CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Yes Sound Doctrine Matters Absolutely

Jul 5, 2015

It seems like we can say with certainty that the more the Word of God stresses something, the more the compromised, carnal and trendy church of today will ignore it or downplay it. Happens all the time regrettably. And one thing stressed repeatedly and empathetically in the Bible is the importance of right teaching or sound doctrine.

The New Testament over and over again speaks to the vital importance of making sure we have and believe correct teaching, and warns in the strongest terms against false teachers and false doctrine. These numerous passages make it clear that wrong thinking, like wrong living, can and will exclude people from the Kingdom.

I have written on these matters quite often now, but it seems there is always more need to repeat some of these basic biblical truths, given all the rampant biblical illiteracy which exists – and I am not talking about the world here, but the Christian church!

doctrine 7All the time I am getting Christians who tell me that doctrine does not matter, that theology is unimportant, and so on. Examples of this are legion. One guy recently told me that the only criteria for salvation is faith. He went on to say this: “We are not saved by correct doctrine (otherwise none of us would be saved; for we all have blind spots)”.

Another fellow said something similar: “If we are only saved by right understanding, we have no hope, and Christ has no role.” Of course with both these remarks we have some truth being spoken, but some real error as well. A simple reply to the latter remark would be this:

Who said we are only saved by right understanding? Creating straw men to shoot down helps nothing in this debate. Everywhere the New Testament stresses right belief and right behaviour as indicators of whether we are really saved or not. We are of course saved by grace through faith, but biblical orthodoxy and orthopraxis are held up as of the highest importance in Scripture.

As to the unhelpful idea that faith alone is all that’s needed for salvation, a few things can be said. Right doctrine is absolutely essential in this. If this were not the case, then why did Paul for example actually bring down a curse of eternal damnation on those who proclaimed “another gospel”? I can’t see how Paul could be any plainer than this, as he said in Galatians 1:6-9:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

We find nothing here about mere faith or just being a good person or anything else. What can damn a person to hell is promoting a false gospel – wrong teaching in other words. And the implication is clear: to believe in such a false gospel equally puts one in jeopardy. Good doctrine matters – eternally so.

And Paul of course is not alone in stressing over and over again the utter importance of right belief and sound doctrine. Consider what John also says. Try just a few passages on this: 1 John 2:22-23: “Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist – denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.”

Also consider 2 John 7-11:

I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work.

False teaching and false doctrine will take you to hell. Biblical faith is always built on biblical truth. There is no other acceptable faith. Faith is never simply just a nebulous feeling or a content-less vapour. Faith is always based solidly on biblical truth. Biblical faith is filled with biblical content.

And the fact that none of us have 100% correct doctrine is a real red herring. Of course no one has 100% perfect doctrine. No one has 100% perfect anything – even born-again believers. But that is not the point. Without basic biblical truth there can be no salvation. Hopefully we all grow in the truth over time, but truth matters – hugely. Believing the wrong thing can send you to a lost eternity.

Sure, we can differ on plenty of secondary doctrines, but primary ones must not be compromised or merely voted on. So in this sense biblical faith is never mere feeling or something lacking in content, but is always based on biblical truth – the ‘faith once delivered to all the saints’ eg, as Jude 1:3 states.

There are different senses then of the term faith. There is personal faith (reliance upon and agreement with what God has spoken) which we must all exercise, but there is also “the faith” (a set of propositions, affirmations and beliefs which we must all adhere to).

Saving faith always involves both elements. There must be a personal commitment to biblical truth, but this truth is not void of content, but features very specific truths which we must affirm (we are all sinners; Christ came to die for our sins; we must turn from sin and exercise repentance and faith in Christ; etc.).

Thus doctrine is vital even in terms of becoming a Christian, let alone in living out the Christian life. Right belief is essential, and it must never be divorced from right living. In fact Paul makes this quite clear in places like 1 Timothy 6:16: “Pay close attention to your life and your teaching”.

Failure to not pay close heed to what we believe and how we live will have a real bearing on whether or not we are actually saved. So yes, doctrine is vitally important. A content-less faith is not biblical faith. The faith that saves and builds us up as believers is a faith built on the foundation of basic biblical teaching.

Back in 1923 J. Gresham Machen penned a very important volume called Christianity and Liberalism. In it he stressed the overwhelming importance of doctrine to the life of the believer and the church. Let me finish with three brief quotes from this valuable work:

“But if any one fact is clear, on the basis of this evidence, it is that the Christian movement at its inception was not just a way of life in the modern sense, but a way of life founded upon a message. It was based, not upon mere feeling, not upon a mere program of work, but upon an account of facts. In other words it was based upon doctrine. There should certainly be no debate with regard to Paul himself. Paul was not indifferent to doctrine. On the contrary, doctrine was the very basis of his life.”

“But the tolerance of Paul was not indiscriminate. He displayed no tolerance in Galatia, for example. There were rival preachers there too. But Paul had no tolerance for them. ‘But though we,’ he said, ‘or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed’ (Gal. 1:8).”

“It never occurred to Paul that a gospel might be true for one man and not for another; the blight of pragmatism had never fallen upon his soul. Paul was convinced of the objective truth of the gospel message, and devotion to that truth was the great passion of his life. Christianity for Paul was not only a life, but also a doctrine, and logically the doctrine came first.”

[1432 words]

16 Responses to Yes Sound Doctrine Matters Absolutely

  • Once again, Bill, you’ve addressed a vital aspect of our faith that is being challenged everywhere. Relativism and pragmatism are being used in many quarters to justify sloppy thinking and immoral lifestyles – even among those who subscribe to Christianity.

  • Bill, Thank you for another powerful article. I am hopelessly addicted to your website. I will usually start my day by downloading your articles to my Kindle so that I can read them during the day. Keep up the great work and God’s speed in all that you do.

  • Many thanks David. Blessings.

  • Thanks, Bill, for the comfort and encouragement of this and all your articles! I agree totally. Today’s credo for Christians and non-believers is not “I believe therefore I am” or even “I think, therefore I am”, but “I feel, therefore I am.” What we believe has to give us that warm, fuzzy, “We are the world” feeling inside our tummies, or it’s not real. What we are seeing is a winnowing out of those who really follow Jesus and those who only think they do.

  • Thankyou very much Bill. This article helps put things in perspective and has really clarified the issues for me.

    On another topic, but vitally important at present. If anyone doubts that legalising homosexual marriage will have consequences for freedom of speech etc, please read about the situation which has developed in Canada. It’s on the Aleteia website: [email protected] “A warning from Canada: same-sex marriage erodes fundamental rights.”

  • You are absolutely correct about faith. Nowhere in the scriptures does it say that faith is equivalent to licentiousness quite the reverse. The problem with using Galatians to make this point is that the Galatians were quite moral people who were being seduced into OT thinking. Jesus was very clear that the new wine had to be put into new vessels but people were still entitled to try and gain salvation through the OT, if they thought the old wine was better but under no circumstances were the two to be mixed. I once without thinking made that mistake. I had a good crop of mandarins on my tree. I had a fire going and without thinking I burned the first, very nice one as sort of a love offering to God. Man did I get in trouble for that. It was made very clear that I had insulted the sacrifice of God. In retrospect it was an incredibly stupid thing to do. Faith is not thinking that sacrifice is not necessary to cover sins but that Jesus sacrifice has been given to all who repent and receive it.

    In Matthew Jesus says:-
    Mat_5:19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

    Which makes it absolutely clear that the threshold for making it into Heaven for NT believers is the “least commandment.” The problem with what the SS’M’ advocates are saying, as I tried to point out previously, is that they are not only breaking and teaching the breaking of major commandments but they are teaching the breaking of multiple, major commandments. I seriously doubt the real Jesus is going to say “No I was just overstating it. You do whatever you want” because to do that would, again, make Jesus a liar and if you think Jesus is a liar you simply cannot have actual faith. The faith they are exhibiting is not faith in Jesus it is faith in the world and their false teachers and in the idea that sacrifice is not necessary to cover sin or that you don’t need to repent to respect and receive that sacrifice.

  • Brian Pratt has provided only an email address. The source for the article he recommends is as follows:

    Dawn Stefanowicz, “A warning from Canada: same-sex marriage erodes fundamental rights”, Public Discourse (Witherspoon Institute, Princeton, New Jersey), April 24, 2015.
    URL: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2015/04/14899/

    Bill quoted Dawn, and other individuals raised by homosexual couples, in a recent post of his: “Let the children speak” at:
    URL: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2015/03/20/let-the-children-speak/

    John Ballantyne, Melbourne.

  • Thanks for that John – and Brian.

  • Thankyou Bill, those who know and love the Word of God now need to remain strong and show obedience whatever the cost. Blessings for you faithfulness, Marg and Paul.

  • Many thanks Paul & Marg.

  • Thank you Bill – I needed to see this as I am getting such a backlash for standing for truth – just like you said being called unloving, not Christ honoring and on it goes. My heart grieves so heavily as I see so much of the watering down of God’s word and pop psychology approach – my husband and I are struggling as we search for a new church because of this.

  • I agree totally Bill. During our requests for prayer in the church service in the last two weeks, one thing was glaringly missing in view of recent events in America and Australia ie prayer for marriage. I myself was too slow and also wary of how to word my request for prayer, as I am already labelled as “bringing politics into church”. I spoke to the minister later about what I saw as the ‘elephant in the room during the prayer time’ and he said he totally agreed with me but he knew not everyone would so he didn’t want anything said.
    I am afraid many leaders will be held to account for their ‘people pleasing’ weak leadership. I have never heard a prayer upholding marriage in our church during this whole battle in parliament. Even when I dared to suggest that our PM needed our prayer that was howled down from the pulpit as being ‘political’ before I even said why. I was very tempted to leave over that but after prayer decided I could do more good by hanging in there and not running away. I know many churches in our area are just as bad. The closest we get to praying for our government is a prayer that ‘our leaders will listen to the people and do the right thing’. Even to pray for God’s will seems too discriminating against unbelievers.

  • Bill, thank you for this and your other outstanding articles. I enjoy reading them and frequently pass them on via email or Facebook. Since marriage was brought up in these comments I want to share an experience from a few years back. I was an active member of an Evangelical Free church in my area in TN. It was 2004, a presidential election year here in the US. There was also legislative action coming up in Congress concerning marriage. A small group of my friends in the church were very concerned about both and had been meeting to pray. We approached the church elders and asked if they would allow us to have literature and information on party platforms and the marriage legislation in the lobby. We also asked them to encourage people to come by our table and take the materials we had worked hard to procure. We took them copies of everything we had so they would know what we were providing for the people’s information and education on the issues facing us as a nation and as Christians in a culture which was growing hostile to our faith. After much prodding they finally allowed us to have a small table outside the worship center but they refused to say anything from the pulpit asking people to stop by and avail themselves of the information. Even more distressing to us was their adamant refused to say anything to admonish people to be informed on what the Bible has to say about marriage or to research what the candidates in the presidential election stood for and to study the party platforms before voting. We simply wanted them to ask the church members to consider Biblical teachings and to seek God’s will when they went to the polls. They would not do this and their reason was……”We have cars in the parking lot with Kerry/Edwards bumper stickers and we don’t want to offend anyone.” Suffice it to say, I left that church about a year later. My departure was not that issue alone but was combined with what I thought was an emphasis on trends in Christianity becoming popular at that time which were inconsistent with Biblcal orthodoxy. I talked with the senior pastor and other elders before I left and respectfully shared my concerns. I was ostracized and once publically shamed from the pulpit. It was a very difficult experience but one that I believe is not uncommon today. To faithfully follow the instruction of Jude v3 was my desire. It is to this day.

  • Oh dear – thanks for sharing your story Sharon. Keep standing strong and God bless you.

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