Keeping Sound Doctrine Doesn’t Create Cacophony!

In my opinion, one of the things that orchestrates the din of theological disunity is the thought process that suggests that one slip from a particular tenet of doctrine will result in a tumble from the refined, pure air on top of the mountain of tranquil doctrinal soundness to a morass of spiritually messy slop. One of the verses oft quoted to support this thinking is Titus 2:1, where it says “[y]ou must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.”

Here’s my question, and it is one I haven’t heard asked before:

What is “doctrine”?

Or, to expand on the question, do Paul and other authors who use the word doctrine intend for the word to signify how we use the word “doctrine” today? For example, would it be fair to read Timothy and Titus to say such things as “you must teach what is in accord with a sound view of the doctrine of soteriology (salvation),” or “watch your life and your doctrine of baptism [or fill in any theological subject matter] closely.”

I believe that is how many theological “conservatives” read such texts, but is that really what is being said in the New Testament? Does that reflect God’s nature, character and heart?

The Greek word translated doctrine is “didiskalia,” which comes from the word “didiskalos,” which comes from the word “didasko.” Didasko is the verb “to teach” and didiskalos means “teacher.” Didiskalia, the word translated doctrine in these passages, thus simply is teaching or “what is taught.” So, it would seem to me that to understand didiskalia, or doctrine, as intended by the Scriptures, we must look to what the Greatest Teacher, Jesus, taught and what method of teaching He used.

The first time we see the word “doctrine” used in the scripture is in Matthew and Mark (I have no idea which book was written first and I understand that those in ivory towers argue about this and use words such as Markan priority, but I find such argument a wee bit silly). In Matthew 15:9 Jesus is recorded as saying “But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men,” (KJV) and Mark 7:7 is the corollary account of this quote of Jesus.

Is it a stretch to suggest that Jesus helps us understand that he would not teach as doctrine “the commandments of men”? And does it further bend the scriptures to say that, by way of example, “thou shalt believe that baptism must only be done by full immersion” is a mere commandment of men and that it is vain to try to worship our Lord Jesus by teaching such doctrines and only working with, in missions and ministry, those who would teach the same teaching of man? (Please don’t get caught up in the example I chose; I mean for that to include almost any teaching we consider “doctrine.”)

Looking further at the Titus 2 passage, does anyone else read that passage as focusing more on “good works” than any particular theological teaching like the doctrines of salvation or of spiritual gifts? Moreover, isn’t it interesting to note that when one produces the fruits of the Holy Spirit, no one and no law can oppose one in so doing? Thus, it becomes natural, when doing good works, that “one who is an opponent will be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.” But, if you argue for a particular brand of Calvinism, Arminianism or Open Theism, one can poke holes in your teaching easily. The same can be true of cessationism versus continualism, all the forms of eschatology, and so much more. Moreover, to cover those holes one must rely on his or her skills of apology, not on the Holy Spirit.

Given all of this, I really am uncertain that what I’ve been taught all my life as “doctrine” really is doctrine as Jesus and Paul and the early Christians thought of it. As I meditate upon the life Jesus led, with His band of followers, and ask God directly, “Daddy, what is sound doctrine” I am losing the vision of doctrine that draws pictures of fine sounding arguments about theological constructs, theories, and systematic theology; in its place, I am seeing more beautiful pictures of a father tenderly caressing a crying child, a lover pushing back the tendrils of hair that have fallen into his lover’s face, a crying father greeting his long lost son who ran away to “find himself,” a church that sells its million dollar buildings and takes all the money to a people group without clean water and a way to support itself, a family that opens up its home to the homeless or abused or a fellow church member who has lost their job, and this list can go on and on.

What will bring the children of God back into unity will, and must be, a focus on Jesus Christ and Christ alone, not purportedly sound theories of what a particular passage of scripture teaches. God’s word is living and active and it is Jesus. We need to follow Him and His life. His life was marked by a complete submission to the Father; likewise, ours must be. Even good works, without direction and authority from God and to His glory is nothing more than a nice social work of humanitarian aid. But, in Christ, our good works take on a whole new life-changing meaning. I don’t think any of us will stand before the Father and say, “Dad, I got it right on Calvinism!” We will join in the chorus of Holy, holy holy and set aside all differences because we will finally realize that we aren’t right; we simply are His. And in that realization we can rest and begin the process of really getting to know Him more and more intimately. Eternal Relationship.


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