A good message from Edward Fudge's e-mail...things I have been spending some time considering lately...don't believe in coincidence, so it must be providence...
A gracEmail subscriber asks, "How can we know which interpretations of Scripture are correct, seeing the many doctrinal differences among professing Christians? How can we be sure which teaching we ought to receive?"
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Jesus once indicted a religious crowd with the charge: "You go halfway around the world to make a convert, but once you get him you make him into a replica of yourselves, double-damned" (Matt. 23:15, The Message). The recipients of this accusation were long on religious theory but short on practice. They valued doctrine more than they did the people on whom they piled it like a load of bricks. They scrupulously observed the most insignificant practices of their religion while totally neglecting the things that mattered most. And at the end of the day, Jesus had nothing for them but warnings and woes.
Healthy teaching ("sound doctrine," KJV) is important. Not for doctrine's sake, but because it shapes and motivates a godly life. The primary goal of Christian instruction is not mental modification but a transformed character, what Paul describes as "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim. 1:5). Unrelated to that, doctrine quickly degenerates into fruitless talk and malignant behavior of all kinds: envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth" (1 Tim. 6:4-5).
How can we recognize wholesome doctrine and distinguish it from teaching that is unsound? Look at its fruit, Jesus tells us. "Every good tree bears good fruit, but the rotten tree bears bad fruit" (Matt. 7:17). Healthy teaching regularly results in lives that look more like Jesus. Even unbelievers can recognize that when they see it -- and they also can tell when they do not! It's a shame that Christians sometimes have their heads stuck so deep in doctrine that they miss seeing the obvious. Are you curious about the validity of a particular teaching? Watch how those people behave who feed on that teaching. It's not the only way to assess doctrine but it is an important start.
My own two cents worth -- I believe we have "misinterpreted," of all things, the concept -- "sound doctrine." We have had a skewed understanding of what "false doctrine" really is according to the New Testament standard. We have invoked a bias and interepretation so that "false doctrine" is "anything that anyone believes or says that is different from "what I know or have been taught." Some believers consider matters of "relative insignificance" issues of "sound doctrine," when the New Testament, particularly, does not deal with minutiea on that level, whatsoever. Nearly all of the "false doctrine" mentioned in the New Testament has to do with spiritual/moral iussues related to the believer's relationship with Jesus Christ...and not whether we change our methods with regard to sharing the message, practicing the Lord's Supper or singing "off the wall" -- either with musical notation...or not (for example :-).
Healthy teaching, as it is literally rendered, is truly tied to how we live...it is about spiritual health...it is about our attitude of heart (more about whether we truly love one another, even if we should disagree concerning some of the issues). We must be willing to take a look around, without fear that we are going to somehow be "corrupted by false teaching." This is not a "healthy" place to be spiritually. As a number of preachers have said over the years -- we have got to quit majoring in minors...we need to quit confusing form with function. We can and should be able to change the form, without sacrificing the function...or the meaning, and this, in order to enhance the meaning. It should not affect our spiritual nature, except to positively enhance it...nor should it cause us to "lose faith." If so, then our faith is in the wrong place...it is directed to the wrong things. If we are focused on Jesus Christ and His will...and the leading of His Holy Spirit in our lives...we will be able to continue to grow in understanding and in relationship to what is "healthy teaching"...and living.