The Pattern of Sound Teaching

The Pattern of Sound Teaching

John Belamay

We live in an era of great ignorance in the Christian Church. Jerome in his day, when attacked for not using the Septuagint as the basis for his new Latin translation (he used Hebrew), lamented the fact that there was prevalent an idea which equated ignorance with holiness. This is no more true than if we would equate scholarship with holiness.

Holding the Truth in Balance

We have an abundance of doctrinal ignorance today, an anti-intellectual approach to our faith, a disproportionate stress on service and experience with a studied de-emphasizing of doctrine. Doctrine is treated by many evangelists as of little importance. I am not referring to theological hair-splitting. I am referring to a stance which under-evaluates the role of the mind, the intellect; as well as the importance of truth, belief and understanding.

I know that Christianity is more than amassing and learning a great number of facts; that being a Christian is more than being able to give answers to a series of questions. But because it is more than that does not mean it is devoid of factual content. Because of the dangers of a dead orthodoxy; of an approach to Christianity that is all head, and not heart, we don’t have to be all heart and no head, all emotion and no intellect, all activity which can’t be related to solid Biblical Christianity.

There is a body of truth that God revealed, and to know this and to be able to defend it, preserve it, and to propagate it, is the task of every Christian, and especially of every minister of the gospel.

“Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.” In 2 Timothy 1:12-14, Paul speaks of two things:

    1. Of committing something to God which the apostle is confident that God will guard and maintain.

    2. Because of this, God has committed something to you and you must preserve and propagate it.

“The things you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, the same commit to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2).

What are these things?

One meets in the Pastoral Epistles a phrase, “sound teaching” or “doctrine.” As an example examine:

· 1 Timothy 1:10—which speaks of “practices contrary to sound doctrine.

· 1 Timothy 6:3—which speaks of those who do not adhere to the wholesome words of our Lord Jesus and the teaching which is according to godliness.

· 2 Timothy 4:3—which speaks of a time when men will not endure sound doctrine.

· Titus 2:1—which speaks of things which become sound doctrine.

The basic task which God entrusted to us is the presentation and the propagation of this which Paul refers to as “sound doctrine.” What is sound doctrine? We think in terms of doctrinal impeccability and presuppose that “sound doctrine” is speaking primarily of doctrinal orthodoxy in the sense of assent to a statement of faith. This is to overstress the noun and neglect the adjective. It is not sound doctrine nor is it sound doctrine. IT IS sound doctrine.

You find the term in the Gospels where one is physically healed. It is a hygenic term meaning health producing, or healing. The doctrine of the Bible is not teaching given to illuminate our understanding, to be a subject of speculation and discussions to provide material for controversy; its purpose is in its effect upon our character and conduct. The teaching is wholesome, producing good health for the soul. Orthodoxy is a means to an end. Man’s faith (credenda) should be his occupation (agenda). What he believes (what God calls health-producing teaching) must permeate to all levels so that what he is (character) and what he does (conduct) are changed.

God has given us a Word profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness (right living). It is an educative word which teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world. It is a powerful doctrine which will unleash a divine resource in those we minister to, that can make the principle of love to be active and operative in one’s life, a word when savingly believed will be effective in revolutionizing the spiritual hygenics of both the individual and society. It is a doctrine which is according to godliness (1 Timothy 6:3). Here is a word that can effect such changes as to make men described as being spiritually sick from the sole of the foot to the head with wounds and bruises—sound and healthy and spiritually robust. (Isaiah 1:5, 6).

The Need for Spiritual Maturity

This sound doctrine we are to defend, preserve, promulgate, and teach. Men and women in our churches should be able to do the same. But there is rampant today a “dullness of hearing” (Hebrews 5:11). Here, when the writer wanted to bring out more of the glories of Christ in relation to the Melchisedic priesthood, there was an abysmal ignorance which precluded his continuing the topic. Those “who ought to have been teachers” had need of being taught the “first principles of the oracles of God” (Hebrews 5:12). “You need milk and not strong meat.” There is something radically wrong with a grown-up taking only milk and having no appetite or capacity for meat.

True religion is found where men think, feel and act properly in relation to God. Salvation involves the restoration of the whole man made in the image of God, and fallen (intellect, emotion and will), to a harmonious restored relationship with God.

“Let the wicked forsake his ways, and the unrighteous his thoughts” (Isaiah 55:7).

Our thoughts must be re-oriented, brought into captivity to Christ: “As a man thinketh so is he.”

We must not nourish up a generation of spiritual dwarfs, but full grown “men in understanding” (1 Corinthians 14:20). According to Romans 12:2, the way to an acceptable conduct to God is through the renewal of the mind.

For us to properly indoctrinate those committed to us is not a second-rate task which we can get around to if we have enough time left over after doing the other manifold tasks conceived to be the function of the modern church. It was the desire and the program of the apostles to give themselves “continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4). We are all by nature possessed by a darkened understanding (Ephesians 4:18) which can only be enlightened by the entrance of the Word of God. Christians have remained all too often as “children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every kind of doctrine.” For too long many have been all too limited in their ability to “give an answer to every man that asketh a reason for their hope.”

What Christianity Is

If Christianity is presented basically as something to make people happy, they will have an experience, but the results will be temporary and ineffective. Feeling and enthusiasm not grounded in the truth of God will be religious enthusiasm, but not Christian experience. Someone has rightly said, “Experience without doctrinal roots is like cut flowers stuck in the ground. They soon die.” This is pictured in the parable of the sower in Matthew 13 where Jesus describes the response of immediate religious enthusiasm as being only of temporary duration. It is the truth of God directed to the man (feelings and will, character and conduct) harmoniously to God.

Christianity is a story, a doctrine, and an experience, and in that order. It is the story of God’s redemptive actions in history with the divine revealed meaning of those actions (doctrine). Christian experience arises out of the story and its divinely revealed meaning. Where the story and the doctrines are unknown, Christianity cannot exist. Where the story and the doctrines are despised and minimized, Christianity cannot exist except in a dwarfed unhealthy form. To be a Christian one must believe the doctrines of Christianity. This means we must know the facts and the divinely revealed meaning of the facts. There is more to being a Christian than just knowing certain facts and their meaning, but that is the foundation. There is more to a house than the foundation, but, after all, what is a house without a foundation? You can’t have the house without the foundation. You can’t have Christian experience separated from the facts of Christianity and the doctrines of Christianity. True knowledge of God is necessary to true feeling about Him, for God can’t be loved where He is not known!

Christianity must not be presented as an appeal to the will alone. As Martin Lloyd Jones says, “If a great bombardment is made upon the wills of men, there are certain wills that are sure to respond. They will decide because they have been pressed to decide.” Again such decisions will be temporary. We must come to men with the truth. The truth will, by the Holy Spirit, move the heart and lead the will to obedience. It is the truth which is conducive to godliness (1 Timothy 6:3).

It is the wholesome, healing doctrine revealed by God which is designed to produce a moral revolution in the lives of those who savingly believe. We who are instruments in the preservation and promulgation of it, must be living examples of the fact that it is the truth productive of godliness. There is an interconnectedness between Biblical knowledge (knowledge in the Bible demands involvement.) Exchanging the truth of God for a lie results in worshipping and serving the creature more than the Creator (Romans 1:25). We with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord are being changed into the same image (2 Corinthians 3: 18).

I am not pleading for an arid intellectualism; I am pleading for the order and balance of Paul in Romans 6:17, “But thanks be to God, that whereas ye were servants of sin, you became obedient (service, will) from the heart (emotion) to that form of doctrine (truth) delivered to you.” It is neither doctrine or experience, nor doctrine or service. The truth of God ought to be the foundation of our experience and service.

Every Christian needs to be instructed by the church so that he can be an effective agent in the preservation or propagation of the gospel. We must minister to the total man—mind, emotion, will. Every Christian is to be engaged in the activity of intelligently preserving and presenting the gospel. In Malachi 2:7 we read, “For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth.” For us who say we believe in the priesthood of all believers, this may mean that we must consider our number one job to be that of having a ministry which educates our people to an intelligent understanding so that “they may be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:1). Then we will be following the example of Paul who states his philosophy of this ministry very clearly in Colossians 1:28-29: “He it is whom we proclaim. We admonish everyone without distinction, we instruct everyone in all the ways of wisdom, so as to present each one of you as a mature member of Christ’s Body.”