BIBLE & LIFE

Bible Teaching Newsletter

of Biblical Doctrine & New Testament Assembly Life

Volume 4, No 3 March 1, 1997


Defence of Doctrine: Discerning Truth from Error

by David Dunlap

     To an ever-growing number of Christians, the Holy Scriptures are no longer wholly sufficient. In recent years words like "doctrine", "discernment", and "scriptural" have almost become perjorative terms. Even within those churches who consider themselves to be fundamental and evangelical, the emphasis upon doctrine is kept to a minimum. The argument is brought forth that doctrine does not have to do with the significant matters of life and that it is irrelevant to most people. Even fundamental doctrines regarding the nature of God, the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the eternal Sonship of Christ, justification, sanctification, inspiration of the Scriptures, and the Trinity, have given way in the modern church to "How to Budget Family Finances", "Encouraging One Another", and "How to Find Personal Significance in Your Job." Sadly, New Testament assemblies have not been spared from this trend. An assembly in Florida placed a notice in the local newspaper announcing a special series on Sunday mornings entitled, "Sex Is Not a Four-letter Word". Messages included "Sex: Love:American Style" and "Sex: A Dramatic Presentation of King David". Moreover, in an increasing number of churches the preaching from the pulpit is being shortened on Sunday morning. Some church leaders have reasoned that the modern churchgoer finds Bible teaching uninteresting and therefore, it is a hindrance to church growth. Today it is not uncommon to find the message from God's word being shortened from 45 minutes to 20 minutes. At the Riverbend Baptist Church in Austin, Texas the pastor, Gerald Mann, says, "The messages are limited to 18 minutes, and among the most popular are, 'There's a Yes in Every Mess' , and 'Winning is Beginning' ". (1) Drama presentations, panel discussions, contemporary Christian music concerts, and videos are now the choice of the modem church to replace the faithful and powerful exposition of the Word of God. The most tragic of all is that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is being weakened, the word of God trivialized, and the believer robbed of spiritual discernment.

     Unfortunately, even the practice of doctrinal discernment is increasingly being discouraged in Christian circles. One finds, even within orthodox and evangelical circles, that many denounce the exercise of critical biblical thinking. A number of arguements are brought forth to defuse the use of sound doctrine to refute error within the Christian church. Among some of the arguments used are, "Don't divide the body of Christ"; or "Don't fight over words"; or "Not everyone is a theologian"; or "It won't send you to hell". It is fair to say that in all of these statements there is a grain of truth. However, these arguments are not used to buttress the open and honest discussion of the truth of God's word, but rather to close off and discourage critical thinking concerning Bible truth. The word of God enjoins us to "contend earnestly for the faith once delivered unto the saints" (Jude v. 3). There are times to separate from those who hold false doctrine; there are words over whose importance we must fight; and yes, in some cases the belief in false doctrine will send you to hell!

     One need not look far to see the heart-rending results of this lack of interest in biblical doctrine by the modern evangelical church. The spirit of the age hangs over the modern church like a dark ominous mist It seems that the serious Christian cannot avoid experiencing its impact every day as he moves within the modern church. One area in which this is evident is within contemporary Christian music. One popular song says, "The devil was in me and there wasn't enough room to let sweet Jesus in". (2) Isn't the Lord Jesus Christ the sovereign, Almighty One? Are we to believe that the Devil has the power to hinder the entrance of Christ into our lives? Another Christian sings, concerning the rapture of the church, "If to God we have been true, and we've lived above all sin". (3) This rapture may be a people-less event! Who has lived above all sin? Musicians and songwriters may lead, in some cases unknowingly, Christians into unbiblical thinking. Christian music can be a powerful platform for communicating wrong interpretations or misrepresentations of God's truth. Writers and conference speakers must also share the blame of misrepresenting the truths of the Bible in their books and messages. John Wimber, a writer, conference speaker, and pastor, tells of a man in South America who was saved simply by passing the evangelist on the street and being struck by the power of the Spirit that was upon him. Wimber even emphasizes that there was no presentation of the gospel that accounted for the conversion. (4) Is the gospel as presented in the Bible no longer necessary? Does the Lord now desire believers just to use the "walk-by-evangelistic-method"? Best-selling author and popular conference speaker Benny Hinn, who has sold over 1.7 million copies of his books, has stated in a sermon on the Trinity Broadcasting Network in October, 1990, that each person of the Trinity was a triune being. "If I can shock you - and maybe I should-there are nine of them (persons in the Trinity)." (5) Our theology must be rooted and grounded in the authority of the Bible.

     Unsound doctrine has spread out its tentacles into almost every segment of the Christian church. Unusual false teaching has even crept into Christian children's videos. Family Entertainment Network of Dallas, TX has produced a series of Bible story videos, one of the most popular being "He is Risen". In this video the theme song states, "He paid the price for me, there in Gethsemane, and He suffered willingly so I could live again." The Bible states that the Lord Jesus Christ said "It is finished" (John 19:30) on Calvary's hill, not in Gethsemane. Is this just a careless mistake? Many think not - the management, producers, and those involved in the muscial score, screenplay, and animation, are prominent members of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints (Mormons). In fact, the voice of Jesus was done by Ivan Crossland, a professor at Brigham Young University. (6) These videos contain numerous examples of Mormon doctrinal error. It is unfortunate that thousands of Christian families enjoy these videos without discerning their subtle yet serious doctrinal errors. What a challenge lies ahead for the evangelical church in strengthening her knowledge of Bible doctrine!

     Why is Bible doctrine important? The place given to teaching in the Bible indicates something of its importance. The word "doctrine" is a word translated from the Greek, which simply means "teaching". In the New Testament we find the word "doctrine" mentioned 49 times, and 93 times the word "teaching". In Paul's epistles to Timothy and Titus "doctrine" is mentioned 16 times. Barnabas and Paul felt constrained to devote a whole year to the instruction and exhortation of the converts at Antioch (Acts 11:22-26). Paul spent 18 months among the believers in Corinth teaching them the word of God (Acts 18:9-11). Some years later Timothy was exhorted to stay at Ephesus and to "give heed to reading, to exhortation, and to doctrine" (1 Tim. 4:13). The sheer frequency of Bible teaching and doctrine should impress upon us God's value for it. In the New Testament we find the writers of the scriptures commanding believers to be seriously engaged in the study of Bible doctrine. The Lord Jesus Christ at the mount of Olives before his ascension commanded his disciples, "Go, ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them...teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you..." (Matt 28: 19-20). Notice that the Lord Jesus Christ did not want believers to be merely acquainted with facts and details about the scriptures, but to observe and to do his word. Later in the New Testament, the apostle Paul writes to Timothy, "Preach the word, be diligent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (2 Tim. 4:2). Although this text is often used as an exhortation to evangelism, it seems that its intent is rather an exhortation to Timothy to teach Bible doctrine in the gathering of the assembly. Timothy is to be patient as he labors, preaches, and exhorts believers to know and obey Bible doctrine. There is much in the modem church which is "contrary to sound doctrine" (1 Tim 1:10). Many of God's people are "tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine" (Eph 4:14). There are sects and teachings which are "contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned" (Rom. 16:17), and the "time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine" (2 Tim. 4:3).

     Notably in this regard is the unfortunate interest in the soothsayers of the Lord's second coming. In 1992 Harold Camping, a nationally known radio Bible teacher and the President of "Family Radio" wrote a book called "1994". In this book Camping argues with dogmatism that the Lord will return in September of 1994. His interpretation is based upon an unorthodox use of Biblical numerology. Mr. Camping's interpretation of John 21:1-14 displays his highly questionable use of numerology. In this passage Jesus tells the disciples who were "about" 200 cubits out in the sea of Galilee to cast their nets on the right side of the boat. The result was a catch of 153 fish. According to Mr. Camping, the scriptures are teaching that "about 200 cubits" should represent 2000 years between the first and second comings of the Lord Jesus Christ. He further asserts that the most likely date for the birth of Jesus was October 4th, 7 AD. when the Jubliee trumpet sounded in Jerusalem. Then one needs only to add 2000 years minus one for the year "0" and you will arrive at the date of Christ's return the year 1994 AD. Concerning the 153 fish, Mr. Camping points out that the number 153 equals 3 times 3 times 17 (153=3x3xI7).

     Camping explains, "The number three signifies the purpose of God whereas the number 17 signifies the heaven. Thus we can learn that the propose of God is to bring all believers that are 'caught' by the gospel in to heaven." (p.503) Moreover Mr. Camping teaches that the Great tribulation began in the year 1988 (p.218), and that the scriptures also teach that the date of creation of the earth can be pinpointed to the year 11,013 BC. (p.295). (7) Unfortunately many unsuspecting Christians have been ensnared by this sensational yet seriously flawed modem prophetic teaching. Therefore, with all the more care we must seek to "take heed unto doctrine" (1 Tim. 4:16), to "give attendance to doctrine" (1 Tim. 4:13), and to "labor in word and doctrine" (1 Tim. 5:17).

     Finally, may we humbly say, God has written only one book - the Bible. The Bible offers eternal life to everyone who heeds the invitation, and spiritual food for Christians who want to grow. So it should be no surprise to us that this book continues to be the most read book in the history of the world. It was the first translated book in the world, the first printed full length book in the world; it is the most distributed book in the world, the best-selling book in the world, and the most translated book in the world; it is reported that over 2,400 translations exist today. (8) If it can be concluded that the "God-breathed" word of God is the most unique book in existence today, then surely the divine Author meant its doctrine to be read, studied, and obeyed.

Endnotes
(1) Kenneth Woodward, "A Time to Seek", Newsweek, December 17, 1990, 56
(2) Ron Rhodes, "Confusion in Christian Music", Christian Reseach Journal, Summer 1989, 3
(4) John Wimber, Kevin Springer, Power Healing, (San Francisco:Harper & Row, 1987) 26
(5) Randy Frame, "Best-Selling Author Admit Mistakes, Vows Changes", Christianity Today, Oct. 28, 1991, 44
(6) Paul Carden, "F.E.N. Moves to Dispel Controversy", Christian Research Journal, Summer 1992, 6
(7) Harold Camping, 1994, (New York, NY:Vantage Press, 1992),503
(8) Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, (San Bemardino:Here's Life Publishers) 1979, 18-19

 


 

"It is a very poor, yes, a very dangerous thing to sit down to the Word of God as a mere student, for the purpose of preparing sermons for other people. Nothing can be more deadening or withering to the soul. We may be drawing water for other people and all the while be rusty pipes ourselves!

C. H. Mackintosh - from "Thyself and Doctrine"

 


 

"... Present thyself approved of God, a workman that has not to be ashamed, cutting in a straight line the word of truth."

2 Timothy 2:15 - New Translation, of J. N. Darby

 


 

"There is in many churches today an aversion to doctrinal teaching. Many feel that people demand something oratorical and stirring. Sermonic and and emotional preaching may bind the congregation to a preacher; but when the preacher leaves, the people also leave. Joseph Parker was a great oratorical preacher, who built up a large congregation. Soon after his death, the Brooklin Tabernacle fell into the hands of Charles T. Russell and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society."

Henry Thiessen - Lectures in Systematic Theology

 


 

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