I am a theology nerd. If you want to have an awkwardly silent conversation with me just ask me about what I do for a living, tell me about your car’s engine and your new shiny phone or bring up some celebrity gossip. I just can’t bring myself to get excited about 'normal' things but ask me about how chiastic structures within scripture influences our hermeneutics (please do, I’m still waiting for this to happen at a party) and my face will light up and we will chat all through the night. So theology is important to me, it effects how we view God, how we view the world and how we treat others. And don't misunderstand what follows either, sometimes we need to correct people who are clearly teaching things that are in error and could cause division and harm down the road.
But I want to focus today specifically on what the Bible speaks about when it refers to sound doctrine which is a bit more specific than theology as a whole. About 9 years back I was in a church that believed its mission was to re-indoctrinate the church with our specific brand of fundamentalism. Right belief (orthodoxy) for us was more important than anything else, perhaps even more so than right living (orthopraxy). Of course this was not openly admitted, I’m not sure people were even aware of it but it was nevertheless evident in our fruits. This was what I thought of when I thought about sound doctrine. But let me shock you and state right at the beginning that sound doctrine has nothing to do with our opinions about Calvinism, our view of eschatology or what we think about dispensationalism. When the authors of scripture wrote about sound doctrine they did not have baptism or the cessationism in mind either. One friend of mine with a similar background says that his old church leaders complained that “when people start talking about love sound doctrine goes out of the window”. It is a common perception that sound doctrine refers to ones intellectual confessions apart form their actual lifestyles. So here is a statement of my own, when people start talking about love we are starting to discover what sound doctrine really is.
Let me explain by looking at scripture itself, many people call the Paul's letters to Titus and Timothy the Pastoral Epistles, if you are familiar with my ecclesiology then you are probably aware that I would disagree. I actually think that Titus and 1 Timothy in particular would better be known as the ‘Sound Doctrine’ epistles. Let’s look at some of the content from each epistle to see why I say that.
In Titus chapter 2, Paul starts us off with these words:-
But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.
let me emphasize that at this point, Paul does not see a squirrel, put down his pen and run off after it, coming back hours later to continue with a new train of thought. No, Paul spells out the things that Titus should be training and teachings others that is in accord with sound doctrine. Verse 2 - 5 carries on:-
"Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God."
I hope that caused you to sit up straight, Paul is not talking about the qualifications of elders here but about what is important pertaining to sound doctrine. He mentions things like self-control, love, purity and kindness. One would expect Paul, of all people, to get into things like the atonement and the sovereignty of God, instead he continues on in the same manner, telling Titus to encourage the young men to be self-controlled and to be an example to them by doing good, showing integrity and so on. He even goes as far as telling him to teach the slaves to honor God by honoring and submitting to their masters. Paul then wraps up the chapter on sound doctrine by giving us the ‘why’ of it:-
"For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. These, then, are the things you should teach." - Titus 2:11-15
Let me give credit where it is due, much of what I picked up above came from an excellent article written by Keith Giles on the same topic. But let me share a little extra from 1 Timothy as well.
As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. – 1 Timothy 1:3-7
From here onward Paul shares a little bit about things that are contrary to sound doctrine. Interestingly, he does not bring up either evolution or young earth creationism. Rather, he mentions things like ungodliness, sin, profanity, violence, sexual immorality and so on (see verses 8-10). The rest of chapter 1 is devoted to the saving grace and mercies of Christ and how THIS belief deliveries us from all forms of ungodliness. The next 4 chapters lay out much of what was covered in Titus chapter 2, the importance of prayer, modest dress, submission, self –control etc etc. This continues on until we get to chapter 6:3 where Paul starts to wrap up, he starts off this section with these words:-
Teach and urge these things. If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. – 1 Timothy 6:3-5
Then again in verse 20 and 21:-
O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.
Grace be with you.
Wow. Doesn’t this change everything? I think I want to be a fundamentalist again and start pushing doctrine. But this time, it will be different; I’m not going to impose my philosophies on others and anathema those who disagree with me. This time, I am going to encourage others to good works, toward holiness and to follow in the footsteps of Christ. This time, I will look at 2 Timothy 3:16-17 differently:-
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable (not for a good college education but) for teaching, for reproof, for correction (toward right living), and for training (not in self righteousness but) in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped (not for recognition as a spiritual guru but for) every good work.