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Preachers: Are You Teaching and Preaching Doctrine?

Strong doctrinal teaching drove early oneness Pentecostalism.  To be sure, our beginnings celebrated the spiritual gifts of the book of Acts, but the passion of early twentieth century Apostolics soon solidified around theology.  Their focus incorporated the spiritual experiences, and later expanded to include revelatory teaching on such topics as the oneness of God, baptism, salvation, a holiness lifestyle and the rapture of the church.  The scripture so often quoted then was Acts 2:42, And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” 

It is fair to say, then, that if we lessen our emphasis on the very thing that brought us into being, we stand to lose our apostolic distinctives.  Oneness Pentecostals offer a unique message which mainline Christianity does not preach, and without it there is little cause for us to clutter up the denominational landscape.  I contend that the surest way to remain strong and viable is for us to continue making apostolic doctrine a staple ingredient in our preaching and teaching. 

First, I acknowledge that much of the preaching and teaching of the past was framed in an adversarial mindset.  Clear differences existed between us and the majority of the church world, especially concerning such doctrines as trinitarianism, water baptism, speaking in tongues, a holiness lifestyle, unconditional eternal security and other teachings.  The approach of many pioneer apostolic preachers was to gear up for combat and wade into the battle wielding the sword of the Spirit.  Anything that even looked “funny” was to be targeted and destroyed.  Unfortunately, this earned us a negative reputation and we were impugned with the catchphrase that “doctrine divides.”

Slogans aside, it is patently absurd to think that the church can survive without strong doctrine.  We might sooner believe that we should stop breathing air and drinking water because of widespread pollution.  No.  Life depends on these two commodities being freely accessible in abundance.  The answer is to filter the air and water, not stop their consumption.  Neither can we eliminate doctrine simply because, generally speaking, doctrine is looked at as toxic.  To negate doctrine is to render the Bible null and void.  In fact, the only legitimate reason for a local church to exist is to preach and teach Bible doctrine!  Whatever else a church may be or whatever additional service it may provide, if it does not fulfill its core purpose, it is a sham.

In an effort to become all things to all people, the modern church has come dangerously close to losing its identity.  It has become a social club, a therapist’s office, a concert hall, a coffee klatch, a reading room, a recreational facility, a community gathering place, a weight-loss clinic, a second-hand clothing store, a lecture classroom and a baby-sitting facility.  The pulpit has become a dispenser of positive mental attitudes, an advocate for social reforms, a forum for political positions, a source for mental health advice and a host of other contemporary causes.  The sad fact is that many of these purposes do have tangential value to the church, but too often they have replaced its core mission.  Apostolic concentrate has been filtered through trendy ideas until its derivatives have limped out of the process stripped of life-changing power and depleted of truth.  Revitalization must take place and it will only happen by returning to preaching and teaching the apostles’ doctrine.  But, what is the best way to carry out this vital purpose? 

Communicate doctrine as the answer to life’s questions.  Answering questions that nobody is asking is the surest pathway to boredom and irrelevance.  Doctrine becomes supremely relevant to listeners, however, when the teacher shows how the truths of the Bible meet present problems.  For example, declaring the oneness of God through the context of ancient pagan philosophies holds little value for those caught up in today’s culture.  Put into the context of who to pray to, however, suddenly makes sense to frazzled, twenty-first century minds.  The point is that doctrine doesn’t exist alone in a sterile, impassive state, having no connection to the realities that people face in everyday life.  Every doctrine has stark, intense relevance to some aspect of the human condition.  People will not shrug their shoulders to doctrine when it is presented as a satisfying answer to a dilemma that they face on a daily basis.  The teacher doesn’t have to create the need.  It is already there.  All he has to do is find it and fill it with true doctrine. 

Communicate doctrine as close to literal Bible interpretation as is possible.  Those who revere the Bible as the Word of God need to beware of the flood of translations now on the market.  Many of these translations take unwarranted liberty with scriptures, daring even to alter verses that succinctly state fundamental doctrine.  When it comes to doctrine, I believe we must reject any translation or interpretation that changes the original intent into something considered more palatable or interesting.  Once a teacher deviates from the original Word, there is no end to the changes that may be made.  Moreover, use Greek sparingly, and only to enhance your message.  The language of the people remains the most convincing and powerful medium for preaching. 

Communicate doctrine as a statement of truth, not as a weapon to kill.  I cringe when I hear preachers proclaim true doctrine with a hateful, malicious spirit.  All the good they accomplish with one hand gets torn down with the other.  When they call certain denominations out by name, when they ridicule people who hold incorrect views or when they deny the sincerity of individuals’ faith in God, irreparable harm is done before the truth ever gets a chance to take root and grow.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”  John 3:16-17.

Communicate doctrine in a spirit of humility, not arrogance.  In an unfortunate slice of pop culture, the Mohammed Ali quote “It’s hard to be humble when you are as great as I am,” has resonated and been repeated by many celebrities.  It is far worse, however, for truth proclaimers to adopt this prideful attitude.  Our preaching and teaching of doctrinal truth must always be predicated upon sincere gratitude for the revelation.  Note that Jesus did not commend Simon Peter for his superior intelligence when he identified Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  Rather, Jesus called it a divine revelation, not a triumph of human wisdom.  Nothing is more insufferable than an arrogant man.  When you deliver doctrine in humility, it has a much greater chance to be accepted.

Communicate doctrine with thorough documentation and research, not tired clichés.  It is very easy to fall back on old outlines from the past when dealing with doctrine.  The trouble is that it fails to inspire.  Invigorate your presentation with different verses, perspectives of other Apostolic scholars and fresh illustrations.  The Bible can handle as much research as you are willing to invest in it.  Also, there may be people in the audience who have questioning minds and are not satisfied with the same old same old.  Anticipate the arguments to any points you want to make and prepare scriptural answers to counter them.  No Bible preacher or teacher should be outdone in backing up his own contentions.  Alistair Begg said, “Think yourself dry, read yourself full, write yourself clear, and pray yourself hot.” I would add, preach yourself empty! 

  I will summarize this piece by stating this as emphatically as I can:  If you are not preaching and teaching doctrine on a regular basis, you are not fulfilling your call!  Doctrine is not an unnecessary appendage from the past.  It is not taught simply to placate the old heads who still populate your church.  It is not an optional course of study that can be presented as an elective series.  It is not intended just for those who savor deep theological studies.  It needs to be taught to all; made plain enough for the simple, made understandable enough for the young, made strong enough for the wavering and made sweet enough for the faithful.  I can say this no stronger than the Apostle John:

“Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.  If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.” 2 John 1:9-11.

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