Mask of Doctrine II
In part 1 of the Mask of Doctrine, a primary focus was upon the fraudulently yet unintentional mismanagement of biblical texts, manifested as a result of previous discipleship influences. In addition to the divine effect of Christ, all Christians are impacted by the styles, customs, and scriptural understandings of those who taught them the gospel of Christ and formulas of scriptural interpretation. Nonetheless, the time comes when one must “Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established” (Proverbs 4:26). Such an ardent notion provides deeper meaning to the Philippians 2:12 narrative: “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”
Breaking free from the mask of doctrine stronghold can be a frightening and isolating experience, physically and emotionally. In his epistle to the Philippians Paul identified the courage, perseverance, and ontology necessary to walk in spiritual salvation (freedom/liberty). When a Christian begins to valiantly and navigationally depart from religious traditions perceived to be sacred and biblical law, it comes with fear and trembling. It is tough work, but the only other option is to continue living, preaching, teaching, and praising behind the mask of doctrine.
Jesus Christ died so the veil could be removed and full freedom in Christ actualized (Matthew 27:50-54), but from a church of Christ context it is very easy and comfortable to exist and work behind the mask of doctrine because the nomenclature, rhythm, culture, and status quo is familiar. Scriptural struggles and disagreements are not new to churches of Christ, but what is being experienced during this cultural epoch of kingdom living is perceived as a radical push of doctrinal boundaries. The reality is, what humanity thinks is a boundary test may not be in congruence with God’s divine line. While humanity may defame your kingdom push, God might applaud it. Recall the prophetic Word of Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater” (Isaiah 55:8-10).
Before dealing with a few additional scriptures that uniquely apply to mask of doctrine conceptions, consider one additional thought regarding biblical study and the importance of context. Just like one can hide behind what is perceived to be doctrine, one can hide behind context. The concept of biblical context is dual in paradigm; on one level it is clear that biblical text exhaustion is virtually impossible. Any open minded student of the Word can attest to the unending excitement of learning found in the scriptures. There is such an endless vault of rich context and culture connected to the revealed mind of God and the imbedded predicament/environment of His earthly authors, that the more one studies with an open heart, the more one learns. This is especially true if the student continually delves into the surrounding cultural contexts of scripture for deeper meaning. The parables of Jesus provide superlative examples because they are rich in cultural context, uniquely opined in connection with the relevant customs and practices of the original audience.
With that said, despite the deep roots of context, some may still attempt to hide behind it, irreverently overlaying a modern or postmodern schematic context atop original context. Through such a process of scriptural management Bible readers and students ignore the depths of original text intentionality, thus fostering an exploration that results in the perpetuation of operating behind the mask of doctrine. In terms of human efforts the context and doctrine nexus requires more dialectic attention.
Within that aforementioned nexus and going back to the mask, as we identify biblical doctrines we must survey their textual terrain and make applications within their appropriate contextual renderings. There is no need to stretch a passage outside the limits of its contextual intention, simply to force its conformity to a modern-day condition or preference. In Romans 6:17 Paul said, “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.” Although simplistic, to understand the scope of identified doctrine in the Pauline passage, one must explore the previous teachings delivered to the subjects of the Roman epistle. The Word of God is complete and full in its scope. There is nothing wrong in taking the meaning of a passage in its context and leaving it there. God is asking for His pure Word to be obeyed and not stretched.
As discussed in The Mask of Doctrine Part 1, doctrine is “teaching, that which is taught, and the act of teaching and instruction” and for this study we know the subject is the teachings of God by way of His Son and Holy Spirit. How has the concept of doctrine become such a general term today? When Jesus referenced the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees to His apostles, He made clear distinction in how some of their teachings were in direct opposition to His message and ministry. Jesus said, “How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees? Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” (Matthew 16:11-12).
“I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Timothy 4:1-4).
Sound doctrine is a strong theme in New Testament Pastoral Epistles and a commonly applied label fancied about within churches of Christ. Since it is often applied as a label of club and inner-circle membership, what is the essence of sound doctrine terminology? The merit of leaders in the church is often assessed through the lens of Christian soundness. Someone might endorse another person or congregation by proclaiming they are “biblically sound.” In certain cases all that means is that a person agrees with a biblical perspective, formation of group-thought, or has not strayed too far from what is considered traditionally acceptable. I am not convinced that usage of the “sound doctrine” label in churches of Christ today matches the spirit of Paul’s true intent. When a Christian is unsound doctrinally we must ensure that the scriptural rationale for making such a bold statement is both theologically accurate and permissible.
In Titus 2:1-6 Paul specifically connects doctrine with biblical instruction regarding proper Christian living. He said, “But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded.”
It is interesting how the doctrine dialogue is generally advanced when it appears someone is in violation of a worship practice, but is rarely applied in the realm of general substandard Christian living. Sound doctrine is about speaking the message of Christ clearly and boldly, simultaneously living the proclaimed message.
Let us briefly explore one last passage that engenders discussion and debate under the context of doctrine. The apostle John said “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed” (2 John 1:9-10).Why is there such fascination with this passage of scripture?
To refrain from using doctrine as a mask each passage that uses the term doctrine must be responsibly analyzed in its context, and there the harmonious message of God is revealed. In 2 John the primary teaching or doctrine emphasized is the deity of Christ (the fact that God came in the flesh, died, and was resurrected), followed by the extreme importance of walking in love, and holding on to the teachings about Christ. The Christian faith is anchored in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, thus if a person fails to uphold those kingdom principles the Bible says “…Receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds” (2 John 1:10-11). The New Living translation states “If anyone comes to your meeting and does not teach the truth about Christ, don’t invite that person into your home or give any kind of encouragement” (2 John 1:10).
The words of 2 John 1:9-11 are emphatic so before they are applied to a brother or sister in Christ, the person or group bringing forth the accusation of doctrinal error must be certain it is germane and applicable. If anyone seeks to use the term doctrine as a universal and general tag, they must ensure that which is being labeled doctrine is truly a teaching of the Bible and not a historic or contrived personal preference or belief. Without defining the essence of doctrine, the 2 John passages can be used as a mask, attempting to make of no effect any practice that a particular person or group disagrees with or dislikes.
There are church of Christ practices I do not agree with or do not correlate with my preference or style, but I shudder at the notion of labeling a practice sin without full and clear biblical confirmation. My parents were members of the church of Christ before I was born, so I have been thoroughly saturated and exposed to such customs, climates, and behaviors. There were times in my Christian walk and pulpit delivery where I was dogmatically limited in my approach to the scriptures.
I am still in a process of development and I am appreciative of the longsuffering, patience, and grace of God that covers my life – even when I am theologically off and shortsighted. In the name of Jesus Christ let us all continue to “Grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” and not be haste in judgment and castigation of our beloved brotherhood (Ephesians 4:15). The doctrine of Christ and the Bible is not a mask. Remember the words of Paul and be of courage, “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).