Defining Essential Doctrine

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,

he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions,

usesless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself.   [1 Timothy 6:3-5]#

Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.  [2 Timothy 1:13]

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers;

and they will turn their ears away from the truth and be turned to fables.  [2 Timothy 4:3-4]

For a bishop [elder, pastor] must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money,

but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled,

holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.   [Titus 1:7-9]

But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine….   [Titus 2:1]

Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded,

in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility,

sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.  [Titus 2:6-8]

It is a disgrace to the Church in the twenty-first century that in many congregations, the leadership is an abysmal failure in promoting sound doctrine.

What is sound doctrine? It is that body of teaching which the Church has understood to be the body of apostolic teaching [and the necessary inferences derived from those teachings] which have been consistently taught since the first century. Basically, the issues of sound doctrine center around five questions:  (1) What do we understand the nature of God to be?  (2) Who do we say Jesus is?  (3) What do we understand the Bible to be?  (4) What do we say about the nature of man?  (5) What must one do to be saved [or be in right relationship with God]?  While there are other doctrines which are important, the answers for these questions are definitional for believers.  If anyone has an incorrect understanding of any of these doctrines, all of their doctrine is built on a very unstable foundation.

In answer to the first question we say that we believe in one God who has revealed Himself as three distinct Persons:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We affirm that the Father is God [John 20:17;  1 Corinthians 8:6;  Ephesians 4:6], the Son is God [John 5:23;  1 John 2:23], and the Holy Spirit is God [Acts 5:3-4].  Each is co-equal, co-eternal, and co-existant. However, while God is One in His essential being, He is not one in Personhood.  Scripture affirms this distinction of Persons in three ways:  Firstly, there is the simultaneous manifestation of all three Persons in the Trinity at the same instant in Matthew 3:16-17.* Secondly, Jesus, as the second Person of the Trinity, draws a distinction between Himself and the Father.##  Thirdly, Jesus draws a distinction between the Holy Spirit and Himself [John 14:16-17, 26;  15:26;  16:7-8, 13-15;  Acts 1:8].  Finally, Jesus draws a clear line of distinction between the Father and the Holy Spirit [John 14:16, 26;  15:26].  Therefore, we cannot say that the Father is the same as the Son and both Father and Son are the same as the Holy Spirit — because in so doing, we would be stating an ancient heresy called modalism, not the doctrine of the Trinity.  This is important because I recently had the misfortune of hearing a Southern Baptist pastor proclaim a modalistic view of God in a Wednesday evening Bible study when he stated that the members of the Trinity are each the same Person.

Do you see the doctrinal confusion which results when one does not carefully express what he believes, or states it in a manner which is contrary to the teaching of Scripture?  The whole concept of modalism is fraught with such confusion:  If the Son and the Father are the same, to whom was Jesus praying in John 17?  If the Father and the Son are the same, who died on the cross and who forsook Jesus on the cross [Matthew 27:46]?

Of course it goes hand in hand with the doctrine of the Trinity that we also affirm that Jesus Christ was fully God Incarnate — as is taught in Scripture.§  This is in distinction from such errant views which would claim that Jesus was merely a man who was adopted as the Son of God [adoptionism—a heresy now advocated by liberals and those who identify their theology as “neo-orthodox”], or that Jesus was some form of semi-divine being who while called the Son of God, was less in majesty and rank than God [a heresy called subordinationism — its most prevalent form was called Arianism and is currently promoted by the Jehovah’s Witness cult].  We also affirm that He was fully human—in contrast to such views which teach that He only appeared or seemed to be human.  These two natures are distinct, yet conjoined in what is called “hypostatic union.”

These are crucial issues because if one denies either the Trinity, or the full Deity and humanity of Christ, one is preaching a different gospel.  And Scripture says anyone who preaches a different gospel is to be considered accursed [Galatians 1:8-9].  If anyone wishes to take exception to this remark and accuse me of being “judgmental” — I would remind them that this is the judgment of God and clearly stated in His word — not my mere personal opinion.

Another area where false teaching deviates from historic Christianity concerns the nature of Scripture.  The historic view of the Church has been, from apostolic times, that Scripture is the very Word of God.  In other words, on any matter about which Scripture has spoken, we are to take what Scripture has said as God’s word on the matter.  It is plenarily [fully, completely, totally] inspired by God [as opposed to the view that it is merely the writings of men and what they thought about God].  It is inerrant [without any error] in the autographs [original writings] in all that it affirms, either propositionally or by necessary inference.  It is totally sufficient to accomplish God’s purposes for us without resort to “natural wisdom.”  While I could say more, I have addressed these issues in other blogs and refer the reader back to them.¶

Typically, those who deny the primacy of Scripture may deny it in different ways.  First, they may deny the inspiration of Scripture, claiming that it is merely words about God, not the Word of God, or that it “contains the word of God, but is not the word of God.”  Another form of denial comes in the form of denying its inerrancy.  Both of these denials are common from those who have embraced some form of liberalism or neo-orthodoxy.

More insidious than either of the first two forms of denial, is that which affirms the inspiration of Scripture, and its authority, but equivocates on the issue of the canon of Scripture.  Liberals do this by asserting that the canon of Scripture, those books which have historically been recognized as the comprising the Bible, was not “determined” by any godly process — but is solely of human origin.  The other extreme claims that the canon of Scripture, while adequate for its time, is no longer adequate and needs to be supplemented by more up-to-date revelation [the view of cults such as Mormonism, Roman Catholicism, and the New Apostolic Reformation].  The same Southern Baptist pastor who denied the Trinity, on that very same evening, denied that the Bible as we know it to be sufficient.  His statement was that the Bible as protestants know it was determined politically and that there are books which are included in the Bible which should have been omitted, and other books which have been omitted which should have been included.  In other words, this so-called “Christian” pastor told his congregation that liberalism has a better view of the nature of Scripture than almost two thousand years of church history.

It is sufficient to say that the pastor has a somewhat uninformed [if not theologically illiterate] view of Scripture.  Had he actually studied the issue [and it was evident that he had no knowledge to speak on the subject intelligently], he would have found that his statements had been thoroughly rejected by scholars of more ability and godliness than he, with better grounded explanations on how the canon of Scripture was recognized [not determined].ŧ  Regardless, his statements made to those for whom he is charged with teaching sound doctrine are such that he is leading them astray.

If I was stunned by such comments made to a small group gathered on a Wednesday evening, what was said from the pulpit on Easter morning of this year went beyond mere heresy into blasphemy.  In his Easter sermon, this same pastor stated.  “There is within all men [and women, I presume] an innate desire to seek God and please Him.”  Why is this blasphemous?  It is one thing to make a theological statement based on poor inferences.  It is another thing entirely to utter from the pulpit a statement which not merely contradicts the plain teaching of Scripture, but, by inference, also calls God a liar.

Let me state it plainly:  There is nothing in man which innately seeks God.  Romans 3:10-11 states:  “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands;  there is none who seeks after God.” [emphasis added]  Jesus stated:  “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him….” [John 6:44, emphasis added]  Paul is saying that we [in our natural, unredeemed state] do not seek God.  Jesus further states that we have no capacity to seek God — except He draws us.  Jesus went even further and stated that only those who are drawn by God will come to Him. [John 6:37, 45] So, if we agree with the pastor in claiming that man is innately drawn to God, we infer that Paul writing under the inspiration and superintendence of the Holy Spirit, was lying.  More than that, if one agrees with the pastor, one is, by inference, calling Jesus a liar.  What is being taught by this pastor is an ancient heresy called Pelagianism. It is a different gospel.

The problem with this pastor’s wrong view of the nature of man stems from a view that denies the doctrine of total depravity and the sovereignty of God in electing whom He wills to salvation.  The emphasis in such proceedings is not upon the sovereign grace of God, but on man’s capacity to autonomously decide for himself whether or not to accept God’s grace — as if man is doing God an immense favor in deciding to follow Him and therefore has “earned” grace by his decision.  Contrary to the word of God [John 1:13], this view of salvation makes man the measure of salvation, not the will of God.

Such a view is not surprising, however, last Wednesday night, this same pastor called the doctrines of man’s depravity and God’s sovereign grace, “a false gospel.”

It comes as no surprise that in this congregation, even the other leaders have no idea what salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone means.  One of the Sunday School teachers told his class on that day that Christians must do good works to prove they are “worthy” to enter heaven.  This emphasis on works righteousness has also been taught by the pastor in his Wednesday night “discipleship” training, where he taught that unless one performs certain actions [tithing, regular attendance, soul winning] one isn’t really a Christian and will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  To compound the error, the pastor then leveled a false accusation against all who follow reformed doctrine because one person he claims is a Calvinist supposedly told him that Calvinists have no need to engage in evangelism or mission work.  I know this to be false because I have two acquaintances who are firm in their convictions of reformed soteriology, yet are engaged in mission work.  And these are not the only ones.  One can point to such past Calvinists as George Whitefield, David Brainard, Jonathan Edwards, Cotton and Increase Mather, and Charles Spurgeon who promoted missions and evangelism.  In our time we can point to such people as Cornelius van Til, Francis Schaeffer, Os Guinness, R.C. Sproul, James R. White, and John MacArthur as Calvinists who promote evangelism and mission work.

The sad part of this saga is that the pastor really believes he is teaching the truth, when what is really being taught is riddled with so many misconceptions, distortions, and outright slander that it really is a false gospel.  Unfortunately, the congregation is proof of what the late Jim Strauss said about churches who promote growth via programs and promotions:  “What you win them with is what you win them to.”


# Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the New King James Version. Copyright ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

* This was also manifested at the Mount of Transfiguration [Matthew 17:5; 2 Peter 1:17] and again during the final week of Jesus’ earthly ministry in John 12:27-30.

## Matthew 10:32-33; John 5:17, 19-23, 26-27, 36-37, 43, 45; 6:27, 29, 32, 37-40, 44; 7:28-29, 33; 8:16, 18, 28-29; 10:15-18, 25-30, 32-38; 11:41-42; 14:24, 28, 31; 15:9-10, 15, 16, 23, 26; 16:10, 27-28, 32; 17:1-26; 18:11.

§ Matthew 26:63-64; John 8:58; John 20:28; Acts 20:28; Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1.

ŧ See Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, Revised and Expanded (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), pp. 203-317. See also Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), pp. 20-32, 56.



About davestheology

I found a book that was kind of worn, But to my surprise, not a page was torn; It had a title, that I could not read, "Red Letter Edition" was all I could see.
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