What Is Sound Doctrine?

This article by Scott Swain was originally published in Tabletalk magazine (original source here).

When I was young, I only thought of my future: Whom would I marry? What vocation would I pursue? Where would I live? Now that I am the father of four children, I think only of their futures.

As he approached the final days of his ministry, the Apostle Paul set his thoughts on the future well-being of Timothy, his “beloved child” in the faith (2 Tim. 1:2). He wrote to him about the things that matter most for life and ministry. Not only did Paul commend to his young protégé the glorious gospel of God (vv. 8–10) and the divinely inspired Scriptures (3:16–17), but he also instructed Timothy regarding the importance of sound doctrine: “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (1:13–14). According to Paul, doctrine is among the things that matter most for the well-being of the Christian and the church. Sound, or “healthy,” doctrine provides a pattern that, when followed, promotes healthy faith and love. Sound doctrine is a valuable heritage that is to be treasured in this generation and faithfully transmitted to the next (2:2).

What is doctrine? In its basic sense, doctrine is any sort of teaching. The Bible, for example, talks about the teachings of men (Mark 7:7–8), the teachings of demons (1 Tim. 4:1; Rev. 2:24), and the teachings of God (John 6:45; 1 Thess. 4:9; 1 John 2:27). Here, we are concerned with divine teaching, the teaching of God. According to one definition, doctrine is teaching from God about God that directs us to the glory of God. This definition provides a helpful anatomy of sound doctrine, identifying doctrine’s source, object, and ultimate end. We will consider these elements of sound doctrine.

The Source of Sound Doctrine

The triune God is the ultimate “doctor,” or teacher, when it comes to Christian doctrine. The God who knows and loves Himself in the perfect fellowship of the Trinity has graciously willed to make Himself known to us and loved by us (Matt. 11:25–27; 1 Cor. 2:10–12). This doctrine, taught by the Father through the son in the Holy Spirit, informs our faith and guides our love.

Though the triune God is the ultimate source of doctrine, He has chosen to minister doctrine to us through His prophets and Apostles in Holy Scripture. until the day when God speaks to us face-to-face in His eternal kingdom, Holy Scripture is the source and norm of sound doctrine (2 Tim. 3:16; see Mark 7:7–8). Doctrine is drawn from Holy Scripture as from a fountain. Doctrine is measured by Holy Scripture as by a rule. Furthermore, doctrine leads us back to Scripture by equipping us to become better readers. Indeed, those “untaught” in sound doctrine are most prone to twisting the Scriptures “to their own destruction” (2 peter 3:16).

The Object of Sound Doctrine

Christian doctrine has a twofold object. The primary object of doctrine is God; the secondary object is all things in relation to God. Doctrine teaches us to see God as the one from whom and through whom and to whom all things exist, and doctrine directs our lives to this God’s glory (Rom. 11:36; 1 Cor. 8:6).

When we examine the twofold object of doctrine as it is presented to us in Holy Scripture, a definite pattern emerges (Rom. 6:17; 2 Tim. 1:13). The pattern of sound doctrine is (1) Trinitarian (1 Cor. 8:6; Eph. 4:4–6; Titus 3:4–7), (2) creation affirming (1 Tim. 2:13–15; 4:1–4), (3) gospel centered (1 Tim. 3:16; Titus 2:11–14), and (4) church oriented (1 Tim. 3:14–15). The Bible’s distinctive doctrinal pattern has left its mark on some of the most widely accepted summaries of Christian teaching, such as the Apostles’ Creed and the Heidelberg Catechism, and has informed the shape of historic Christian worship.

The End of Sound Doctrine

Doctrine promotes a number of ends. Sound doctrine delivers us from the snare of false teaching (2 Tim. 2:24–26; Titus 1:9-11), which otherwise threatens to arrest spiritual development (Eph. 4:14) and to foster ecclesiastical discord (Rom. 16:17). Doctrine serves God’s saving work both inside (1 Tim. 4:16) and outside the church (Matt. 5:13-16; Titus 2:9–10; 1 Peter 3:1–6). Above all, doctrine promotes God’s glory. Doctrine shines forth as one of the glorious rays of the gospel of God (1 Tim. 1:10–11) and, by directing our faith and love toward God in Christ, it enables us to walk in His presence and give Him the glory He deserves (1 Peter 4:11; 2 Peter 3:18).

God loves us; and in His goodness He has given us the good gift of doctrine (Ps. 119:68) that we might learn of Him and of His gospel, and that we might please Him in our walk. Doctrine is the teaching of our heavenly Father, revealed in Jesus Christ, and transmitted to us by the Holy Spirit in Holy Scripture, and it is to be received, confessed, and followed in the church, to the glory of God’s name.

When it comes to women teaching men, how far is too far?

questionmarkredstandingDr. Sam Storms introduces the following article on his blog with these words: “This article by Mary Kassian is one of the best treatments of this thorny question as I’ve ever read. I encourage you to study it closely and in its entirety. It is a model of careful and judicious reasoning in an effort to answer questions not explicitly addressed in Scripture.”

Women Teaching Men — How Far Is Too Far? by Mary A. Kassian (original source here)

Where is the line when it comes to women teaching men? May women preach on Sunday mornings? Teach a Sunday school class? Lead a small group? Instruct a seminary course? Speak at a conference? At a couples retreat? Or on the radio?

May women ever teach from Scripture when men are in the audience? Should men even be reading this article? How far is too far?

It’s a question being asked by scores of women who want to be faithful to the Bible and want to exercise their spiritual gift of teaching in a way that honors God’s pattern of male headship in the church.

The discussion surrounding the boundary reminds me of another how-far-is-too-far issue: How physically affectionate should a couple be prior to marriage? Should they hold hands? Kiss? Kiss for five seconds, but not fifteen? Lip kiss but not French kiss? How far is too far?
Well, the Bible doesn’t exactly specify.

Trying to put together a list of rules about permitted behaviors would be both misleading and ridiculous. But we’re not left without a rudder. The Bible does provide a clear boundary. Sexual intercourse prior to marriage crosses the line.

God reveals for us the principle of purity, gives a clear this-goes-over-the-line boundary, and to help us figure out the rest, provides us with the gift of his indwelling Spirit in the community of the saints. And thankfully when we mess up, he stands ready to extend his lavish and costly forgiveness and grace.

Asking the Right Question

Pre-marital sexual intercourse crosses the line. But let me ask you this: Can a couple physically honor the boundary and still violate the principle of purity? Of course they can.
So a woman who only considers the boundary and asks, “How far is too far?” is really asking the wrong question. A better question would be, “Do I love what God loves?” “Do I treasure what he treasures?” “Does what I do with my body indicate that I treasure purity?” And, “How can I best honor Christ in how I physically interact with my boyfriend?”

By now you may be muttering, “I thought she was going to talk about women teaching men in the church.”

I am. But I think the question of how I — as a woman with a spiritual gift of teaching — ought to honor male headship in the church has many similarities with the question of how a young woman ought to honor the principle of purity. In the former situation as well as the latter, God hasn’t given us a detailed how-far-is-too-far list. He’s given us a broad principle, a clear this-goes-over-the-line boundary, and the gift of his indwelling Holy Spirit to help us figure out the rest in the wisdom of community.

Loving What God Loves

God wants us to honor his divine design by honoring the principle of male headship in our homes and church families. The church is God’s family and household (1 Timothy 3:15, Hebrews 3:6, Galatians 6:10). Continue reading

Teaching: Simplify without Distortion

sproul-r-c-This post by R. C. Sproul was originally published in Tabletalk magazine and online here.

The K-I-S-S principle is frequently requested in a learning environment. The acrostic stands for “Keep it simple, stupid.” It seems we are a people who loathe difficult study. We want easy answers and we want them quickly. Mastery of a subject, however, requires years of diligent labor and study. But once the teacher has mastered his material, how does he transmit it to his students?

Certain assumptions are made in the classroom. The first is that the teacher knows more about the subject than the student. It is, in general, a safe assumption. The second assumption is that the teacher cannot communicate his mastery of the subject all at once. To educate (as the Latin root suggests), we must lead students “out of” ignorance into knowledge. That knowledge moves in increments, from the simple to complex.

The great teacher helps his students gain understanding. This may be the most vital and most difficult task of teaching. Students often complain that the teacher speaks “over-the-heads” of the students. What does this mean? It means that the student does not understand what is being taught. It may indicate that the student is lazy and is unwilling to be stretched intellectually. It could also mean that the teacher doesn’t understand what he is teaching.

Often times our educational process is a failure with respect to learning. The syndrome goes something like this: A student attends college classes, takes copious notes, memorizes the notes, and makes an A in the course. Then he graduates from college and follows the same procedure in graduate school. Now he becomes a teacher and he has a great store of information about which he has been tested yet has little understanding. Information has been transferred but never processed or digested by the inquiring mind. This teacher now goes in the classroom where he gives lectures from his notes and text books. He allows little time for questions (he fears questions he may not be able to answer). He continues the vicious syndrome of his own education with his students and the game goes on.

A great teacher can simplify without distortion. This is the supreme test of understanding. If I truly understand something, I ought to be able to communicate it to others. There is a vast chasm that separates the simple from the simplistic. Jesus, the greatest teacher ever, taught in simple terms. But He was never simplistic. To oversimplify is to distort the truth. The great teacher can express the profound by the simple, without distortion. To do that requires a deep level of understanding. The great teacher imparts understanding, not merely information. To do that the teacher must understand the material being taught.