The Life of the Church Preserved through Proper Doctrine
June 2, 2002 Topical – Pastoral Epistles
2. References to Doctrinal Tradition:
Doctrinal Tradition ---
How important is tradition to you?
If your family is like ours, there are some ready traditions we can point to, especially around the holidays – like Christmas cookies, the decorations on the tree, and the mistletoe, or perhaps caroling. We elevate the Thanksgiving turkey to a tradition too. And more in tune with the current season we have traditions like fireworks on the 4th of July and placing flowers on the graves on Memorial Day along with revering the flag.
These traditions are established so that we might remember and not forget.
Some things are worth remembering because honor is due and our present heritage owes much.
If we were to forget we might have to pay the price all over again.
Even more so in the Christian tradition we stake our lives on established truth – like the Apostle's Creed we just read.
We owe our eternal salvation to Jesus but it is secure only as long as we believe the truth about it. It is our faith that saves us (Eph. 2:8-9) and that faith must be rightly established to be effective.
I often get tears in my eyes when I read doctrinal truth because it is so firm, sure and solid in a world of lies, trickery, and deceit. In short, I can know I am saved because of what I believe.
So we are talking about doctrinal tradition – truth you can hang your hat on, stake your life on, live forever on.
The early church quickly developed a body of doctrinal tradition because the assault on truth began immediately. We know this from the many references to those who opposed the truth and tried to bring heresy into the early church.
In our present day this assault on truth is forever increasing and not decreasing. The liberal church presently debates whether Jesus is the Son of God, or born of a virgin, or actually died, or whether faith in him is absolutely necessary for salvation. And they call themselves Christians. Men substitute their own philosophy for God's absolute truth. They become blinded by Satan and his work in the culture. They have forgotten those that have gone before them to the martyr's stake. They have forgotten those like themselves that have gone ahead into Hell. Woe to those who fail to remember!
2 Timothy 4:3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
Illus.: "The Layman," April, 2002, about confessing church movement action voted illegal. Also letter to the editor questioning missions purpose without belief in something like the confessing church statement.
There was a time in my own life when I leaned toward the liberal agenda only because it was what I was taught. The seeds were planted in the Presbyterian Church some time ago and are now bearing their rotten fruit in the present debate within the Presbyterian Church. When I started to ask my own questions instead of ignorantly accepting what was handed to me, I had to agree that truth was absolute. Truth by definition cannot be just what anyone wants it to be.
There is a place for tradition founded upon truth that must not be compromised in order that we might remember that truth and not stray from it.
We establish and maintain our own church traditions like special services on Thanksgiving, Easter, Christmas, New Year's for remembering the source, need, and application of Christian truth.
This morning we will remember a tradition that Jesus laid down for us when we take communion. The wine and the bread stand for some things we must never forget lest we be not saved at all. His body was killed and his blood was spilt as a holy sacrifice for our sin that we might have life in his Name.
Are there some traditions that are wrong? Absolutely. Jesus spoke of them too in Mk. 7:1-23. Jesus came to change tradition that was wrongly based.
Paul admitted his tradition needed to change when he met Jesus (Gal. 1:14-16).
The difference is whether our tradition is from human or divine origin (Col. 2:8).
So we must not stray from what began with Christ. And there is a line back to the apostles which we must follow (1Joh. 1:1-3). Human tradition believes it has discovered something new and better. But demons just recycle the same lies to deceive them.
This human tradition crept into the church in earliest times. We see its progression in the Catholic Church stated in the Creed of the Council of Trent of 1564 that elevated human tradition to the status of the Word of God. The problem comes when we allow men in the church to have the same divine authority as the apostles whom they followed. Their interpretations then are said to carry the same weight as Scripture. But they themselves failed to hold to the traditions they were given. They have added and subtracted and come under the condemnation of Rev. 22:18-19.
Later on in the Vatican II Council of 1965 they sought to further justify the supposed link between tradition and Scripture. They condemn themselves. They believe their tradition was handed down to them but they fail to see they made it up as they went along. And this happened because they gave Christ's authority to fallible men.
Illus.: Karin Malmin's experience at her brother's funeral. The pastor seemed to imply his own power to forgive sins (Ev. Luth. Ch.)
So we come again to the necessary subject of doctrine in the Pastoral Epistles in light of the times.
We have talked about the importance of proper doctrine in the last message about the life of the church: that it exalts the gospel, exposes lies, remains diligent and watchful, that it is accountable in community, that it must effect our behavior, expose falsehood, that it applies truth in context, and that proper doctrine must anticipate rejection.
But now we can take it even deeper with the 5 references to a phrase (pisto" o logo" – faithful the saying) that is used in the New Testament only in the Pastoral Epistles.
This phrase seems to refer to a doctrinal tradition that Paul puts forward as being worthy of "full acceptance" (kai pash" apodoch" axio" – and full acceptance worthy). This latter part of the phrase is attached to two of the five occurrences.
Doctrinal tradition is important for the life of the church as something assuredly unchanging and trustworthy to hold on to in changing and perilous times.
a. Doctrinal Tradition Acknowledges Sin –
The human sin condition is the reason and necessity for ministry. It is the reason Christ came into the world to minister to us and it is the reason we minister to others in his Name. But it is imperative that the preacher of righteousness do so with a proper acknowledgment of his own dire need for transforming truth before he preaches to others.
Illus.: "Sunday's Comin'" by M. Craig Barnes in Leadership, Spr. 02, p. 67.
b. Doctrinal Tradition Establishes Leadership –
This saying establishes the necessity of godly leadership – it is a noble task. "Therefore, suffice it to say that the saying exalts the office of ruler and emphasizes its value. --- The fact that in the early church there has developed a saying about the episkoph (office of elder or overseer or place of service) indicates how very basic and important this office was considered to be for the life and well-being of the church." (Dr. George W. Knight III, The Faithful Sayings in the Pastoral Letters, p. 61) This saying sets apart the office of elder as a high calling – a work not to be undertaken lightly, to which Paul subsequently outlines requirements.
c. Doctrinal Tradition Exalts Hope –
In the context of false teaching inspired by demonic opposition (4:1) Paul gives another faithful saying to give hope in the midst of spiritual battle. It is that our hope is in the living God who is active in our behalf, and that there is hope even for those deceived by demonic influence since Christ is potentially the Savior of all men, but affirmed beyond any doubt as the Savior of those who actually believe. It is the assurance of salvation by the preacher of truth that enables him to continue in faith for himself and others.
d. Doctrinal Tradition Promotes Faithful Perseverance – 2Tim. 2:11-13
Timothy is to persevere in ministry, keeping his eye on the objective and the reward. This saying is to be an exhortation to himself, to those he enlists to help him, and to the elect in general (2:14). We are reminded of the claim of the gospel upon our lives and the glory to follow, and we are warned to continue in faith, which we are enabled to do since God remains faithful to us. Whenever and wherever we might lack faith, God is an infinite supply.
e. Doctrinal Tradition Reiterates the Gospel –
After an extended explanation of proper behavior demanded by sound doctrine (2:1), Paul reiterates the gospel as the distillation of it all in this longer faithful saying. It is the antidote for all human wickedness. It begins with the love of God toward man in the coming of Christ. It is founded upon his mercy and not on our merit. It is through the agency of the Holy Spirit that has come through Christ so that we are made right with God and might become heirs of God having the hope of eternal life. Through this grace we are enabled to do right.
These things point out the importance of doctrinal tradition in the life of the church. The importance of such doctrinal tradition has been maintained by the faithful even to the present day and will be until the rule of Jesus Christ is firmly established upon the earth for all to see firsthand.
Illus.: Eighteen Affirmations from The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration from the document An Urgent Appeal (for National Revival) from the National Prayer Committee, May 2, 2002, p. 45.
Timeless Truth: the gospel tradition is not from men but from God for men.