“Right Doctrine for Right Living” series: (post #2)
When you are looking for a church, what should be at the top of your list of criteria? The size of the church? Nope. The location of the church? Nope. The church’s decor? Nope. A pastor who preaches the way you like? Nope. Your type of singing? Nope. A vibrant youth ministry? Nope. The first question to ask is always, “Does this church teach right doctrine?”
Admittedly, the answer to this question can get confusing because all churches claim to teach right doctrine. Think about it, have you ever heard a church advertise itself by saying, “Hey, if you’re looking for seriously messed-up doctrine, we’re the place for you”? No, you haven’t. Even cults purport to teach the truth.
So, if you can’t trust what any church says about the correctness of its doctrine, where can you go to find right doctrine? Oh, the answer to that question is easy. If you are looking for right doctrine, the river’s head source of it is the Bible.
Someone might ask, “But what about a church’s or a denomination’s statement of beliefs? What about Christian colleges and seminaries? What about commentaries and study Bibles? What about Christian websites and publications? What about big-time preachers on t.v.?” Well, it’s certainly possible that all of these avenues might present doctrinal truth, but it’s equally as possible (and seemingly increasingly more so) that they might not. A correct understanding of the Bible, on the other hand, will never lead you astray.
In 2 Timothy 3:16, the Bible says:
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (N.K.J.V.)
You might want to take a moment and reread that verse, this time making sure to notice the first item on the list for which God-inspired scripture is good. That would be doctrine. Surely that is God’s way of telling us, “Of all the Bible’s uses, the gleaning of right doctrine is its most important.”
Of course, the problem that we have is that even those who teach wrong doctrine usually supposedly back up their false teachings by using Bible passages. What allows them to do this is the fact that the Bible is so incredibly diverse and rich that you can use it to “prove” just about anything. For example, did you know that the early Christians owned a Honda automobile? Sure they did. Acts 2:1 plainly says: “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.”
Okay, okay, maybe that wasn’t a serious example. So now let me offer a legitimate one. Let’s say that I want to take the Bible and “prove” that bigamy/polygamy is doctrinally sound? Is there a way for me to do that? You bet. All I have to do is use two passages. Watch this:
And God gave Solomon wisdom and exceedingly great understanding, and largeness of heart like the sand of the seashore. Thus Solomon’s wisdom exceeded the wisdom of all the men of the East and all the wisdom of Egypt. (1 Kings 4:30-31, N.K.J.V.)
And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. (1 Kings 11:3, N.K.J.V.)
You see, all I have to do is go to the pulpit, read those two passages, and say, “Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived, and he understood the wisdom in having hundreds of wives. His only mistake was in that he married the wrong women, women who turned his heart away from God.” For that matter, I could even add in that other great men of God such as Jacob and David also had multiple wives.
But now let’s say that I want to go to the other extreme and preach that it is never God’s will for anyone to marry. Can I find any Bible passages to support this doctrine? Yes, I can. My “proof” text can be the words of Paul, who was unmarried, as found in 1 Corinthians 7:7-8:
For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that. But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: Is is good for them if they remain even as I am. (N.K.J.V.)
For good measure, I might also throw in Proverbs 21:9:
Better to dwell in a corner of a housetop, Than in a house shared with a contentious woman. (N.K.J.V.)
If I really want to drive home this point, I can also add in that the words of Proverbs 21:9 are actually repeated in Proverbs 25:24 for double emphasis. Oh, and I might mention too that since the book of Proverbs is primarily attributed to Solomon, and since he had the experience of living with all those hundreds of wives, he was the perfect candidate to write Proverbs 21:9 and 25:24! Do you see how it all fits together?
So, I guess I need to start preaching that it is never God’s will for anyone to marry, right? Wait a minute, if I do that then I’ll have to start cherry-picking some passages for a follow-up sermon that “proves” that sex outside the bounds of marriage isn’t a sin after all. After all, if I don’t preach that follow-up sermon, it will be impossible for the human race to propagate without sinning.
Can you see how easy it is for wrong doctrine to get started? This is why we must study the Bible as a whole, in its totality, to really get at what it teaches. In 2 Timothy 2:15, Paul calls this “rightly dividing the word of truth.” Obviously, if there is a way to rightly divide the word of truth, there must a way (actually many of them) to wrongly divide it. Such faulty dividing is all that is required for wrong doctrine.
As evidence that merely reading the Bible and even knowing it isn’t enough, allow me to present Exhibit A: the Sadducees. In Jesus’ day, this wealthy, educated, highly influential religious group of Jewish rabbis controlled the priesthood at the Jewish temple. Because they believed that only the first five books of the Old Testament were fully authoritative, they knew those books forward and backward. And yet when these men asked Jesus a question about marriage in the afterlife, He rebuked them by saying, “You are mistaken, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29, N.K.J.V.). This shows that it is possible to read the scriptures without being able to rightly divide them.
The group we need to be like were the Bereans. When Paul and Silas came to their city preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, not only did the Bereans give them a fair hearing, they devoted the next several days to searching the Scriptures in an effort to discern whether or not Paul and Silas had preached right doctrine. As Acts 17:11 says of those Bereans:
These were more fair-minded than those of Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. (N.K.J.V.)
Ah, there’s what each of us needs: an open mind that is kept in check by an open Bible. Unfortunately, if we just have the open mind we’ll fall victim to wrong doctrine for sure. Therefore, I encourage you to multiply whatever amount of Bible study you are currently doing. False teaching definitely abounds, and it takes a ton of Bible study to gain the discernment that is needed to identify it. The good news, though, is that once you’ve put in that study and gained that discernment, not only will you keep yourself doctrinally straight, God will be able to use you to help others get there.