Teaching as Doctrines the Precepts of Men

 

It is common to hear people assert that “everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” and there is certainly some truth to that statement. At the end of the day, we have the ability choose for ourselves what we believe; no one can force us to accept something that we do not want to accept. But just because “everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” that does not mean that all opinions are equally valid or true.

Paul told Timothy to “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” Apparently, there is a correct way and an incorrect way to handle the word of truth. Some interpretations of scripture are correct and others are just plain wrong.

In fact, Timothy was specifically warned that “the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” We can believe whatever we want about scripture, but in that case we may very well be preaching “myth” instead of “truth.”

Peter warned that “the untaught and unstable” would “distort” the things in Paul’s writings, “as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” Sure, we can twist the scriptures to reach all kinds of different conclusions, but we may be doing so at our own peril if we are handling the word incorrectly.

So how can we make sure that we are handling the word of truth rightly, abiding in sound doctrine, and resisting the urge to distort scripture? Let’s consider some scriptures that can help us to answer that question.

 John warned his hearers that: “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son.”   John’s admonition not to “go too far” and thus “not abide” in Christ’s teachings sounds a lot like the word’s of Paul to the Corinthians that they must “learn not to exceed what is written.”

“Going to far,” “not abiding in,” and “exceeding” what is written are all terms that indicate an addition of man-made concepts to what is actually present in scripture.

Thus, in Deuteronomy the Israelites were told “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you.” Unfortunately the Pharisees did just that. They invented all kinds of extra requirements to add to the law.

This idea is repeated in Revelation, “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.”

Jesus summed it up in a very simple and powerful way: “In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”

It can be hard not to go beyond what is written when we want to have all the answers. It can be hard not to invent new “doctrines” which are really only human precepts when we want to build a systematic theology that can answer all of our questions. But we must have the courage to speak when the Bible speaks and be silent when the Bible is silent.

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