M. Wendell McHargue
By M. Wendell McHargue
Email - firstname.lastname@example.org
Formerly Vice-President of Academic Affairs
Independent Baptist College, Dallas, Texas
Used by Permission
Delivered at Fall Conference - 1973
Central Baptist Church - Little Rock, Arkansas
"Till I come, give attendance to . . . doctrine." -- I Timothy 4:13.
"I just believe you ought to preach Jesus and Him crucified and leave off doctrine" is an expression one seems to hear with greater frequency from among naive believers (?) in Baptist churches. One might well expect to hear such irresponsible statements from inter and non-denominationalists, but such remarks ought never be heard from the mouth of a Baptist! Whether a person knows it or not, the restricted preaching of "Jesus and Him crucified" is doctrine!
The following discussion regarding the value and use of Bible doctrine will be confined to the origin of Bible doctrine; the meaning of doctrine; and its practical value. Obviously, much more can be said about this topic, but I have chosen to confine the message to these three aspects.
The Origin of Doctrine
First, let's inquire as to the origin of Bible doctrine. Since it is Bible doctrine we are discussing, we must logically turn to the Bible in order to secure the most accurate and reliable answer. Would it not be foolish to depend on a secondary source for such an important answer?
Turn in your Bible with me to Mark 7:7. The context of this Scripture reference has to do with a response and rebuke from Jesus to His perennial critics, viz., the self-righteous Pharisees. They accused Christ's disciples of not washing their hands before eating, which was a violation of the tradition received from their Jewish elders. Our Lord quickly responded by calling to mind Isaiah 29:13 (see also Isaiah 29:24), which depicted these religious sentimentalists as hypocrites. Simply stated, Jesus charged these critics with lip-service religion, whose heart (unregenerated) was far from Him. Their heart was being kept from Him because of their fathers' traditions, not because of Divine doctrine!
Recently I was on a plane traveling from Tennessee to Georgia and we had been delayed in departure because of an incoming plane from the north that had passengers needing to make connections with our flight. These passengers were one family. There was a vacant seat by me and two seats were available across the aisle. There were two children in this family. The father sat with one child across the aisle from me and the mother sat by me with one child.
We taxied down the runway and I introduced myself. I learned from this lady that they had just moved to Tennessee from Michigan and that her husband was a medical doctor. Immediately, I took the opportunity to invite her and the family to a Baptist church, and I said "I think you will enjoy it." She said, "Thank you, but I doubt seriously if we would enjoy it, because we are Jewish." Instantly I realized the need and opportunity to witness for Christ to this family. Kristin, the little girl she was holding, was very active and cute. I entertained her a bit and went on to ask this Jewish lady how she and her people felt about so many collegiate Jews accepting Christ as the true Messiah and Savior in Jerusalem. (I had just listened on the radio two nights earlier to a veteran Southern Baptist missionary in Jerusalem tell about the great results he was having with his recent translation of Mark's account of the Gospel). The lady replied, "Well, it's a big problem and we adults are not relating effectively to our Jewish youth, somehow."
I appreciated her honesty and recognition of the facts about Baptist evangelism among her people, and I wanted to get her reaction and interest in another area too. So I asked, "How do your people really feel about the strong support that Christians, particularly Baptists, give to the Jews in the Arab-Israeli conflict?" She said, "Oh, wonderful, please don't stop it!" I told her there was no reason to fear that this support would stop, because we have a very high regard for her people on the basis that God had made a covenant with her people and that out of His integrity and divine love that covenant would be fulfilled and that we Christians love her and her people for Christ's sake. Instantly, she said (in an humble tone, not the former matter-of-fact exchange of thoughts), "Do you believe that Christ is coming back again?" I said, "I surely do, because the Bible teaches it, but more important at the moment is the fact that He came to earth the first time to die for our sins. We must accept by faith His first coming as your Messiah and our Savior before we can appreciate the promise of His Return." With this, conviction immediately was clear, and she went back on the defense and said, "Well, I'm not a theologian, and actually, my Jewish religion is a matter of culture with me and my family."
Our thirty-minute flight ended with this and I had talked loud enough for her husband to hear, but he never commented, but smiled as we departed. Obviously, here is another example of the millions that are blinded by heritage, culture and traditions.
The point is that one must determine if so-called doctrine is in reality only tradition from the elders, or if it is derived from God. In this instance of Scripture, these Pharisees were caught in the same predicament their elders fell into when Isaiah warned, "they also that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine!" I fear that many sincere and well-intentioned folk are too easily influenced by traditional expressions, habits and fear of reproof from their elders, to get involved with the pure doctrine of God. It is a case of history repeating itself. The above is the negative approach to the question at hand. So, we had best be sure that what we believe and do is not the fruit of traditions from the elders disguised as coming from God.
Positively then, let's look at a clear declaration as to the origin of Bible doctrine. This is very simply answered for us in John 7:16 where Jesus said, ".. My doctrine is not mine, but His that sent Me." You see doctrine came from God! Once more Christ comes under attack from the traditional legalists of Judaism who did not believe that Jesus received His doctrine from God the Father.
On this occasion of the feast of tabernacles, the Pharisees were still actively seeking to expose Jesus as an impostor and unlearned. The hyper critics marveled at the astonishing teachings of Christ. The Pharisees could not account for the supreme knowledge of Christ, especially since Christ was not a graduate of one of their Rabbinical schools. In other words, Jesus was a scholar. The proud-hearted critics never reconciled the fact of Christ's superior knowledge with His being Deity, i.e., God incarnate! After all, that was the issue. For instance, in John 5:18 the critics became so angry with Christ's contention that He was Deity that " . . . . . the Jews sought the more to kill Him, because He ... said also that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God."
These insulting religiousites asked rhetorically and sarcastically, how did Christ come to know so much without a formal education.
Well, Jesus supplies the answer coupled with a doctrinal challenge to their faith to accept Him as God's Son. He said in John 7:7, " .. . My doctrine is not mine, but His that sent Me." This contention really shook them, just as it does the Nels F. S. Ferre type of higher critics today. Jesus was simply saying to these hard-hearted unbelievers, "I am God!"
The question before us at this point is where did doctrine come from? Jesus continued His dialogue with these harassing agitators by declaring that they could only know the true source of doctrine experientially by faith. He stated in John 7:17, "If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God. . . "
This principle of knowing the teachings of Christ by faith in literal experiences of human beings is the only valid basis of knowing really the truth of God's Word. Mental reservations regarding the origin of Biblical truths are insufficient. We must know their source as coming from God and respect them accordingly.
For the unsaved person reading this, it simply means that God is willing for you to repent if you are to know experientially the source and doctrine of Christ (see 11 Peter 3:9).
To the saved, it means we are not to be hearers of the Word only, but doers! In other words, Jesus is implying the only real way to know if He was telling the truth was to- take His Word at "face value," i.e., by faith because there would be no evidence forthcoming to prove He was an impostor. Christ Jesus was the epitome of doctrine! The disciples were to learn much about Him in the short time of three years that Christ would be with them. They were going to learn more about His origin as the "Son of Man"; His life and promised return; and finally the role they were to serve Him in until their life was over on earth.
The Meaning of Doctrine
Doctrine is not some set of loose, unrelated ideas about spiritual matters couched in abstractness. Rather, it means the teachings of God! That in itself implies definite truth, supreme values, divine instruction coming from the absolute God. Thus, we readily note firmness, authority and finality because it is innately associated with God the absolute being.
The Hebrew term for doctrine found in the Old Testament is "lekah," which means "what is received," "the matter taught," Deut. 32:2; Job 11:4; Prov. 4:2; Isa. 29:24.
In the New Testament, doctrine is defined in a very active sense by the term "didaskalia," i.e., "the act of teaching," I Tim. 4:13, 16; 5:17; 11 Tim. 3:10-16. In another way doctrine is reflected by teaching in an authoritative manner.
Another interesting observation about doctrine in the sacred Scriptures is the fact that the doctrines of the Pharisees were a fairly compact and definite body of teaching; a fixed tradition handed down from one generation to another, Mark 7:7; Matt. 15:9; 16:12. In contrast to the Pharisaic system, the teaching of Jesus was unconventional, and somewhat unsystematic as He taught in the lyceum style on occasions. His words were not only potent and valuable, but the truth He personified, systematized itself into a work of doctrine out of His character. The power of His doctrine came from His divine personality. No wonder His contemporaries were astonished at it and recognized it as a new teaching. His Judaistic critics were attached to the cold law without knowing by affectionate faith from their hearts that "grace and truth" came by Jesus Christ, John 1:17.
Next, we note that the earliest doctrines taught by the Apostles in the first church at Jerusalem were basically three declarations.
First, that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, Acts 3:18; second, that He arose from the dead, Acts 1:22; and third, that personal salvation was by faith alone in His name, Acts 4:12. An analysis of Peter and Paul's preaching, as recorded in the Acts of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles in the early church, reveals that their sermons were saturated with the doctrines of Christ, His works, and the ministry of the Lord's church to broadcast the works of the Son of God.
In addition, we are reminded in the Pastoral Letters that a repeated emphasis is placed on doctrine, that it be sound or "healthy doctrine," I Tim. 1:10; 6:3; 11 Tim. 1:13; 4:3; Tit. 1:9; 2:1. Also, it is to be "good doctrine," I Tim. 4:6. Therefore, by the time Paul wrote the charges to Titus and Timothy, there had evidently developed a body and system of teaching or doctrines that these pastors must preach in the churches as a standard of Biblical orthodoxy and Christian fundamentals. Moreover, one can readily see why Jude pleads for a contending of the "faith which was once delivered to the saints,"Jude 3.
Its Practical Value
The real value of doctrine is found in the effectiveness it has on the listener who regards the Bible as God's Word. Even if he be an infidel, agnostic or atheist, the power of the teachings of God strikes the mind with such unique forcefulness that this alone creates attention to Scriptures, even if it be to attack them.
Our purpose now is to point out some specific values and relevance that doctrine has for all of us. These will represent the real reasons and importance of doctrine.
First, doctrine is to honor God according to John 7:17-18. If we speak the things of God, we most assuredly will glorify Him and prove the effectiveness of His doctrine. In other words, God will reinforce His teaching by His own design when we meet our responsibility to communicate His doctrine to others.
Second, there are multiple benefits to come from the whole body of Scriptures, as God's teachings, if we will objectively consider them, as seen in 11 Tim. 3:16. The Scriptures, Paul told the young pastor, Timothy, were given for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness in order that God could mature us unto good works. Paul teaches, in this same vein of thought, in Eph. 4:14 that we will develop stability through doctrine. We can also avoid being frustrated or tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine. Again, Paul reminds Titus that sound doctrine that has been taught will convince the gainsayers (antilego; those who speak against truth), Tit. 1:9.
Once more, in 11 Tim. 4:2-3, we are told that we must exhort (urge earnestly by warning), because the time is coming when folk will not endure (anechomai, hold up) sound doctrine. One of our chapel speakers, a pastor from east Texas, said recently that today you can split a Baptist church over a building, but not over baptism or the blood of Christ. Sad to say, but the future of the church is seen as not holding up sound doctrine, but she will heap to herself teachers having itching ears. This means that the teachers of doctrine, as well as the listeners, will turn to those that will fulfill their own evil desires, and push aside sound doctrine for carnal and selfish reasons.
Doctrine is God's Word that is to be used by pastors to feed the flock of God too. Jesus impressed this upon the mind of Peter in John 21:1517. The writer of Heb. 5:11-14 strongly urges believers in Christ to grow and develop in "the oracles of God," that one can understand both good and evil.
Again, doctrine is to be "adorned" (kosmeo, polished up) by honorable servants of God who conduct themselves in a "pattern of good works," Titus 2:7,10. Adorning here does not mean compromise of truth or doctrinal principles under the disguise of superficial friendliness, as Dr. W. A. Criswell seemed to do in his recent visit with Pope Paul VI in the Vatican. It is true that we are not to display a spirit of rancor, but it is also true that our presence and influence should adorn sound doctrine. It is not simply a refined or allegedly dignified air of sophisticated public relations. In other words, the true adorning of the doctrine of God will not confuse the observer regarding one's position on truth!
Last, doctrine will determine the destiny of every soul according to 11 John 9. There is a growing movement throughout the world which is making Jesus Christ a mere man. This was the problem the Pharisees had (note John 5:18). They merged with the Sadducees and others in order to kill the Son of God who they believed was just a man.
To you that are saved, you shall forever remain (abide) in the doctrine of Christ. By faith, you have accepted the Son of God as deity. This is pure and sound doctrine. However, to the unsaved, you must with all your heart accept the Scriptural declaration that Jesus is the Christ and Lord, if the doctrine of Christ is to have any practical value to you. To say it another way, you must repent (change your attitude and ideas) that Christ may be only another man, as the drama, "Jesus Christ Superstar," depicts, and see Him by faith as the God-man.
Yes, doctrine is vital, and the Lord says, give attendance to it until He comes again.