Truth and Doctrine

by Mike Ratliff

3 Ἀγαπητοί, πᾶσαν σπουδὴν ποιούμενος γράφειν ὑμῖν περὶ τῆς κοινῆς ἡμῶν σωτηρίας ἀνάγκην ἔσχον γράψαι ὑμῖν παρακαλῶν ἐπαγωνίζεσθαι τῇ ἅπαξ παραδοθείσῃ τοῖς ἁγίοις πίστει. (Jude 3 NA27)

3 Beloved, being extremely eager to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you encouraging you to contend for the faith delivered once for all to the saints. (Jude 3 Possessing the Treasure New Testament V1)

Last week, on December 20th, as I was preparing to leave for Oklahoma to visit family over the weekend, I received an “odd” comment on my post Evil Personified.  I approved it, but made no reply as I pondered what that person was trying to say. Then I received an email from that very same person later asking me to remove that comment. Here is part of that email:

 …if you can, please remove my comments – i don’t want to get involved – was involved in another site and they mentioned reformed theology as you do.  i agree with the article you wrote but i have not studied anything other than HIS word and HIS teaching – i have never studied doctrine – please, no hard feelings –  HIS word has kept me and sustained me.  i took HIM at His word that He would be my Teacher and He has fulfilled that promise.  i still agree with the article…

Here was the basis of my reply:

…I’ll remove your comment, but you must understand that Reformed Theology and what our Lord taught are the very same thing. It is the exegesis of his word that is basis for Reformed Theology and it is Doctrine that is what the Apostles and Prophets taught us the is the foundation of the Church with Christ being the Chief Cornerstone holding that foundation together. You cannot say you believe his word and be a fence sitter when it comes to Doctrine….

That person replied:

…thank you for removing my blog –  i am not a fence sitter, mike – i am a true believer who takes HIS word for what it says –  we could argue what the early church taught – i am interested in what Yeshua taught and i take it just as HE states it.  there is no go between in what i have been taught.  i know it is pure and that it is TRUTH –  why put doctrine into the mix?…

There were a few more “back and forth” comments, but I could not get this person to understand that truth and the doctrines given to us by the Lord and his apostles are one and the same.

13 ἕως ἔρχομαι πρόσεχε τῇ ἀναγνώσει, τῇ παρακλήσει, τῇ διδασκαλίᾳ. (1 Timothy 4:13 NA27)

13 Until I come attend to the public reading, the exhortation, and the teaching of scripture. (1 Timothy 4:13 Possessing the Treasure New Testament V1)

In this passage, the Apostle Paul commands Timothy to attend to handling God’s Word diligently in a certain way. He is to read it publicly, that is, read it to his flock. He is to us it to exhort them. The last part of that command τῇ διδασκαλίᾳ or literally, “the teaching” or “the doctrine”  or “the instruction.” Timothy was being commanded to impart “doctrine” to his flock. That is what Biblical teaching is. A Pastor’s primary function is this very thing. He is not to be an entertainer or entrepreneur nor even is he to place his love for his flock above the necessity to teach them the truth from God’s Word.

The person with whom I was in disagreement was all about just being a Jesus follower with no doctrinal boundaries while he and those he set as the foundational teachers of the Church teach us the very opposite. Go back to the passage I placed at the top of this post, which is Jude 3. I ask, how can we contend for the faith if we do not know the truth? If your truth is different than my truth then how can we do that?

The word “contend” in Jude 3 translates the verb ἐπαγωνίζεσθαι or epagōnizesthai the Infinitive, Present, Deponent case of ἐπαγωνίζομαι or epagōnizomai. This is a compound word made up of ἀγών or agōn, “”which means strife, contention, [a] contest for victory.” It along with the verb ἀγωνίζομαι or agōnizomai originally referred to the fighting and struggle involved in the Greek games.” By adding the prefix ἐπί or epi,. “for”, Jude is telling us that we must fight for the faith. The person with whom I was in discussion thought that was what was going on, but how can you ἐπαγωνίζεσθαι for the faith if all you have is doctrine-less Christianity? All you can do is point to your own experience not our immutable God and His doctrine that never changes.

My brethren, we can make an idol out of anything and pride is deceitful even masquerading as humility so we must always understand that Christ is our all and without him we can do nothing. God gave us his word and we are to read it, exhort others from it, and teach doctrine from it as commanded.

Soli Deo Gloria!

14 thoughts on “Truth and Doctrine

  1. This is very interesting Mike. I’ve been struggling with a covenant church I attend where in their “Identity” section one of the statements reads; “Biblical, but not doctrinaire.” Here is the whole thing from the covenant web site-

    http://www.covchurch.org/who-we-are/

    The Evangelical Covenant Church is a rapidly growing multiethnic denomination in the United States and Canada with ministries on five continents of the world. Founded in 1885 by Swedish immigrants, the ECC values the Bible as the word of God, the gift of God’s grace and ever-deepening spiritual life that comes through a faith with Jesus Christ, the importance of extending God’s love and compassion to a hurting world, and the strength that comes from unity within diversity.

    The Evangelical Covenant Church is:

    Evangelical, but not exclusive
    Biblical, but not doctrinaire
    Traditional, but not rigid
    Congregational, but not independent

    In Acts 2:42 doesn’t teaching mean doctrine? From Matthew Henry’s Commentaries-

    1. They were diligent and constant in their attendance upon the preaching of the word. They continued in the apostles’ doctrine, and never disowned nor deserted it; or, as it may be read, they continued constant to the apostles’ teaching or instruction; by baptism they were discipled to be taught, and they were willing to be taught. Note, Those who have given up their names to Christ must make conscience of hearing his word; for thereby we give honour to him, and build up ourselves in our most holy faith.

    I’m not the smartest man but even I know you cannot be biblical, but not doctinaire!The two CANNOT be seperated.

    And I get a bit nervous with the unity within diversity statement.

    Further thoughts/comments anyone?

    Geo. Brown

  2. George,

    They say:

    The Evangelical Covenant Church is:

    Evangelical, but not exclusive
    Biblical, but not doctrinaire
    Traditional, but not rigid
    Congregational, but not independent

    The first two are completely contradictory. The third one is more of a man-made/religiosity thing. I don’t understand the fourth one having grown up as a Baptist.

    We are to be unified in Christ. Our doctrine is to be based in His truth. How can that vary? I’m with you brother.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  3. We are “in one accord” when the Holy Spirit leads us in all Truth by the Word in context. God’s Word is our doctrine. Anything else is “wiggle room” which is man’s attempt to have an escape path for what he doesn’t want to allow God to deal with in His life. Many times Mike, folks see any name such as fundamental or reformed as a system arranged by men and not God…in fact most times it is. Even with the term reformed, think Piper for example. I think perhaps this was the individuals “hang-up” with the difference between what he thinks he believes and what he thinks you believe.
    I follow this blog, not because we are uniform in our understanding thanks to the Reformed label, but because of your desire for the pure Truth of the Word IE the Doctrine, and that is my desire as well. I, like you prefer the label if you will Monergist, as opposed to synergism. If this makes me appear of the reformed label so be it, yet I do not claim to be anything other than a disciple of Christ Jesus. This places you and I in one accord even as we see through a glass dimly.
    My hope is that this person can understand what I am trying to explain (probably rather poorly). Yet, whether they want to call it doctrine or not is no matter, for again the pure Word is the Doctrine that holds us in One Accord whether we accept the label or reject the label. He must increase…and He does. We must decrease and we will…willingly or not!
    Stay the course brother, we are all after all in His reform school. :)

  4. Mike,
    Good to have yo back, my brother. Anyone who thinks he is or can be “just biblical” without having any theological framework or specific doctrines is simple-minded and blind to his own worldview and presuppositions. Yet such self descriptions are seen as safe, because everyone knows “doctrine divides”. Yep – biblical doctrine divides sheep from goats :-)

  5. Mickey, yes, that is it. As I dealt with that person I could feel the fowler’s nets trying to trip me up into falling for that synergistic, feel good, let’s just all get along group hug form of non-Christianity that Christ preached about nowhere in the Word. Monergism tells us that there is only one way, God’s way, and that it is Him who does it all. He uses means to accomplish His will and many misinterpret those means and make them into all forms of idolatrous religious practices, but we have to keep our eyes fixed on our Lord Jesus Christ, our prize, and obey Him, not men. When we do that, presuppositions are revealed as divisions take place for “strange reasons” and those who should know better go off on weird tangents like Piper and we all wonder what’s going on. We must take everything back to the root, to those presuppositions and when we do, we will see what is behind professing believers behavior despite what they say they believe.

    I pray for wisdom and discernment every day so that God will be glorified in me. I used to think that meant that God would use me in my writing and ministry to open people’s eyes to the truth through expository teaching, etc. However, lately I have seen that even as he does do that at times, most of the time, he answers that in my personal interactions with those around me in revealing my lack of humility and need to walk in repentance, et cetera. Even when I deal with those who have it all wrong, I must deal with them the way Jesus would.

  6. You have it right Manfred. I was dumbfounded by that encounter. That person told me their Greek and Hebrew was as good if not better than mine so all of this was just my opinion against theirs. I countered with God’s Word in context. Every protest was countered that way. Every personal attack, which is always meant to put us on the defensive and make us respond from a basis of pride, can only be countered that way. It is utterly useless to argue from a personal experience vs personal experience basis in that arena. Thanks for sharing your wisdom brother.

  7. Mike, it sounds like your emailer believes that if we learn from the godly men from the past then we have unwisely resorted to using “go-betweens” to help us understand the scriptures. People who think like this believe that their doctrine or teaching is “pure” because it is just “them and their bible.” And so the logic goes that those of us who believe, for instance, in “Calvinism” have resorted to believing what one man taught and have abandoned our bibles. Well sorry, but a wise Christian studies his bible, but also takes into count what godly bible teachers and preachers from the past tell us. This is not to place man’s word above God’s. But it is a guardrail, if you will. For instance, chances are if I come up with a so-called truth that no one in church history has ever believed or taught….it probably isn’t biblical? Sadly the American church in particular has abandoned church history, godly men (like Calvin and Knox for instance) have been spoken against, and so people are innoculated against sound biblical theology and important Christian history. They think they are wiser than others, yet they have cut themselves off from much that is edifying and enlightening from the past. this wrong thinking also does their Christian brethren a disservice. Do I believe in the doctrines of grace aka “Calvinism” simply because Calvin taught it? I do not. Even before I heard of Calvin as a new Christian I began to study the Bible. Praise the Lord that I learned from the beginning of my Christian life this essential truth: God is sovereign. God has established His throne in heaven and His kingdom rules over all. Psalm 103:19 He does whatever He pleases in heaven and on earth. Therefore He saves whom He will. He brings salvation to hearts; salvation is of the Lord from first to last. Christ died on the cross to redeem His people. The death of the Lord Jesus Christ actually accomplished something – the salvation for His church whom He bought with His own blood. I didn’t need Calvin to teach me this, BUT to know that this is what he and other godly men from the past also believed and taught helps me to know that I am on the right track. Mike, blessings on you! Keep up the good work!

  8. Paul’s answer to the errors and erroneous doctrines and worldly wisdom creeping in at Corinth was the preaching of the Cross, no intellectual debating or discussion, he preached doctrinally according to revelation of the mystery he had received and experienced from lord Jesus. Amen for truth.

  9. I guess god didn’t give us teachers, nor did the Holy Spirit do any work over the past 2000 years through teachers.

    Theology is simply the study of God’s word.

    Almost certainly such a person has some doctrine they don’t like. Attacking the authority of scripture in such a way always has a motive.

  10. An individual’s skills in the original languages does not necessarily imply orthodoxy nor that one will remain so. Dr. Gill speaks of a gentleman who thoroughly knew of the doctrines of grace, taught them, and yet, sadly, ended up a unitarian. Intellectual assent alone does no one any good. I think we should study the original languages and strive to excel in them highly for the glory of God. This is extremely critical and has profound implications for exegesis, orthodox doctrine, and the instruction of believers to better and continually grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Without a doubt truth is under siege and there are many out there who can give you a detailed analysis of the doctrines of grace and yet have twisted, erroneous beliefs (ie. they approve of forms of lying and think God commends it). May we rejoice in the truth that God has revealed unto us in all (toto) of Holy Scripture and be ever grateful that the Holy Spirit leads us and guides into all truth (which includes doctrine).

  11. Michael L, what you shared speak volumes about what we see all through the visible church in our time. Aren’t all sorts of fellows with supposedly solid theological credentials going off into those slippery slopes of apostasy while most of wonder what is going on? Just professing to know the truth and even teaching it doesn’t mean one is in Christ. We are continually warned in scripture to be prepared and remain firm as we are tested that we remain in the faith for those who depart are those are not genuine.

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