You Have Carefully Followed My Doctrine
Donald L. Norbie
Paul in his last letters to Timothy is deeply concerned that the doctrine which he and the other apostles had taught should be preserved and passed on faithfully. The verse above (11 Tim. 3: 10) emphasizes the importance of this. Paul had taught Timothy faithfully. Timothy had listened carefully, watched Paul's life and understood the message. His life had been molded by that doctrine and characterized by obedience. Paul's last plea to Timothy is to maintain the purity of that doctrine: "Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine... (1 Tim. 4:2-3 NKJV
There are many lessons to learn from Church history. It is interesting to note how so many movements begin with a strong emphasis on the purity of the Gospel and obedience to the Word of God. The Word of God is emphasized in all of its authority and power. The call is a call to submission and obedience to the King. His Word is the supreme authority. Therefore there is a great stress on preaching and teaching the Word. It is revered as authoritative.
The devil is quick to seek to undermine such a movement. To do this he must undermine the authority of God's Word. False teaching begins to infiltrate the churches and even true Christians begin to compromise. There are still "false apostles, deceitful workers" (11 Cor. 11: 13). Satan will corrupt the Gospel if possible or else have it minimized. The inspiration and authority of God's Word begin to crumble, little by little.
An emphasis is placed on education and leaders begin to study in certain seminaries and under certain men who erode their confidence in God's Word. Maybe Moses did not write the Pentateuch. Perhaps Genesis 1-11 is not historical, simply mythological. Perhaps Paul was wrong in some of his teaching: for example, his strong stand on the role of women. Maybe there is no definite structure for the church; each generation must explore its own way.
The list could go on indefinitely. But you say, "This would never happen to our churches!" Don't be too sure. The Methodist Church in this country was once known for being strong on evangelism and fundamental in its Bible teaching. Liberal men gained control of their publications and seminaries and led the denomination into liberalism. True, there are still a few conservatives left in the Methodist Church, but they struggle to survive. The Northern Baptist Churches had the same experience in their history. And one could cite other denominations as well.
Would you believe that some of these same currents are flowing today among brethren assemblies? Some of our brightest young men have come back from certain seminaries with their ideas quite changed. And they are quietly and effectively disseminating these ideas. What are some of these ideas?
The concept of inspiration and authority is under attack. A prominent teacher questions the historicity of Genesis. Certain commended workers who are teaching in seminaries explain away Paul's teaching on the role of women. In a debate between one of them and a denominational man it is the denominational Christian who defends Paul's position. In a recent book a commended worker attack's Paul's position on women while denominational believers defend it. A professional clergy is also being encouraged, with a salary and a contract.
This influence is now being felt through a prominent assembly magazine in this country. There is a refusal to print any conservative teaching on the role of women in the assembly. But a man who has taken a public position that women should be elders and leaders in an assembly writes a regular column.
There is a refusal to take a stand against the hiring and firing of workers and a positive encouragement to assemblies to hire a preacher to be their resident worker. To live by faith and to depend on the Lord to supply through His people is an antiquated concept. How different it all is from a few years ago!
There is a great lack of doctrinal discernment. Men are now commended to the Lord's work to serve with various missions, even the charismatic, and to teach in various seminaries. Why commend men to a work when it is a salaried position in a seminary? One may as well commend men to teach in a Christian college. Should we commend a man to train clergymen for the various churches? Do we have any convictions about New Testament principles for the churches?
Doctrinal truth used to unite assemblies. All shared certain beliefs in common about how the church should function. There were minor differences but a large degree of unity. Today the movement is being fragmented by teachers who simply do not have convictions about truth for the church.
Our association as assemblies is a very tenuous bond. It is spiritual and linked to truth. It is not an organizational loyalty. Do not say, "Love will overlook these matters." John, who wrote so much about love also said, "This is love, if we walk according to His commandments. " (II John 6) It is time to get back to the Word, to serious exegesis of it, and to a proclamation of its truth. To treat God's Word carelessly is to treat God carelessly. We honor Him as we honor His Word.
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