First Timothy 6:3-4a If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing.The professor had a jar of sand, a jar of stones, and container of rocks. He asked a student to come forward and empty the contents into a jar not too much bigger than the ones already on the table. The student emptied the jar of sand into the jar and could then only empty about half of the stones into the jar. The professor asked the student if it was possible to fit the rest of the stones and the rocks into the jar. This question seemed ridiculous to all present and met with an emphatic and humoured "No!"
The professor then placed on the table duplicate jars of sand and stones along with a duplicate empty jar. Instead of putting in the sand first, he placed the rocks into the empty jar. He then poured in all the stones. Giving the jar a tap he then poured in all the sand. The students were amazed. The professor then uttered these profound words: Always get the big rocks in the jar first!
John 6:29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”Jesus Christ said that the most important work of God a person can do is to believe in Him. Not do penance. Not make sacerdotal confession. Not meditate. Not fast. Not join a church. Just, believe right. What we believe can be of eternal consequence. What is believed is referred to as "doctrine". It is a person's doctrine that determines how they live. For example, with the exception of a certain man named Clark, if a person has a doctrine that flying bullets can not hurt them they will enter a war-zone differently than most soldiers. Similarly, if a person believes that God requires a person to add their own religious efforts to Christ's redeeming work, then they will serve God with a completely different heart and mind than the person who believes they can can add nothing to the salvation unfairly bestowed upon them by God.
In the formative years of the church, the first sixteen centuries, the Church met in Councils to assess whether certain doctrines being introduced agreed with Scripture. Sometimes the governing bodies themselves were challenged by those who considered that they had veered from the teaching of Scripture. This is what happened during the period known as the Reformation. Beginning with John Wyclif who dared to make the Bible available to the common person by translating it into English, it continued with William Tyndale and culminated with Martin Luther. These men saw something in Scripture that led them to conclude that the Roman Catholic Church had gone beyond the pale of orthodox Biblical doctrine. This led several of the Reformers to write a systemised collection of Biblical doctrine where they pieced together what the revealed will of God in the Scriptures was for people seeking to please its Divine Author.
One of the most prolific of these authors was Martin Luther. He wrote commentaries, polemics (long articles that defended a Biblical position), and several significant hymns. The other was John Calvin who wrote a four book set called The Institutes Of The Christian Religion (I recently went through a course of 28 lectures on 'The Institutes' from Covenant Seminary). These writers and Christian thinkers saw that the Bible provided certain essential doctrines that led to a sound faith and practice of that Christian faith. John Calvin was particularly interested in getting the order of these doctrines in a logical sequence. He saw that Scripture itself seemed to reveal certain doctrines in order and also stressed some as being more important for faith and practice than others. For example, at times Calvin says that there are some things Scripture is silent about and therefore the believer should not too be curious about those issues.
There are some essential doctrines that are necessary for correct belief unto salvation. But within these essential doctrines there is scope for a range of Biblically possible opinions. We might call this range- being within the pale of orthodoxy. We might state these essential beliefs and their scope of opinion as-
On One Hand
On The Other Hand
|1. God is Creator ||God created everything quickly only a few thousand years ago (Creationism) ||God patiently created in successive epochs beginning with the Big Bang (Progressive Creation/Intelligent Design) |
|2. Man was created innocent but rebelled ||God created mankind in His image with the ability to choose good or evil, to respond to the Creator in voluntary love or to disobey and despise the Creator. ||God ordained that mankind would use his freedom to rebel and introduce sin into the human race. |
|3. God has provided redemption for mankind ||God redeemed an ethically distinct group, Israel, and His plan of redemption is largely about them. ||God established under the Old Covenant precursers to His Ultimate Redemption of people through Christ in the New Covenant. |
|4. This redemption is made available on the basis of God's grace ||We must choose to accept God's offer by turning from our sin, confessing Christ as Saviour and living a sanctified life. We are then made a child of God and assured of right standing before God for all eternity thus securing our home in heaven and the resurrection of the righteous. ||God must open the eyes of a sinner for them to be regenerated and call out to God for salvation and forgiveness from their sins. We can add nothing to the salvation of our souls that God hasn't already made available to believers through Christ's finished work of redemption. Our regeneration and adoption by God assures us that we will live with Him forever both in heaven and in the Resurrection. |
|5. God has revealed Himself and His will to mankind ||This is through nothing other than the Scriptures, the 66 Books of the Bible. Scripture is the only authority on earth for the believer. ||This is through the 'book' of nature (what God has created), the Canon of Scripture, and the person of Jesus Christ. Scripture is highest authority on earth for the believer. |
|6. God has sent His Holy Spirit into the world ||The extraordinary activity of the Holy Spirit such as miracles, signs and wonders including the charismatic gifts of First Corinthians 12 have ceased. The main role of the Holy Spirit today is conviction of sin and encouragement for faithfulness. There is however no subsequent experience to salvation with the Holy Spirit for the believer. ||The Holy Spirit is still active miraculously as God's grace directs including the spiritual gifts of tongues and prophecy and the like as mentioned in First Corinthians 12. He guides the believer, illuminates the Scriptures, and convicts the sinner. He also baptises the believer subsequent to regeneration that some believe is initially evidenced by speaking in tongues. |
|7. Jesus Christ will return ||This will be in two parts with the first being the rapture of the church and the second being His return to vanquish at Armageddon and set up his earthly kingdom ruling from Jerusalem. This will probably happen imminently. ||As the ancient creeds state, Jesus shall return to judge the living and the dead. But this could be a long way off into the future so in the meantime while we look forward to His return we do not make ourselves idle but rather we labour to extend His Kingdom while we wait. |
|8. Christ has established the Church ||All believers must belong to a church for their faith in Christ to be regarded as genuine. ||All believers are baptised into the Body of Christ at their conversion and are called to come together as a prayerful, Word-based, Spirit-led community of Christ glorifiers who freely submit to the God appointed leadership that Christ has ordained to provide oversight and care. |
Within our church we probably have views on these doctrines that fall between the acceptable pale of orthodoxy. Our doctrinal objective is not merely Scriptural precision but Scriptural practice. We want to live out the freedom that comes from pleasing God through right belief. These 8 doctrines are what we might consider "big rocks": God is Creator / Man was created free and good / Man fell / God has redeemed through Christ / God has revealed these things through the uniquely authoritative Scriptures / The Holy Spirit empowers the believer and convicts the world at times through signs and wonders / Jesus Christ is Lord of LORDS and will one day return / Christ has established His Church for the growth and care of the believer. By getting the big rocks of belief into the jar of our heart-mind we are better able to do the work that the Father requires of us- to believe in His Son for our salvation. The other things, well they might just be sand that will find their place among the rocks. The trick is to love your brother and fellowship with him despite the grit of this left-over sand between you.
Father, help us to read Your Word and understand it. Help us to obey it not because we have to but because we desperatey want to please You. Lord, show us Your will and make us able to do it. Please grant that our lives can be fruitful, holy, and attractive for You. Give us the wisdom to know what the 'big rocks' of Biblical doctrine are and how we are to respond to those who have different opnions from ours. In Jesus' Name,