Where is the church going? Most of us will agree that extraordinary changes are taking place in the church. Traditions which have lasted for decades have been cast aside in favor of changes that are likely to become new traditions. Questions are being raised on many of the issues that had seemed to be settled long ago.
The incredible uniformity of a fellowship that was held together by no ecclesiastical body is disappearing as congregations experiment with new understandings of their mission.
All change is difficult, especially when our religious convictions are involved. The transition that is taking place in the church is likely to be difficult – even painful – because we will be forced to deal with questions that will divide us.
Some greet current changes as harbingers of hope, while others greet them with dismay and alarm. Some changes are appropriate to our own times, while others undermine the very nature of the Christian faith. Our task is to know the difference!
James Thompson wrote, regarding ‘fault lines emerging in congregation after congregation, that “I see little evidence that we even know how to discuss the issues. It is as if we were engaged in a game in which the participants had vastly different understandings of the rules or even a disagreement about the purpose of the game. As long as we have no shared understanding of the nature of the game, we can neither face the challenge of changing times nor work harmoniously in God’s service.”
These epistles are written to prepare the believers to act when the apostle is no longer there to guide them; to equip them to remain faithful when Paul is taken from them. Thus they are a word to churches throughout history which must act and make decisions in the physical absence of the apostles!
1 Timothy 3:14-15 (NIV) Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, 15 if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.
(1 Tim 1:3)”As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer”
The Ephesian church was on Paul’s mind. According to Acts 19, he had founded the church himself and had spent more time in Ephesus than in any other community (Acts 19:10; 20:31). During his last missionary journey, he called the Ephesian elders together for a farewell visit and sermon (Acts 20:17-25), in which he warned them about the false teachers who would threaten the church.
This is the first charge to the young minister—to be a defender of the faith. The young minister must guard against and correct false teachers:
1. False teachers teach a different doctrine (v.3).
2. False teachers give heed to speculations and myths (4:7; 2 Tim. 4:4; Titus 1:4), genealogies (Titus 3:9) and questions rather than godly edification (v.4).
3. False teachers put empty discussion above love (v.5-6).
4. False teachers put ambition and personal ideas above the truth (v.7).
5. False teachers put self-righteousness above God’s gospel (v.8-11).
6. They forbid marriage and the eating of meat (1 Tim. 4:1-5).
The situation is so dangerous that Paul describes the false teaching as a disease that is infecting the church (1 Tim. 6:4). Their talk will “spread like gangrene” (2 Tim. 2:17).
They are proud, arrogant, and abusive (1 Tim. 6:4), disobedient to their parents (Titus 1:16), slanderers, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit. They are insubordinate and factious (Titus 1:10; 3:10). Clearly, Timothy is confronted by a formidable task.
In the definitive words of John 8:44, Jesus informs us that Satan is a liar. Wherever God sows truth, His arch-enemy endeavors to sow falsehood and error. It is no surprise, then, that one of his most persistent attacks on the church has been through false doctrine.
Our Lord reminded us often of the danger of false teachers. He warned in Matthew 7:15, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”
Timothy was to charge the ministers, teachers, and leaders to preach no other doctrine than the doctrine of God’s Word.
- They were not to add or take away from the doctrine of God’s Word.
- They were not to formulate new doctrines for the church.
- They were not to make what they thought were improvements nor to correct what they thought were defects in the Word of God.
His task was to teach “sound doctrine.” In fact, there is an emphasis on “sound teaching” (2 Tim. 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1), sound words (1 Tim. 6:3; 2 Tim. 1:13; Titus 2:8), and being “sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13; 2:2).
That familiar phrase, so well known to many of us, is actually a medical metaphor. “Sound” teaching is literally “healthy” or “wholesome” teaching. This phrase reflects the view that the church, in selecting its teachers, chooses between health and disease.
Sound doctrine involves our central convictions about the saving significance and his cross! Whenever the church departs from the saving significance of the cross of Christ, it rejects that sound teaching which produces healthy lives.
Our need to reach out to non-Christians, to maintain interest among church members, and to maintain the interest of our youth places before us special challenges, for we are all shaped by a media culture that has increased our appetite for entertainment and diminished our attention span.
In this situation, the understandable temptation for the church is to find the subjects that will maintain the interest of the people and, in effect, let them set the agenda for the church’s teaching ministry.
In a religious climate driven by consumer demand, “customers” dictate the substance of their instruction and teachers occupy themselves with meeting the demands of the clientele.
Richard Osmer: “a staggering 76% of all church members (all religious groups) now agree that an individual should arrive at his/her own religious beliefs independent of a church or synagogue.”
Paul is not suggesting a mean-spirited attitude. Paul’s goal: producing the life distinguished by love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience.
“…the aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith.” 1 Timothy 1:15.
No teaching is true which does not produce faith and love. The end of God’s commandment—of all that God has ever said to man—is love. But to do this he must be totally committed…
• to having a pure heart before God.
• to having a good (clear) conscience before God.
• to following the faith, that is, the teachings and doctrine of God’s Word.
Paul used the word “conscience(s)” 21 times in his letters, and 6 of these references are in the Ministerial Epistles (1 Tim. 1:5, 19; 3:9; 4:2; 2 Tim. 1:3; Titus 1:15).
The word “conscience” means “to know with.” Conscience is the inner judge that accuses us when we have done wrong and approves when we have done right (Rom. 2:14-15).
From the earliest days Christians have faced the formidable challenge of maintaining an unaltered faith while they changed customs to meet the demands of different cultures.
A healthy church will recognize that changes reflect ideas and are seldom merely matters of style. Whether our assemblies undergo major or minor changes, we do well to ask rigorous questions about what it means to come together in the presence of God.
The major issues of our public assemblies – how we sing, what we sing, how we participate in the Lord’s Supper – involve theological questions about what we have been called to do as a people. These questions are not solved by the preferences of consumer demands.
Healthy churches can have vigorous discussion – even debate – as it meets the challenge of change.
Vigorous debate, if it is conducted without rancor and within the context of a search for truth, may help us clarify the important issues of our time.
Does doctrine really matter? Sound (healthy) teaching matters!
It matters not only for pragmatic reasons, but because it is true.
(2 Tim 1:12)”That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.”
(2 Tim 1:14)”Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you–guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”