That it is the calling of every member of the church to promote sound doctrine, reject false doctrine and live in holiness of life is the topic of today’s post.
That “sound doctrine” (I Tim. 1:10) or “good doctrine” (I Tim. 4:6) is important is evident from the fact that the word “doctrine” or “teaching” is used 48 times in the New Testament. Timothy was exhorted to “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (II Tim. 4:2-4).
God uses the means of “a love of the truth” (sound doctrine) to save his people (II Thess. 2:10-13) and preserve his church in this world. In our day of the great “falling away”, those without this love of sound doctrine are swept away with the lie. Rev. Thomas Miersma made this connection between sound doctrine and the well-being of the church in a Standard Bearer article many years ago:
For, you see, a love of the truth, a fervent zeal for faithfulness in doctrine according to the Word of God, for orthodoxy in doctrine and practice, is never a cause of trouble. On the contrary, we read in Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.” Not doctrine, not a careful attention to God's Word, His law, and its meaning, destroy the church, but lack of it. Not fine distinctions concerning the truth of God and His will, the fine points of doctrine and practice, but the lack of them, a spiritual indifference to God's Word, an empty shallow, superficial treatment of God's Word and its doctrine, a forgetting of His Word, that destroys the church. That is a matter of both the head, knowledge, and the heart, remembrance, for it is a matter of the assured knowledge of faith from which the confidence of faith also springs. (Standard Bearer, 3/1/1990)
Loving the truth (sound doctrine), believing and confessing it, the child of God then lives the Christian life. There is a direct connection between what we believe and how we live. We live what we love and believe in our hearts. Prof. Ronald Cammenga wrote on this connection between sound doctrine and the Christian life:
That connection is, first of all, that sound doctrine is the foundation of the Christian life. Apart from doctrine, knowing, believing, and confessing the doctrine, there is no possibility of living the Christian life. The true doctrine must be what motivates and guides us in our everyday life in the world. This is why the first duty of the faithful minister is to preach the doctrine, I Timothy 4:16. This is why the first duty of the believer is to receive the doctrine.
We see this connection between doctrine and life today. Ignorance of some of the most fundamental doctrines of the Word of God prevails in the churches. People perish for lack of knowledge; there is a famine of the Word of God. What is the result of this? The result of this doctrinal ignorance is unbelievable wickedness in the lives of the members of the church, disobedience to the commandments of God's law, and unholy living.
But there is another connection between doctrine and life. That connection is that the Christian's walk of life is the proof and evidence of the faith that he confesses. Belief of the truth necessarily shows itself in a godly walk. The true and complete doctrine that we acknowledge must be expressed in our daily life. And if the new and godly walk does not follow, it only indicates that our confession was a fraud. (Standard Bearer, 4/1/1987)
To maintain, as some do, that one can leave a church where the truth is purely preached and join a church where false doctrine is maintained (Reformed or not) and where heresy is not disciplined, and still live in holiness of life, is an impossibility. Departure from sound doctrine is itself the unholy walking down the path of apostasy. Apostasy inevitably leads to a deterioration of the Christian life, especially in the generations of those who leave the truth. Only repentance from this departure and a return to sound doctrine will result in a reformation of life. In principle, it is impossible to believe false doctrine and live a godly life.
Therefore, it is imperative that every member of the church heartily believes and confesses the sound doctrines of the Reformed faith and exerts himself in the rejection of “all heresies repugnant thereto,” and thus live in godliness of life. Let us not disparage sound doctrine by professing to believe it, being indifferent to it, and neglecting its study and defense. I end with a quote from Prof. Herman Hanko:
Nevertheless, the defense of the truth against false doctrine is essential, now also, even as it was in the day of Nehemiah. All the officebearers within our churches are bound to this by the Formula of Subscription in which they promise, “to refute and contradict all errors and to exert themselves in keeping the church free from such errors.” All the members of the church are bound to this same calling by the examples of the apostles and prophets and by the admonitions of the scriptures to contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered unto the saints. And to this calling we are urged by the testimony of the church of all ages. When the church failed in this aspect of her calling, her failure was marked by rapid decline and by a swift drift into false doctrine and worldly-mindedness. And when the church stood firm and uncompromising for the truth, she also prospered in her calling and in faithfulness to God.
The sword of the defense of the faith must be wielded carefully. It must be wielded in the seminary, in the pulpit, and by all God's people, even from their vantage point in the pew, for we all are engaged in the battle. It must be wielded by careful study of the truth, by appeal only to the scriptures as the rule for faith and life, with courage and fearlessness, but with meekness and fear as Peter admonishes us. (Standard Bearer, 10/1/1981)
It is my intention this year, the Lord willing, to write on some of the doctrines we believe and must defend and which give the Protestant Reformed Churches the right of a separate existence within the Reformed church world.
This post was written by Aaron Cleveland, a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you have a question or comment for Aaron, please do so in the comment section.