfer of membership from other churches, but only enough to replace those who were leaving to present themselves for membership by letter or statement of transfer to other churches. For more than fifteen years the active church membership remained steady between 180 and 220 souls. (The congregation subsequently stagnated and merged with another local stagnate congregation.)

With the appropriate degree of regularity there were coming forward those young people who had been raised in the church and who had been properly discipled at home, in Sunday school, and in the youth department, who were presenting themselves as candidates for baptism and adult membership in the church. But for the most part their response had little, if anything, to do with the message that had been preached — having privately expressed their saving faith to parents, Sunday school teachers, or youth workers, it was their appointed time to take their place as adults in the church family.

Of course there was also the rare adult who had been led to the Lord through the personal evangelism of neighbors, friends, or family, and whose response, likewise, had little to do with the content of the pastor’s message.

“Saving” the Saved

Sadly, those who most frequently and repeatedly “responded to the message” were the same twenty or thirty church members, many of whom had been faithful Christians for thirty years or more, who wound up at the altar of that church weeping over their sins and praying to be saved — again, and again, and again. They were being faithfully taught how to be “saved,” but had apparently never been taught what happens after they have been saved — important doctrines like:

But if we are walking in the light, as He is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of His Son Yeshua purifies us from all sin. If we claim not to have sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, then, since He is trustworthy and just, He will forgive them and purify us from all wrongdoing. (1 John 1:7-9)

or

Therefore, there is no longer any condemnation awaiting those who are in union with the Messiah Yeshua. (Rom. 8:1­2)

or

Therefore, if anyone is united with the Messiah, he is a new creation — the old has passed; look, what has come is fresh and new! And it is all from God, who through the Messiah has reconciled us to Himself and has given us the work of that reconciliation, which is that God in the Messiah was reconciling mankind to Himself, not counting their sins against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:17-19)

or

My sheep listen to My voice, I recognize them, they follow Me, and I give them eternal life. They will absolutely never be destroyed, and no one will snatch them from My hands. My Father, who gave them to Me, is greater than all; and no one can snatch them from the Father's hands. I and the Father are one. (John 10:27-30)

The Pastor’s Responsibility to Teach

This dear servant of God, with the total agreement and support of the lay-leaders of the congregation, was faithfully carrying out what he — and they — perceived as his commission to “preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15), but he, like so many other evangelical pastors, was neglecting the rest of his responsibility to “make disciples … teaching them to observe all that I commanded you [the whole Torah] …” (Matt. 28:19-20). The responsibility to “make disciples” involves teaching them to obey all that Yeshua commanded. It involves equipping the saints (all Believers) to do the work of ministry to build up the congregation and bring them (its members) to full maturity in Messiah.

Furthermore, he gave some people as emissaries, some as prophets, some as proclaimers of the Good News, and some as shepherds and teachers. Their task is to equip God's people for the work of service that builds the body of the Messiah, until we all arrive at the unity implied by trusting and knowing the Son of God, at full manhood, at the standard of maturity set by the Messiah's perfection. (Eph 4:11-13)

In addition to teaching those things that Yeshua had specifically commanded, Ruach HaKodesh, speaking to young Pastor Timothy through the Rabbi Sha'ul (the Apostle Paul), requires that pastors also be faithful not only to teach all of the doctrines of the Bible as handed down from the apostles, but to also teach mature Believers to also teach those doctrines:

And the things you heard from me, which were supported by many witnesses, these things commit to faithful people, such as will be competent to teach others also. (2Tim. 2:2)

Four Vital Activities of the Healthy Assembly

There are four major activities in which the members of the growing, maturing local community of Believers are to be continually involved:

They continued faithfully in
[1] the teaching of the emissaries, in
[2] fellowship, in
[3] breaking bread and in
[4] the prayers.
… And day after day the Lord kept adding to them those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)

The very first activity that Dr. Luke mentions in this list of activities is devotion to the teaching of the emissaries (Apostles): that is, the faithful teaching of Torah and of Bible doctrine (theology).

The meeting of the local congregation is therefore to involve not just worship and the preaching of “the Gospel,” but to include the presentation and explanation of the great doctrines of the Bible as originally taught by the apostles, so that Believers may be equipped for the service of building up the Family of Faith, that there may be a unity of “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3) “and of the knowledge of the Son of God,” and that Believers become mature “to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Messiah.”

When this kind of faithful teaching is combined with true Biblical fellowship, with the breaking of bread (that is, both shared complete meals [oneg] and the frequent participation in the Kiddush [not “Communion” or “the Lord’s Supper,” but ceremonial bread and wine shared on Shabbat] with the local congregation), and with both private and corporate prayer, the result will be that “the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

Just as the human body cannot develop into maturity on a constant diet of milk and baby food, so the body of Messiah, and the individual Believer who is a member of that body, cannot develop to spiritual maturity on a constant diet of spiritual milk. If your desire is to be a mature Believer, then it is absolutely necessary for you to continually be involved in the systematic study of theology (Bible doctrine).

As for me, brothers, I couldn't talk to you as spiritual people but as worldly people, as babies, so far as experience with the Messiah is concerned. I gave you milk, not solid food, because you were not yet ready for it. But you aren't ready for it now either! (1Cor. 3:1-2)

We have much to say about this subject [a cohen gadol to be compared with Malki-Tzedek], but it is hard to explain, because you have become sluggish in understanding. For although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the very first principles of God's Word all over again! You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who has to drink milk is still a baby, without experience in applying the Word about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by continuous exercise to distinguish good from evil. (Heb. 5:11-14)

Confronting the Counterfeits

Please understand that it is not my intention either to “pick on” or to single out for criticism either this particular pastor who I loved or this particular congregation, but only to point out that this is a very common condition among evangelical Christian churches and Messianic Jewish Synagogues alike.

And the direct result of this lack of adequate doctrinal instruction in the Body of Messiah is that untaught and inadequately-taught Believers are being led by the tens of thousands into the clutches of pseudo-Christian cults like the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, into false “Messianic Jewish” movements like the “Two House/Two Stick” and “Sacred Name” cults, into secret societies like Freemasonry and its numerous organizations, into cultic heresies like the Branch Davidians, Christian Science, and the Word-Faith movement, into the world of the New Age movement and the occult, which involve such activities as astrology, psychic readings, and some forms of holistic medicine, and even into some of the more subtle heresies of Secular Humanism, such as evolution, situational ethics, freedom of “choice,” and gay/lesbian “rights.” In 2008 hundreds of thousands of Americans were lured into a political cult of “Messianic worship” of the successful presidential candidate.

In fact, a great number — perhaps even a majority — of those who profess to be either “Christians” or “Messianics” are either unconcerned about or openly reject the most important doctrines of the historical Apostolic faith, such as the true triune nature of HaShem or the virgin birth, deity, physical death, and bodily resurrection of Yeshua of Nazareth. To them, the Bible has no authority for faith and practice, and its inspiration, inerrancy, and historical accuracy are of little importance.

How is it that Bible Believers are so easily deceived by Satanic counterfeits (and the erroneous teaching of the “Church”)? They are fooled by the false doctrines of all the cults and “isms” because they have never been adequately taught the true historic doctrines of the Apostles’ faith, that “faith once for all delivered to the saints”!

The American Banking Association has for years had a formal program for training bank tellers how to spot counterfeit United States currency, but the trainees are never exposed to a counterfeit bill. Instead, they are painstakingly taught all of the characteristics of real currency — how it looks, how it feels, how it smells — until they become so thoroughly familiar with real money that even a very artistically produced counterfeit stands out like … well, like a three dollar bill.

To a Bible Believer who has been properly educated in the great doctrines of historic Biblical Faith, counterfeit doctrine is as easily and as instantly detectable as a poor counterfeit bill is to a trained bank teller. It is my prayer that this series of studies will painlessly, and even enjoyably, provide you with just that training.

Sound Doctrine / Sound Words

The word “doctrine” is nothing more nor less than another word for “teaching,” or “that which is taught.” So to study Bible doctrine simply means to study what the Bible teaches. Studying what the Bible teaches is not just a worthwhile pastime. God commands His elect people to be in constant study and meditation of His word.

These words, which I am ordering you today, are to be on your heart; and you are to teach them carefully to your children. You are to talk about them when you sit at home, when you are traveling on the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (Deut. 6:6-7)

Therefore, you are to store up these words of mine in your heart and in all your being; tie them on your hand as a sign; put them at the front of a headband around your forehead; teach them carefully to your children, talking about them when you sit at home, when you are traveling on the road, when you lie down and when you get up; and write them on the door-frames of your house and on your gates — so that you and your children will live long on the land ADONAI swore to your ancestors that He would give them for as long as there is sky above the earth. (Deut. 11:18-21)

How blessed are those who reject the advice of the wicked, don't stand on the way of sinners or sit where scoffers sit! Their delight is in ADONAI's Torah; on his Torah they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams — they bear their fruit in season, their leaves never wither, everything they do succeeds. (Ps. 1:1-3)

… the word is very close to you — in your mouth, even in your heart; therefore, you can do it! (Deut. 30:14)

What, then, does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart…” (Rom. 10:8)

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; don't let me stray from your mitzvot. I treasure your word in my heart, so that I won't sin against you. (Ps. 119:9-11)

See, the Word of God is alive! It is at work and is sharper than any double-edged sword — it cuts right through to where soul meets spirit and joints meet marrow, and it is quick to judge the inner reflections and attitudes of the heart. (Heb. 4:12)

Do all you can to present yourself to God as someone worthy of His approval, as a worker with no need to be ashamed, because he deals straightforwardly with the Word of the Truth. (2 Tim. 2:15)

Scripture quotations are from the Complete Jewish Bible. Copyright 1998 by David H. Stern. Published by Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

____________

  1. Marvin R. Wilson in the Foreword to Jesus the Jewish Theologian by Brad H. Young. Peabody MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995, p. xvii. [RETURN]

  2. God rejects those people, along with their children, who reject or forget Torah. How, then, does the Church claim to be the “Bride of Christ” since they say the Torah is no longer valid for people of faith? [RETURN]

  3. Yeshua’s clear intent was for those who follow Him to faithfully continue to preach “the gospel of the kingdom” until His return. The “gospel of the kingdom” is now as it has always been: “Repent (turn back to God and His Torah), for the Kingdom of Heaven [alternately translated as “kingdom of God”] is at hand!” [RETURN]

Page revised on Sunday, 28 August 2015

Page last updated on Sunday, 28 August 2016 07:46 PM
(Updates are generally minor formatting or editorial changes.
Major content changes after May 3, 2015 are identified as "Revisions”)