Sound Doctrine (6)
As I urged you when I went into Macedonia—remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine… 1 Timothy 1.3
How can we know?
We might like to ask Paul, “no other doctrine? What do you mean by that?” How can we know whether what we’re learning from Scripture is sound doctrine? When what we’re hearing in teaching and preaching, and what we’re sharing with others, is what it ought to be, what Paul would approve?
Since sound doctrine is so important to the progress of the divine economy – making disciples, building the church, and advancing the Kingdom – and since communicating sound doctrine properly entails not only right content but speaking to the heart and conscience as well, so that love for God and neighbor are the outcome, it behooves us to understand just what Paul means here, lest, in our own teaching we begin to stray from the Pauline standard. And especially since all believers are called to teach the things of the Lord (Matt. 28.18-20), how can we know when what we’re teaching is sound doctrine?
Paul provides guidance for us in this matter of teaching sound doctrine, how we may ensure that our teaching and preaching are what they ought to be.
All God’s Word
Three passages from Paul can guide us in this matter. First is Acts 20.26, 27, in which Paul said to the elders of the churches in Ephesus, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.” Here is our first way of ensuring that our teaching and preaching are according to sound doctrine: Teach them everything the Scriptures teach!
The challenge to the teacher or preacher, and to all of us as disciple-makers, is to make sure we are asking the right questions of Scripture, questions designed to draw out answers for every aspect of human life and interest, all the doctrines of the faith and how they apply to the people entrusted to our instruction, from all the counsel of God in all His Word. We cannot do this apart from daily reading and meditation in the Word of God, and using the practices for deriving sound doctrine from our study.
Then we need to teach broadly, diligently, and consistently, working to live and explain a Christian worldview for the people to whom God sends us each day.
Don’t go beyond!
The second text is 1 Corinthians 4.6: “Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written.…” Here Paul insists that those who teach and those who learn should keep within the bounds of sound doctrine as spelled out in the written Word of God.
Here again, we cannot hope to achieve such a standard without daily reading and meditation in the Word of God.
Both Moses and the apostle John also offered warnings about adding to the Scriptures in our teaching and learning. Pastors, teachers, and all believers must continuously submit their teaching to the whole counsel of God, waiting on and listening to the Holy Spirit as He compares Scripture with Scripture to make sound doctrine clear.
The grand tradition
Finally, in 2 Thessalonians 2.15, Paul writes, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” Here Paul indicates that, alongside the written Word, there exists a reliable tradition of apostolic teaching which helps to define the boundaries of sound doctrine.
Since Paul’s day, these traditions are reflected in the Magisterium of the Spirit, the best and most orthodox teaching from all ages of the Church. While this is not authoritative in the same way Scripture is – indeed, the theological tradition of the Church must always be subject to revision according to the Word of God – still, the teachers and theologians of Church history, together with the creeds and confessions of the Church, provide sure guidelines within which we must always seek to locate our own teaching and preaching.
Follow the guidelines
There is no substitute for sound doctrine when it comes to the work of making disciples, building the Church, and advancing the Kingdom of God. To make sure that sound doctrine informs and guides all aspects of our walk with and work for the Lord, we must devote ourselves to learning and teaching all that the Scriptures teach, Genesis to Revelation; to staying within the bounds of Scripture and not following the alluring voices of the age in any matter; and to checking all instruction by the grand tradition of theology and teaching in the Church.
Where sound doctrine is concerned, all Christians are called to be students, exemplars, and guardians. We will not be able to recognize, resist, and refute “other” and false doctrines apart from being well-grounding in all the counsel of God, concerning everything God intends us to know in serving Him and living joyously before Him.
1. What would be some examples of “other” doctrines that some are teaching in Jesus’ Name these days?
2. To what extent does “the whole counsel of God” describe your approach to Scripture? How can you improve in this?
3. What might you do to become better informed about the great traditions of Christian orthodoxy?
Next steps – Transformation: We always do better in things when we’re accountable. Do you have a study partner or prayer partner, to whom you are accountable for your reading and study of Scripture? If not, find one. If so, meet with your partner and share what you have been learning through this series on sound doctrine.
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.