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Our Christian Faith
Doctrinal Discernment - Part 1
Friday, December 5, 2009 at 9:30pm

For most Christians today, the challenge of learning how to discern orthodox from heretical doctrine has apparently not been faced.

Christian doctrine is extremely relevant to all people. Christian doctrine (i.e., the teachings of Scripture) answers the fundamental questions of life -- questions such as who God is, who we are, and why we are here (Psalms 8:3-8; Heb. 11:6). How we answer these questions decisively shapes the way we live. To ignore them is to go through life blithely unaware of what is really important.

"I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!" Galatians 1:6-9 (NASB)

Doctrine is particularly important because a sound proclamation of the gospel of salvation depends on an accurate understanding of what that gospel is, what salvation is, and how salvation is received (Gal. 1:6-9; 1 Tim. 4:16). Nothing less than our eternal future depends on it.

This is not meant to imply that we must all become theologians and experts on every fine point of doctrine to be saved. But the church as a whole must take great care that it faithfully proclaims the true gospel, and every Christian has a stake in the matter.

It is true that some doctrinal issues are less important than others. One of the most crucial functions of Christian theology, and one of the most neglected, is to sort out the really important -- the essential -- from the less important and even the irrelevant (cf. Rom. 14).

The practical importance of Christian doctrine, then, is great indeed. Doctrine enables us to develop a realistic view of the world and of ourselves, without which we are doomed to ineffectual living (Matt. 22:23-33; Rom. 12:3; 2 Tim. 4:3-4).

"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths." 2 Timothy 4:3-4 (NASB)

Doctrine can protect us from believing falsehoods which upset people's faith or lead to destructive behavior (1 Tim. 4:1-6; 2 Tim. 2:18; Tit. 1:11). Doctrine also prepares us to minister to others (Eph. 4:11-12).

"But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times 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. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer. In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. " 1 Timothy 4:1-6 (NASB)

Perhaps the most common criticism people voice about doctrine is that it divides people. And indeed, doctrine -- in the history of Christianity as in other religions -- has often been allowed to divide people in reprehensible ways. But in a crucial sense doctrine is intended to unite people.

While it is true that doctrine inevitably divides people, this is not something that can be avoided. The Bible commands Christians to divide themselves from false teachers or heretics on the basis of doctrinal factors (Rom. 16:17; 2 John 9-11). In doing so, they are to stand together in unity against heresy (Eph. 4:12-13). Thus, taking a stand against heresy can promote genuine Christian unity.

As Christians mature together in their understanding of biblical doctrine, they become more united as their thinking becomes shaped more and more along the same lines (1 Cor. 1:10). Moreover, a balanced understanding of doctrine can help Christians divided by doctrinal differences to be reconciled as they learn which points are minor or unsound and which are not (1 Tim. 6:3-5; Tit. 1:9-14). It turns out that shallow understanding of doctrine easily promotes disunity among Christians, while deepening understanding of doctrine tends to foster greater Christian unity.

"holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach ..." Titus 1:9-11 (NASB)

Christian doctrine teaches us about God, His purposes and will for our lives, what we are like spiritually apart from God's grace, how God's grace changes us -- in short, everything we need to know in order to pursue true spirituality (Rom. 6:17-18; 1 Tim. 1:5, 10; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).

In pursuing an accurate understanding of Christian doctrine, we are fulfilling one aspect of God's greatest commandment -- that we love God with all our minds (Matt. 22:37). This commandment surely implies that we should take great care and make every effort to conform our beliefs and convictions to the truth (cf. Rom. 12:2) -- and this means doctrine.

The Bible also encourages Christians to use their knowledge of Christian doctrine in discerning truth from error and good from evil. The classic example of this is 1 John 4:1-3, where John commands us not to believe everyone claiming to be speaking by God's Spirit. Similarly, in 2 John 9 we are told to watch ourselves and not be deceived by anyone who "does not abide (KJV "remain") in the teaching (KJV "doctrine") of Christ." In 1 Corinthians, Paul not only speaks of spiritual discernment but also presents doctrinal arguments in answer to the heretical belief that "there is no resurrection of the dead" (1 Cor. 15:12-19).

Scripture commands all Christians to learn doctrine. Many Christians "have become dull of hearing" and hold themselves back from advancing in doctrinal understanding (Heb. 5:11-14). Sound doctrine is difficult enough to require honesty and discipline, yet easy enough that -- with the exceptions such as small children, the mentally retarded, and certain others that might be incapable of understanding doctrinal matters) -- the vast majority of adults -- young and old -- are able to understand much more than they have bothered to learn.

Every individual is responsible to acquire doctrinal knowledge as their mental faculties, educational level, and opportunities allow. All who seek God's grace and commit themselves to the task can learn it (2 Pet. 3:16-18).

"Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil." Hebrews 5:11-14 (NASB)

"... our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. " 2 Peter 3:15-18 (NASB)


Footnotes:

http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/cri/cri-jrnl/web/crj0041a.html


  If I were to keep quiet, the stones would cry out ! 

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Amen.

Pete, Sr.

 

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