Posts Tagged ‘Doctrine’
I grew up in the Assemblies of God, a Trinitarian Pentecostal group. I was aware even as a child of the “other” Pentecostals out there who were called “Jesus Only” Pentecostals. My dad explained them to me once saying that they only believed in Jesus and not in the Father or the Holy Spirit. That was not entirely true but it was the best he understood. Over the years I have had very few encounters with Oneness folks. I visited a Oneness church only twice in my life and both for observation.
The Oneness movement is much older than Oneness Pentecostals like to believe. They like to believe that God restored the Oneness doctrine of God in 1913-14 with the split from Trinitarian Pentecostals. The Assemblies of God called the new teaching “the new issue” and rejected the Oneness teachings in 1916. Many AG pastors left the Assemblies of God over the issue. The largest Oneness Pentecostal group is the United Pentecostal Church International based out of Hazelwood, Missouri. The UPC is rejects the historic doctrine of the Trinity and holds to the Oneness doctrine.
The teaching is essentially the old heresy of Sabellianism from the 2nd century. The teaching is also called Modalism. Modalism teaches that there is only one God who reveals Himself in different “modes” such as the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit. These three modes are not three persons but rather manifestations of the one true God. The Oneness Pentecostals teach that Jesus is the mighty God (Isaiah 9:6) and that Jesus is the Father and Jesus is the Son and Jesus is the Holy Ghost. Jesus is all three! Jesus only is God. There is no Father who is God nor a Son who is God nor the Spirit who is God but rather there is only one Person in the Godhead and His name is Jesus. Oneness Pentecostals go to Matthew 28:19 and they see baptize in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and they point out that the Name of God is revealed to us in Acts 2:38 when Peter used the keys given to him by Jesus to preach the truth of the Godhead, that the Name of God is Jesus. It is this Name (Acts 4:12) that saves us and only those who are baptized in the name of Jesus are truly saved (Romans 6:1-4).
In reality, the Oneness Pentecostals teach that the Father who is named Jesus is truly the eternal God. They would agree with the Arians, that the Son has a beginning in the incarnation (Luke 1:35) and the Son will have an ending (1 Corinthians 15:24-28). They love to use the word “begotten” in John 3:16 to prove that Jesus the Son was begotten by the Father. While this is a poor usage of the Greek term here (see the NIV for example here), Oneness Pentecostals have argued effectively to poorly taught Trinitarians about the nature the Son. They also love to point out that the words “Trinity” nor “God the Son” nor “the Eternal Son” are found in the New Testament and to them, this proves that Jesus as the Son was not eternally the Son of the Father but rather He had a beginning in Bethlehem.
So what do Oneness Pentecostals do with the Lord Jesus in the Gospels where He over and over again refers to “My Father” or “the Father?” Or what about where Jesus prays to the Father such has in John 17? Or what about Jesus’ baptism where all three persons (or manifestations in the Oneness mind) appear in Matthew 3:13-17? They believe that the key to understanding the life of Jesus is to understand that at times He was speaking as the Son and sometimes as God who is the Father. The Son, they teach, always refers to Jesus’ humanity and not to His divinity. When the Son is praying or eating or sleeping, He is doing so as the Man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5). They believe that the Father (who is Jesus as the mighty God) wrapped Himself in flesh (John 1:14, 18) but the Son was not God only He was a man, the Son of God. So when Jesus was praying, He was praying from His human side to His divine side. And when Jesus was baptized, God, being God, chose to reveal all three manifestations at the same time which He can do if He wants. When we read of Jesus now in the presence of God at His right hand such as in Acts 2:34-36 or Hebrews 1:3, this is speaking of Jesus in His human manifestation before the eternal Father who is Jesus the divine side. To me it is very confusing and doesn’t allow the texts to read freely but nonetheless Oneness Pentecostals believe this is the key to reading and studying and understanding the Bible. It is their own unique hermeneutic if you will.
Oneness Pentecostals use three major texts to prove that Jesus is God the Father. First, they read Isaiah 9:6 and believe that the words “eternal Father” are referring to the Father. Secondly, they point to John 10:30 and point out that Jesus Himself here says that He and the Father are one. Third, they point to John 14:9 where Jesus answers Philip and says that if they had seen Him, they had seen the Father.
Time doesn’t permit me to answer the entire charges here and to be fair, Oneness Pentecostal have other texts they turn to prove their doctrine. In short, Isaiah 9:6 is not speaking of necessarily titles of the Lord Jesus. Nowhere in the New Testament are these titles worked out though they are true of Him. The concept of God as our Father is not fully developed in the Old Testament though spoken of a few times. Yet here the understanding could be “Father of eternity” in that the One to be born (Isaiah 7:14) is from ancient times (Micah 5:2). Jesus is eternal and thus He is the Father of eternity but this doesn’t mean that He is the Father. Secondly, the Greek text of John 10:30 is clear that Jesus is not speaking of unipersonal but essence when He says that He and the Father are one. The Greek says, “One we are.” There are very specific Greek words John could have used to show us that Jesus is the Father but instead He uses a Greek phrase that simply makes Jesus of the same kind as the Father. Third, even Oneness Pentecostals don’t believe that when Jesus the Man was saying to Philip that if he’d seen Him, he’d seen the Father that they were seeing at that very moment the Father. Oneness Pentecostals hold that the Father is a spirit and invisible to us (Colossians 1:15) but instead Jesus is saying that when the Apostles saw Jesus, they were seeing God the Father in that the Son is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father. Not once in the New Testament does Jesus ever say that He is the Father though He refers to His Father or the Father or My Father hundreds of times.
Finally, a word about the Oneness view of salvation. This is the key for me. Oneness Pentecostals teach that a person must believe in Jesus, repent of their sins, be baptized in water by immersion “in the name of Jesus” for the forgiveness of sins, and then must receive the infilling of the Holy Ghost by the initial, physical evidence of speaking in tongues. A person is not justified by faith alone in the Oneness mind. A person must do all the above to be saved. Now sometimes in the Oneness church, a person will get the Holy Ghost and speak in tongues before being baptized in Jesus’ name but they point to Acts 10:43-48 as proof that this is okay.
Also it’s not enough to just believe in Jesus, be baptized in Jesus’ name and receive the Holy Ghost with evidence of tongues, one must also live a holy life till the end lest they “lose their salvation.” Holiness includes the holiness codes set up by many Oneness churches including women wearing dresses, not cutting their hair, no makeup or jewelry, and men must be clean-shaven, short hair, avoid alcohol and tobacco and live a holy life. It is amounts to works-righteousness though Oneness folks will argue that they do it with joy.
In closing, Oneness Pentecostals are nice folks but being nice is not the standard of truth. The Word of God is the final authority and they would agree. I have been meeting a Oneness pastor from time to time to talk theology and he is a bright, loving man. He wants me to accept him merely because he loves Jesus. That, he says, should unite us. But I disagree. I am not mean to him but the Jesus he says that he worships and loves is the not the Jesus of the Bible. I know that hurts but its true. The Jesus he says that he worships is not the same as the Jesus I worship. He believes that since Oneness Pentecostals speak in tongues the same as Trinitarian Pentecostals speak in tongues, this must prove that God accepts them both despite someone being wrong about the Godhead. He also believes that since Oneness Pentecostals teach and preach that Jesus is God, what is the big deal?
There are obviously many errors. For just one. Consider the atonement. In Oneness theology the saving work of Christ is not God dying in my place, standing condemned for my sins. Instead, we have the Father wrapped in flesh but not really a man. Instead Jesus only appears as a man but the true Jesus is still the eternal Father. In other words, the divine payment for our sins is not payed by the Lord God but instead by a mere man albeit a perfect one because the Father was inside of the man. The payment is not God redeeming us through the divine Son but instead it is the human Jesus paying the penalty for our sins to the Father Jesus. How weird. In Trinitarian theology, the second person of the holy Trinity, the Lord Jesus, bears our sins on the cross and redeems us from the holy wrath of God. God is truly in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself (2 Corinthians 5:18-21) because the Son is offering His life for our sins to the glory of the Father who sent Him into the world (John 3:16).
Over even consider Jesus is our high priest who offers Himself before the Father to pray for us sinners (Hebrews 4:14-15). Hebrews 7:22-28 speaks of Jesus being our high priest before the Father. Jesus, as our faithful high priest, offered Himself to God (Hebrews 9:24-28) and He now sits at the Father’s right hand to ever live to pray for us. In Oneness theology, Jesus as the Father hears Jesus the flesh (the Son) when we pray to Him. In Trinitarian theology, the text is allowed to speak for itself: Jesus the Son prays for us sinner before the holy Father. Jesus is truly our high priest in every since of the word. A time will come when this will end at the consummation of the ages but this doesn’t mean that Jesus will cease to be the Son of God nor will He cease to reign as our Savior (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).
And I could write much more. I have gone too long. I close by simply pointing out that Oneness Pentecostals fall short of the truth of Scripture. While I admire them for their zeal and for holding to monotheism and to the authority of the Bible, I find much of their theology lacking. I pray that God will help us, as biblical Trinitarians, to know what we believe about God and why the Trinity is not an optional doctrine. The Trinity is vital.
I listen to a few seeker churches on my iPhone while I drive my truck (I drive an eighteen wheeler for a living). During long hauls I can listen to two or three sermons depending on the drive. My wife says that I’m mad for listening to the seeker churches because they often make me cranky and I start ranting (as I’m doing here) about them. My problems with the seeker churches are too many to post here in a blog post. I could never willingly be a part of a seeker church for many reasons. Doctrine is the first and foremost. The utter lack of doctrine in seeker churches is disturbing to say the least.
I have been listening to one of the seeker churches for the entire year. Each week their sermons come to my iPhone. You got to love technology! I had a friend who started attending this church about 6 years ago. He still goes there. He once had a fire for the Lord, was a man of prayer and holiness, and loved to share the gospel with the lost. Those days are gone. He is a shell of his former self now that he attends this church. I place the blame at the feet of my friend but also at this church as well. They have convinced my friend that evangelism is easy as inviting “the unchurched” to his church. The church does the rest. The entire “weekend” is designed to attract the “unchurched” and they are specific that they want the “unchurched” to come and not feel like they are at church. I have often said that seeker churches remind me of cults in that they get you in before springing the trap and letting you know what they are about. In this case, get the “unchurched” coming to church and then wait for a few weeks before telling them they must “receive Christ into their hearts” if they want to go deeper. It’s like an Amway seminar. Only worst.
The rant here today is not about the seeker church I’ve been listening to this year but a new one I picked up just this week. I use to be friends with a youth pastor (when I was a youth pastor) and he always seemed to lean this seeker way. I remember once taking to him about how I wanted to build a youth ministry that revolved around prayer and the Word and he laughed and said that I would never have a large ministry if that was my formula. I followed him via social media after he moved away and watched him head down this seeker trail. He bought into the seeker pragmatism hook, line, and sinker. He begin to tweet a lot of seeker posts and I noticed his preaching was more and more becoming like seeker pastors I knew of. He ultimately started a church in the Charlotte, NC area and followed the likes of seeker gurus Perry Noble and Steven Furtick. Despite obvious doctrinal disagreements, this seeker pastor ignored that because “they are growing” and that was the bottom line.
He started his church and now he rolls out “series” sermons like Noble and Furtick complete with the works. The stage is focused on the series. The series is pushed though social media and social media is used during the talk. I sent a few of his talks to Fighting For The Faith and hope they will review them.
Here is my rant. Theology. The seeker churches ignore theology. I have listened to all the sermons from the one church this year and a few from this newer podcast and theology is utterly lacking. The twisting of Scripture is bad. For example, one of the seeker pastors preached on “Shake It Off” based on the Taylor Swift song (yes you read that right) and preached from Acts 28 where Paul “shook of the snake” and he in turn turned the snake into problems and other things that we just need to shake off. What a poor use of Scripture!
Numbers is the focus. That is the bottom line. I well remember emailing a seeker pastor back in the early 2000’s and he responded back with “I run 700 people on Sunday morning. How many do you run? E-mail me back when you get to that number and I might listen.” I was emailing him over his poor doctrinal preaching. His response: pragmatism.
I remember another preacher going to hear modalist T.D. Jakes. When I questioned him about this he responded by saying that Jakes’ church was huge and he could just feel the anointing on Jakes when he preached. Never mind that Jakes is a modalist (the Trinity doesn’t matter much). Never mind that Jakes is a false prosperity preacher. Never mind that doctrine seems to not matter at all to Jakes. Jakes’ church is big and that is enough. Pragmatism.
A crowd does not equal the blessing of God.
I pass the Kingdom Hall’s all the time while working and I can tell you that they are packed. It seems they are growing and I have my suspicions as to why. The Jehovah’s Witness are no doubt a cult. They are doctrinally wrong. Nothing more than modern day Arians. Yet they are growing because of the seeker churches in my estimation. Week after week the seeker churches are packed but doctrine is not to be found. In fact, doctrine is avoided at all costs. It amazes me that seeker preachers often will have to point out where a book in the Bible is. For example, when the above seeker pastor preached from Acts 28, he felt he had to point out where Acts is. Further, his “background” to Paul and Acts 28 was horrible. He felt he had to use “cool” language and to be funny throughout his talk to get people focused. But at the end of the day, he taught nothing. Nothing. He didn’t teach false doctrines. He taught nothing. And this is true of every seeker sermon I have heard. Let me repeat that: I have never heard a seeker sermon yet that has taught me anything. They are masters at saying nothing.
And thus cults grow. People do want doctrine. Contrary to what the seeker churches believe. Doctrine does matter to folks. In Acts 2:42 the first thing Luke records that the new disciples of Jesus did was to devote themselves to the apostles’ doctrine. First thing listed was not “worship” or “small groups” but doctrine. Cults come and fill the void. The reason seeker people leave to join the Jehovah’s Witnesses or other cults is because doctrine.
After the seeker churches go off, I turn on John MacArthur and a breath of fresh air comes in. MacArthur is the opposite of these seeker churches. He preaches doctrine. He preaches holiness. He preaches the Bible and seeks to exegete the text faithfully. Sometimes, for fun, I will listen to a seeker church and then pull up MacArthur preaching from the same text and its night and day difference.
Over the years I have been out witnessing only to run into a group of people from seeker churches. Sometimes they will ridicule me for preaching on the streets. Sometimes they talk to me and I try to reason with them about their “conversion” as 100% of them believe that “saying the sinner’s prayer” is how you get saved. They are often completely ignorant of church history or theology. They will say “I just love Jesus” but when I try to find out which Jesus they love, they don’t know. I can often point out that the Jesus they say they love is the Jesus of their own imaginations and not the Bible. Paul the Apostle warned about this in 2 Corinthians 11:4 and Galatians 1:6-9.
Am I thankful for seeker churches? No I am not. I truly believe that persecution is soon coming to the Christians in the United States and this will probably end the seeker church as we know it. Most of the seeker churches will either close up or they will complete their compromising by abandoning true faith altogether in favor of the praises (and most important, the money) of men.
Sadly, many godly churches I know of feel the need to imitate these seeker churches. I remember when Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Church led to the demise of denominational named churches. Now we just have “Calvary Church” or “Christian Life Church” to avoid the obvious doctrinal distinctive that are there. Now we have the cool fad among seeker churches to get the coolest name you can find for your church. Either way, doctrine does not matter. They would say only Jesus matters but they don’t even know if the Jesus they preach is the Jesus of the Bible.
I highly recommend you to read John MacArthur’s book Ashamed of the Gospel for a truly biblical look at the seeker church. I pray that many saints of God will love the gospel and love the truths of the Bible (Romans 1:16; 1 Timothy 4:16; Titus 2:1).
Over the past ten years or more we have been witnessing a revival in Calvinism and Reformed theology. I can remember in college back in the 1990’s when neither Arminianism nor Calvinism was a big issue. The issue in those days was the Lordship controversy with John MacArthur and the Dallas Theological Seminary teachers such as Charles Ryrie and Zane Hodges. There were debates over spiritual gifts (charismatic vs. non-charismatic) and debates here and there over the security of the believer but by in large the issues related to Arminianism and Calvinism were not much of an issue.
Fast forward to now. The debate couldn’t be much hotter. I do appreciate that more and more brothers and sisters are learning to debate with grace toward each other as Scripture commands (2 Timothy 2:24-25). Philippians 2:3 is becoming a passage we all need to heed. Philippians 4:2 needs to be preached more.
On the one hand, I as an Arminian do not rejoice in the revival of Calvinism I see around me. After all, I oppose the “doctrines of grace.” But I do rejoice that disciples of Jesus are longing for more, wanting to go deeper in their theological knowledge, wanting to explore the deeper things of God. And while I confess that I believe Arminianism to be deeper than Calvinism on many issues, I do believe that Calvinism is a move past the basics that are often not even being preached in the Western churches.
In my neck of the woods, we have a very large seeker sensitive church. They would likely argue that they are not seeker sensitive but “Spirit sensitive” but their sermons, their music, etc. are all focused on attracting people to church. They don’t care if you love Jesus or not (though they say they want to introduce you to Him). Their point is to make church cool again, to get you in the doors, to get you “plugged in” with small groups, prayer, etc. Some of what they do is good. Jesus is mentioned a lot. I appreciate that.
Recently I have subscribed to their podcast to listen to their preaching. I have been listening to two different seeker sensitive churches in my area both of which are large. After hearing a few of their sermons, I see why so many young people move toward Calvinism. Calvinism is readily out there with podcasts, apps, study Bibles, Bible conferences, etc. The works of John Piper are even quoted a few times by one of the speakers. Tim Keller is mentioned much. Matt Chandler seems to be a favorite. All three men are Calvinists.
The preaching is typically focused on the people. The text does not drive their preaching. While they will occasionally quote from the Bible, the focus is the hearer. The audience is their focus. These are not dying men preaching to dying people about the living Savior. These are showmen offering products to consumers. That is the bottom line. The sermons can be heard at any Amway presentation. “You can make it.” “You can do it!” “You will survive this!” “You got this.” “Jesus will help you!”
So I can see a young person sitting in these churches just coming to faith in Christ. They were drawn to the church by the women, the men, the cool music, the awesome logo, the lights, the sounds, the largeness of it all. They came broken by a world that offers nothing and takes all. They heard about Jesus, thought they would give Him a try and so they take the preacher up on his offer and they raise their hand, say a prayer, get baptized in a mass baptism, and start going to a small group. While I would not say these people are saved at this point, they are are just what John Wesley described as “awakened sinners.” They know they are lost, know that they are sinners, know that they need a Savior. They have been brought to Christ by the traditions of men and not the Bible.
That said, they start to listen to the sermons, download the podcasts and they take a chance on hearing John Piper. Piper blows them away! He is actually preaching the Bible! Piper begins to teach them and they become his students (or his cubs as Roger Olson puts it). Soon they are reading Piper, listening to other Calvinists, and the door is opened to a new life in Calvinism. Like Austin Fischer, they plunge into the world of Calvinism out of the shallowness of the seeker church.
The young person moves up! Some of them actually repent at this point and get truly saved. They leave their shallow seeker church to go to a Reformed church. Some of them remain here. Some move on higher out of Calvinism.
The seeker church has been a source for the revival of Calvinism. I listened to just three sermons from a large seeker church and I was done. It was not good. The guy is a pretty good public speaker but he is no elder (1 Timothy 3:2 with an emphasis on teaching here). The duty of biblical elders is to shepherd the flock of God (1 Peter 5:1-2) which includes teaching the Word (2 Timothy 3:16-4:5; Titus 1:5-9; 2:15). I heard talks but didn’t hear exegesis of the texts. I heard much talk about people but little emphasis on the sinfulness of mankind in light of the perfection of God’s holiness. I heard much about Jesus coming and what He has done for us but I heard little in way of repentance and faith in His saving work. I heard much about praying the sinner’s prayer but no emphasis on the Lordship of Christ and our submission to Him when we repent (Luke 6:46-49; Acts 2:36-41; 3:19-20).
The Arminian church must preach sound doctrine. Now is not the time to become pragmatic and want to copy the seeker churches to gain the crowds. Our duty is to preach Christ to the lost (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). Our duty is not to gain crowds. Our duty is to be faithful to our King and not to this world (John 14:15). What you win them with is what you win them to. If you preach Jesus and His Lordship, this often doesn’t draw crowds. In fact, it often draws hate. People love Jesus so long as He is their “god” that they worship and they created. People often despise the true Jesus when He is preached in the power of the Spirit (John 15:18-16:4). There are many counterfeit Jesus’ being preached by many (Matthew 24:23-24). Our duty is to preach the true Jesus by preaching His inerrant and infallible Word.
May the Lord help us all, whether Arminian or not, to preach the Word of God faithfully and to exalt the one true and living God. Jesus alone can save sinners and we must proclaim Him and His glory!
The FACTS of Arminianism are:
Freed by Grace (to Believe)
Atonement for All
Security in Christ
The acronym parallels the famous TULIP developed after the Synod of Dort and now known as the five points of Calvinism. However, not all Calvinists would agree that the five points sum up their theology. I had a college professor who said he was a 7-point Calvinist and not a 5-pointer. I have also seen where some even say that they are 10-point Calvinists.
Arminianism is based on the teachings of Arminius as well as the five points that the Remonstrants brought to the Synod of Dort (1618-1619). Historically, it was Arminianism that had its five points before Calvinism developed its five points however I will acknowledge that the TULIP is the greatest known acronym in theology. I pray to God that the FACTS of Arminianism will help people better grasp what it is that Arminians (such as myself) truly hold to. Arminianism has sadly been abused and often twisted by her opponents and not given a fair understanding in theological debates.
In comparison to the five points of Calvinism, we are not as far from each other as it might seem. Calvinists could read over the five points above and would disagree with atonement for all, conditional election, and possibly with freed by grace but they would accept (I suppose) our view of depravity and security (though some would hold to “once saved, always saved” and we would disagree). However, while Calvinists will often say that their theology is completely monergistic and view Arminians as synergists, this would not be the case. Arminianism is full of grace. The entire notion our theological understanding is that God is the one who first must act. This is not about man. This is not about glorifying flesh. God acted first toward Adam and Eve and their posterity (Genesis 3) and He continues to reach out to lost humanity through the gospel (Romans 10:14-17). The cross is an act of grace in which the Lord Jesus bore the sins of humanity upon Himself (John 1:29; 1 John 2:2; 4:14).
In reality, Arminianism is monergistic itself. We hold that God is the one who works. When a person believes the gospel, they do so by God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). Faith is not a merit or work (Romans 4:5). Even Calvinist theologian R.C. Sproul acknowledged that faith is not monergistic. Sproul instead holds that regeneration is monergistic and I would not disagree. It is clear that regeneration is the work of the Spirit of God (John 3:3-7; Titus 3:5-7) and not our work. However, I would disagree with Sproul that regeneration precedes faith since faith produces regeneration (Acts 16:30-34; 1 Corinthians 1:21; Ephesians 1:13).
In my next post, I want to begin to work through the FACTS of Arminianism point by point. Along the way I will interact with Calvinism but my main goal is to show what we Arminians truly believe.
Doctrine is important. Scripture is clear about this. Last night my little boys and I were studying from John 7 and here Jesus makes this statement about doctrine in John 7:16-18 (NKJV):
16 Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. 17 If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority. 18 He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him.
Adam Clarke wrote about verse 17:
I will give you a sure rule by which ye may judge of my doctrine: If you really wish to do the will of God, begin the practice of it; and take my doctrine, and apply it to all that you know God requires of man; and if you find one of my precepts contrary to the nature, perfections, and glory of God, or to the present or eternal welfare of men, then ye shall be at liberty to assert that my doctrine is human and erroneous, and God has not sent me. But if, on the contrary, ye find that the sum and substance of my preaching is, That men shall love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and their neighbour as themselves; and that this doctrine must bring glory to God in the highest, while it produces peace and good will among men; then acknowledge that God has visited you, and receive me as the Messiah promised to your fathers.
Doctrine must glorify God. Doctrine must focus on the work of the Lord Jesus.
In the Church of Jesus Christ, doctrine is vital. We read in Acts 2:42 that the disciples saved on the day of Pentecost continued steadfastly in the Apostle’s doctrine. Ephesians 4:14 says that the purpose of Bible teachers is to help the children of God mature and not be confused by false teachings but to remain faithful to sound doctrine. 1 Timothy 1:3 tells Timothy to charge some that they teach no other doctrine. 1 Timothy 4:1 warns that the time will come when people will turn away from the faith and turn to teaching doctrines of demons. But Timothy is to remain in faithful doctrine (1 Timothy 4:6) and he is to be faithful in teaching sound doctrine (1 Timothy 4:13) for in so doing he will save both himself and others as well (1 Timothy 4:16). Paul praises elders who are teaching sound doctrine (1 Timothy 5:17) and he tells slaves to be faithful that the doctrine of God might be praised (1 Timothy 6:1). Paul’s warning in 1 Timothy 6:3-5 (NKJV) is worth reading:
3 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, 4 he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, 5 useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 says that all of Scripture is breathed out by God and useful for doctrine. 2 Timothy 4:3-4 warns that a time will come (and has come since) when people will not endure sound doctrine but will turn aside to myths.
I could go on and on. Sound doctrine is vital. It is important for the Church to study sound doctrine and to abide in the Word of God. We need to be faithful in Bible study and in sound exegesis. We need faithful Bible teachers who will stand up and teach the truth of God without fear of men (Proverbs 1:7). Sound doctrine is vital. It is possible to believe in lies and a false christ (Matthew 24:24). 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 says that when people abide in sin and do not love the truth, at times, God allows a strong delusion, that they should believe a lie. In essence, sincerity is not enough to be saved. We must have faith in one true God to be saved. I recently heard a prominent preacher say that Rahab the harlot (Hebrews 11:31) was saved and he was sure that she was not sound in doctrine. He also pointed to Acts 16:30-34 with the pagan jailer as another example of poor doctrine in which a person was saved. His point: God saves those who believe and not theologians. He went on to say that he hoped that those in cults would be saved despite poor theology. For instance, he went on to say that he hoped Jehovah’s Witnesses would be saved despite their false teachings. He believes that the JW’s teach salvation by faith in Christ.
There are many problems with his views. First, we don’t know the doctrinal understanding of either Rahab or the Philippian jailer. Yet we do know that the Israelites were worshiping the one true God in Joshua 2. In fact, Rahab acknowledges the authority of Yahweh in Joshua 2:9 by name. Rahab was not seeking the false pagan gods of her culture but the one true God in Yahweh. The same is true of the Apostles in Acts 16. Paul was clearly preaching the true God (Romans 1:16-17) and this gospel would set sinners free. Further, Paul makes it clear in Acts 16:31 that it is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who saves (John 14:6). Paul was not praising the jailer for his faith in the false gods of Rome but he is preaching the true and living God in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:1).
Now my point here is not to simply acknowledge true doctrine. I do believe that true doctrine is vital to the health of the Church and to salvation of the lost. We can preach false christs. We can preach another gospel (Galatians 1:6-9). We must be careful to abide in the teachings of Jesus (John 15:1-11; 1 John 4:1-6).
That said, I believe that we can abide in faithful doctrine and yet love doctrine above loving Christ. We must be careful to not fall in love with teachings about Jesus Christ while not loving the person of Christ. The person of Christ is our salvation. Salvation is not found in the teachings about Jesus as much as they are found in the person of Jesus. Jesus is alive. He is not dead. Jesus is not confined to a book. Jesus is the risen Savior. Certainly we must study His Word that He has given us to know Him more and more but the knowledge of His Word is to know Him and not merely about Him. We can know about Jesus while not knowing Jesus. It is possible to sit week after week under sound doctrine and still be lost. We can think we are saved because we think that salvation comes through knowledge about Jesus. This is not true. James 2:19 makes it clear that demons acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus but they are not saved. Demons acknowledge sound doctrine about Jesus. They acknowledge He is God. They acknowledge He is Lord of lords. Yet demons are not saved.
James 2:14-26 is important here because it is not enough, writes James the Apostle, to acknowledge the truth of God. We must allow the truth of Jesus to transform us. I know of people who would claim Christ. They would acknowledge that we are justified by faith. They would acknowledge that the Bible is the Word of God and that Christ alone saves. Yet they abide in sin (1 John 3:4-9). They are not saved from the wrath to come (Romans 5:9). By their life, they testify that Jesus is not Lord of their lives (Luke 6:46-49; Titus 1:16; 1 John 2:3-6). They are not saved at all. They would claim salvation but they would not be able to point to what they are saved from. They are not saved from God. They are not saved from sin. They are not saved from the bondage of the devil. They are not saved from the fear of death.
True salvation is not simply doctrine. To love doctrine above Jesus would be idolatry. It is possible to love Arminius or Calvin or Edwards or Spurgeon above Jesus. Jesus must be our focus. Is the gospel of the Lord Jesus that saves me and not any flesh (John 1:12-13). Jesus is our salvation (Romans 3:22-27). Jesus shed His blood for our salvation (Matthew 26:28; Ephesians 1:7) and His blood alone is able to cleanse us from sin (1 John 1:7). His blood frees us and empowers us to be kings and priests unto God (Revelation 1:5-6). The truth of the gospel is contained in the powerful words of John 3:16. Our love should be for sound doctrine but even more for the person of the Lord Jesus who is alive and reigns forever. May our love and devotion be to Him always and not to our theological systems. I assure you that there will be many theologians in hell (Matthew 7:21-23) but the true saints of God are those who love Jesus and obey Him as Lord (Revelation 14:4).