Saturday, February 18, 2012

Living the Christian Life: Orthodoxy and Heresy

Orthodoxy and Heresy

If indeed growing in knowing doctrine is important, if indeed growing in the knowledge of God is growing in knowing doctrine, then wrong doctrine is very serious. Heresy and wrong doctrine basically is a distortion of the true knowledge of God. Instead of having our minds transformed by the renewing of our minds (c.f. Rom. 12:2), heresy and wrong doctrine distorts our perception of God and of the faith.

Now, the first thing we note is that in the Scriptures, there is present one deposit of truths about God. The most common objection normally to sound doctrine is the relativization of all interpretations of all Scripture, and thus making Scripture wholly subjective. In the minds of such people, you have "your interpretation" and I have "my interpretation" and who are you or anyone else to say who's right and who's wrong?

The problem with this objection is that it denies what Scripture teaches. Scripture is not clay to be molded into anything anyone wants. For example, does anyone want to claim that "Jesus did not die on the cross" is a valid interpretation of Scripture at all? I certainly hope not.

The Scriptures speak of "the faith once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). It speaks of the pattern of sound words (2 Tim. 1:13). It speaks of the tradition handed down by the apostles (2 Thess. 3:6). There is therefore such a thing as a body of fixed truths handed down to us, and these objective truths are for us to discover and understand and mine for. We are not to ignore them or relativize them.

Since there is such a thing as a fixed pattern of sound words, therefore, there is such a thing as orthodoxy (right teaching). Anything that contradicts this orthodoxy is either heresy or wrong teaching, depending on the nature of the truth that it contradicts.

What does all this have to do with us? If we call ourselves Christians therefore, we are to love God and His Word and the doctrines of Scripture. Therefore, we are to hate heresy and false teaching because they contradict God's truth. We are to hate it because heresy and false teaching destroys souls. It causes professing believers to fall away, and ruins their spiritual lives and witness for Christ.

If we detest rapists and murderers because they hurt or ruin others, why then do we not detest the spiritual rapists and murderers? Our priorities seemed to be way off when we regard the former as worse than the latter. The first can only destroy the body; the second destroy both the body and the soul. As Jesus said,

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Mt. 10:28)

Let us therefore learn to hate heresy and wrong teaching at least just as much if not more than physical rapists and murderers. Let us treasure sound doctrine and hate false ones.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Living the Christian Life: Doctrine and the Word of God

Doctrine and the Word of God

The next application for us has to do with how we read the Word of God.

The Scriptures is revelation from God, of God, for us. The Scriptures is God's story of the world and of the Gospel to the world. It is not a story primarily about Man although Man is in the story. It begins with God in Gen. 1:1 when Man is not present. It is a story of God creating Man, Man's fell into sin (Gen. 3), God's providence and kindness in preserving Man on the earth despite the multiplication of sin (e.g. Gen. 6-9), and of God working out salvation for His people culminating in the sending of God's Son into the world to die for our sins (the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), and then the proclamation of that Gospel to the rest of mankind (Acts).

Since that is what Scripture is about, Scripture is not about us. It is not about our personal wants and desires, although it does answer our deepest needs. It is not an encyclopedia or dictionary for us to look up for answers to every question we might have including what to eat for breakfast. It is not a book of motivational quotes to cheer up our day, not a book of incantations to be said so as to change reality, and not a book of mantras to be said to make us more spiritual (i.e. lectio divina). The Scriptures is all about God and His Gospel message, not about our perceived needs on this earth.

To read and understand Scripture therefore is to know more about God and His Gospel. That is the center of God's revelation, and therefore is the center of our understanding of Scripture. To treat Scripture in any other way is to distort God and His Word. If one reads Scripture for inspirational quotes, for practical wisdom or any other side issue even for "Christian philosophy" apart from the center of who God is and what He has done through the Gospel, one has distorted the actual teachings of Scripture. It matters little how much you were motivated or inspired; what matters is whether whatever understanding you have gained is grounded on and gives you a deeper knowledge and love for Christ and His Gospel.

Doctrine properly defined is the teaching of Scripture in what it says. Therefore, understanding more of who God is and His Gospel is to grow in the knowledge of Christian biblical doctrine. True growth in the knowledge of God's Word therefore is growth in knowing doctrine. From this doctrine grows deeper love for God and a deeper understanding of who He is and what He has done for us. All of these helps us to love, honor and glorify God more and more in our lives (growth in affection), and helps us to obey the commands of God for us (doing) because of what He has already done for us (being).

Since this is what the Word of God is, therefore anyone who approaches the Word of God differently is in error. Those who denigrate doctrine have attacked the Word of God. Those who denigrate those who desire more doctrine likewise. Those who do not approach the Word of God to know more about God and His Gospel are in error. Those who approach the Scriptures apart from Christ are not living the Christian life. Those who treats the Scriptures as merely a simple devotional guide have missed the forest for the trees. Those who treat the Scriptures as a witness of God's working have denied the forest and the trees for the ideal of Nature.

Reading God's Word is to read with a view to understand and embrace what the Scripture teaches pertaining to God and His Gospel, i.e. doctrine. To do otherwise is sin and contrary to the authorial intent of the Holy Spirit in giving us the Scriptures.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Living the Christian Life: Implications - Life goals and purposes

Part 2: Implications

The basics of the Christian Life having been described, let us proceed onto various implications it has on specific topics of Christian living.

Life goals and purposes

If living the Christian Life is to submit to Christ as our Lord who has saved us, then it implies that everything in our life should be lived under Christ's lordship. This does not just translate into vague principles of professing that Jesus is Lord, but to practical realities of life.

A major implication this has is our life goals and purposes. A Christian is to order their lives according to the reality of their status as children of God. As Paul famously remarked in Gal. 2: 20, "I have been co-crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me" (own translation). Our lives are not our own, but are to be lived for Christ.

Does this mean that every Christian should be a missionary or serve full-time in church or a Christian organization? No. There is in fact no superiority of full-time service over so-called "secular" work. God is God of the world, and He does not need our service, so why do we think that one job is more spiritual than another?

The issue therefore is not about the type of things we do (assuming that it's not sinful), but the principles with which we approach it. Our life goals and purposes should reflect the change. Perhaps formerly we were only interested in being rich and enjoying life. But Christ came, and we see that our lives are not to be lived for ourselves but for Him. Therefore, we might now see that we should now earn money [fairly of course] so as to be able to give generously to the Lord's works. Perhaps previously we desire to climb up the social ladder and make a name for ourselves. Now however, we see that we should be making Christ's name and honor known, not ours. Therefore, we may still climb up the social ladder, but the goal is not to make a name for ourselves but to reach those in high society with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. [And contrary to some popular conceptions of the Gospel, the rich and famous NEED the Gospel too].

Our life goals and purposes must be shaped by the truths of Scripture. There is nothing wrong with earning money or achieving high social or political status, but all things must be done for the main purpose of witnessing for Christ. In this light, knowing the Scripture is vital so that we may shape our life goals and purposes according to what Scripture actually says, not what we think Scripture say.