Saturday, September 6, 2014

" Sound doctrine ... the responsibility of all who preach and teach God's Word ..."

Day #253:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - September 7th

Scripture Reading:  Titus 1 - 3 ...

There are those today who believe that there is too much emphasis on "doctrine" in "conservative" or "mainline" churches.  The pentecostal movement of forty-plus years ago taught people to be open to the Spirit and to a "word from the Lord."  It seems that the only doctrine (which means a "principle or teaching to be believed as true") that some want to accept is that each person is free "in the Spirit" to interpret the Bible and their inner feelings in order to discover truth.  Without getting into a debate over where that has led in the past three or four decades, it is a dangerous position for those who are responsible to preach and teach the truth that God has revealed.  If in any way "doctrine" is subject to the interpretation (or misinterpretation) of people like you and me, we can't be sure of anything we hear.  That is exactly where many people have landed.  Christianity is lumped with every other religion as a stale, meaningless attempt to enslave unwitting people into a system of belief for the benefit of those who stand to gain power or wealth or influence.

Such skepticism, while understandable, leaves people without God and without hope.  If we cannot know the truth then we must live without knowledge, without assurance and without a foundation for life.  We are then left to the supposed wisdom of our day or of past generations who have left us the world we have before us ... not exactly a ringing endorsement!  However, the teaching that is circulating today concerning "doctrine" and the inability of anyone to know truth is itself a doctrine - a false doctrine.  As Paul writes to Titus, a young pastor taught and appointed by Paul, who had been sent to the island of Crete to establish biblical leadership in the churches there by appointing elders (overseers), he explains to him that those who have rejected "sound doctrine" were to be refuted and opposed (1:9).

He told Titus that such men "claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him" (1:16).  What actions was Paul talking about?  They were teaching false "doctrine."  True doctrine is that which has been inspired by God in His Word.  The mistake of the church of Rome early on was that it began to mix the doctrines of men with the teaching of God's Word, and eventually the "tradition" of the church became confused with sound doctrine.  It remains the same today.  Others added their own doctrines, claiming that these doctrines were found in God's Word.  As Peter said, these "twist and distort the Scriptures to their own destruction" (II Peter 3:16).  Most of the debates within the visible church today have little to do with sound interpretation of the Scriptures, but arise rather from a failure to study the whole Bible, taking verses out of their context to prove a teaching that is based on tradition ... denominations are "famous" for doing so.

In the 1500's and 1600's, the time of the "Reformation," many turned to the written Word of God as the "only rule of faith and practice."  They did not "develop" their own doctrine, but earnestly sought the Scriptures, believing that the same Spirit who inspired the writers to write God's Word was now living in them and would give them understanding as they studied, prayed and grew in knowledge together.  Sadly, while sound doctrine was the fruit of the Reformation, denominations were also formed and the visible church was hopelessly divided into groups, each of whom had their own "views" on certain things.  Words like "Calvinism" and "Lutheran" and "Baptist" and "Presbyterian," to mention a few, joined with "Catholic" to describe a set of "doctrines" specific to certain groups and each insisted that THEIR set of teachings was the only true teaching ...

So what about Paul and Titus and the early believers?  What did THEY believe??  These were the days when the Church was being formed.  There was in every city where the Gospel was preached and believed by some ONE Church - not many.  While they had their divisions (read Paul's letters to the Corinthians), there was no question that there was TRUTH to be believed or rejected.  So Paul says of Elders that they "must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he (they) can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it" (Titus 1:9).  Paul tells Titus that these teachers of FALSE doctrine "must be silenced" and that he should "rebuke them sharply, so that they may be sound in the faith" (1:13).

Titus was charged with teaching "what is in accord with sound doctrine" (2:1).  That means Titus needed to know what sound doctrine WAS and the only way he would know that is if he had been taught! (1:9).  Paul was a Pharisee and knew the Old Testament well.  Then he met Jesus, and was born again by the Spirit.  That enabled him to rightly interpret/understand the truth concerning God's promises and the Gospel that Jesus taught His disciples.  That is what Paul had passed on to Timothy and Titus and others, and what is passed on to us in his letters to the churches.  By the guidance of the Holy Spirit sound doctrine was written down for us.  That is why it is so strange today to hear those who want to emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit exchange the sound doctrine of God's Word for what can only be described as self-interpreted "words" from a source believed to be God.  Where such "words" are in accord with Scripture, they are simply understanding given by God to those who seek Him through His Word.  But where these "revelations" go beyond God's Word and add to God's Word ... or in some cases are contrary to God's Word, they must be rejected.

Sound doctrine is based on God's revelation of truth found in His written Word.  The beauty of this truth is that all who are born again by the Spirit have the same Teacher and the same textbook.  That means there is ONE Church and where we may not agree we can sit down with each other and study God's Word together and arrive at truth that is true for everyone.  Isn't that a novel idea?  So long as it is more important to you or me to "defend" my own teaching or my own doctrine or my church's tradition, we will forever be hopelessly divided.  But those who are chosen by God (the elect - 1:1) have all been "baptized by one Spirit" (I Corinthians 12:13) and therefore are ONE in Christ Jesus.  In this day in which we live we need each other!  The forces of evil are mounting their last stand against God's Anointed and against His body and we must stand firm in the faith that has once for all been entrusted to us (Jude 3).

How shall we then live?  "The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men" (people from every tribe, nation and tongue).  It teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope - the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good" (2:11-14).  It is GOD who chooses us, calls us, saves us and gives us eternal life.  We belong to Him and sound doctrine comes from Him alone and is centered in Jesus Christ.  All Scripture points to Him ... from beginning to end.

All who are saved are saved by grace "through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit" (3:4-5).  Anyone who teaches contrary to this, that those who have not been born again can somehow believe and be saved, is not teaching sound doctrine.  What comes FIRST is important because the Gospel gives glory to GOD and not to man.  Those thus saved by grace "devote themselves to doing what is good," (3:8) not in order to become saved, but because they have already been saved through the working of the Spirit.  Now that same Spirit enables them to obey God's Word, to live in faith and obedience for the glory of God, "so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive" (2:10).

Oh, how the church today needs sound doctrine, and it is the responsibility of all who preach and teach God's Word to study and to do our 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" (II Timothy 2:15).  The church needs such men, called of God and filled with His Spirit.  Sound doctrine is God's gift to the Church and true teaching will always be confirmed by the Bible, the inerrant, infallible Word of God.  Study God's Word, listen carefully to those who teach and be sure that what you are hearing is truth from God's Word.  Remember how Paul himself commended the Bereans because "they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true" (Acts 17:11).

May there be such diligence in the Church today, on the part of those who teach and those who hear, that God may be glorified, the name of Jesus be exalted, and those who believe be equipped to proclaim and defend the truth against all those who oppose it.  Sound doctrine - learn to love it and to crave it as food for the soul!!

"My Father and my God, You have revealed Your truth in Your Word through the prophets and apostles, and through Your Son Jesus Christ and the work of His Spirit in those who wrote what You led them to write.  Raise up leaders in Your Church who will be faithful to proclaim the sound doctrine revealed in the Bible and give wisdom to those who lead and those who hear to rightly understand what You have revealed.  Give us strength in these days to stand firm against the false doctrine of false teachers and to defend the truth that alone is able to save those who believe and to equip us for life and godliness, to the praise of our Savior!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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