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Criteria for Determining Good and Evil Doctrine

Let's start by stepping back a moment and asking ourselves the question "What IS the purpose of doctrine?"  Here is Paul's definition from 1 Timothy 1:3-11, which I will quote and comment upon in line:

3 As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine,

The command being given to Timothy is to charge teachers in Ephesus that they teach no other doctrine, so it seems that those who are zealous for purity of doctrine and who are wary of any new doctrine have support in this verse for their behavior.  In light of the commendation given to the Church of Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-7, it seems that Timothy not only discharged his task well, but was able to teach others how to do the same. 

4 Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do.

A fable is a just-so story used as a vehicle to teach a moral.  William Barclay, in his commentary on First Timothy, says that the reference to endless geneaologies refers to Gnostic belief that God created a hierarchy of powers to create the world from pre-existing matter that the Gnostics held to be evil.  Paul contrasts the output of the Gnostic doctrine (paying attention to fables and the architecture of unscriptural power hierarchies) with the output of true doctrine, which produces godly edification which is done by faith.

5 Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: 6 From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling;

The phrase "the end of the commandment" does not mean that the Law of God ceases to exist when the good qualities in verse 5 are exhibited, but rather that producing those qualities is the goal of the commandment.  The first two qualities cited are obviously some of the Fruit of the Spirit.  The third, a "faith unfeigned", is of particular importance to the Spirit of Truth, who has serious issues with people faking righteousness.

7 Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.  8 But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully;

This passage opens up a can of worms for any potential critics of any new teaching (which is what "doctrine" means in the Latin language from which it came).  It is certainly the case that any teacher of new doctrine should be competent and know what they are doing.  However, the critics should also be competent and know what they are doing as well, otherwise this would be a case of the "blind leading the sighted"!  I should point out that one of the unforseen benefits that exploring the implications of Symbiosis has produced is not only a revised and improved way of looking at the relationship between Law and Grace, but I further claim that the symbiotic methodology I call Variance Management is the best way to use the Law lawfully that actually works to tame sinful compulsions and desires.

9 Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, 10 For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine; 11 According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.

The Law defines that which is evil and "contrary to sound doctrine", which are listed in verses 9 and 10 (with a clause that effectively states that the list is not a complete one).  In this case, the "Sound Doctrine" is defined to Timothy as the sound teachings of the Gospel of God as entrusted to Paul the Apostle.

The thrust of this passage is that all doctrine ("teaching" in Latin) produces results in people's lives.  Good and sound doctrine produces good results (v 5), while bad and unsound doctrine produces evil results (v. 9,10).  In other words, the doctrines are judged by their fruits, and the teachers are subsequently judged by the sort of fruit their doctrine produces.

It is important to see what Paul is not saying in verse 10.  He is not saying that evil doctrine is contrary to sound doctrine, but that evil doctrine produces results that are contrary to the results of sound doctrine.  Doctrines are not judged by how they stack up against other doctrines, but by the fruit they produce.

Time for me to be blunt: Modern Christendom has adopted criteria for judging correct and incorrect doctrine that are at odds to those established by Jesus Christ and which Paul was telling Timothy to follow.  Here is Jesus' criterion, as given in Matthew 5:15-20:

15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

Jesus was not one to propose standards to be followed by others but to which he was personally exempt.  Note the following exchange from John 14 that took place during the Last Supper and ask yourself if Jesus is excusing himself from the standard that he be judged by his fruits in the highlighted portion of of verse 11:

4 And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. 5 Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? 6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. 7 If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him. 8 Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. 9 Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father? 10 Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake.

 I am aware of the importance many attach to having correct doctrine, and who are rightly concerned about whether any new teaching is doctrinal or herectical.  No one disputes that every doctrine, every teaching, has consequences.  However, there is a right way to judge a teaching and a wrong way.  The wrong way to judge a doctrine is to determine how that doctrine fits into the framework generated by previously accepted doctrines.  Those who hold to this method of proving doctrine view judging fruit as a "quick and dirty first cut" where bad fruit is held as definite proof of the falsity of a suspected doctrine, but good fruit is regarded as irrelevant to answering the question of doctrinal purity authoritatively.  This is a manifestation of "Theology-as-philosophy", which emphasizes the consensus of experts and consistency of the new teaching with accepted methods and beliefs as the proper means of determining correctness.  In contrast, the right way (i.e. the way that Jesus and Paul used and what we ought to use) to judge a doctrine (and its teacher) puts the proof on the production of good fruit.  This results-based orientation is reflective of "Theology-as-Engineering", which is the research methodology being used to perform the research reported on this website.

The whole point of enforcing doctrine is to ensure that bad teaching does not interfere with the development of good fruit because, as I have pointed out, every teaching produces consequences that manifests itself as fruit.  Take every heresy encountered by the church in the past and you'll find that each one had practical consequences that resulted in the disappearance of one or more of the Fruit of the Spirit in those who taught it, in those who believed it, and in those who practiced it.  Recall that the Ephesian church, though praised for being zealous in detecting and exposing the teachers of bad doctrine, were at the same time faulted for abandoning their first love.  (Given that John was writing that passage, and was the bishop of Ephesus and taught there, and given that he has the title of "the apostle of love", I have to imagine him wincing visibly and thinking "Ooookaaaay.  Back to the drawing board!" (or whatever the equivalent was in the first century AD)).  The corrective action was to realize their fallenness (lack of fruit), repent (be sorry they stopped producing that fruit), and do the first works (which brought about the desired fruit the first time around).  The reference to "first works" brings up Ephesians 5:1-20, which the church members would have doubtlessly recalled.  That passage explicitly references the fruit of the Spirit and urges the members to display it while striving not to "have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness" (Eph. 5:11).  

An aside: one has to admire the rugged engineering practicality of the advice given to the Ephesians by the Risen Jesus.  What they did at first brought forth good fruit.  What they are doing now is not bringing forth good fruit.  It makes perfectly good engineering sense to realize that, if you want the fruit you showed in the past, you stop doing what you're doing now that isn't producing the fruit now, and start doing what DID produce the fruit back then so you produce the fruit now.

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