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Section 7... Living The Faith... The Biblical Christian/
The Christian And Knowledge/ Theology and Doctrine. Part I

 

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The Christian and Knowledge:
 Theology and Doctrine. Part I

Carol Brooks

PART I: Introduction: Defining Theology and Doctrine, Theology and Doctrine Are For All Christians... The Question is..., "Knowing" or "Experiencing" God, Is Biblical Doctrine Too Difficult To Be Grasped?, Spiritual Babes, Is Doctrine Really That Important?, The Consequences of False Doctrine...it Damns and Destroys and Determines Practice, Doctrine is Essential to Salvation and Evangelization, Religious and Sincere, but Still Wrong: Saul of Tarsus and Apollos.

PART II: Defining Orthodoxy and Heresy, Who Should Judge?, Discerning The Difference, How NOT To Decide What To Believe, How To Decide What To Believe, What About "Spiritual Discernment"?, Does The Heart Have a Role?, Conclusion

 

PART I: ON THIS PAGE

Introduction: Defining Theology and Doctrine
In part, thanks to apostate, so called "Christian" leaders like Paul Crouch, the words "theology" and "doctrine" are not only widely misunderstood, but brushed aside by Christians who do not recognize that both are crucial to authentic Christian faith.

Theology and Doctrine Are For All Christians. The Question is...
not whether or not we have theology and doctrine, but whether or not we have good theology, resulting in good doctrine, or whether we have we have bad theology, resulting in bad doctrine.

"Knowing" or "Experiencing" God
our entertainment oriented, anti-intellectual, often lazy and superficial culture, that wants everything, including religion, in pre-digested, convenient little packages, is giving less and less heed to in-depth Biblical study and understanding, which leads to right doctrine.

Is Biblical Doctrine Too Difficult To Be Grasped?
The fact is, precluding the few who are truly incapable of understanding doctrinal matters, such as the very young or the mentally incapacitated, too many adults have simply not taken the time to go beyond the very basics, frequently getting even those wrong.

Spiritual Babes
The author of the book of Hebrews was quite vexed with Christians who refused to proceed beyond the most basic of beliefs, and thus remained spiritual babes.

Is Doctrine Really That Important?
The Importance of Knowledge
According To The Bible A Lack Of Knowledge Is Dangerous
Salvation And The Church Are Built on Sound Doctrine
The Consequences of False Doctrine

The Consequences of False Doctrine
False Doctrine Damns and Destroys
Doctrine Usually Determines Practice

Doctrine is Essential to Salvation

Doctrine is Essential to Evangelization

Saul of Tarsus and Apollos: Religious and Sincere, But Still Wrong
Making the point that someone can be sincere and religious, but sincerely and 'religiously' wrong

 

Introduction
In part, thanks to apostate, so called "Christian" leaders like Paul Crouch, all too many Christians seem to be under the impression that "theology" and "doctrine" are of minimal importance. They are not only widely misunderstood, but brushed aside by Christians, some of whom believe that theology and doctrine have little relevance to their religious life and practice. Other seem to think that  these five dollar words are best left to those who have spent years poring over dusty tomes, or spent at least a year or two in in the halls of academia, and have a string of letters after their names.

Perhaps the words "theology" and "doctrine" gets Christians on the defensive, because they have been taught to believe that their faith must be based in the heart, therefore all that is important will be "experienced". Or perhaps they want no challenges to their shallow 'easy Christianity', which requires no intellectual effort, and allows people to coast along, never being stretched, or using their God given brains.

Because both theology and doctrine are crucial to authentic Christian faith, a short definition of both words is in order here (something Crouch should have looked up before he opened his mouth and put his foot in it, blabbing about 'doctrinal doo-doo' on public television).


Theology

A simple explanation is that the word "ology" is a branch of learning, the subject defined by the first part of the word... as in

    biology.. the study of living organisms.

    bibliology.. the study of the doctrines of the Bible, 
    cardiology... the study of the structure, function, and disorders of the heart

    oncology.. the branch of medicine that deals with tumors, including study of their development, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

    psychology.. the science that deals with mental processes and behavior

    zoology... the branch of biology that deals with animals and animal life

In short, since theos means God, theology can be defined as a 'study of God'.

Those Christians who think "theology" is either completely irrelevant, or not for them, are wrong, because even their most basic beliefs ... that there is one God who created the world, comes from theology.

No one can evangelize without theology, because the gospel is theology. The heart of Christianity is that we are all sinful, but Jesus, who was not just a great and wise man, but God in human flesh who, by His death, paid the penalty of our sin, thus saving us from God's wrath, and giving us eternal life, is nothing but 100% theology.

However, since human philosophy, logic, and reasoning, etc., can often be incorporated into the study of God, and can, to varying degrees, be responsible for any conclusions reached, the distinction has to be made between theology and Christian theology. The latter consists of the study of God and His relationship with the world (mankind), only as outlined by the Bible.

Since the person doesn't exist who has met God in person, or traveled to where God abides and is therefore qualified to tell the rest of us what He is like, our knowledge of God and His relationship to us, depends solely on what He chooses to tell, or show, us. Therefore, Christian theology can only be based on Divine revelation and cannot, in any part, come from human experience, ideas, or imagination. A phrase author Shane Rosenthal says he hears quite often is... "Well, my idea of God is. . . .". As he says the problem is that people's idea of God just might be idolatry if it is not based squarely upon the Word of God". [1]

    Note: Systematic theology, is an attempt to formulate an orderly, rational, and coherent, account of the Christian faith and beliefs. Since not all the Bible's teachings on any particular topic are all found in one place, humans have organized the teachings of the Scriptures by subject, collating as many of the pertinent passages as possible. Because this makes it easier to read and study Biblical doctrine in a more systematic way, it can be an extremely useful aid to learning the Scriptures. However, it pays to remember that all works of systematic theology are, in the final analysis, based on the judgment and conclusions of a particular individual. And, since even the best of theologians have been known to misinterpret and misconstrue passages, all man's work has to be carefully compared with the Bible. The Scriptures themselves have to be the final word, regardless of how scholarly the work appears to be.

Doctrine
The word doctrine seems to have become associated with suffocating laws that are designed to severely limit, if not completely take way all people's freedom. Some people who shy away from the word apparently do so because, to them, it smacks of control and domination. Sadly, this is far from the truth. The word "doctrine" comes from from the Latin doctrina, which simply means instruction or teaching.

    TheFreeDictionary: "creed or body of teachings of a religious, political, or philosophical group presented for acceptance or belief" [2]

    Princeton.edu: a belief (or system of beliefs) accepted as authoritative by some group or school) [3]

In short, doctrine is that which is believed and taught. The doctrine of the church is simply the creed, or body of teachings,  the church holds to be true and, therefore, teaches.

Christian doctrine, or the teachings of the Scriptures, answers the fundamental questions of life -- who God is, who we are, why we are here, and what happens to us (if anything) after we die. The conclusions you reach in regard to these questions and others about God, the church, sin, etc is your doctrine (what you believe, and would tell others), which comes from whatever theology, you have been exposed to.

While "theology" and "doctrine" are inter-related, Christian theology can, and often does, refer to evidence not specifically found in the Scriptures and therefore, cannot be treated as inerrant and infallible. For example, the reasons are put forward in support of the existence of God appeal to both philosophical and logical truths, not explicitly set forth in the Bible. Also any argument for the commonly accepted canon of Scripture involves both logic and historical evidence, neither of which specifically comes from the Bible.

On the other hand, Biblical doctrine is confined to only what is taught in the Bible.


Theology and Doctrine Are For All Christians. The Question is...

All Christians are theologians since, based on however much study they have done, they have some knowledge and thoughts about God.

All Christians have doctrine, because, when it comes to their faith, all Christians believe something.

Therefore the question is not whether or not we have theology and doctrine, but whether or not we have good theology, resulting in good doctrine, or whether we have we have bad theology, resulting in bad doctrine.

Since true faith is built on certain core doctrines of Christianity, faith that does not rest on these basic truths, cannot save. This exemplified by what Paul said about the Jews who had rejected Jesus.

    "They have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge." [Romans 10:2]

Christians who think that theology is best left to the pastor, or other church leader, because they attended a seminary, are treading very dangerous ground. If you are one of these Christians, then you have placed your faith and, possibly, your eternal destiny, not in the hands of the God of the universe, but in the hands of a so-called expert.

If you do not scour the Scriptures yourself to see if all said pastor/leader is teaching is Biblical truth (note that a few out of context "proof texts" don't count), then how will you know if, tomorrow, your church veers off course and starts teaching false doctrine? Where will you stand if your pastor decides that his church needs to join the 21st century and become a seeker-sensitive, or purpose driven church. How many others in the congregation, who are without the benefit of sound Biblical doctrine, will meekly go along with his ideas (after all, he "should know about such things" and he does quote best selling authors in his arguments for the changes).

Considering the astronomical stakes, are you willing to risk that your are being "tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming"?  [Ephesians 4:14 NASB]


"Knowing" or "Experiencing" God
Unfortunately, our entertainment oriented, anti-intellectual, often lazy and superficial culture, that wants everything, including religion, in pre-digested, convenient little packages, is giving less and less heed to in-depth Biblical study and understanding, which leads to right doctrine. Which is why, as said by Eric Schumacher

    ... books like "Experiencing God" are so popular, as opposed to "Knowing God". This is demonstrated in our Christian book stores which sell so many collections of inspirational stories, how-to-books, novels, and Christian-entertainment, instead of profound, concentrated doctrinal teachings!

    This is why the depth of so many church-goer's theology goes no further than a collection of Biblical sounding, pop-Christian slogans and catch-phrases. Their theology is summed up in ‘Let go and let God!', ‘Do your best and God will do the rest', ‘You need to expect to meet God when you...' and ‘What Would Jesus Do?', instead of "Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart"(Ps. 37:4) or "Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord"(Hebrews 12:14). Too many are content to read devotionals of familiar passages of Scripture linked together with a few inspirational stories and jokes, instead of studying Romans 9, the Trinity, God's wrath, grace and sovereignty, or what Christ did when He died. [4]

Not only is the contemporary American culture doing all it can to dissuade us from using our minds, but that trend has, unfortunately, carried over into the church. Even many evangelical Christians, who maintain certain doctrines to be true, only go so far and no further, paying little attention to those beyond a bare minimum. They coast along, never maturing in their faith, never digging any deeper than they absolutely have to. Although I am not familiar with all his beliefs, William Lane Craig said it very well in his book Reasonable Faith...

    "Our churches are filled with Christians who are idling in intellectual neutral. As Christians, their minds are going to waste. One result of this is an immature, superficial faith. People who simply ride the roller coaster of emotional experience are cheating themselves out of a deeper and richer Christian faith by neglecting the intellectual side of that faith. They know little of the riches of deep understanding of Christian truth, of the confidence inspired by the discovery that one's faith is objectively true" [5].

However, all too many modern day Christians assure us that we do not need to know God, but merely need to feel His presence. Those who appear to do so, are often believed to be spiritually superior. This enormous lie is behind the many, if not most, of the heretical practices found in the modern church.

In the effort to reach this  postmodern generation, the brain has been bypassed in favor of sensory-perceptual experiences. All intellectual effort (read studying the Bible chapter by chapter) has been supplanted by methods intended to get the practitioner into direct communion with “God”. The fact that these mystical methods bring instant gratification is more than enough to guarantee their success with an experience oriented generation, who do not even bother to question whether they are actually having an encounter with Jesus/God. Because it feels right, or because they imagine they feel God's presence, Christians have been led by the nose down the very treacherous paths, venturing into areas where, I am sure, even angels fear to tread.

Yet we have no such qualms... lulling ourselves into a false sense of security, to say nothing of a false feeling of spirituality, we walk labyrinths, indulge in contemplative prayer, and bray at the moon. Yet, few realize that these feelings of "holiness" and "spirituality" are little but the Alpha, or "resting state" of the brain. This passive state, often induced by a certain rhythms, like the repetition of a single word or prayer, walking in circles etc. causes the individual concerned to be non-critical and non-analytical, and is well known to teachers of various mystic methods.

Because it is similar to being half way between being fully awake and asleep. It is often associated with the transportation to a "higher realm of consciousness" or mystical experience. Yet, the wolves have gone so far as to say it is the only route to God. For example, on page 104 of his book Gentle Revolutionaries, Brennan Manning says that "Intimate knowledge of God only comes through centering prayer."  [Emphasis Added].

Jesus' take on this was slightly different. He said the greatest of the two most important commandments in the Law (upon which all the others hung) was that we should love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind.' [Matthew 22:36-37. Emphasis Added].

It seems to me that we, as Christians, get so familiar with certain Bible passages, that we read the words, without paying the slightest attention to what they are saying. On reading, or hearing, these words of Jesus, most Christians have probably rightly come away with the idea that we are to love God. However, this was only part of the message. How many have missed the Savior saying that our minds are to be involved as well.

Paul also said the mind was to be transformed and set on things above...

    And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. [Romans 12:2 NASB]

    For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also. [1 Corinthians 14:14-15 NASB]

    Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. [Colossians 3:2 NASB]

These are details that we cannot afford to gloss over, since it flies in the face of the all too common belief that the only important thing is that we love and serve Jesus as Lord.


Is Biblical Doctrine Too Difficult To Be Grasped?
There seems to be Christians who are under the impression that Biblical doctrine is too difficult and complex to be grasped. The fact is, precluding the few who are truly incapable of understanding doctrinal matters, such as the very young or the mentally incapacitated, the too many adults have simply not taken the time to go beyond the very basics, frequently getting even those wrong.

Virtually all Christians would enormously benefit from a sound, knowledgeable teacher. However, many Christians seem to perfectly content settling for the never ending pleas for money, backed up with the usual "sow a seed and receive a hundred fold in return" hogwash, in place of sound, in-depth, Biblical study. What is truly tragic is that these people will never discover the many, many riveting facets of the Scriptures, that leave a person absolutely enthralled, and even more in awe of the God who planned it all, down to the last meticulous detail. For instance see

    Prophecy and Typology Western Protestants interpret prophecy in one of four different ways: Preterism, Historicism, Idealism, or Futurism... Four or five basic schools of thought have lent themselves to several offshoots. To a Western Gentile mind, one of these four methods, (or a derivative of) is the correct view of all Biblical prophecy. However a Jew in the first century, as Jesus was Himself, would have seen all four simultaneously. Western ideas of prophecy involve prediction and fulfillment. The Hebrew idea of prophecy is a pattern that is repeated several times. The initial prophecy is fulfilled more than once, leading up to a final, ultimate fulfillment. Each of the multiple fulfillments is both a type of, and a lesson on, the ultimate fulfillment.

    The Seven Feasts of Israel The most complete description of the Jewish feasts is found in Leviticus 23, each of which have both a historic and prophetic significance. They celebrate a historical event in Israel's past, but also are a prophecy of future events four of which have already come to pass. . it is important to note that the Feasts that symbolize a sequence of events, were given by God in a set chronological order. Therefore the events that they symbolize will take place in the same exact order. I have read way too many interpretations of the Feasts that jump backwards and forwards between them in an effort to make them fit into pre-conceived end time scenarios. What we need to do is make the order of the Feasts our guideline to coming events, instead of scrambling them to fit our ideas.


Spiritual Babes
The author of the book of Hebrews was quite vexed with Christians who refused to proceed beyond the most basic of beliefs, and thus remained spiritual babes.

In chapter 5, he introduced the topic of Melchizedek, with the comment that he had much to say on the topic, but he feared that his readers who had become dull and seemed to need instruction in the most basic elements of their religion, would not comprehend what he had to say. He then temporarily dropped the whole Melchizedek issue, and focused on the obviously connected topics of the importance of going beyond the "elementary principles" of the religion [5:12-13], acquiring the maturity necessary to comprehend the sublime mysteries taught by the Bible [6:1-3], and the danger of apostasy [6:4-6]. In his words...

    [5:12] For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. [5:13] For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. [5:14] But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. [6:1] Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, [6:2] of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. [6:3] And this we will do, if God permits. [6:4] For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, [6:5] and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, [6:6] and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. [Hebrews 5:12-6:6  NASB]

While there is no question that Jesus said, in Matthew 18:3, that unless we became like little children we would not enter the kingdom of heaven, the childlike faith that Jesus commended, is a whole hearted, unquestioning, trust in God as our heavenly Father and Savior. It bears no resemblance to a childish and immature faith, which Paul warned us about, when he said

    Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature. [1 Corinthians 14:20 NASB]


Is Doctrine Really That Important?
Parables like the one about the sheep and goats definitely convey the importance of orthopraxy, or right living, which is so stressed by the emerging church, However, if what Jesus said was not important, one has to wonder why when He commissioned His followers to go and "make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit", He added that they were to teach them to "observe all that I commanded you" [Matthew 28:19-20 NASB]

And why He told His disciples, that after He was gone, the Father would send them the Holy Spirit who would help them remember all He had told them.

    "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. [John 14:26 NASB]

In fact the Savior actually warned people who already believed that they needed to hold on to His teachings.

    As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him. So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." [John 8:30-32 NASB Emphasis Added]

We cannot possibly call ourselves Jesus' followers or disciples, if we do not adhere to His teaching, and are not obedient to His instructions, as our Lord's Himself pointed out. Note that Jesus' words were addressed to those that came to believe in Him, inasmuch as they believed Jesus' claims to be the Messiah. However, they had not yet shown loyalty to His teachings... hence the Savior's conditional "if". Jesus stressed the point again a few chapters later

    "He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him." [John 14:21 NASB]

Similarly, Jesus' words...

    'He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him i will give authority over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I also have received authority from My Father; and I will give him the morning star. [Revelation 2:26-28 NASB]

... were addressed to believers in the church in Thyatira, some of whom had fallen prey to the teachings and practices of an evil, false prophetess called "Jezebel". The words "My deeds" are sharply contrasted with her teaching and example. In other words they had to imitate Christ's life and character, holding fast to the New Testament principles and commands, instead of her false teachings. But once again, unless believers know exactly what the New Testament teaches, they cannot possibly recognize false doctrine. And, by the way, those in the church that committed adultery with her would be thrown into "great tribulation", unless they repented [Vs. 24-25].

Paul said something similar in his letter to the Colossians

    Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. [Colossians 3:16 NASB Emphasis Added]

As commentator Adam Clarke explained, Paul was telling the Colossians that they should be should be well instructed in the doctrine of Christ; that it should be their constant study; that it should be frequently preached, explained, and enforced among them; and that all the wisdom comprised in it should be well understood. Thus the doctrine of God would dwell richly, that is, abundantly, among them.

Our conduct has to be in keeping with Jesus’ teaching. However, we cannot live by Jesus' teachings, if we do not know exactly what they are. As said by Regis Nicoll... [All Emphasis Added]

    "... the Gospels expend more bandwidth on what Jesus taught, than on what He did. In some instances, like the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ teaching spans multiple chapters. Even after His resurrection, Jesus spends a seven-mile journey expositing Scripture to two fellow travelers on a dusty road to Emmaus....

    To be sure, Jesus was concerned about how people lived, but he was equally concerned about what they believed. Repeatedly, Jesus challenges his listeners to search the Scriptures to understand the times and recognize the road signs ahead. He even warns them that they will be held accountable for such knowledge. After his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus weeps for His countrymen and their coming judgment for not recognizing the "time of God's coming.” On several occasions He scolds the religious establishment for either not knowing or not believing what the Scriptures had to say about a matter and, particularly, about Him. In the parable of the sower, Jesus warns His hearers about rootless faith stemming from the failure to take hold of gospel truths. It's a warning He repeats in his discourse on the end times, as He urges his disciples to watch and understand so they won't be deceived. [6]

The Importance of Knowledge
Scripture constantly advises us to pursue knowledge of God and have right theology. Proverbs 10:14 says "Wise men store up knowledge, But with the mouth of the foolish, ruin is at hand" [NASB]. Proverbs 3:13-14 says wisdom, which brings life and happiness, is more profitable than silver or gold, and the man who finds it is "blessed". Therefore, the proverb continues, we should not ignore wisdom lest our foot stumble

     My son, let them not vanish from your sight; Keep sound wisdom and discretion, So they will be life to your soul and adornment to your neck. Then you will walk in your way securely And your foot will not stumble. [Proverbs 3:21-23 NASB]

In the New Testament, Christians are exhorted to "be diligent" to present themselves approved to God as workmen who do not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. [2 Timothy 2:15 NASB], and to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ". [2 Peter 3:18 NASB]

Peter also told his readers that because, through Christ, we have escaped the corruption that is in the world, we should with "all diligence" add other qualities such as moral excellence and knowledge.

    supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. [2 Peter 1:5-7 NASB]

According To The Bible A Lack Of Knowledge Is Dangerous
The Scriptures are replete with stern warnings about the results of superficial theology, or the lack of knowledge. Proverbs 1:5 says "A wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel", while Proverbs 1:22 tells us "fools hate knowledge". God said that His people are "destroyed" and "go into exile" for lack of knowledge.

    My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. [Hosea 4:6 NASB]

    Therefore My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge; And their honorable men are famished, And their multitude is parched with thirst. [Isaiah 5:13 NASB]

    Paul prayed that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, would give the Ephesians "a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him" [1:17 NASB], and that the Philippian's "love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment" [1:9 NASB].


Salvation And The Church Are Built on "Sound Doctrine "

Doctrine is simply what a person or organization believes and teaches, therefore doctrine can be true or false. The Church is built upon sound doctrine in the form of the teachings of the apostles and prophets.

    So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, [Ephesians 2:19-20 NASB]

Considering the many New Testament warnings about sound doctrine, one has to wonder whether those Christians who treat doctrine as minimally important actually read their Bibles. Sound doctrine, which conforms to godliness, nourishes faith and ensures salvation. Purity of doctrine which conforms to godliness is emphasized, and those that do not agree are called conceited and ignorant. In 1 Timothy 4:6-7 below, sound doctrine is contrasted with "worldly fables" and the people who contradict it are to be refuted [Titus 1:9]

    As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, [1 Timothy 1:3 NASB]

    realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, [1 Timothy 1:9-10 NASB]

    In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; [1 Timothy 4:6-7 NASB]

    holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. [Titus 1:9 NASB]

Paul warned Timothy to watch his doctrine very carefully

    Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching (didaskalia); persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. [1 Timothy 4:16 NASB]

    Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. [1 Timothy 4:13 NASB]

    in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, [Titus 2:7 NASB]


The Consequences of False Doctrine

False Doctrine Damns and Destroys
In this terribly sad day and age, some, so called, "Christian" pastors are doing their very best to undermine the authority of the Bible by claiming that no doctrine is absolute. In A New Kind of Christianity, McLaren said

    “The Bible is not considered an accurate, absolute, authoritative, or authoritarian source but a book to be experienced, and one experience can be as valid as any other can. Experience, dialogue, feelings, and conversations are equated with Scripture while certitude, authority, and doctrine are to be eschewed! No doctrines are to be absolute and truth or doctrine must be considered only with personal experiences, traditions, historical leaders, etc. The Bible is not an answer book.”. (Brian, McLaren, : A New Kind of Christianity, p. 52. As quoted in http://www.letusreason.org/Emerge7.htm. I believe this quote is from the 2001 edition]

I have idea how anyone can say "No doctrines are to be absolute", when the Bible makes it exceedingly clear that, on the one hand, there is "sound doctrine" and "purity of doctrine". On the other hand it speaks of strange doctrines, different doctrines that distort the gospel of Christ, and even doctrines of demons....

    I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. [Galatians 1:6-7 NASB Emphasis Added]

    As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, [1 Timothy 1:3. NASB Emphasis Added]

    But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons... In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. [1 Timothy 4:1, 6 NASB Emphasis Added]

    If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, [1 Timothy 6:3-4 NASB Emphasis Added]

As the following verses show, false doctrine is anything but harmless. It spreads like leaven: damning, destroying, and dividing [All Emphasis Added]

    "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. [Acts 20:29-30 NASB]

    You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. [Galatians 5:7-9 NASB]

    Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. [Romans 16:17-18 NASB]

All the apostles took an extremely strong stand against false doctrine (Paul going as far as to say that anyone who preaches a different one is cursed), because he, and the others well knew that, unless repented of and forsaken, false doctrines will damn even a so called, believing Christian's soul to hell. One word that Peter used to speak of the fate of those who introduce heresies, is extremely telling. He said..

    But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction (apoleia) upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction (apoleia) is not asleep. [2 Peter 2:1-3 NASB]

The Greek word apoleia, translated destruction, is derived from apollumi, which means to be fully destroyed, or die. This is made clear by the following examples

    Now when they were departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I tell thee: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy (Gr. apollumi) him. [Matthew 2:13]

    and the rest laid hold on his servants, and treated them shamefully, and killed them. But the king was wroth; and he sent his armies, and destroyed (Gr. apollumi) those murderers, and burned their city. [Matthew 22:6-7]

    And they came to him, and awoke him, saying, Master, master, we perish (Gr. apollumi) . And he awoke, and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water: and they ceased, and there was a calm. [Luke 8:24]


    Doctrine Usually Determines Practice
    In our day, it is getting increasingly common to hear people asserting that living right (orthopraxy), is more important than believing the right things (orthodoxy). In fact, one of the distinctives of the emerging church is it's insistence on doing, as opposed to merely proclaiming the Gospel, which is what is often implied by the term "orthodoxy".

    Which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. The person who affirms all the right things about God, and is yet complacent about doing the right thing, has missed the most essential ingredient of their faith. In the Bible the word belief, believe, and faith, are never spoken of in the context of merely head knowledge, but in the context of living what one believes. It is certainly a fact that the Bible teaches that faith is an essential ingredient, without which it is impossible to please God, but it never ever teaches that faith is the only requirement for salvation. [See The Myth of Faith Alone]

    However, What is interesting to note that when you consider that the definition of doctrine is... a principle presented for acceptance or belief, the assertion that doing the right thing is more important than believing the right things is, in itself, a doctrine.  In other words, the actions of people who think right living (orthopraxy), is more important than right belief (orthodoxy), are guided by their doctrine, or what they believe. Besides which, what direction an individual's 'right living' will take, will also be determined by his personal convictions, or his doctrine.

    The Scriptures make it abundantly clear that God uses doctrine to guide our practice which can be defined as our conduct and behavior, or the rituals, ceremonies, and traditions, we may observe.

      As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions. [1 Timothy 1:3-7 NASB]

      and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. [2 Timothy 3:15-17 NASB]

    But does this work out in real life. Apparently so...

    What A Person's Believes Does Make a Difference

    A national survey of 2033 adults undertaken by the Barna Research Group, showed only 4% of adults have a Biblical world view, defined by Barna as

      believing that absolute moral truths exist; that such truth is defined by the Bible; and firm belief in six specific religious views. Those views were that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life; God is the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe and He stills rules it today; salvation is a gift from God and cannot be earned; Satan is real; a Christian has a responsibility to share their faith in Christ with other people; and the Bible is accurate in all of its teachings.

    In other words, relatively few people, including devoutly religious people, have a Biblical world view. What is truly horrifying is that only 9% of the born again segment had a Biblical world view. So what difference does this make? According to the report [All Emphasis Added]

      One of the most striking insights from the research was the influence of such a way of thinking upon people's behavior. Adults with a biblical worldview possessed radically different views on morality, held divergent religious beliefs, and demonstrated vastly different lifestyle choices.

      People's views on morally acceptable behavior are deeply impacted by their world view. Upon comparing the perspectives of those who have a biblical world view with those who do not, the former group were 31 times less likely to accept cohabitation (2% versus 62%, respectively); 18 times less likely to endorse drunkenness (2% versus 36%); 15 times less likely to condone gay sex (2% versus 31%); 12 times less likely to accept profanity 3% versus 37%); and 11 times less likely to describe adultery as morally acceptable (4% versus 44%).

      In addition, less than one-half of one percent of those with a biblical world view said voluntary exposure to pornography was morally acceptable (compared to 39% of other adults), and a similarly miniscule proportion endorsed abortion (compared to 46% of adults who lack a biblical world view).

      Among the more intriguing lifestyle differences were the lesser propensity for those with a biblical world view to gamble (they were eight times less likely to buy lottery tickets and 17 times less likely to place bets); to get drunk (three times less likely); and to view pornography (two times less common). They were also twice as likely to have discussed spiritual matters with other people in the past month and twice as likely to have fasted for religious reasons during the preceding month. While one out of every eight adults who lack a biblical worldview had sexual relations with someone other than their spouse during the prior month, less than one out of every 100 individuals who have such a world view had done so. [7]

    In other words, doctrine and practice, are equally important, being, for the most part, inseparable. In most cases, what a person believes (doctrine) determines what they do (practice). To put it another way... what a person does (practice) shows what they really believe (doctrine).

    The close link between the two was well illustrated by the prophet Amos,

      "I hate, I reject your festivals, Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. "Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. "Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. "But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. "Did you present Me with sacrifices and grain offerings in the wilderness for forty years, O house of Israel? "You also carried along Sikkuth your king and Kiyyun, your images, the star of your gods which you made for yourselves. [Amos 5:21-26 NASB]

    God rejected the sacrifices and offerings that the Jews made to Him (practice) because they were also worshipping false gods. They had walked away form the teaching (doctrine) that there was only one God, and it was Him alone that they were to worship and serve.

    The Old Testament Ceremonial Laws were given to the nation of Israel to distinguish, or set them apart, from every other nation. However, they were not a bunch of arbitrary rules and regulations, but had their source in the doctrine that they were "holy", or set apart by God himself.

      'You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you to Myself. 'Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel." [Exodus 19:4-6 NASB]

      "For you are a holy people to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. [Deuteronomy 14:2 NASB]

    The Seven Feasts of Israel, were called "the feasts of the Lord" which simply means that they were instituted by the Lord Himself (introduced to the nation of Israel while they were encamped at Mount Sinai), a fact that lent them much solemnity and importance. They were "holy convocations" that took place at "appointed times". However, they were not just rituals dreamed up by the Lord to keep the Israelites occupied, but had both historic and prophetic significance. In other words, what the nation practiced was simply an expression, or celebration, of historical events in their past, but were, at the same time, a prophecy of future events, four of which have already come to pass. They were types.

      (In Christian theology, a type is a factual happening in history, which is a glimpse of one or more actual events yet to come... a significance that is not always apparent at the original occurrence).

    Since doctrine is the source of practice, what a person believes (his doctrine) determines how he will conduct himself, and what traditions or rituals he will observe. If his doctrine, or beliefs are false, his practice will be too.

    Perhaps one of the best illustrations of this is the false teaching that once saved, a person can never be lost. Since this is often taught by some very well known Christian pastors and teachers, many have first believed what they were told, then acted on it. I have read many testimonies to the fact that, believing they could never be 'unsaved', people lived their lives just the way they wanted to... drinking, womanizing, etc. all the while clinging to the vain belief that they remained saved. At the time, they were tragically unaware that they were very surely condemned as sinners.

      Note: There is no question that there are some practices that matter very little. They are neither essential to faith, and neither morally mandated, nor morally forbidden. In other cases, some differences in practice can communicate exactly the same doctrine.


    Doctrine is Essential to Salvation

    Even in this very liberal day and age, most Christians will agree that those who completely and utterly reject Jesus will be lost.

    However, many cannot comprehend and, therefore, will strongly disagree with the idea that although they may believe themselves to be sincerely following Christ, they may be completely lost, due to heretical beliefs and practices, found in both so called orthodox churches, Catholicism, and organizations like the Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Mormons.  Many members of these of these groups are extremely sincere in their desire to know and obey God. They often devote a great deal of time to reading and studying their Bibles, and are often more zealous than evangelical Christians in their efforts to proclaim the message of the Gospel... as they understand it.

    So, particularly in light of Jesus' statement in Matthew 7:7 ("Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you), how can a person's salvation depend on an accurate understanding and following of the teachings of the Bible.

    There are several factors to be taken into consideration.

    Belief in "Another Jesus" Does Not Save
    Paul told the Corinthians that he was afraid that they would believe in a different Jesus, a different Gospel, or receive a different spirit.

      For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully. [2 Corinthians 11:2-4 NASB]

    As said by Bob Deffinbaugh on bible.org

      Probably one of the greatest questions of our day is, "Who is Jesus Christ?” Many believe in Jesus, but the question is,"Which one?" The Jesus of the New Testament is virgin born. The Jesus of the New Testament is He who fulfills all of the Old Testament prophecies pertaining to the Messiah. The Jesus of the New Testament is truly God and truly man. The Jesus of the New Testament literally died and rose from the dead and is literally returning again to possess His kingdom and judge His enemies. That is the biblical Jesus. Now there are many Jesus’ that are not the real Jesus. We are told, for example, that there is a Jesus of love and acceptance and tolerance, who accepts all men as they are, without judging or condemning them. Many are those who believe in a "Jesus the way I like to think of Him." But this is not the Jesus Paul preaches. It is not the Jesus of the Gospels. Paul says that if someone comes with another Jesus, the Corinthians accept that, and if someone comes with a different spirit they have not received, they accept that as well. It is little wonder that Paul is distressed. [8]

    In other words, many people today have an understanding of Jesus that so greatly differs from the Biblical reality, that they have faith in someone who is a product of human imagination. The Jesus they believe in is not the same person presented by the Bible. Regardless of how sincerely someone may live out his belief in a "jesus" that doesn't exist, there is a strong possibility that he cannot be saved if, for example, that "jesus" is not God who took human form, but just another name for an archangel.

    Calling Jesus "Lord" is Insufficient For Salvation
    Just a few verses after the "seek, and you will find" statement, Jesus, in talking about good trees bearing good fruit, and bad trees bearing bad fruit [Vs. 17], said that not everyone who calls Him "Lord" will enter the kingdom of heaven, which is reserved for those that do the will of the Father [Vs.21]. Mere lip service to Jesus as Lord will not save a person, even if the he, or she, were to perform miracles, drive out demons, and prophesy in His name. No one can accuse the Savior of ambiguity when He drew a sharp contrast between those who talk, and those who do.

      "Why do you call Me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say? "Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. "But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great." [Luke 6:46-49 NASB]

    Zealousness Does Not Necessarily Save
    The word "zeal" means devotion to a cause, ideal, or goal, and tireless diligence in its furtherance.

    The Jews were very zealous in their seeking after God. However, they relied on their own righteousness based on their own works, not the righteousness of Christ available to them through faith. This prompted Paul to pray for their salvation, saying their zeal was "not in accordance with knowledge"

      Brethren, my heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God's righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. [Romans 10:1-3 NASB]

    When Jesus said He was "the bread of life" and promised

      ".. he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. "But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. [John 6:35-37 NASB]

    He meant that He would not reject or refuse any sinner who comes to Him. However, the concepts of "coming to" Jesus and "believing in" Him are identical, which takes us back to the first point above... Do we believe in the Jesus of the Gospels, or one of the numerous variations invented by man.

    Additionally, we have to come to the Jesus of the Bible on His terms. Are we hypocrites with a pretended allegiance, or are we actually doing the will of the Father?

      "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. [John 14:15 NASB]

      Jesus answered and said to him, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. "He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me. [John 14:23-24 NASB]

      "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love. [John 15:10 NASB]

    While not every Christian is going to be an expert on the finer points of theology, since our eternal future is at stake, it is crucial that every Christian know what the true Gospel is. As Paul told Timothy

      Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. [1 Timothy 4:16 NASB. Emphasis Added]


    Seek, And You Will Find
    So what did Jesus means when He said "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you" [Matthew 7:7].

    Matthew 7:7 is anything but an isolated statement, but part of the Sermon on the Mount which begins in chapter 5. The larger part of this discourse was devoted to repudiation of the false teaching of the religious leaders, contrasting their focus on practices and traditions with the state of heart and mind of true Godliness and discipleship. In other words, the sermon had a central hub, which makes it very unlikely that He suddenly, and without warning, switched gears and started talking about asking God for what you want.

    Chapter 7 not only opens with Jesus talking about judging others, but the verses immediately before and after 7:7, are about how we are to treat our neighbors... in which context it is entirely possible that Jesus was speaking of asking God for wisdom which would enable us to distinguish between destructive criticism and discernment.

    On the other hand, it is possible that He was referring back to the later verses of chapter 6, in which He tells His listeners not to be worried about the basic necessities of life like food and clothing, but to make God the focus of their lives. If they seek the kingdom first, they can enjoy freedom from anxiety about daily material needs, which will be added on.

    Earlier, Jesus had given the disciples a prayer model which, if looked at closely, is focused around God's Kingdom, with only a few words devoted to what we need. Now He was telling them, not that they had just won a prayer lottery, but as the verb tense indicates, they had to be persistent. They were to ask and continue asking, seek and continue seeking, knock and continue knocking.


    Doctrine is Essential to Evangelization
    The Pharisees, who believed they had a special corner on their religion, but followed their own version of God's laws, were extremely zealous in trying to make converts. However, Jesus called them hypocrites, and sons of hell, because they were converting people to their false beliefs.

      "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. [Matthew 23:15 NASB]

    Zeal for evangelizing must be accompanied by right doctrine. No one can adequately tell another about God's greatest gift to humanity, unless they themselves have a Biblically accurate understanding of the Gospel.... God's grace, why salvation is necessary, how it is received, and how we can ensure we do not fall off the path. Anyone preaching a different Gospel is accursed

      I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! [Galatians 1:6-9 NASB]

    Besides which, the more a Christian knows, the better able they are to answer questions or counter objections that an unbeliever may raise. It is a shame to let our own lack of knowledge come in the way of proclaiming the good news of salvation to those who will shortly face God's judgment and death. Many Christians, who are not at all familiar with apologetics believe that we are required to just "have faith". Little do many realize that while faith is an essential ingredient, there are extremely strong reasons to believe the Bible is not just any book, but one that could not have been inspired by any other than God. Thus, everything it says is trustworthy and reliable. [See Section The Remarkable Book Called The Bible]

    When faced with an unbeliever or someone who teaches a different Gospel, nothing can inspire confidence as much as knowing one has good, sound, grounds for believing what one does.


    Religious and Sincere, But Still Wrong
    A common belief today, both in the church and out of it, is that provided a person is sincere, whatever doctrine they happen to believe in, is acceptable to God, who will save him.

    But is this true?

    Sadly, few will even entertain the possibility that, although they would probably describe themselves as very 'religious', and very earnest and sincere in their religion, they may be wrong. For the most part, it seems that when person A points out to person B where he is in error, according to the Scriptures, no matter how gently it is done, person B does one of several things. He takes the correction as a personal affront... an insult to his intelligence, and/or refuses to admit the possibility he (or his pastor or denomination) could be wrong.

    Some of this is understandable, since most Christians have learned what they know from someone they trust... their parents, a mentor, a pastor, Bible teacher, or Christian author etc.

    Let us consider two cases from the New Testament, which make the point that someone can be sincere and religious, but sincerely and 'religiously' wrong.

    Saul of Tarsus
    Saul of Tarsus certainly did not follow any man made religion, but pointed to God Himself as the originator of his beliefs. The religion of his ancestors came from the one true God, in addition to which, Saul was also taught by a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people [Acts 5:34].

    Saul believed himself to be being true to that religion when he persecuted Christians. He consented to the death of Stephen, and began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, whom he would put in prison. [Acts 8:3]. In his words...

      "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today. "I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify. From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished. [Acts 22:3-5 NASB]

    Not satisfied with merely oppressing the Jews in Jerusalem, Saul,

      still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. [Acts 9:1-2 NASB]

    Saul was so zealous that he persecuted those who were opposed to what he believed, even to the point of shedding blood. No one can doubt that he very sincerely believed what he was doing was right, especially when one reads some of his statements, which serve to show his sincerity of religious conviction, zeal, and determination, even when when he was in direct conflict with God's will. 

      Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, "Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day." [Acts 23:1 NASB]

      For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions. [Galatians 1:13-14 NASB]

      although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. [Philippians 3:4-6 NASB]

    Therefore, according to the beliefs of many modern day Christians, Saul was completely accepted by God because he was very religious and very sincere.

    However, Saul was deficient in the knowledge he acted on.

    He had not learned, or did not believe, that God, had entered into a new covenant with men through His Son Jesus, thereby making the old one obsolete. It took God Himself to knock Saul off his horse, blind him, and tell him that he was persecuting God Himself, which must have shocked Paul more than words can describe. When Saul asked Jesus what He would have him do, Jesus told him to go into the city of Damascus where he would be told what to do. What saved Saul was obedience to the devout Ananias' words when he told Saul not to delay, but to

      Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.' [Acts 22:16 NASB]

    As Ray Ferris, who wrote for Truth Magazine more than half a century ago, said "You may be able to point to the teaching of your mother and father, your grandparents, and great-grandparents; even to the "great doctors of religion" such as Gamaliel was, but this does not assure you that your religion is right. Remember, Paul could even point to the origin of his religion as being with God! He was still wrong". [9]

    But is it possible that since Paul's case was so extreme (considering that he actively oppressed the early Christians, even standing by while at least one of them was stoned to death), and he was so terribly 'off-course' that he had to change? Or, are even less 'serious' wrong beliefs to be corrected?

    In order to answer that, we have to look at a few details about another giant of the New Testament... Apollos.

    Apollos
    who was obviously instrumental in founding the church in Corinth and therefore, is mentioned several times by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, .. "I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth" [3:6]. The book of Acts speaks very highly of Apollos, telling us that he was "mighty in the Scriptures". It also says he was a "fervent" and "eloquent" man that had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and obviously he was also very courageous, since he spoke out "boldly" in the synagogue.

      Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, .....[Acts 18:24-25 NASB]

    It is certain, that any modern reader of this passage would take Apollos to be a very "religious" man.   However, Luke adds an interesting detail, one that we would be well advised to pay close attention to. For all his positive qualities, there was one problem with Apollos.... all the instruction that had been given him, and all his zeal, had taken him so far and no further. His knowledge extended only as far as John's baptism. Read the passage in it's entirety.

      Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wanted to go across to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; and when he had arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ. [Acts 18:24-28 NASB. Emphasis Added]

    Apparently Apollos was not aware that John's baptism was designed to point people towards someone who was to come after him, and this someone had already come leaving a baptism of His own that His followers would submit to. Note this early incident in Corinth.

      It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. He said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" And they said to him, "No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit." And he said, "Into what then were you baptized?" And they said, "Into John's baptism." Paul said, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus." When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. [Acts 19:1-6 NASB]

    When Priscilla and Aquila heard Apollos speak, they obviously realized that in spite of all his earnestness, in spite of all his fervency, in spite of all his knowledge, there was a huge gap in Apollos' knowledge. There were still some thing about which he was, apparently, ignorant. This pair took him aside and "explained to him the way of God more accurately". Even more importantly, unlike so many modern Christians, Apollos did not get on the defensive when he was told that he was wrong (or at least deficient) in what he was preaching. There is no record of anger or indignation on his part when someone took him aside to teach him something that he did not know. I am fairly certain that he did not claim that he was being insulted and call Priscilla and Aquila 'heresy hunters', or something equally derogatory.

    All indications are that Apollos learned, and then went from strength to strength, becoming one of the founding fathers of the fledgling church, and working often with Paul.

    It is not a disgrace or a shame for one to be ignorant of certain things, but it is a disgrace for a person to refuse to admit there are gaps in their knowledge, refuse to admit that they could be wrong, and refuse to learn what the Scriptures teach.

    It is not enough to be merely religious. It is not enough to be sincere and zealous. It is not enough to have our 'hearts in the right place'. ... We have to be right in what we are religious, sincere, and zealous about.

    No matter how very religious, and very earnest and very sincere you are about your religion, there is always a possibility that you may be wrong.


    Continue On To Part II:

    PART II: Defining Orthodoxy and Heresy, Who Should Judge?, Discerning The Difference, How NOT To Decide What To Believe, How To Decide What To Believe, What About "Spiritual Discernment"?, Does The Heart Have a Role?, Conclusion


    End Notes
    [1] Shane Rosenthal. Why Study Theology? http://www.onthewing.org/user/Th_Why%20Study%20Theology.pdf

    [2] http://www.thefreedictionary.com/doctrine

    [3] http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=doctrine&sub=Search+WordNet&o2=&o0=1&o8=1&o1=1&o7=&o5=&o9=&o6=&o3=&o4=&h=000

    [4] Eric Schumacher. Theology and the Christian. http://contendforthefaith2.com/theo.html

    [5] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith. 2008 Crossway Books Edition. Pgs. 20-21

    [6] Regis Nicoll.  Orthopraxy over Orthodoxy. Is Right Conduct All that Matters?
    http://www.breakpoint.org/features-columns/archive/1448-orthopraxy-over-orthodoxy

    [7] Barna Group. A Biblical Worldview Has a Radical Effect on a Person's Life.
    http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/5-barna-update/131-a-biblical-worldview-has-a-radical-effect-on-a-persons-life?q=biblical+worldview

    [8] Bob Deffinbaugh.The Father of the Bride Exposes the Master of Deceit (2 Cor. 11:1-15).
    http://bible.org/seriespage/father-bride-exposes-master-deceit-2-cor-111-15

    [9] Ray Ferris. Religious - But Wrong http://truthmagazine.com/archives/volume1/TM001104.htm

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