A proper study of Systematic Theology will also show you what matters most and what matters least. While we must seek to obey all doctrines of the Bible, I cannot cooperate with someone believing in works-based salvation or that Jesus was created.
I can, however, cooperate with someone who holds to an old earth view of creation or post-tribulation view of the rapture. I have good friends who hold both of those positions even though I disagree. Learning to distinguish the essential or first-tier doctrines from secondary or tertiary doctrines comes with proper study of Systematic Theology. It does not excuse you from obeying everything God has commanded you as though you can pick and choose at a theological buffet, but it does provide a framework for cooperation in church matters versus social matters.
Two final examples where theology may apply come in your belief about creation and baptism. Perhaps you have been ridiculed for holding to a young earth view. Systematic Theology will study multiple views, and identify which views will align with Scripture and which ones will not. I believe in six-day, literal creation.
Consider Mark 10:6, which says,
Mark 10:6, “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Mark records Jesus responding to a discussion about divorce by stating that from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” While we may not understand everything about creation, we know that the Bible indicates from the beginning, God created them male and female and not through a process of evolution resulting in upright Homo Sapiens.
A systematic study also brings an understanding of Moses’ words in Exodus 20:11 upon the words Moses wrote in Genesis.
Ex. 20:11, “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
Moses compares the Sabbath rest for Israel with the Lord’s rest on the seventh day, which gives textual credence to a six-day, literal creation position. If each day referred to an age, then it would provide an illustration of resting on the Sabbath, but an illustration of why you should retire in your old age.
On a different subject, a systematic study of baptism will also provide scriptural evidence that baptism is not salvific. Some suppose this based on Acts 2:38.
Acts 2:38, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
And I am not talking about the thief on the cross, since Jesus himself said he would be in paradise. Jesus can make an exception if he wants. Consider 1 Cor. 1:14-15; 17:
1 Cor. 1:14-15, “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. … 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”
If baptism were salvific, then Paul certainly would not say that he thanks God that they were not baptized in his name. He also would not create such a distinction in verse 17 between baptism and preaching the Gospel. These verses clearly indicate that salvation does not require baptism.
Our ultimate goal should be to become a mature believer in Christ. Eph 4:13 states:
Eph. 4:13, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”
We need to be Christians who know what we believe and why. We should be able to provide a defense for the faith and give a reason for the hope in us. Christianity should not be just a label that we wear when it comforts or benefits us. We must take the Gospel seriously, and a systematic study of God’s revelation allows us to do just that.
Editor’s Note: This is the tenth article in the series “Why You Should Study Systematic Theology” by Thomas White, vice president for student services and communications at Southwestern.