Monday, July 09, 2007

Doctrine which is according to Godliness

There are two long-standing fallacies in the Church concerning its focus. One is Doctrine-centered. The other is Action-centered. The Doctrine people will spend every Christian moment getting their theology systematic and comprehensive. They will debate with others who differ on penumbras of theology. Action people will forget all doctrine except the fact that God is love. They'll do good to all and be good people. They're all about showing God's love to the world.

I tend toward Doctrine, myself. I believe that men were saved in Acts not so much by relationship evangelism or good-deed-doing as by the clear proclamation of Truth. The Word of God is able to make us wise for salvation. It is also the Word of God, inspired and preserved for us for God's purpose. There is truth, and it is worth discovering.

1 Timothy 6 warns against the Doctrine fallacy. Don't get caught up in debates about petty things. (verse 4) Those who dote about questions and strifes of words will produce a behavior. They say that godliness shouldn't be the focus. That might be legalistic. What we need to do is get everyone to agree on these strifes of words. But Christians will behave in one way or another. When one is not pursuing godliness (verse 11), the behavior is that described in verses 4 and 5.

The action people are all about legalism. They may not have a list of do's and don't's. The subtle legalism is that which says "Because I am a good person, I am going to heaven. God accepts good people." I don't understand who they think they're evangelizing, but they do believe that good deeds will give the world a favorable impression of God. Some legalists do have a list. "Keep every law of kosher and every feast, and don't work on the Sabbath, and tithe exactly ten percent, and you'll get to heaven." Others have "Confess all your sins to a fellow believer. Take communion once a week. Pray Our Father every day. Add all this to believing in Jesus, and you'll definitely make it to heaven after purgatory."

The truth in 1 Timothy is that true doctrine promotes godliness, and godliness in its forms: h. We can't shirk away from proclaiming the need for godliness in our churches. Youth groups are afraid of setting dress codes lest it turn people away. Yet even as they neglect the pursuit of godliness, those whom they already have must behave some way, and without being taught goodness, their behavior will be bad. The same for the whole church. They will be men of envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputers, destitute of the truth, and proud. They suppose gain counts for godliness. Getting theology right will produce godly people, they say.

What is the solution? We can't just promote doctrine. We can't just promote action. We have to promote godliness. And we have to preach the doctrine which is according to godliness. Our churches must not be destitute of the truth.

The truth is (verse 3) wholesome words, the words of our Lord Jesus (which said a lot about behavior - see Sermon on the Mount in Matthew), and the good profession (verse 12). Give attention, Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:13, to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. In 2 Timothy Paul focuses more on what the doctrine ought to be. Chapter 3 says that the holy Scriptures are able to make wise unto salvation, is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness. Therefore (2 Timothy 4:2), Preach the word... reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.

To God be all glory.

Thanks to Snapshots of Joy for the graphics.

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