[Part 2 in the “SOUND DOCTRINE” SERIES by Pastor Joseph Rodrigues]
In Part 1 of this series I raised a legitimate concern about the prevalence, or rather, lack of sound doctrine in the modern day church. I also pointed out seven reasons why a proper attitude towards teaching sound doctrine is imperative, and I will explore each of them in this teaching.
(1) Sound doctrine is necessary for establishing biblical truth and for refuting error
(2) Christian ministry and theology go hand in hand.
(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.
(1) Sound doctrine is necessary for establishing biblical truth and refuting error.
The first reason why we need sound doctrine is because it is necessary for establishing biblical truth and refuting error.
There is no better way to describe ‘sound doctrine’ than to liken it to a double edged sword - it injects truth and expels error with every blow! But first, let’s be clear about what we mean when we use the terms ‘doctrine’, ‘truth’ and ‘error’.
‘Doctrine’ (the noun) is really another word for the noun ‘teaching’. In the English language, the word ’teaching’ is commonly used both in its verb and noun forms. For example, when we use it in its verb form, as in ‘teaching doctrine’, we are talking about teaching ‘teachings’ (noun). We understand from this that the word ‘doctrine’ describes what is taught, i.e., the body or content of instruction. Now, the content of any organized body of teaching can qualify to be called ‘doctrine’, regardless of whether it is religious, political, scientific, or anything else, for that matter. But, is doctrine merely an accumulation of systematized information? No. It goes further. All doctrine comprises beliefs (i.e., trusts or confidences in statements or genuine opinions), tenets (basic principles), and dogmas (principles and belief systems laid down by authority). So, when we use the word ‘doctrine’ with reference to the Bible, we are referring to the individual truth, beliefs and instructions and also to the collective body of religious truth, beliefs and instructions that it discloses. Likewise when we speak of ‘false doctrine’ with reference to the bible, we are referring to all the non-biblical or extra-biblical teachings. Therefore any teaching which diminishes, or undermines, negates or opposes the truth disclosed in scripture, whether it come from within or outside the church, is by biblical standards, false doctrine. We will examine some of the popular false doctrines in a later chapter.
The Oxford dictionary defines ‘truth’ this way: ‘quality, state of being true, or accurate or honest or sincere or loyal, or accurately shaped or adjusted’. When we say that the bible is true, we are saying that we believe the bible does not just contain the word of God, but actually is the word of God. The difference is important. The first implies that some, at least, of the Bible is inspired by God; the latter, that everything in the bible is the inspired word of God. Since we have seen earlier that doctrine essentially comprises ‘a set of beliefs’ it is easy to see why truth is of paramount importance. It necessarily follows that in order to teach sound doctrine, we must have ‘the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’. One cannot get more specific than that!
‘Error’ on the other hand is defined in the dictionary as ‘mistake (error made or committed); a condition of erring in opinion; wrong opinion; transgression’. This definition makes proper allowance for an error being either well-intentioned or deliberate. The former comes from a misunderstanding of a truth: the latter arises from a deliberate manipulation or fabrication of truth in order to satisfy a predisposed inclination to believe to the contrary. This explains the tremendous importance placed on those who are teachers to teach what is true, what the bible calls ‘sound doctrine’. Freedom from both forms of error is necessary for absolute truth.
The establishing of truth
When the apostle Paul instructs the young Timothy about teaching ‘sound doctrine’ he is making particular reference to biblical truth. The believer is ’to be established’ in the truth. The word ‘establish’ means, in this context, ’to secure permanent acceptance, or to place beyond dispute that which is being taught’.
It is for this reason that teachers are warned that they will be held more accountable than others! They are to ensure that everything (not some or most) they expound from Scripture is free from distortion, whether by misrepresentation, omission, or deliberate falsification. Non-conformity with this stringent requirement results in a teacher propagating false or erroneous doctrine.
Why is this so? It is because the truth of scripture is absolute, not relative. Let me explain. It is ‘absolute’ in the sense that it is perfectly pure, undiluted, does not require verification by comparison with something else, or in relation to other points of view, or different but corresponding views or ideas.
Because biblical truth is absolute, we maintain that the revealed word of God is the only standard which rightfully measures all our moral beliefs and corresponding attitudes and actions.
When we consider that doctrine is a body of teaching, it means that every belief statement it contains contributes to its authority in truth. If even one of those beliefs is false, or (it being an essential component of the subject taught), is omitted, then the doctrine itself becomes false. What is true of the part is true of the whole. Let me give an example, and a broad one at that! The Nicene Creed sets out the basic tenets of the Christian faith ‘in a nutshell’. If one were to deliberately omit or alter in any way its essential declarations of belief in the resurrection of the dead, or the virgin birth, or eternal judgment or any other article of faith which it contains, then such a one would be teaching ‘false doctrine’. It is the distortion of such foundational Christian truth which identifies the numerous cults and pseudo Christian faiths that abound. Even amongst professing Christian leaders, this propensity to propagate false doctrine is growing at an alarming rate. We must be on guard for wolves in sheep’s clothing.
The word “sound” (Greek: hugiaino) means healthy as in the term ’sound advice’. In other words, it is uncontaminated. Sound doctrine is healthy doctrine because it is uncontaminated.
The refutation of error
Teaching sound doctrine involves refuting error. The plain English meaning of this word is ‘to prove falsity or error (of statement, opinion, argument or person advancing it); to rebut or repel with argument’. It is by definition a forceful or strong action; it is confrontational, not passive. According to Paul, the defense of the gospel is also the confirmation of the gospel, as revealed in the phrase “for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel” (Phil.1:7). The two go hand in hand. Until Christ returns, the need to both defend and confirm the truth must be carried out by his faithful disciples, in the thick of mounting opposition and deception. The bible calls this ‘contending for the faith handed down’ (Jude).
We know that during the time of the Apostles there were many false doctrines concerning the identity of Jesus and the Gospel. The early Church was plagued with false movements claiming to be Christian. Ebionism, Gnosticism and Arianism were among the chief heretical movements that the early church battled against. Those false movements are alive and well today, masquerading under different and often deliberately misleading names. Later in this study, we will have a look at some of their modern day equivalents. You will see that only sound doctrine discerns and exposes their deceitfulness.
Paul's Epistles reflect his concern about false doctrines. He cautioned his churches (1) to watch out, and (2) to hold fast to the truth that had been taught by the apostles. His warnings have relevance for the church today, more than ever! Let’s have a look at some of them.
(1) “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form." (Col.2:8-9, NASB). Note the means by which false teachings come – traditions, philosophies, deceptions, worldly principles.
(2) "For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. "Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears." (Acts 20:27-31 NASB). Note the warning that deception will come from agents within the church..
(3) Writing to Titus, a Greek convert whom he appointed to select elders in the churches established in Crete, Paul lays down an essential requisite for an elder: “Holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). Writing to the Philippians (2:15-16) he makes clear the reason for holding fast to sound doctrine: “that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.” The Greek word translated ‘holding fast’ in the Philippians passage is ‘epecho’. It simply means to hold upon, i.e. to retain; to pay attention to. But in the Titus 1:9, passage, when Paul uses “holding fast”, the Greek word is ‘antechomai’. Here it means to hold oneself opposite to, or against, hold back, withstand, to keep oneself directly opposite to anyone, hold to him firmly, cleave to, paying heed to him (the Lord by His word).Holding fast in this context implies active opposition to those who contradict.
This activity of refutation of error is termed ‘Apologetics’. Sadly, we have convinced ourselves that apologetics is the domain of scholars and have developed an unhealthy phobia towards practicing it. We need to grasp the simple meaning of words if we are to dispel our fears. The word ‘doctrine’ sounds very intellectual, but it simply means ‘teaching’. Likewise, ‘apologetics’ sounds formidable, but it simply means ‘the defense of the faith’. So you see, apologetics is the responsibility of every believer!
Two reasons why we must take apologetics seriously:.
Firstly, Apologetics is an essential part of the gospel message. This is obvious from an examination of the NT books. For example, the speeches in the book of Acts contain apologetic (or defensive) arguments. When Peter, Stephen, and Paul delivered their speeches, they were really presenting ‘arguments’ by referring to OT prophecies and to Jewish history. The purpose of these arguments was to substantiate their claims about the recent events of the time, such as Christ’s death and his resurrection, as fulfillment of prophecy.
Study: -Peter’s speeches (Acts 2: 14-40; 3: 12-26; 4: 8-12).
-Stephen’s speech (Acts 7:2-53).
-Paul’s speech (Acts 17:22-31).
In an earlier paragraph I referred to Paul’s view that the defense of the gospel was also the confirmation of the gospel. The arguments in the passages quoted above served a different purpose to each class of listener. For those listening as believers, they served as confirmation of the truth, whilst for those listening as unbelievers they served as an active defense of the faith.
Secondly, the task of defending the faith is not optional contrary to popular belief. It is not the domain of scholars, but of the regular Christian believer. Paul commands it. He commands it because it is necessary. And it is necessary because the gospel truth addresses the mind. We must pay attention to the intellectual component of the gospel and not neglect it. Transformation takes place in us by the renewal of our minds. The primary battleground is the mind. And so the spiritual warfare dealt with in Ephesians deals with just this –the tearing down of strongholds in the mind – ‘everything that raises itself up against the knowledge of God’.
Specific exhortations to defend the faith
(a) “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”. 1 Peter 3:15(b). Who was Peter writing to? “To God’s elect” (verse 1). That’s every believer!
(b) “I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saint (Jude 3). Who was Paul writing to? “To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ” (verse1b). That’s every believer!
For other examples which show the importance of defending the intellectual truth of the gospel, read:
(a) Paul’s pastoral epistles which are full of refutations against the heresies of his day and his exhortations to readers to learn to recognize them. Also refer to Paul’s specific commands in his letters to his two ‘sons’ Timothy and Titus.
(b) Read John’s first epistle dealing with elements of the Gnostic heresy of his time.
A word of caution at this point!
In all this, it is vitally important to keep in mind the context in which the intellectual aspect in the gospel message is relevant. Remember, our salvation is not dependent upon a prior understanding of the gospel message, or on theological or doctrinal expertise, but on faith in Christ. Anything else is ‘dead works’ and cannot save! All the knowledge we have about God cannot save us. The transformation we talk about here, which comes about through the renewal of the mind, by the Holy Spirit, is subsequent to or following upon salvation, and is a gradual and lifelong process. Believing (faith) comes first. The writer of Hebrews calls it ‘the evidence of things not seen’. The biblical principle is ‘believe first, then, see’. Correspondingly, we believe first, then, our understanding (and knowledge) grows. The Holy Spirit enables us to believe. This method is contrary to the principles of the world and considered foolishness. But we follow it because we know that ‘God’s ways are higher than our ways’ and ‘the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom”, as Scripture declares many times in various ways. When we believe God, we begin to know God and to understand his ways. It is this understanding of the true God and his ways (biblical truth) that we are defending when we talk of ‘refuting error’. It belongs in the heart, but has an intellectual component.
A watchful and uncompromising stance
Take note of Paul’s instructions to Timothy (2 Tim.4). Timothy was to be careful (i.e., watchful), of those who were teaching false doctrines. He further instructed him to ‘reprove, rebuke, and exhort - with great patience and careful instruction’. These words describe the attitude to be taken in dealing with false doctrines. Alertness to false teachings has occupied defenders of the faith throughout the ages. It is just as important today, if not more so.
The word reprove is the Greek word "elegcho" (Strong's #1651) which means: "to correct, to admonish, to expose, to show ones fault, to call to account, to bring to light." The teacher is required to exercise great patience and careful instruction. It implies great sensitivity.
The word rebuke has a stronger application. Rebuke is the Greek word "epitimao” (Strong's #2008) which means: "to reprove, to admonish severely, to censure sharply, or to charge sharply." Rebuking, though not easy, is required in the Church to expose false doctrines and beliefs. It is particularly necessary when the offender is deliberating misleading people with false information in spite of warnings and providing the offender with accurate biblical instruction.
The word exhort is the Greek word "parakaleo" (Strong's #3870) which means: "to admonish, to beseech, to comfort, to give encouragement, to entreat”. It implies urgency, but is a gentle, appealing, and strengthening word. The church badly needs encouragement. We are familiar with the noun ‘paraclete’ (comforter) used of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.
The practicalities of refuting error
It’s one thing to know what needs doing and another to know how to do it! The best practical examples (as always), are gleaned from scripture itself. Here are some examples of how the apostles handled it,
- By reasoning with – i.e., ‘forming or trying to reach conclusions by connected thought silent or expressed (from premises: about, of, upon, a subject ’) - see Acts17:2
- By disputing g– i.e., ‘arguing about a subject by calling into question a statement or belief, or position’. (See Acts 17:17)
- By teaching – i.e., ‘enabling or causing someone to do by instruction and training’. (See Acts 18:13
- By being resolved in purpose – to be committed. (See Acts 18:11
- By convincing – i.e., ‘producing in a person a moral conviction (of sin, for example)’ Note that this conviction can have the result of turning a hearer away! (See Acts 19:9)
Though the above words are all associated with the task of ‘refuting’, and are to do primarily with an activity of the mind, you will observe from their dictionary meanings that there are subtle differences between them. It goes to show that the method used must suit the particular situation calling for correction.
(2) Christian ministry and theology go hand in hand
The second reason why we need sound doctrine is that Christianity ministry cannot be separated from Christian theology, or vice versa. That our beliefs and our actions are interdependent is evident in everyday life. The general attitude ‘everyone is doing it therefore it must be right, or permissible’ confirms that mindsets govern the actions of groups of people generally. Teaching sound doctrine ensures that the believer has a biblical mindset, as opposed to the world’s mindset. To put it simply, the believer’s way of life (ministry) must be shaped in accordance with correct exposure to God’s revealed word.
‘Ministry’ relates to the work of ministering. Used together with the definite article as in ‘the ministry’ (noun form), it relates to the official body of people charged with a particular responsibility or task. The ‘Minister’ (noun) is a person who is engaged in the execution of the purposes or will, etc. of another (whether a person or organization) and implies delegated authority. It is important to be clear with these definitions. Nevertheless, we have become so comfortable with the traditional definition of a ‘minister’ as being one officially appointed or ordained by a religious institution that we have failed to see that every believer is a ‘minister’ and a ‘priest’ of God. Whatever that work the believer is called to do – whether it be secular or religious - he is to ‘minister’ in accordance with sound doctrine. Our lives (ministries) should reflect our allegiance to God and submission to His will concerning the way in which we conduct our lives.
Christ’s ministry revolved around sound doctrine. “And it came to pass when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine; for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (Matt.7:28-29). What was the difference between his teaching and that of the scribes? His obvious authority, which stemmed from his correct exposition of the law.
Likewise, the apostles expounded sound doctrine: “’And when they had brought them and set them before the council; and the high priest asked them, saying, Did not we straitly command you that you should not teach in this name? And behold, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than man. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are his witnesses of these things; and so also is the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him” (Acts 5:27-32).
The early church’s ministry revolved around sound doctrine: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).
With such a great ‘cloud of witnesses, should not our ministries also revolve around sound doctrine?
What, for example, was Christ’s ministry? Very simply, it involved doing the will of his Father. This was his primary undertaking. All of the work he did on earth, whether healing, working miracles, or teaching, revolved around his primary ministry and was never divorced from it. What’s more, his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension were an integral part of the Father’s will for him and just as much a part of the work that he was sent to earth to do for our salvation. He himself made statements like, “I do nothing on my own, but speak just what the Father has taught me” (John 8:28) and “I have come down from heaven not to do my will, but to do the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). The point I wish to make here is that Christ’s work flowed from his perfect understanding of God’s requirements. He knew exactly what he came to earth for, what he should do, and what was outside the parameters of his appointed work. For example, when he visited the pool at Bethsaida, he only healed one man. In his entire ministry, he only raised three people from the dead. Could he have healed all at the pool? Could he have established a ministry of raising the dead, or a healing ministry? Yes! But he did not. He knew his mission and did not overstep its boundaries. In this, he acted in perfect obedience to the Father.
In short, his theology (or doctrine, if you like) was sound! He knew what the scriptures had foretold about him. That is why he was able to make statements like: “I did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it”. He is the role model for every minister. The minister is to go about executing God’s will – not his own! This, in essence, is what ministry is all about.
The apostles’ ministry and the ministry in the early church likewise revolved around sound theology. The transition from the Old covenant to the New took place through the teaching of the apostles (which is why we maintain “the church is founded on the teachings of the apostles”). The apologetics of Peter, Stephen, and Paul I referred to under the previous heading clearly demonstrate this.
Over time, the apostles developed a teaching / equipping ministry to the church. Their teaching ministry involved (to put it simply), explaining about Christ, and (of necessity) answering questions. The simple intent (motive) in their ministry of the gospel message was to equip the followers for ‘the work of ministry’- that is, to both know and to do.
Observe how the early Church began to operate: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).Notice what came first -TEACHING. From the very beginning of the church, the apostles believed no ministry activity to be more important than rightly understanding and clearly proclaiming sound doctrine. Keep in mind that the people of that time did not have the bible in the form we now have it. They received sound doctrine directly from the apostles.
It is therefore conclusive from the examples of Christ, the apostles and the early church, that sound ministry only comes from sound theology. It is never the other way around. When we formulate our theology from our ministry, we go terribly wrong. Paul firmly believed that, and expressly taught so. This is evident from his explicit instructions to the two young men he commissioned in the ministry, Timothy and Titus. At the core of his instruction is the importance of adhering to sound doctrine. (Refer to letters to Timothy & Titus).
Truthful (not erroneous) biblical instruction is the foundation of every aspect of the Christian’s life. That's why the apostle Paul instructed Timothy, "Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers" (1 Tim. 4:16).
The collective teaching that emerged through the appointed apostles has come down to us in the form of the Pastoral and General Epistles. In general, these provide instructions on how believers are to conduct themselves until Jesus Christ comes again. We must teach these instructions continually to each succeeding generation. ”The things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). It’s “Sola Scripture” all the way.
The point can never be pressed too far. There is a repetitive emphasis on “sound” or “healthy doctrine” (1Tim 1:10; 6:3; 2 Tim.1:13; 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1) or “good doctrine” (1 Tim. 5:22) throughout the New Testament.
This ‘body of truth’ (doctrine) is the “faith delivered once to all the saints” (Jude 1:3). It constitutes the foundation of every ministry in the church. There is no shortage of godly instruction on how to behave as children, husbands, wives, masters, servants, and fathers. There are requirements for those who would serve as elders or overseers in the church and standards for those who would be teachers and preachers of the word. Thus, ministry flows out of theology and is not in isolation from it.
Perhaps it’s time for us to do a check up ‘from the neck- up’.
(3) Sound doctrine is the very heart of Christian faith.
The third reason why we need sound doctrine is because solid, truthful teaching is the very heart of Christianity. Who god is, and his plans, judgment and redemptive purposes for sinful man as revealed progressively in his written word through the prophets and fulfilled in the person of his Son (Jesus, Emmanuel, Christ etc.), the Word made flesh, to die for our sin and be raised for our justification, must be taught accurately if the Christian faith is to be properly defined, understood and lived by. Deviation from core biblical teaching about the nature of God, the person and work of Christ, about salvation, judgment and the afterlife, to name a few, is what constitutes the pseudo Christian faiths or Christianized cults.
Paul tells us:”All scripture is god-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16). Because God himself authors it, we are confident that:
-it is complete and need no embellishment; it can stand on its own; nothing needs to be rewritten or edited; time does not change its efficacy.
-it needs neither judicial approval nor scholarly opinion to validate its authority. For this reason it is incontrovertible (that is, not to be disputed)
-it stands forever as a testimony to the living truth, the alpha and the omega, the One made flesh, the Word himself who was sent by the Father.
Two New Testament words didaché and didaskalia are most often translated “doctrine,” “teaching,” or “instruction”. The use of these words wherever they occur in the NT, indicates teaching (of scripture) whether the method be simply reading, or explaining, or systematically setting it out (as a theological summation).This teaching in scripture finds its ultimate source in God. Now, if teaching is not of God, then there are only two other possible source - man, or demons. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul concludes his warnings against inducements to ceremonialism, secret knowledge, and asceticism, with these words: “they are based on human commands and teachings” (Col.2:22). In the opening lines of chapter 4 of First Timothy, he issues a similar warning with these words:”some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons”. Thus only biblical doctrine is ‘sound’ because it is according to godliness (1 Tim. 6:3) and ‘useful’ for reproof, for correction and instruction in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16).
The Bible conveys the truth, that is, communicates God’s will for mankind truthfully, accurately and completely. Truth is the very essence of God’s word. It tells us about God’s plans and purposes, both temporal and eternal. The fact that God’s word is true can easily be seen (for example) from the prophetic fulfillments about the Christ.
But just as importantly, it reveals to us the One who is Truth himself, the author and originator of truth, Jesus, the Son of God. He said of himself, “I am the way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6). Jesus is the truth. Jesus spoke the truth. Jesus demonstrated truth. When we reflect that he said he did nothing on his own, but only what which his Father wanted him to do, we see that he represented his Father truthfully on earth.
Nevertheless, three terms he used to describe himself in this passage are all absolute, not relative terms. In other words they do not require comparison with something else for measurement or standard in order to be understood or chosen. He never said he was ‘one of many ways to the Father’ but “the way”. He did not say that he endeavoured to always be truthful, in which case we would be entitled to ask ‘in reference to what?’ but rather that he was ‘the truth’. He was not speaking of himself as a life form but as the very author and source of life when he described himself as being ‘the life’. Jesus is clearly declaring the Son of God is himself god by claiming the attributes of God for himself. That Jesus is god is at the very heart of the Christian faith and constitutes sound doctrine.
The New Testament epistles repeatedly remind us to make sound doctrine the very heart of our faith and ministry. This is evident in Paul’s instructions to Timothy and Titus:
(1) To serve as a good minister of the faith. “Watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry (1 Tim. 4:5)
(2) To maintain the pattern of sound teaching “Hold fast the form of sound words which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:13)
(3) To preach the word constantly, “Be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2)
(4) To hold firmly to the trustworthy message and encourage others by sound doctrine (Titus 1:9)
(5) To teach the things that are in accord and taken to be sound doctrine (Titus 2:1).
We are obliged to pass on the truth exactly as disclosed in Scripture – that’s what constitutes soundness in teaching! Truth is essential for spiritual progress. Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). Think for a moment on how Jesus warded off Satan’s temptations during his forty days in the wilderness. He quoted Moses: “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4; Deut.8:3).
Now, if the bible’s whole concern is with truth, if truth is at the very heart of the message of the gospel, how can we be careless in the way we handle it? No wonder Paul commanded, "the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).
(4) Sound doctrine is both relevant to and practical for Christian living
The fourth reason why we need sound doctrine is that it is both relevant to and necessary for everyday living. No one will dispute the fact that, in everyday living, even without giving conscious thought to it, we act in accordance with what we believe. It makes sense therefore that what we believe is important, because it affects the way we act. Sound doctrine plays a vital part in instructing in godly behaviour.
Both Old and New Testaments place great value on the practical aspects of teaching. Here are some examples.
(1) “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Prov.22:6).
Training involves instruction see (Prov.1:8) and discipline (Prov. 22:15). Both are necessary if one is to grow in wisdom. The account of the boy Jesus in the temple shows us that Jesus himself was not exempt from discipline. After being chided by his parents, we are told “Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them” (Lu.2: 51).
(2) “For I have chosen him. So that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him” (Gen18:19). This was the Lord’s purpose in choosing Abraham Notice again the importance in teaching to do something in accordance with ‘what is right’.
(3) “….Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds…. teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home…….etc (Deut11:18). (Same purpose again in teaching).
“Assemble the people- men, women, children, and the aliens in your towns-so they can listen and learn to fear the Lord you God…”….etc (Deut. 31:12).(Repeated again here).
(4) Jesus’ parables brought spiritual truths down to a practical level. The purpose in all this teaching was to teach his listeners how to live their lives by God’s principles. He spoke of heaven and hell, so that they would understand the eternal ramifications of the choices they made in this life.
(5) The pastoral epistles are full of exhortations to live lives worthy of the Christian calling. We are to live in the power of the new nature given to us at the new birth, not according to the old nature (the desire to sin).
Bad doctrine produces bad fruit behaviorally.
Mark 7:7-13 - Jesus reprimands the Jews for following the traditions and commandments of men in place of god’s commandments;
Col. 2:20-23 – being still subject to ordinances though supposedly dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world;
1 Tim. 4:1-5 - giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons;
2 Pet. 2:1 - bringing damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them.
We conclude therefore that there is really no basis for godly behavior apart from God's Word. Teaching the truth of scripture involves concepts about God, salvation, sin, and righteousness amongst other things. In practice, the teacher must first draw the principles of God’s word from the texts. Only then does the exhortation to godly living become relevant.
Let me explain it further. It makes sense that one cannot apply a truth that one does not know. The ability to apply something is dependent upon one’s knowledge of the concepts and principles involved. This is true of any sciences or discipline. It is no different with Christian doctrine. For example, if one is ignorant of the bible’s teachings regarding marriage, what would one’s attitudes be towards divorce, money, and the raising of children? If one is ignorant of what the Bible teaches about salvation, how will one be saved? Why and how should anyone desire to practice holiness if one does not know what the bible teaches about sin and the holiness of God? What are the bible’s teachings on issues like homosexuality, immorality, and murder? How is the church to speak authoritatively on these and other contemporary issues like abortion, bestiality, licentiousness, immorality, fornication, adultery and the like without sound doctrine to fall back upon? Now, I am not implying that right doctrine automatically leads to godliness. We know that even amongst professing Christians, this is far from true. We are faced with the sad truth that when we ignore the application of sound doctrine to our practical living, we do so to our own detriment, both physically and spiritually, and of course, socially. Nevertheless, of one thing, we can be certain; whilst correct doctrine may not always produce godliness; godly living always comes from sound doctrine! Doctrinal integrity and godly living are equally of first importance in the making of ‘a man of God’ (I use this term generically).
Notice how Paul sees his duty as a servant of God in his letter to Titus: “to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness” (Tit 1:1, emphasis mine). In other words, a godly lifestyle is the appropriate way in which to reflect the knowledge of the truth and the faith one has. Paul lays down the pattern that would constitute godly behaviour and tells Titus that he should teach this, as the pattern for sound, god-honouring lifestyles. This teaching would become the sound doctrine that believers should practice. In fact, Paul earnestly admonishes Titus with these words: “But you teach what is fitting and becoming to sound (wholesome) doctrine (the character and right living that identify true Christians) (Titus2:1, Amplified version). Paul goes on in the same chapter to deal with specific teachings for various categories of believers.
Examine Paul’s writings in Romans, Galatians Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and 1Thessalonians. Notice that his method of instructing was to begin with principles, then follow with exhortations to live accordingly. It is never the other way around, and never the one without the other!
Simply put, Christian doctrine serves as the constitution for godly living. Why? Paul explains: “So that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (Titus 2:10). Now, here’s something worthy of serious thought by any disciple of Jesus!
(5) Sound doctrine allows no compromise.
The fifth reason we need sound doctrine is that the word of God is not to be compromised. Compromise renders it unsound.
What is ‘compromise’? It means the ‘settlement of a dispute by mutual concession’ or ‘the adjustment between conflicting opinions by modification of each’, or ‘to reach a consensus’ (Oxford Dictionary).
The inevitable question is: is compromise ok? After all, it seeks to bring opposing parties into agreement. Is that not a good thing?
From the viewpoint of biblical truth, the answer is no! More often than not, compromising can allow a watering down of fundamental truths. It’s a case of ‘a little yeast works its way through the whole batch of dough’. When compromise involves (among other things), redefining biblical concepts of the nature of the Godhead, sin, salvation, and eternal rewards and punishment, to name just a few core truths, it is simply not acceptable. A true defense of the faith precludes compromise (that is, it excludes, prevents, and makes it impracticable).
The important doctrines of orthodox Christianity are not up for adoption according to how we feel about them. We must receive them ‘in toto’ and be counted as Christians, or reject them ‘in toto’ and be counted as non-believers. There is no middle ground. Rejection of any single article in the Nicene Creed for example, is tantamount to a rejection of all of them. This is so because the creed sets out the core body of Christian belief. It comprises many individual truths, each of which is a vital component of the whole body of truth that it declares. To deny the individual truths of the resurrection, or the virgin birth, or the incarnation (for example), is to reject fundamental tenets of Christianity and consequently the collective body of truth regarding the godhead and God’s plan of salvation.
Have no doubt about it, compromise is tremendously popular. Compromise is the catchword in today’s diplomacy and in relationships everywhere, including the church. It is efficacious towards ‘unity’, and therein is its danger to the faith ‘handed down by the Apostles’. Compromising on essential doctrines does not bring about the ‘unity of the Spirit’ that the bible talks about. Only biblical truth under girds true spiritual unity; tolerance towards others’ unbiblical views or sentiments even if such people profess Christianity, does not! Popular opinion and universal agreement are not automatic endorsements of biblical truth - only scripture is.
Biblical values are constantly under the threat of compromise. The growing eagerness to change the moral laws of the land in Christian countries reflects an ever increasing shift towards acceptance of immorality in society. For example, the church is under constant pressure to reinterpret biblical teaching on sexual immorality because of the shift in the world’s moral standards. Clearly, this should not happen!
The bible warns about ‘calling evil good’. Shakespeare said “a rose by any other name is still a rose”. So it is with sin! But the world has found other more comfortable and less damning words for what the bible explicitly calls ‘sin’. New, more ‘acceptable’ and ‘enlightened’ terminology bombards us from every side. ‘Wife swapping’, ‘living together’, ‘same sex preferences’ are examples of terms that have been adopted into everyday vernacular, rendering what the Bible calls ‘adultery’ and fornication’ and ‘homosexuality’ not just harmless, and outdated, but not even sinful! In so-called Christian countries, the laws of the land have usurped authority in areas once considered the domain of the church, condoning and legalizing actions described by the bible as utterly sinful. Consequently, regular church going ‘Christians’ everywhere are adapting their theology and practice to suit the new standards. The absconding of sound doctrine leaves them practically no better than unbelievers. As Scripture says, “What does Christ have in common with Belial?” (2 Cor. 6:15).
In contrast, the true believer knows that God’s laws are higher than man’s laws. He acknowledges God is sovereign. He realizes he is responsible for his attitude towards sin in his life. He avails himself of God’s grace in his effort to turn away from it. For him, sin does not cease to be sin by majority vote, or by re-enactment of the laws of the land. He fully grasps the danger of compromising God’s standards. He knows he must put sound doctrine into practice.
(6) Sound doctrine is not an option for one who belongs to Christ
The sixth reason we need sound doctrine is that it is not an option – neither for the one who teaches, nor for those being taught. Further, the flock is not to be instructed in what they would prefer to know, but in what it is imperative that they know!
The Bible makes it clear that every believer not only can know sound doctrine but in fact commands him to do so.
It follows therefore that the onus of ‘being established’ in sound doctrine is twofold:
(1) On the teacher to teach correctly (we have already dealt with this aspect) and
(2) On the listener to test the veracity of the teaching by personal verification, not hearsay or third party opinion. Personal verification enables the establishment of truth through familiarity with its content. I believe one of the main reasons professing Christians defect to the cults and pseudo Christian faiths is because they are not familiar with the basic tenets of Christianity.
So we have here a word of warning: we have to be careful of what we believe, even when it comes from someone we may trust as a good teacher. In Acts 17:10-11 we find Paul declaring Christ to the Bereans. The account tells us that they did not receive his teaching blindly, but examined the Scriptures thoroughly to see whether what he said was true. It is important to note that at this time the NT scriptures as we know them today did not even exist! However, the Bereans were able to test the veracity of Paul’s teachings about Christ from the OT scriptures which spoke of Christ. This was no doubt pleasing to Paul who, in a letter to the Thessalonians, exhorted them to “examine all things and hold fast to that which is good." (1Thess. 5:21, NASB). All of us who listen to teaching must emulate the attitude of the Bereans.
Listen to Paul’s instruction Timothy: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Take note that the approval is before god, not men. This places a tremendous responsibility and accountability upon the teacher, who answers to god.
To ‘rightly divide the Word of God’ means to interpret it properly and to know its doctrine correctly. God gives the believer the ability to rightly divide the word if he pursues it diligently whilst sincerely seeking God’s help. This is the primary duty of ever teacher of the word, so that what he passes on is not corrupted.
The Scriptures plainly state that the believer can (i.e., is able to) know the truth because he has the Holy Spirit to teach him. “But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie comes from the truth” (1 John 2: 20-21). Verse 27 continues, “But as his anointing teaches you about all things, and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit - just as it has taught you, remain in him.”
The believers whom John was writing to clearly knew the truth. How was this? I believe it was because they met the following criteria for The Holy Spirit’s unction:
1. They walked in obedience. The Lord Jesus Christ gave the following promise in regard to knowing sound doctrine: “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17). To know sound doctrine one must be willing to obey the truth. If a man is open to the truth and willing to obey God, the Lord will give him wisdom so that he will be able to discern sound doctrine from false. In Proverbs 1:23, God says, “Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you.” God has promised to make His truth known to those who submit themselves to Him.
2. They continued in the study of God’s Word. “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, ‘If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’ ” (John 8:31-32). This implies diligence, perseverance, and familiarization with the word.
Remember the psalmist “thy word have I hidden in my heart that I may not sin.” Refer also to the longest Psalm (119) which uses the words ‘laws, precepts, decrees’, with great regularity. This psalmist was ‘established’ in God’s word.
If we are to know God’s truth, we too must walk in obedience. God revealed his ways to Moses but to the Israelites, he only showed his acts. This is just as true of the church today.
(7) Neglecting sound doctrine brings grave danger
The seventh reason that we need sound doctrine is that neglecting to live by it, or rejecting it, brings serious danger.
Consequences of unsound doctrine
Unsound teaching in relation to the godhead results in a God who conforms to our own imaginations, not the God of the Bible. This is evidenced, for example, by the heresies that the early church dealt with in relation to the deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity. It was the need to once for all declare what constituted the essential beliefs of Christianity that the Nice and Athanasian Creeds came into existence.
A church can become unhealthy or unbalanced when sound doctrine is not consistently taught, leaving the way open for spiritual abuse and heresies. This is evident, for example, in churches where the main focus of their meeting together is in the pursuit of experiences such as signs and wonders, miracles prophetic utterances, healing and casting out demons. Proponents of such gatherings foster the false teaching that the Holy Spirit is not present unless He manifests his presence through the phenomena described. These false teachings undermine the proper understanding of scripture by fostering a seeker attitude rather than a proper worship attitude, The inevitable result is a growing number of professing Christians who are spiritually dysfunctional, without an opportunity to grow to maturity in grace and truth, and oblivious to the believer’s position and security in Christ. The underlying reason for their sad condition is that they have neglected to train themselves in the godliness that sound doctrine produces.
When sound doctrine does not form the basis for one’s faith, the door is left wide open for the pied pipers of false teachings to lure one away to ‘another faith’ and ‘another Jesus’. The Jehovah’s witnesses and Mormons are only two of numerous such groups that masquerade as Christian denominations. Their hapless victims, having no proper foundation in Christian doctrine, and therefore unable to discern the error of their arguments, are led away by their convincing persuasions to believe in their fake gospel.
And then there is the very grave danger of religion degenerating into cultic forms because of wrong doctrine. On November 18, 1978, 912 followers of American cult leader Jim Jones ("Peoples Temple") died in a remote South American jungle compound called "Jonestown" in British Guyana. Some members were shot, others were forced to drink poison, but most willingly participated in what Jones said was an act of "revolutionary suicide." Another memorable example that made headlines worldwide is the Branch Davidian religious sect, headed by David Koresh, in which he, with 54 adults and 21 children died in a fire after their citadel came under siege by the FBI in 1993.
In his first letter to Timothy, Paul describe what happens when men depart from the basis of biblical truth: "Some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth" (1 Tim.4:1-3).
Take note - Lying, hypocrisy, a dulled conscience, and false religious practices all have roots in wrong doctrine. These are at the heart of false doctrines, as we shall see when we examine some of them later.
Qualities of those who have unsound doctrine
The bible tells us about the character of those who oppose sound doctrine and warns against the doctrines they bring.
Those who oppose sound doctrine are:
Proud and ignorant (1Tim. 6:3-4)
Abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work (Titus 1:16)
Not to be received (2 John 10)
To be avoided (Rom 16:17)
[End of Part 2]
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