Protect Sound Doctrine
Dear Church Members,
When my eyes fall on the Third Epistle of John, my heart swells, particularly when I come to that bit about walking. John writes to his friend Gaius: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” Is there any greater joy for a pastor than to hear that those whom he’s labored for and loved with the truth are walking in it?
It may seem to many of us a simple task, walking. But walking in the truth? That’s a hazardous business. Christians don’t walk along sun-blanketed beaches with crystalline ocean at our feet. We walk through mine fields until we make our way home. The dangers, in this war of words, aren’t seen with the eye but heard with the ear. We might describe it as a Cold War against the truth. The dangers, spiritually speaking, are nothing short of nuclear.
WHAT IS SOUND DOCTRINE?
I’m writing to you, beloved, to reflect on how we can walk together more safely to our heavenly home. But how can we walk in the truth when it’s taking fire from every direction? How can we shield the gospel in all its brilliant simplicity and convicting power? By protecting sound doctrine.
But what is sound doctrine? It’s not the stuff of dry academics or the speculations of armchair theologians. Sound doctrine is teaching from God’s Word that’s faithful to God’s Word! It’s as rich and practical as the Bible because sound doctrine, simply put, is biblical preaching, teaching, and instruction. We might say that if God’s Word is the heart of the church, sound doctrine is the blood pumping out from it, bringing life to the whole body.
HOW TO PROTECT SOUND DOCTRINE
So, how can we protect sound doctrine? First and foremost, by filling our church with it. God’s truth is never as vulnerable as when it’s rarely received.
For us, the danger isn’t that the Word will go unpreached; rather, it’s that we’ll fail to put it first. We should ask ourselves a couple of questions: Is hearing God’s Word among the things in my life that must be done? Or do I crowd it out of my schedule for more important things?
When hearing sound doctrine is optional, we’ll hear it less. And the less we hear the truth, the more easily it will be twisted and exposed to distortion in our minds. One of my prayers is that we would be so committed to hearing sound doctrine, that when the Word is preached and taught among us, we would make every effort to show up because our greatest desire is to hear God speak to us so that we might walk in his ways.
But is protecting sound doctrine simply a matter showing up? Should we entrust this most important duty, to protect sound doctrine, to me, your pastor? Yes and no. You’ve called me in faith to serve you with the Word, and one of the reasons you’ve called me is because you believe that I live and preach sound doctrine. But surely, this responsibility is too weighty for one man.
One way for us to protect sound doctrine is to develop a culture of identifying those who rightly handle God’s Word and raising them up as elders so that they might share in the faithful instruction of sound doctrine. A plurality of elders who watch over one another’s lives and doctrine provide a valiant defense against unsound doctrine. By God’s grace, we’ll continue to develop this culture of vigilance.
Every church should care about their pastors’ character and doctrine. However, the ultimate responsibility for sound doctrine and the overall health of our church doesn’t fall on pastors alone, but on the entire membership of our church. It may be that the Apostle Paul knocked his Galatian hearers back in their chairs when he wrote: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8).
Who is a mere church member to call out their pastor? My friend, there’s no such thing as a mere church member. The Lord has called you, along with your fellow members, to have ears so trained, so sensitive to God’s Word, that you can discern between the truth and a lie. In this sacred duty, you’re part sheep, part sheepdog. You’re a member of the flock. But you’re also its guardian. This may seem like more than you bargained for when you began considering membership at Tremont. But with so much at stake, I want to call you, as God’s Word does, to be a sheepdog for the truth.
I also want to again invite you to share your thoughts with me about all that I preach and teach among the flock. I want to assure you that whether we agree or disagree, in the providence of God, I regard your questions and feedback to be tools that sharpen my understanding of God’s Word and challenge me to pay closer attention. The dialogue between preacher and hearer must always be preserved, not only because it keeps the preacher accountable, but also because it’s a channel for fruitful discussion about God’s Word.
DOCTRINE ISN’T ENOUGH
Finally, churches may be filled with sound doctrine. From pastors to pew, we may guard orthodoxy with steely resolve. But if we don’t apply sound doctrine to our lives and help each other do so, it’s only a matter of time before the truth among us will be a casualty. We’ve seen the relics. Buildings that used to house churches that are now merely museums of past glory, if anything at all. At the end of the day, the only way that we will walk together safely home is if the sound doctrine we hear brings about a sound life. We need sound minds. We need steadfast hearts. More sound doctrine will not be enough. We need God’s Spirit to make us sound. Pray that God would make us a sound church as we prize and protect sound doctrine.
Brothers and sisters, do you see how much of a part that you play in protecting sound doctrine? We’re raging a truth war against the enemy. We’re called to fight the good fight of faith, and to march forward in truth. It’s hard but surely God, who’s already given us the victory in Jesus Christ, will carry us when we can’t walk. As John Newton once wrote and we now sing,
Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come,
Tis’ grace that brought me safe thus far
And Grace will lead me home.
By the grace of God, let’s walk in the truth. For the feet of the One who walked before us were pieced for us. Surely, he will not leave us defenseless. Brothers and sisters, let’s be faithful. Let’s protect sound doctrine.
Walking out front and alongside of you, I am,