“Sound Teaching”Categories: M. W. Bassford, Sermons
For those of you who aren’t aware, right now, there is a brotherhood-wide split occurring in mainline churches of Christ. I have friends who attend mainline churches who believe the split already has occurred. The sources of division are questions that we would consider fundamental. Can churches of Christ use musical instruments in their assemblies? Is it permissible for women to lead in the assembly? Can you belong to a church and join in its work if you haven’t been baptized for the forgiveness of your sins? Those in progressive churches of Christ these days will answer “Yes,” to all three of those questions.
To be honest, brethren, I find this shocking. How can it be that these churches have gone so far so quickly? How can it be that even the one baptism of Ephesians 4:5 has come under attack? Of course, a little bit of thought provides the answer to the question. Consider 2 Timothy 1:13. It tells us that we are to hold on to the New Testament pattern of sound teaching. Clearly, these churches have failed to do that.
The same thing can happen to us. Indeed, if we are not vigilant, it will happen to us. Lest we drift away, we must concern ourselves with clinging ever more tightly to the Scriptures. This evening, then, let’s contemplate the subject of sound teaching.
First, let us note that sound teaching DEMANDS HUMILITY from us. Look at what James says in James 1:21. He tells us that if we want the word to implant itself in us and save our souls, first we must humble ourselves before it.
This statement probably would draw amens from across the religious spectrum, but let’s pause for a moment to think about what it means. Humility means that we care about what the word of God says instead of what we want to do. Humility means that we place all of our confidence in the wisdom of God and none in our human wisdom.
In practice, humility means that we will do what God says and only what God says, because that’s the conclusion to which submission and trust lead. If it’s in the law of Christ, it doesn’t matter how little we like it or how unwise we think it is. We will obey.
Without this humility, there’s really no point to studying the Bible or trying to serve God at all. Pride is all the opening that the devil needs. When we run into one of those hard sayings of Jesus, he will whisper in our ear that we don’t really have to listen to the Lord. When we find apparent foolishness in the word, he will pat us on the back for how wise and understanding we are. Every time, he will use our pride to lead us straight to destruction.
Instead, we should adopt the sentiments of Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 3:7. We all are little children. We all do not know how to go out and come in. However, if we humble ourselves completely before our heavenly Father, and we do only what He says to do, everything will work out all right.
Second, sound teaching DECLARES THE WHOLE PLAN OF GOD. Consider Acts 20:26-27. There’s a warning here for every preacher and teacher of God’s word. Paul says that because he declared the whole plan of God to the Ephesian elders, he will be innocent of their blood. If they go astray, it won’t be his fault. However, if he had taught them only the easy parts of God’s plan, he would have destroyed himself along with them.
I think this highlights one of the more difficult features of the gospel. It is often the case that the parts of the Bible that we most need to hear are the parts we least want to hear. They demand that we admit unwelcome truth, and they require us to give up cherished parts of our lives.
However, this gets back to humility. Are we going to listen to God all the time, or are we going to listen to Him only when the listening is pleasant? If the latter, we’re not really serving God. We’re serving ourselves and applying a Christian gloss to our selfishness.
In fact, I think this is exactly what is going on in those progressive churches. We know that Bible teaching on baptism is unpopular. There are many in our community who would have no problem joining our church—if only we didn’t demand that they be baptized for the forgiveness of sins first. If we let anybody become a member, regardless of their salvation experience, a big stumbling block has been abolished.
Bible teaching on the role of women in the church is unpopular too. Lots of people in the world are going to write us off as a bunch of chauvinists because we won’t let women, even talented women, get up in the pulpit and preach.
The thing is, though, that unless we teach on these controversial subjects, and unless we practice what we preach, we are not declaring the whole plan of God. No women in authority in the church is part of that plan. Baptism for the forgiveness of sins is part of it too. We cannot change God’s revealed will. All we can decide is whether we are going to honor it or not.
Finally, sound doctrine REMAINS IN CHRIST’S TEACHING. Let’s read from 2 John 8-10. John makes clear here that this is a very real danger. It is all too possible for Christians to go beyond the teaching of Christ and so lose their reward.
This should lead us to ask what going beyond the teaching of Christ means. I think the concept here is pretty simple. When we teach and practice the things that Christ and His apostles taught, we are remaining in His teaching. On the other hand, when Christ and His apostles didn’t teach something, and we teach and practice it anyway, we go beyond His teaching, much like the deceivers mentioned in v. 6.
This is simple to understand, but through the centuries, it has proven to be quite difficult to apply. The devil loves to convince God’s people to go beyond God’s teaching. Here too, he appeals to our pride. He seeks to persuade us that adding something to the divinely inspired pattern will be an improvement.
He also seeks to minimizes the consequences. Surely God wouldn’t condemn someone to hell for doing that! I don’t know about y’all, but when the devil tells me it isn’t dangerous, and the Holy Spirit tells me in 2 John 8 that it is dangerous, I’m going to go with the Holy Spirit!
This, I fear, is what is going on with churches of Christ that are adopting instrumental music. We all know what is written in the Scriptures about our song worship. There is nothing in the New Testament that permits us to adopt the instrument. Bringing the instrument in, then, is going beyond the teaching of Christ.
At this point, some brethren want to ask if I’m sure that everybody who uses the instrument is going to hell. I think that’s the wrong question. We need to worry less about the precise extent to which something is wrong and worry more about devoting ourselves to what is right. Let’s ask if we want to submit humbly to God, if we trust that His way is best, if we want to remain faithfully within the teachings of His Son. If the answer to those questions is “Yes,” the instrument never will make an appearance.