Sound Teaching

This is the teaching site of the West Side church of Christ in Fort Worth, TX. Unless otherwise indicated, all materials were written and prepared by Stan Cox

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Proceed With Caution

Several years ago I signed up for a email discussion forum called “marslist.” I believe the name of the list referenced the text of Acts 17, where the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers are recorded as gathering daily at the Areopagus on “Mars” hill to discuss philosphies and doctrines.

While the intent of the individual who named the list was to indicate it would be a place for discussion of Biblical topics (as Paul did on that occasion), I find it a bit ironic that the sentiment Luke recorded about that place came to characterize the list as well. Luke wrote, “For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing” (vs. 21).

This was certainly so on “marslist.” It was astounding how many “new” and “strange” doctrines popped up on the list. In fact, most faithful men eventually left the list, burned out by the seeming need to respond to each new “heresy”, and the fact that the list seemed to attract so many who were unwilling to hold to “the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or by our epistle” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

A disturbing pattern witnessed on this list was the willingness of many to throw up “trial balloons.” That is, make arguments that flew in the face of established convictions, without carefully thinking through the position, and the resulting consequences of it. There were numerous occasions where I personally crafted a careful and time consuming answer to such error (sometimes spending several days working on the post), just to have the individual answer my post within an hour’s time! Ignored arguments, misused passages, and logical blunders were often a part of these rapid fire responses. Also, there was a real resentment toward any who would take issue with what was being “thrown out there.” The list was a gathering place of false teachers, and individuals who had an agenda, desiring to influence faithful Christians to practice or believe error.

I have long believed that caution in private study is extremely important. There have been times when I have had a “eureka” moment, thinking it possible that I had stumbled upon a “truth” that had previously been missed by others. I must confess that such moments scare me greatly. It has been my practice to immediately confer with individuals I trust, that have greater knowledge or wisdom than do I. Most often they have been able to either point out a flaw in my argument, many times revealing that it is a common or long held error, or (sometimes) to show me that I was just a bit slow coming to the party, and that my “new knowledge” was actually a commonly held and accepted truth.

The lesson is obvious. When studying God’s word, and making conclusions from the text, proceed with caution! This is especially true when your conclusions seem to differ from faithful brethren. Now, understand that the point is not to trust brethren above the word. Ultimately and finally what I believe is based upon what the word of God teaches; not the views of men, no matter how established their teaching may be. But, knowing my own limitations, I tread lightly when going where others have not already established a path.

Understand also that those who are ready to disregard the “status quo” often have an agenda which drives such a desire. The teacher who advocates a new way of looking at the “days” of Genesis 1 may want his theology to match the popular scientific theories of the day. The one who proposes expanding the commonly held applications of Romans 14 probably has someone who is teaching doctrinal error (or practicing sinful things) that he wants to defend or at least fellowship. When a new theory is raised concerning what the Bible teaches about divorce, with or without remarriage, often the same thing is true. It is easy for one’s view of a matter to change if one’s family or friends are entangled in sin.

A few years ago I read of a preacher who said for many years he took the position that brethren held regarding Romans 14, but in restudying the issue, now takes a diametrically opposed position. I recently heard a gospel preacher disregard what faithful brethren have for generations taught concerning a passage in 1 Corinthians 7 because they were “laboring under certain misconceptions as to what divorce really is.” (The quote is a paraphrase, not exact). Another preacher who has long preached on the Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage issue, and taught the truth, who now does not like to use the word “divorce” because it is “too ambiguous.” It reminds me of Charles Holt and his group who don’t like the term “church,” and object to those who use the term in their writing and preaching.

CautionIt is difficult to accuse such brethren who do this of having “an agenda.” Especially if they deny it. After all, we can’t read the hearts of other men. However, these are certainly “new words” and sufficient cause to warn brethren of the fact that error is present and being propagated by many who have in the past been faithful. And we as Christians must be aware! Paul said that we should no longer be “tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting” (Ephesians 4:14).

It certainly is a time for caution. Study carefully and examine all sides of the issues that present themselves to us in this troubled time. And stay true to “the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or by our epistle.”