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I am not talking about the obvious dangers of false or bad doctrine, but the danger of sound doctrine, so you did read the title correctly. On the one extreme we have a broad group who believe that doctrine divides and who feel that under the heading of “True Christian Love” doctrinal differences should be set aside for the sake of unity. On the other extreme, there is a more rigid and dogmatic group, who’s whole identity is defined by their doctrinal purity and who’s unity depends on all adherents agreeing on all points of doctrine, which they believe justifies the label of “persona non-grata” for all other Christians, who don’t agree with them.

These thoughts and concerns have been a growing challenge in my own life, with a cupboard full of doctrinally correct T-shirts and a lengthy list of undesirables who did not agree with me doctrinally.

Apart from the armchair apologists’ (and avid internet searchers’) insistence on particular biblical interpretations, today we are also faced with the clamor to be politically correct on moral, social, gender and racial issues with the grayed lines of relativity between right and wrong fueling endless debate.

Two Central Issues

I have found that the simplest and yet most profound truths have been plainly declared in the opening chapters of Genesis, the very beginning of the Bible. It is here that I believe we find the heart of God on this thorny issue that has been the cause of brother murdering brother, both physically and spiritually for millennia, ever since Cain killed his brother Abel. Wars have been fought, Christians burnt at the stake, drowned, despised, defamed and rejected by fellow believers in the name of doctrinal purity throughout church history.

The Lord has drawn very specific attention to the two trees that “were in the midst of the garden”. These trees were central in the Garden of Eden and they remain central to everything that we are about today. I’m referring of course to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life. While we have every reason to believe that these were physical trees with edible fruit, they obviously represent something far greater.

Absolutes

A simple and even superficial reading of the Bible will display an unambiguous declaration of God’s absolutes of good and evil. Therefore, the clearest, most accurate knowledge of good and evil can only be learned from God’s Word, the Bible. In fact, when Christians have their spiritual senses exercised by “use of the Word of God” they are able to (correctly) discern between good and evil, according to Hebrews 5:14. Simply put, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil represents the Bible or God’s Word and the sound doctrine it contains.

The Source of Everlasting life

Also in the midst of the garden was the Tree of Life, which represented the source of everlasting life. It is abundantly clear from Scripture and particularly the Gospel of John, that the Lord Jesus Himself is the giver of eternal life. The Tree of Life therefore represents the life that He alone can give. The metaphor in the Garden of Eden of a tree, of fruit and eating in order to obtain eternal life is clearly explained in John’s Gospel, by introducing us to another concept of the Bible (other than the knowledge of good and evil).  The Bible is not just the printed book, but it is a person, the Living Word, Jesus. The Lord Jesus further demonstrates and explains that like the five loaves that were broken and became sufficient to feed the five thousand and like the manna that fed the nation in the wilderness, He is that bread which we need to eat in order to have eternal life.

Two Sides of the Same Coin

The two trees in the garden represent the two aspects of the Bible, or two sides to the same coin – it is the source of the knowledge of good and evil but it is also the source of everlasting life. A sound knowledge of good and evil or a sound grasp of good doctrine requires careful study, but to consume the living bread requires a revelation which only the Holy Spirit can give us.

Subtle Danger

The danger of sound doctrine is that it is knowledge and knowledge puffs up. It is this pride that causes us to despise those who do not agree with us and it is this very pride in us that God resists. Therefore, a knowledge of sound doctrine could cause us to ‘slay’ our brother as Cain did to Abel and there is also every likelihood that God Himself will oppose us.

Jesus demonstrated this great truth when He joined two disciples walking to Emmaus, He explained to them how the whole Bible was in fact about Himself. If ever two people heard sound doctrine, it was that day, but it was only when Jesus opened their spiritual eyes that they grasped who He is and what the Scriptures really mean. If our sound doctrine does not lead us to a ever-growing revelation of Jesus that changes our attitude and behavior and makes us more Christ-like in our dealings with fellow Christians, we have only eaten of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and not the Tree of Life.

The Higher Purpose of Sound Doctrine

In summary, we need to be ‘good Bereans’ searching the Scriptures to see if these things are so because false doctrines are the order of the day. We need to be taught and to learn sound doctrine and be fully persuaded in our own minds but there is a higher calling. If we only know what is good and what is evil doctrinally, we will be inclined to use our superior doctrinal knowledge to condemn and reject others. Remember, “If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20) The only way to ‘eat of the Tree of Life’ is to allow the sound doctrine (the revelation of Jesus Christ throughout the whole Bible) to mold our perspectives, permeate our attitude and change our behavior towards others who embrace Christ as Savior. The greatest test of sound doctrine is whether it is producing the fruit of the Spirit in us.

Jesus did not say, “By their doctrine you will know them” but “By their fruit you will know them”.

Discernment goes beyond discerning whether the doctrine is right or wrong, true discernment also tests the spirit. Spiritual discernment of the heart rather than the obvious doctrinal misinterpretation is the mark of a spiritual person. May we all be elevated to the higher road of love without compromising sound doctrine.

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(Sung to the tune of “I have a dream by ABBA” Click here for the music

I bow my knee, in humble praise

To Him who died my soul to save

I can sense His presence, deep within my heart

And I lift my voice now, praise to Him impart

I believe in JESUS, from my sin He came to set me free

I believe in JESUS, He is more than life itself to me

I bow my knee, in humility

 

I bow my knee, in humble praise

To Him who stands within this place

He will make Himself known, through the weakest soul

By His Holy Spirit, His mystery will be told

I believe in JESUS, as He speaks through lips of all His saints

I believe in JESUS, the eternal plan He weaves and paints

I bow my knee, in humility

 

I bow my knee, in humble praise

And to His throne, I set my gaze

He has been exalted, to the highest place

And He lifts my spirit, to behold His face

I believe in JESUS, as He sits upon His throne above

I believe in JESUS, He has shown me His amazing love

I bow my knee, in humility (x 2)

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I was asked to give a brief series on the First Principles of the doctrines of Christ or Fundamentals of our Faith or the Milk of the Word, as found in Hebrews chapter 6. Below are links to each talk plus a link to a chart, which presents a summary of these principles. You are welcome to either download these or listen online.

The Writer of Hebrews tells us that if we do not understand and apply these principles, we remain spiritual infants and unskilful in interpreting the Bible. (Heb 5:13)

The focus of these talks is to understand the underlying principle behind each of the doctrines mentioned in Hebrews 6:1-2. By way of illustration we could speak about a passenger jet, a car, a bicycle and a donkey cart. The common denominator between all of these is the “principle of transport”. We could get completely lost in the details of jet propulsion and air travel and lose sight of the principle of transport, which is: getting from point A to point B.

In the same way we can get lost in the details of many doctrines and lose sight of the purpose and principle of the doctrine. This is why I felt it necessary to concentrate on the principle rather than getting lost in all aspects of the doctrine. These First principles form the foundation of our relationship with the Lord Jesus.

 

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Keith Green’s Story

The story of Keith Green is sad but also inspiring because it becomes clear from his testimony that he is the real deal.

Watch and listen here. Keith Green’s Story

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HEDONISTS AND MARTYRS

I have been too busy recently to update my Blog with new material, but  received the article below from a friend and colleague, which resonated with my own thoughts on church history. For a long time I have been convinced that the church history we read is the history of the visible institutionalized (man-made) organizations rather than the story of the true church. It is also very sobering to see how much persecution of the true church still continues today! A ‘Hedonist’ is a person whose life is devoted to the pursuit of pleasure and self-gratification.

Article by Anton Bosch

While reviewing church history recently I was reminded of some of the things we should learn from history. But before I share those with you, I want to remind you that what normally passes for church history is the history of the apostate church (lower case “c”). The history of the true Church is not normally taught in Bible schools and seminaries except for a passing mention to the little groups of true believers that were a thorn in the side of the institutional churches.

The following are the central truths we learn from Church history:

  • Even in the darkest hours of the last 2,000 years there have always been true believers and true Churches in this world.
  • The real Church has always been small in numbers and poor in political power, finances and popularity.
  • True churches and believers have always been persecuted.

It is on this third point I want to dwell for a few minutes. Persecution has come from many different sources, even though the ultimate source remains Satan and his forces.

The Jews, initially under the leadership of Saul of Tarsus, persecuted and killed believers beginning with Stephen. Of course Jesus was the first “Christian” martyr, and before the New Testament many prophets were also brutally killed by Israel because of their message.

The Roman government persecuted and brutally martyred the believers for almost 300 years until Constantine in 312AD.

Immediately after 312 the Roman church took over from the Roman government and began to persecute believers who did not submit to their authority. Persecution under the Church of Rome continued for the next 1700 years right up to the present, reaching its peak during the inquisition (c. 1200 to c. 1600). It is very difficult to find an accurate estimate of the numbers of people killed by the Roman church but the best studies indicate a number of around 80 million Christians in addition to witches and others killed by Rome![1]

Even while Rome was killing Protestants, the Reformation leaders were torturing and killing Anabaptists and other believers who disagreed with them. Just one of many to die at the hand of the Reformers was Michael Sattler, a true believer. “He was shamefully mutilated in different parts of the town, then brought to the gate, and what remained of him thrown on the fire, His wife and some other Christian women were drowned, and a number of brethren who were with him in prison were beheaded.”[2] Most of the Protestant leaders, including Luther, engaged in the most severe and cruel torture and murder of anyone who disagreed with them but the most vicious of all was Calvin. In Geneva he institutionalized torture and death as a legitimate means to change people’s views and purge the “church” of dissenters.

In addition there are the massive persecutions of Christians, many still ongoing, by Muslims, Chinese Governments, Communists and all sorts of other unbelievers right across the world. Just recently I was shocked to hear that a friend, and former colleague, as well as two women, were brutally killed and mutilated by Satanists in South Africa, making them (as far as I know) the first martyrs to die for the faith in South Africa. It is estimated that today[3], more Christians in the world are being persecuted than are free to worship the true God. A comprehensive Pew Forum study last year found that Christians are persecuted in 131 countries containing 70 percent of the world’s population. Other studies indicate that between 100,000 and 200,000 Christians are being martyred for their faith every year[4] and that around 200 million Christians are denied fundamental human rights because of their faith.

All this should not come as a surprise since the New Testament is replete with statements that persecution would be the norm for Christians. In Jesus’ first mention about the Church he spoke of the war that would be brought against His Church. “…on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18). Paul said: “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12). And Peter said “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you” (1 Peter 4:12).

In spite of the evidence of history and the plain teaching of the Bible, the vast majority of Christians in the so-called “Free World”, still believe that it is the right of Christians to be popular, fairly treated and respected and that a “happy” life should be the norm for believers.

But as I read again about how most true Christians have been mistreated and how they lived as vagabonds and fugitives throughout the last two centuries, I began to think about my own life and how easily I complain about the relatively minor inconveniences and rejection I experience because of the truth. I felt ashamed that I dare complain when thousands, right now, are experiencing the most extreme physical pain, emotional anguish and death for the sake of the Gospel. Who am I to grumble when I am free to come and go, live in relative comfort and enjoy the company of my wife while others are in prison, being tortured and killed?

But I also thought about how easily many stay away from the gathering of believers because it is too hot, too cold, or they are too tired because of watching TV or partying too late on Saturday night. I struggle to reconcile this picture with the one of men and women being torn apart by dogs, their limbs pulled from their bodies on the rack and the smell of burning human flesh on the fires of the persecutors. I struggle to understand how some are unwilling to give up their sinful pleasures when millions have to give up their very lives.

I struggle to understand how the pleasure-centered and self-centered “Christian” of the West can claim to share a common faith with the martyrs. I struggle to understand how preachers who preach a gospel of happiness, prosperity and popularity believe that their message is the same message that was preached by the faithful minority of the last 2,000 years, who like the prophets of old: “…had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.” (Hebrews 11:36-38).

Can the faith that results in persecution, torture, and death be the same faith that promises carnal happiness, a new Mercedes and popularity? Can the faith that pursues pleasure, comfort and earthly happiness be the same faith that counts it a privilege to suffer for His name?  Will the hedonist[5] and the martyr share the same heaven?


[1] David A Plaisted. Estimates of the Number Killed by the Papacy in the Middle Ages and Later. 2006.

[2] E. H. Broadbent. The Pilgrim Church. Gospel Folio Press. Grand Rapids, MI. 1999. p182.

[3] October 2012

[4] David B. Barrett, Todd M. Johnson, and Peter F. Crossing in their 2009 report in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research (Vol. 33, No. 1: 32) say the figure is about 200,000 per year and rising.

[5] Hedonist = a person whose life is devoted to the pursuit of pleasure and self-gratification.

 

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I have often envied Cleopas and his friend as they walked down the road to Emmaus. The stranger that joined them as they walked was none other than the resurrected Saviour Himself. During this eleven kilometre walk, these two devastated disciples received the most comprehensive and astounding Bible study that any human being could hope to hear. Jesus went through the whole of the Bible (what we now call the Old Testament) with them and pointed out how all of Scripture was in some way a reference to Himself.

The response of these two disciples, once they grasped what had just happened, was: “And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?”.Image

This account alone, gives us the most valuable key to understanding the Bible. It is true to say that the Bible covers hundreds of topics, all of which have their value, but these topics are all side issues. They are tributaries to the main stream of truth, which is Jesus Himself. What makes this so exciting and intriguing, is that the name of Jesus does not appear in the whole of the Old Testament, and yet, it all speaks of Him.

The glory and wonder of Jesus Christ is majestically woven into the very fabric of human history, as recorded in Scripture. We can make a detailed study of the Nation of Israel, which is the main topic throughout the OT and gain intimate knowledge of their feasts, laws and customs. However, unless we see the twelve Tribes of Israel coming out of Egypt, spending 40 years in the wilderness and then entering the Promised Land as a picture of Jesus, we have not walked down the Emmaus road with Him.

Jesus came out of Egypt (as a boy), spent 40 days in the wilderness, chose twelve disciples and entered the Promised Land of His Father’s Will for Him. Israel ate manna in the wilderness, Jesus, when tempted by the devil to produce bread from stones, refused because His manna was “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”. (He was quoting from the OT). Israel tempted God (1 Cor. 10:9), Satan tried to get Jesus to do the same, but He refused saying, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’ ” The final destruction of Israel in the wilderness was that they turned to a golden calf and worshipped it. Satan’s final temptation of Jesus was that He should bow down and worship the devil. Jesus’ reply was, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ”

These are just a few of the examples that can unlock the Old Testament to us and cause our hearts to burn within us, as our eyes are opened to the glory and majesty of the risen Christ.

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