Wait for it.
If you’re a Christian asking questions and, not satisfied with the answers you’re being given, you start reading the Bible for yourself to see if what you’re being taught is true, it won’t take long before someone grabs you and says,
“You must stop being a rebel. If you stray from the teaching and direction of leadership, you’re in danger of losing correct doctrine.”
Correct doctrine — it’s the whip swung over the head of anyone who gets too far out of line, but rarely is the question asked,
“Just what, exactly, is correct doctrine?”
If it is the statement of faith made by one’s particular denomination, then this quickly becomes a problem, because even in the most general of statements, there is variance, and that’s among denominations that sort of, technically, agree. If a group of people from 15 different church entities took the gloves off and stated, baldly, correct doctrine from their standpoint, we would rapidly see the doughnuts and cheap coffee fly:
- Do we speak in tongues, or not?
- Is the communion bread Christ’s actual body, or just symbolic of it?
- Is the Sabbath on Sunday, or Saturday?
- Is salvation permanent, or can it be lost?
- Are people chosen, incontrovertibly, to be saved or damned, or do they have a say in this?
- Must one utter actual specific words to be saved, or is it possible for someone to experience grace without them?
- If one is of Hebrew descent, does one receive a free “get out of hell” free card simply for one’s ancestors being such a significant part of the Old Testament?
These are all fairly weighty issues, many of them an essential part of one group or another’s correct doctrine and vehemently defended by the experts, teachers, and leaders of that particular faith party. It quickly becomes obvious that if one ascribes to the “correct” answers of one denomination, one is in violation of the “right doctrine” of another.
So, perhaps “correct doctrine” is not so rigidly construed. Nor is it guaranteed that attending church is a mandatory element of finding it.
“Preach the Word,” Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2-4. “Be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction.”
Here’s the kicker:
“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”
(Interestingly, my Greek interlinear Bible translates “sound doctrine” as “healthy teaching.” This gives a different twist to the verse, one not quite so tightly wound.)
Many of us can conjure up an instant mental list of “ministries” that fall into Paul’s description, and they don’t necessarily look, or act, like weird, flaky cults. These latter are (relatively) easy to identify; more difficult is pinning down precious points of precept that sound good, and are hammered in as truth, but are a little hazy in their verity. A good lie is one blended smoothly with a lot of truth (for an example, look at the subtle difference in wording between Satan’s question to Eve in Genesis 3:1 and God’s actual words in 2:16).
So what do our “itching ears want to hear”?
That we can all be rich, that every prayer we pray should be answered if we force God to do so by certain secret words, that our positive attitude affects our physical reality — that, in short, we can be as gods.
I’m pretty sure that this is not what Paul means by “correct doctrine.” Or healthy teaching.
Or how about this, a bit harsher:
That we must submit to every authority — secular or religious — because God demands it, that God is so focused on our sinful nature that He is repulsed by us, that we must prove our love and faith to Him first before He will love us, that He rejects people “living in sin” and wants nothing, at all, to do with them.
John chapters 14, 15, 16, and 17 record many of Jesus’s words which should encourage us that we can, and He wants us to, have a secure, loving relationship with our Father the way He does.
Indeed, if we are concerned about correct doctrine, or better yet, healthy teaching, we can start in no better place than this: that God is trustworthy, truthful, loving, gracious, kind, and desiring to have a close, intimate relationship with us.
And to learn more about this, we need nothing more than time with our Father: time reading His words, time reflecting upon His goodness, time getting it firmly through our heads that He is light with no darkness in Him at all, and He never acts in a random, irritable, unfair, demeaning, thoughtless manner — the type of behavior we too frequently experience, and come to expect, from men.
To read more upon this topic, please follow the link to my Commonsense Christianity article at BeliefNet, Not a Leader? Good! God Can Talk to You.
This article is linked to Woman to Woman, Imparting Grace, I Choose Joy, Wholehearted Home, Intention, Soul Survival, Mom to Mom, Hearts from Home, Tell It Tuesday, A Little R and R, Growing in Grace, Jennifer Dawn, Raising Homemakers, Wise Woman, Moms the Word, Titus 2sday, Christian Mom Blogger, Look at the Book, Simple Moments, Missional Woman, Rebecca, Arabah, Friendship Friday, Misadventure,
Great Points. Thank you father God for this word. Help us to study to show ourselves approved., workmen who need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of God. In Jesus name. Amen.
One thing that has stood out to me in recent months is that God is bigger than everything — including His own Word. Everyone’s journey to Him is different, and it’s supposed to be that way! He wants an individualized, personal relationship with us… not a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all version of Faith.
Heather — you have hit on a truth that many people don’t get — God is bigger than His word, the same way that any author is bigger, and more, than the words he or she writes. We tend to revere the Bible itself as a holy thing — worshiping it, actually, as an idol — and miss the bigger point. The Bible is one way, a very efficient way, that God tells us ABOUT Himself. It is a means, like the created world around us into which He has infused His personality, to learn more about God and strengthen that beautiful, perfect, highly individualized relationship you mention.
As one author put it, people are content to stop with God’s promises, as opposed to seeking out God Himself. When we look for God, the promises all fall into place, but when we stop at the promises, we’re in the position of a child, stomping our feet, and crying out, “But you SAID you’d do this! Just DO it!”