The Tests of Sound Doctrine

By Michael E. Brooks
preaching5.jpg“But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust” (1 Timothy 1:9-11 NKJV).
Occasionally when in mission areas, I will learn of congregations or individuals who purport to be members or congregations of the Church of Christ. Unfortunately since that name may be used by people of various beliefs and practices, some inquiry is usually required to insure that the new acquaintance shares critical positions.
A common way of expressing that concern is “Are they sound in doctrine?”
Normally when we ask such questions we are directing our queries to matters of crucial doctrines, such as the nature and work of Jesus, the identity of the Church, the form and purpose of baptism, and other similar issues.
These concerns are valid — the doctrines are vital. Certainly sound doctrine is that which is true to Biblical teachings.
That is not the only test of sound doctrine, however. In the evangelistic epistles of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus the phrase “sound doctrine” appears four times (in the NKJV).
In none of these instances is the primary meaning that of “Biblical teaching” or “authorized church doctrine.” Rather the phrase is used of instruction which leads to proper conduct.
Paul is not using the phrase in our modern sense as a technical term. Rather he intends the normal Greek meaning of “wholesome (or healthy) teaching”. True Christian doctrine is not only true to God’s revealed will, it is also useful and helpful in producing good behavior.
Thus the contrary deceivers in Crete were “disqualified for every good work” (Titus 1:16), whereas those who followed Titus’ preaching were “ready for every good work” (Titus 3:1).
Elders must be able to “by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict” (Titus 1:9).
Faithful churches must teach and practice only that which is revealed in God’s holy word. But they must also so teach and exhort that every Christian displays the spirit and character of Christ in all that is done (Romans 8:1-11).
One is not a true Christian only because he or she wears the right name and correctly follows a few rituals. Wholesome instruction must also prepare and motivate us to live a life which glorifies God and helps our fellowman.

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Michael Brooks

Since 1988 Mike and his wife Brenda have been involved in foreign missions in South America, Africa, and South Asia. Beginning in 1999 they devoted full time to missions, primarily in Bangladesh and Nepal.

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