Spring 2014: Doctrine Dilemma
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Summary: New debates arise over the importance of doctrines. Do these differences in doctrine matter?

On January 21, 2014, Bishop Tony Palmer, Pope Francis’ right hand man in bringing Protestants and Catholics together, made a significant speech at the annual Kenneth Copeland Ministries Ministers’ Conference followed by another equally important video speech posted on March 3, whereby he clarified the new ground rules for unity between Catholics and Protestants.

One such ground rule, given through the analogy of Joseph’s brothers coming to Joseph for bread during the famine, was that “the bread is secondary to brotherhood.” In the Bible, bread has always symbolized God’s Word and Jesus, the Word. Palmer’s blasphemous statement suggests that the Word of God, and thereby Jesus, the Bread of Life, is secondary to the unity of mankind. To agree with such a statement is to denounce the Word of God as supreme and to lower Jesus Christ to a position below that of man. Unity must never be more paramount than the Word of God and He who is that very Word – the Bread of Life. (John 1:1,3; 6:32,33,35)

The next ground rule for unity according to Bishop Palmer is the denigration of doctrine. He said, “It’s the glory that glues us together, not the doctrine… God will sort out all our doctrines when we get upstairs.”

This question of the importance of doctrines might get some people hung up. From the Bible we know that God never forces anyone to believe what He says. And the Bible teaches that we must extend kindness to everyone regardless of whether they agree with us or not. In fact, we are admonished to live peaceably with all men wherever possible. (See Hebrews 12:14). But sometimes we may hide behind the gracious freedom God gives to everyone in order to avoid standing for truth and challenging others' viewpoints with God's clear Word.

CC0 Public Domain on Pixabay https://pixabay.com/en/glasses-read-learn-book-text-272402/

In our secular world it isn't always easy to differ about truth. Others have different viewpoints and we must respect that. We work in secular environments with people that have diverse worldviews and we get along with them. Society teaches us to keep our differences to ourselves and be tolerant of others' points of view.

As a result, it’s very easy to believe that differences in doctrine don’t matter. But what we choose to believe when it comes to spiritual matters is of great consequence to our eternal destiny and shapes how we live and relate to others here on earth. Palmer’s contention about doctrinal differences being irrelevant to unity is an issue of truth versus error. As we near the close of time, the battle between truth and error will become more intense, and those that believe error will be more easily deceived.

But truth remains truth, regardless of who believes it or not. Truth is to be sought by the individual, not defined and created by each individual for himself. Truth transcends our existence. Oddly enough, this understanding of truth is not commonplace.

Jesus tells us that He is truth:

I am the way, the truth, and the life… John 14:6

And He also reminds us that the Holy Spirit’s job is to lead us into “all truth”. (See John 16:13). If there is only one Spirit (Ephesians 2:18; 4:4), then surely the Spirit will lead into one truth, and not into thousands of different versions.

The word “doctrine” simply means “teaching”. And the Bible admonishes us to prove all things and hold fast to that which is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21) implying that there can be a truthful doctrine. Revelation 2:15 even shows us that there are hateful doctrines to Christ – the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, for example. Doctrines therefore do matter, for if we profess to follow Christ, we must also follow the doctrines (or teachings) Christ loves and reject those He hates. The Bible also speaks of something called “sound doctrine” – doctrine that is sound, sensible, truthful – and warns us that there will come a time when people will not want sound doctrine but will prefer whatever pleases their fancies. (2 Timothy 4:3,4).

Consider the story of the Good Samaritan. After finding the poor man beaten and dying on the side of the road, the Good Samaritan poured oil and wine on his wounds. The beaten, dying man represents you and me, and the Good Samaritan represents Jesus Christ, hated by the world, who came to find us on the side of the road and restore us to life. We know from the symbolism found in the Bible that oil represents the Holy Spirit (Zechariah 4:2-6; Revelation 4:5) and wine represents doctrine (Luke 5:37). The wine of Babylon represents false doctrine, but the wine poured out by the Good Samaritan is the true doctrine found in the Word of God, for it offered healing to the dying man.

Now why did the Good Samaritan give the dying man wine – doctrine – along with the Holy Spirit? Why not just the oil of the Holy Spirit? Tony Palmer spoke of being united by the “glory,” referring to the charisma of the Spirit, and implied that since charismatic Catholics and Evangelicals all experience that same “glory” they are one in the Spirit.

But the story of the Good Samaritan shows that we need not only the oil of the Spirit but the wine of true doctrine. So having true doctrine and being filled with the Holy Spirit are inextricably linked. You cannot have one without the other. In fact, Jesus connected the coming of the Holy Spirit with obedience to the truth when He promised to send the Holy Spirit to those who love and obey Him:

If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth (John 14: 15-17).

Obviously, doctrine based on truth is important to Christ. Without it, people can be deceived and be filled with another spirit, instead of the Holy Spirit.

The Bible teaches us that the Holy Spirit points us to truth (John 16:13).

Doctrine also distinguishes us from other groups. The Bible says “come out and be separate.” And it is our doctrines and the practical living out of those truths that set us apart from other religious groups and the rest of the world. Sound doctrine helps us know right from wrong and thus be saved from deception. Ellen White, in Lift Him Up, page 116, states,

’Sound doctrine’ is Bible truth--truth that will promote piety and devotion, confirming God’s people in the faith…

The above quote reminds us that doctrines are not there to just give us head knowledge. We are not saved by knowing all the right truths. The doctrines of Christ are intended to make a heart change within us. In fact, the true doctrines of God are sometimes hard to receive because they require a heart change. Many false doctrines require nothing at all, which makes it much easier to think of them as something that can wait to be “sorted out upstairs”.

In John 7:16,17, Jesus says that true doctrine comes from God the Father:

My doctrine [teaching] is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.

The perception and appreciation of truth, He [Jesus] said, depends less upon the mind than upon the heart. Truth must be received into the soul; it claims the homage of the will. If truth could be submitted to the reason alone, pride would be no hindrance in the way of its reception. But it is to be received through the work of grace in the heart; and its reception depends upon the renunciation of every sin that the Spirit of God reveals. Man’s advantages for obtaining a knowledge of the truth, however great these may be, will prove of no benefit to him unless the heart is open to receive the truth, and there is a conscientious surrender of every habit and practice that is opposed to its principles. To those who thus yield themselves to God, having an honest desire to know and to do His will, the truth is revealed as the power of God for their salvation. These will be able to distinguish between him who speaks for God, and him who speaks merely from himself. (DA 455, 456).

We know that throughout all the ages, even as far back as Cain and Abel, the trend has always been that the remnant, Christ’s followers, were always in the minority because, “… men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). The remnant at the end of time will be the same. It will not be a mega Christian movement, but a minority group. (See Matthew 7:13,14).

The Bible tells us that this entire global connection or ecumenical movement between all the churches is a sign of the end. (See Revelation 13). Ellen White elaborates on it here:

When Protestantism shall stretch her hand across the gulf to grasp the hand of the Roman power, when she shall reach over the abyss to clasp hands with spiritualism, when, under the influence of this threefold union, our country shall repudiate every principle of its Constitution as a Protestant and republican government and shall make provision for the propagation of papal falsehoods and delusions, then we may know that the time has come for the marvelous working of Satan and that the end is near (5T 451.1).

Source: Leland Francisco on Flickr.

Pope Francis’ and Tony Palmer’s call to unity is not a positive, Biblical movement that we must join.

Jesus said in Matthew 24:24 that the very elect might be deceived to believe the false christs. If this is so then how can we prepare ourselves to not be deceived? Ellen White puts it very plainly. She says,

Rebellion and apostasy are in the very air we breathe. We shall be affected by it unless we by faith hang our helpless souls upon Christ. If men are so easily misled, how will they stand when Satan shall personate Christ, and work miracles? Who will be unmoved by his misrepresentations, professing to be Christ when it is only Satan assuming the person of Christ, and apparently working the works of Christ? What will hold God’s people from giving their allegiance to false christs? “Go ye not ... after them” (Luke 21:8). The doctrines must be plainly understood. (Letter 1, 1897 emphasis added).

If we know our doctrines well and are anchored to them, then no matter what comes, we will not be moved. Whatever false doctrine comes along, if we diligently search to Scriptures to follow Christ’s doctrines we will not be deceived. Let us always remember these words of counsel, “Before accepting any doctrine or precept, we should demand a plain ‘Thus saith the Lord’ in its support” (Before the Dawn, page 38).

We are going to have to stand for what we believe as individuals, not as a group. This means that we must know our doctrines individually. If we’re not grounded in the Bible, then someone wiser and stronger will tear us down.

We must individually know for ourselves what is truth, and be prepared to give a reason of the hope that we have with meekness and fear, not in a proud, boasting, self-sufficiency, but with the spirit of Christ. We are nearing the time when we shall stand individually alone to answer for our belief. Religious errors are multiplying and entwining themselves with Satanic power about the people. There is scarcely a doctrine of the Bible that has not been denied (Letter 6, 1886. {Ev 69.2}).

Another powerful and eye opening statement from The Review and Herald, November 19, 1908 is this:

Satan is now more earnestly engaged in playing the game of life for souls than at any previous time; and unless we are constantly on our guard, he will establish in our hearts, pride, love of self, love of the world, and many other evil traits. He will also use every possible device to unsettle our faith in God and in the truths of His Word. If we have not a deep experience in the things of God, if we have not a thorough knowledge of His Word, we shall be beguiled to our ruin by the errors and sophistries of the enemy. False doctrines will sap the foundations of many, because they have not learned to discern truth from error. Our only safeguard against the wiles of Satan is to study the Scriptures diligently, to have an intelligent understanding of the reasons of our faith, and faithfully to perform every known duty. The indulgence of one known sin will cause weakness and darkness, and subject us to fierce temptation.

We must immerse ourselves in the Scriptures, pay close attention to doctrines and align our lives with the truth. This is not a time for us to carelessly throw our doctrine aside in an attempt to make friends with others. Such a rash act would be akin to a soldier fighting a front line battle with no armor or hope of protection. Let us not throw our armor down and walk the battle lines unprepared. This would dishonor our Commander and Chief by telling Him that we are strong enough to withstand the enemy without His help. The time will come where we must stand for the truth that we know and believe, individually. Let us use this time to get acquainted with our Bible truths and learn to love them deeply. Let us arm ourselves well for the battle and let us come together as the Bible believing army of the Lord.

Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world (Matthew 28:20).

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