From the very beginning, the Christian church has regarded sound doctrine to be of utmost importance and of primary concern to every believer.
Throughout the ages, the church has always battled against invasion by the attitudes and mindsets of the world. This has not changed. The modern church faces an overwhelming increase in both the intensity and the prolific strategies by which this infiltration contaminates the body.
We live in a time which is unsurpassed in the amount of knowledge available to us. Information is literally ‘on call’ because of resources like the internet, and other fast developing media technologies. Additionally, the choices we have at our disposal today are so numerous as to often render us confused as to which of them is best. It is not surprising therefore that we lean naturally towards the ‘suitable’ option rather than the ‘relevant’ or ‘applicable’ option.
Today, more than at any other time in the past, we have a multitude of people and ministries and movements emerging in the church. How are we to determine their soundness or legitimacy? Oratorical skills, charisma and impressive ministry portfolios seem to be the criteria used to substantiate the validity and genuineness of ministry today - and well that may be, from the world’s standards. But oratorical skills, charisma, and impressive portfolios are not in themselves appropriate credentials for those who undertake the awesome responsibility of handling the word of God. It is obvious that the world is in the church more than the church is in the world. Like the world, we have become more interested in information than in transformation; in acquiring rather than being; in pleasing man rather than pleasing God and in seeking the praises and acclamations of man rather than the approval of God. We are in dire need of getting back to the teachings of Scripture; we need sound doctrine.
Many modern churches have no time for doctrinal teaching or preaching. They have turned to oratory, ethics, social and political gospels. They rely on charisma and the ability to keep the crowd suitably interested. They prefer entertaining, rather than ‘correcting, rebuking and encouraging-with great patience and careful instruction’. To the extent that ministries have become ‘professional’, we see the inevitable results of peddling of the word of god for profit. The ‘professional’ preacher now commands a large purse for his ‘message’ and a crowd that befits his stature and prowess. And when he does bring his message, rest assured it will not in any way be controversial, lest he turn away any who have come to listen to him. That makes sense! Million dollar ministries do not come from turning people away! They must give them what they like – that’s what ‘consumerism’ is all about! The modern church has become so consumer oriented in using the marketing strategies of the world; it is hardly different from a business with a religious flavour.
The professional preacher of the modern church has developed the ability to always be ‘relevant’. Now, relevance is both good and important, so don’t get me wrong! But the relevance I refer to here is the type that licenses a person to adapt the word of god to the current cultural disposition, the ‘flavour of the year’, to coin a phrase! It modifies God’s word to suit the listener’s taste buds. There is no place now for dogmatism. Obviously, to be dogmatic about what the bible says on any particular issue is to brew a recipe for disaster to one’s popularity. Essential teaching about hell and sin and eternal punishment (for example) are too harsh, too dogmatic, and too negative. So dogmatism goes, and relativism takes its place. It tastes sweeter.
Everything is now ‘relative’. In other words, from a moral and ethical standpoint, right and wrong are no longer absolute values but are dependent upon, and measured by, our prevailing circumstances, or emotions or individual preferences. Therefore, what is right (or wrong) for one person is not necessarily right (or wrong) for another person. Further, what is right (or wrong) for one person at any particular time or in any particular circumstance, may not be exactly so for that same person at another time or in another circumstance! This new way of thinking gives us license to do what we feel to be right.
So now, feelings and opinions are ‘in’ and rules are ‘definitely out’. We can do whatever we want to do, provided we feel good about it; or conversely, we can refrain from doing what we ought to do because we don’t feel good about it.
But this new approach still leaves us with one nagging problem to deal with, the problem of sin. In order to be comfortable with this new approach, we must remove the seriousness of sin itself by making it seem less offensive. How better to do this than by replacing traditional biblical names for various sins with ones which are less incriminating or condemning? So, what the bible calls ‘adultery’, which is illicit relationship outside the legal bounds of marriage, we now call ‘wife swapping’ or ‘co-habiting’; homosexuality is no longer a sin - it is simply ‘a same sex preference’ or ‘sexual orientation’; what the bible calls ‘fornication’ is rendered harmlessly as ‘sleeping together’; ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ which are God’s terms for those who might engage in legitimate sexual union between the sexes, have given place to the acceptable term of ‘partners’ (and this, regardless of sex!)
We have even gone further. We have invented a new and unbiblical way to deal with the guilt of sin - by simply replacing biblical concepts of the seriousness of sin and its consequences with the harmless, non-judgmental, and comfortable idea of ‘error’. The tragedy of course is that this sad state of affairs has come about through wrong doctrine; the teaching that a sinful, unrepentant lifestyle is okay because we are now ‘under grace’. Nothing can be further from the truth. That’s unsound doctrine, pure and simple. What a sad state to be in!
We live in an age of relativism, in which the need for absolutes seems outdated and no longer necessary. But it is vital for the Christian to know that God only has absolutes. God, and his Word (which comprises his truth and his laws), are eternal and are absolute.
Listen to Paul’s warning in the second half of the verse in 2Timothy 4:3: “they will gather around them teachers to teach what their itching ears want to hear”. Pay close attention to what he warns will happen: the listeners will lead their teachers! People choose what they want to hear, and raise to prominence only those who will deliver accordingly. That’s exactly what happens in the world of fame and stardom. But it’s the wrong way around for the church. We must stop giving the people what they want and get back to giving them what they need. We need teachers who will teach sound doctrine.
But there are many in the church who just will not accept sound biblical teaching. Perhaps you have come across such people. Teachings about sin, hell, holiness, and dying to self are distasteful to them, and set off alarm bells that send them helter-skelter in search of a more comfortable, less threatening environment. To avoid losing such people, some resourceful church leaders, following the pattern of the world, have developed a failsafe strategy. They have appropriated more of the precious pulpit time to storytelling, to jokes and illustrations and less to the exposition of the word. As a result, instead of the meat of the word, the sheep’s principal diet now consists more of humorous anecdotes and ‘feel-good’ illustrations or pronouncements to boost the ego. Sideshows have also become an essential part of the worship service in modern churches; music, drama, and hype more and more encroach upon precious time that should be used for personal self-examination and meditation on the word. The sermon itself is skillfully adapted to lull the audience into a sense of complacency and well being. Don’t get me wrong - I’m not saying that the preacher does not use Bible verses in his story sermons. But even though he might use them abundantly, they do nothing more than simply add content to a message that is not scripturally sound in the first place. No doubt, the message takes on a ‘spiritual flavour’ because of their use; but the result is that the whole substance of the original message of the scripture has changed. And so the listeners are lulled into a false sense of security, and they end up accepting humanistic values disguised as biblical truth. Rather than being challenged to change they go away feeling content with where they are. If they came under any sort of conviction, you can be sure it had nothing to do with the word of God transforming them.
Last, but not least, is the ever-present danger of upsetting those important people who have graced the assembly with their presence at the worship service, despite their busy social schedules! And so for fear of losing them, the preacher tailors his sermon to be as brief as possible, no more than, say fifteen or twenty minutes long. The dispensing of the word of God now plays a minority role in a service in which other aspects might well contribute over an hour’s entertainment to satisfy the worshipper! Do you get the drift?
What has caused leaders to fall into this trap? Without doubt, it is due to their ‘taking after’ the pattern of the world. They have come to believe that we need the newest ideas and methods if we are to advance in our spirituality. They are convinced that ‘the old is out, and the new is in’; that what worked yesterday cannot possibly work today. Tradition must go. They believe we need something different, something fresh for our times, and that this involves keeping pace with the trends, and the culture of our time.
But the consequence of adopting this worldview is that we must constantly have change or we begin to feel uneasy. No wonder we are tirelessly looking for ‘new and exciting stuff’. We vigorously pursue new books, new seminars, new faith meetings, new teachings, new principles, and new systems for growth. We eagerly wait to listen to new speakers and see new signs, wonders, and miracles. And all this, because we are led to believe that it is these new and diversified and ever changing experiences which contribute most to our spiritual welfare and development! But the truth is that the word of God, properly expounded, is all that we need. We need nothing in addition to it. The word of God is completely able to transform us. We don’t need new methods or systems. We do not need any new revelation. All that we need is already in God’s written word. Now, I’m sure that this truth is a terrible blow to the numerous ministries around today that feed off the self-interests of the gullible and the ignorant, untaught members in the church.
You see, the gospel message is extremely simple and straightforward, and the key to understanding the word of God is obedience, pure and simple. The true Church has survived to this present today, despite intense opposition and heresy, only because it is “built on the foundations of the apostles and prophets, with Christ as the cornerstone”. And God has ensured that it will survive until Christ returns by appointing faithful servants, throughout the generations, to proclaim his word with integrity. The blood of the martyrs is ample evidence of that truth.
So, what need at this time is to get back to basics; to teach and preach what is already in the word of God, without deviation from it. That is sound doctrine!
Now, the inevitable question: “But is doctrine really necessary?”
The best place to go for this answer is to the Bible itself. ‘Disciple making’ is accomplished by something called teaching. We acknowledge this program of 'discipling' as “the great commission, recorded at the end of Matthew’s gospel.
There are two sources from which we can determine the tremendous importance of doctrine: (1) the use of the word itself in the NT, and (2) the views of four important characters in the NT regarding it.
(1) We can get an idea of the tremendous importance of teaching from the numerous references to it in the New Testament. In Matthews gospel alone the word teach occurs 20 times and Jesus is called teacher about 10 times. If we look at the whole NT, the two nouns for teaching or doctrine occur over 50 times, while the verb form to teach occurs over 90 times. The word teacher(s) occurs about 58 times. In addition there are a few other related words (like instruction, for instance). In all, there are well over 200 references in the NT alone to teachers teaching doctrines. In comparison, even the well known and perhaps most used Christian terms like ‘born-again’ and ‘regeneration’ occur in less than 20 verses! Surely this evidence is overwhelmingly conclusive of the importance that the bible places on teaching or (doctrine).
(2) The views of 4 important characters in the NT regarding ‘doctrine’:
- The central imperative of Christ’s Great Commission is the command to teach (Matthew 28:18-20).
- Luke’s gospel begins with these words many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants in the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (emphasis mine).
- Paul’s express command to Timothy to teach sound doctrine:
“I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and at his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Tim.4:2-4 KJV). This was Paul’s charge to the young Timothy. He was to teach and preach the word without watering it down, or compromising it, so as to show himself a ‘workman approved of God, rightly dividing the word’. The method was simply ‘teach it exactly like it was taught to you’. This command to preach and teach precisely what is in accord with God’s word remains the imperative for every Christian today. It is even more so for those who profess to be leaders, whether pastors, teachers or evangelists, elders or Sunday school teachers! Take note of the specific charge: Timothy was charged with teaching not just any doctrine that suited his fancy or was tailor made to suit the occasion or the audience, but sound doctrine!
[Note too Paul’s many references to teaching /instruction etc. in the other Pastoral Epistles]
- In his letter Jude exhorts believers to defend their faith. “I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Verse 3). The word ‘faith, here refers to the body of truth held by believers everywhere.
A W Tozer had this to say about sound doctrine: “It would be impossible to overemphasize the importance of sound doctrine in the life of a Christian. Right thinking about all spiritual matters is imperative if we would have right living. As men do not gather grapes of thorns nor figs of thistles, sound character does not grow out of unsound teaching. The word doctrine means simply religious beliefs held and taught. It is the sacred task of all Christians, first as believers and then as teachers of religious beliefs, to be certain that these beliefs correspond exactly to truth. A precise agreement between belief and fact constitutes soundness in doctrine. We cannot afford to have less”.
He goes on to say: “Haziness of doctrine has always been the mark of the liberal. When the Holy Scriptures are rejected as the final authority on religious belief, something must be found to take their place. Historically that something has been either reason or sentiment: if sentiment, it has been humanism. Sometimes there has been an admixture of the two, as may be seen in liberal churches today. These will not quite give up the Bible, neither will they quite believe it; the result is an unclear body of beliefs more like a fog than a mountain, where anything may be true but nothing may be trusted as being certainly true. We have gotten accustomed to the blurred puffs of gray fog that pass for doctrine in modernistic churches and expect nothing better, but it is a cause for real alarm that the fog has begun of late to creep into many evangelical churches. From some previously unimpeachable sources are now coming vague statements consisting of a milky admixture of Scripture, science and human sentiment that is true to none of its ingredients because each one works to cancel the others out. Certain of our evangelical brethren appear to be laboring under the impression that they are advanced thinkers because they are rethinking evolution and reevaluating various Bible doctrines or even divine inspiration itself; but so far are they from being advanced thinkers that they are merely timid followers of modernism -fifty years behind the parade. Little by little, evangelical Christians these days are being brainwashed. One evidence is that increasing numbers of them are becoming ashamed to be found unequivocally on the side of truth. They say they believe but their beliefs have been so diluted as to be impossible of clear definition. Moral power has always accompanied definitive beliefs. Great saints have always been dogmatic. We need right now a return to a gentle dogmatism that smiles while it stands stubborn and firm on the Word of God that liveth and abideth forever”.
Up to this point, we have simply dealt with doctrine in a very general way. We have established that doctrine (or teaching) comprises the content of our beliefs. But there is a distinction between doctrine and sound doctrine. Any teaching is doctrine, which is why we have false doctrines. But sound doctrine has rigid parameters. To know the difference between sound and unsound doctrine, we must examine why sound doctrine is important.
There are 7 reasons (at least) why:
(1) Sound doctrine is necessary for establishing biblical truth and for refuting error
(2) Christian ministry cannot be isolated from Christian theology.
(3) Sound doctrine is the very heart of Christian faith.
(4) Sound doctrine is both relevant to and practical for Christian living
(5) Sound doctrine allows no compromise.
(6) Sound doctrine is not an option for one who belongs to Christ.
(7) Neglecting sound doctrine brings grave danger.
Each of the above is examined in a separate study entitled “Seven reasons why we need sound doctrine”.
One last word:
Scripture warns: “GUARD YOUR LIFE AND DOCTRINE”! It is very important for Christians to know what they believe and why. But they must also be open to correction. This is the essence of ‘growing up in the faith’. If you have begun to feel a stirring in your soul by what I have presented so far, let me challenge you with these questions: Are you content with being a piece of driftwood, “carried away by all kinds of strange teachings”? (As Hebrews: 13:9 says). Would you rather be like the Bereans (Acts 17:11) who “examined the scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true”? Are you willing to examine the whole of scripture on any teaching, rather than accept the few verses taken out of context to substantiate erroneous or false teaching? If you have said “yes” to these last two questions, are you willing to put that decision into action? Are you willing to run the gauntlet for truth, to be a ‘defender of the faith’? It will cost you everything!
God Bless you.
© Preach The word-with Pastor Joseph Rodrigues – www.kerysso.org
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