The Exegetical Systematician: Doctrine is for Doing

Some of the greatest pronouncements of Scripture respecting God and his work of redeeming grace are introduced in order to enforce practical exhortation. Paul, for example, is urging the necessity of unselfish consideration for others, that each one should not look on his own things but every one also on the things of others. It is to enforce this duty that he says: ‘Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men’ (Phil. 2:5–7). Again, when urging upon the church at Corinth the grace of Christian liberality, he says: ‘For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich’ (2 Cor. 8:9). It was not the practice of the apostle only; the same feature appears in the teaching of the Saviour himself. It is when he urged upon his disciples the grand virtue of humility and of readiness to serve rather than be served that he gave utterance to one of his most significant pronouncements: ‘For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45). So it is in our text. When John says, ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us’, he makes appeal to God’s greatest work in giving his own Son in order to drive home the practical virtue: ‘Beloved, let us love one another’ (I John 4:7).

This characteristic of Scripture reminds us that the profoundest truths respecting God and his work of redeeming grace bear directly upon the most elementary duties of the Christian vocation. Doctrine is indeed high. But Christian life is also; it is the life of a high and holy and heavenly calling. —John Murray, God’s Love and Our Life

Where to Deposit the Deposit (1 Timothy 6:20–21)

“Guard the deposit entrusted to you…”

“He killed it.” It matters a great deal if I am talking about a boy and a baseball game, or a boy and his dog. Likewise, when you understand what the “deposit” is, it shades your meaning of “guard.”

What is the deposit entrusted to Timothy? In 1:18 Paul told Timothy to “wage the good warfare.” Paul later tells Timothy to “fight the good fight of the faith.” Fighting for the faith isn’t fighting for faith, though we must do that. Nor is is fighting by faith, notwithstanding, that is how we fight. Fighting the good fight is more fundamental than these. It is a fight not for belief, but beliefs; not to believe, but for that which we believe. The fight for the faith is foundational because if we don’t have the gospel, we can’t have faith (Romans 10:17). If we don’t have the faith, we don’t have anything to have faith in.

In Timothy, and throughout Paul, “the faith,” often references those truths and doctrines we believe. Deacons are to “hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience (1 Timothy 3:9).” Persons who believe false teaching “depart from the faith (1 Timothy 4:1).” Paul instructs Timothy “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.”

A part of fighting for the faith is guarding the good deposit. The faith is the deposit. “I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” The deposit is the faith. The faith was received, by the apostles and the prophets, and, through them, by the church. It is entrusted to the church in one way (1 Timothy 3:15), and to elders as the leaders of the church in another.

When a CIA agent is entrusted with precious information and told to guard it I assume that means he is to keep it secret. Likewise, when I entrust the bank with a deposit, I want them to restrict access to it. Not so this deposit. To guard this deposit is to let it loose, to proclaim it. The safety deposit box that the faith is kept safe in is the hearts of men. The faith, the deposit, is guarded not when it is merely in our confessions, or in out heads, but in out hearts.

B.B. Warfield fought for the faith. he fought against the theological liberals who were infecting the mainline denominations. Theological liberals were using the same terminology but hollowing out the words so that one left their theology market ripped off. One such word was redemption. In their dictionary it meant little more than “God delivers.” But completely absent, and intentionally so, was any idea that a holy God delivers us from His wrath by giving His Son to pay the ransom, the redemption price of His own blood. Warfield knew how to guard the faith—by fighting for the belief of the saints.

I think you will agree with me that it is a sad thing to see words like these die like this. And I hope you will determine that, God helping you, you will not let them die thus, if any care on your part can preserve them in life and vigor. But the dying of the words is not the saddest thing which we see here. The saddest thing is the dying out of the hearts of men of the things for which the words stand. As ministers of Christ it will be your function to keep the things alive. If you can do that, the words which express the things will take care of themselves. Either they will abide in vigor; or other good words and true will press in to take the place left vacant by them. The real thing for you to settle in your minds, therefore, is whether Christ is truly a Redeemer to you, and whether you find an actual Redemption in Him,—or are you ready to deny the Master that bought you, and to count His blood an unholy thing? Do you realize that Christ is your Ransomer and has actually shed His blood for you as your ransom? Do you realize that your salvation has been bought, bought at a tremendous price, at the price of nothing less precious than blood, and that the blood of Christ, the Holy One of God? Or, go a step further: do you realize that this Christ who has thus shed His blood for you is Himself your God? —B.B. Warfield

Tis the Soloist, not the Choir (1 Timothy 6:3–10)

Often it’s said that truth divides, but just as often this is misunderstood. When a church gets antsy under a humble pastor, one who’s placing himself under the Word, and tells him to quit preaching doctrine because it’ll divide the church, it’s they who are the enemies of unity. Truth divides, but it doesn’t divide the church. It divides sheep from goats. Jesus said His sheep hear His voice. When Jesus’ words are taught, and animals start scattering, the church isn’t being divided, but purified.

Have there been clumsy shepherds who unwittingly whack the sheep with the Sword causing them to stray? Guilty as charged. But in such an instance, it wasn’t the truth that divided, but the ham-fisted handling of it. Have immature sheep strayed when they should’ve stayed? Certainly, but clarity on that in a bit. For now, neither one of those things should keep us from affirming the truth, that truth unites, and false teaching divides.

Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:3 to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The command isn’t to make unity, but to maintain it. For the church, unity is, and the unity that is, is in Christ. Paul elaborates, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:4–6).”  This oneness is reality for the church. Maintaining unity means living out this reality. Teaching concerning this reality, so that one can live it out, is called doctrine. True unity cannot be had without doctrine. Deny these truths and you deny the glue of the Spirit by which He bonds the church together.

So, when the immature Christian leaves the church because true doctrine is being taught, what’s really happening is that some previously inculcated lie is being exposed. It wasn’t the truth that destroyed unity, but the lie. Achan has been hiding something, and the truth is exposing it. Truth may purify, but it doesn’t divide.

The only unity the church has, is unity in Christ—unity in truth. Anything else is just an illusion. “Unity” in indifference doesn’t count. Say two peewee baseball teams meet for the last game of the season. One team has lost every game and not one player wants to be there. Each of them is thinking of something different they’ll do after the game. Concerning the game, win or lose, they don’t care. They all have the same spirit, but no one comments “Wow! They’re so unified.” The second team has won every game that season, and they want to make it a perfect season. They’re unified. The church isn’t to be a collective of people singing, “I don’t care,” but “Jesus is Lord!” This is the tune of the church. Doctrine is music ed. False teaching attempts to alter the song. Saying truth divides is like saying that playing the right notes divides the orchestra. No! Tis the fat-headed, glory-craving, improvising virtuoso soloist who rebels against the Composer/Conductor. You can’t improve this song. Different not only divides, it defaces.

The Backroads to Heresy (1 Timothy 1:18–20)

“…wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith…” 1 Timothy 1:18b-19

Paul gives two combats tips concerning waging the good warfare; a weapon for each hand. You fight the good fight of the faith by holding faith, and holding a good conscience. The first tip makes perfect sense, as much as the drill sergeant yelling, “You kill the enemy by shooting him!” But the second tip sounds like, “You kill the enemy with good hygiene.” Huh? Yet, it’s as simple as this, when trench foot impairs, disables, or kills you, it hurts the campaign. Shoot the wolves, and stay healthy—that’s how we win.

“This,” in v. 19 is singular. It is by rejecting a good conscience particularly that some have made shipwreck of the faith. Holding a good conscience is waging the good warfare. We must contend for the faith lest we be a heretic.

There are two routes to heresy, the interstate and the backroads. The interstate is clearly marked with big green signs that read, “PELAGIANISM—NEXT RIGHT,” or “MODALISM—THREE MILES.” You know where you’re going and you mean to go there. Then there are the backroads of immorality. You were on the well-lit heavenly highway but you messed up. You pulled off the road because you wanted some darkness. Now your lost and scared, but you like this darkness, so you delude yourself. You redraw the map. You convince yourself that if you just keep this direction, you’ll still get to the heavenly city.

John Calvin wrote, “All the errors that have existed in the Christian Church from the beginning, proceeded from this source, that in some persons, ambition, and in others, covetousness, extinguished the true fear of God. A bad conscience is, therefore, the mother of all heresies.” Really? But listen to how well Calvin’s assessment jibes with Scripture.

“If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit [Do you hear ambition?] and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain [See covetousness?].” —1 Timothy 6:3–6

Still not convinced?

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”

Just as sound belief and sound behavior go together, so do heresy and immorality (1 Timothy 1:5–6, 10; 6:3). And the relation is mutual. Heresy not only leads to immorality. Immorality leads to heresy.

“Doctrinal purity must be accompanied by purity of life. There is an inseparable link between truth and morality, between right belief and right behavior. Consequently, theological error has its roots in moral rather than intellectual soil (cf. Matt. 7:15-20). People often teach wrong doctrine to accommodate their sin. That truth is borne out by the immorality that so often characterizes false teachers.” —John MacArthur

How Emphasizing Experience Opens the Door to Heresy

Occasionally a remarkable blind spot prevents people from seeing this point. Almost twenty years ago I rode in a car with a fellow believer who relayed to me what the Lord had ‘told’ him that morning in his quiet time. He had been reading the KJV of Matthew; and I perceived that not only had he misunderstood the archaic English, but also that the KJV at that place had unwittingly misrepresented the Greek text. I gently suggested there might be another way to understand the passage and summarized what I thought the passage was saying. The brother dismissed my view as impossible on the grounds that the Holy Spirit, who dies not lie, had told him the truth on this matter. Being young and bold, I pressed on with my explanation of grammar, context, and translation, but was brushed off by a reference to 1 Cor. 2:10b-15: spiritual things must be spiritually discerned—which left little doubt about my status. Genuinely intrigued, I asked this brother what he would say if I put forward my interpretation, not on the basis of grammar and text, but on the basis that the Lord himself had Oven me the interpretation I was advancing. He was silent a long time, and then concluded, ‘I guess that would mean the Spirit says the Bible means different things to different people.’ —D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies

Towards a Healthy Immune System (1 Timothy 1:3-7)

When you read the details of the death of some ancient, be slow to give a diagnosis. With the exception of Galatians, I’m not sure we can be very precise as to the exact heresies Paul is speaking about in various letters. We see the church with puffy eyes, and a bad cough, but we are unsure of the disease. She’s sick, but what’s the sickness? We get clues and hints and we learn of elements and emphases, but no robust heretical synopsis is presented. We jump into the middle of letters, of conversations, where much is understood by the original “to” and “from.”

I believe this is best for us and that we have received the letters as they are because of God’s gracious wisdom. Because of this fuzziness we are more inquisitive and alert concerning these heresies. Instead of a specific vaccine to combat just one virus, we develop a healthy immune system to fight against many. The lack of specificity helps us to produce generalized antibodies that attack a wide range of theological bacteria and heterodox viruses. What little we learn of the false teachers in 1 Timothy 1:4 builds an immunity to a wide spectrum of threats to the body of Christ.

It causes us to be wary of anything with a mystical flavor; anything that seeks to commune directly with Christ. For example, I remember in seminary a number of us were reading Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. At the time my diagnostic skills were not keen enough. Foster is a Quaker. Quakers emphasize looking for the light of Jesus within them. If you’ve read Foster, read him again in this light and you’ll see Scripture is generally set aside and direct communion with God by means other than Word and Sacrament are emphasized (if you’re looking for a solid book on spiritual disciplines I would commend Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life). Man’s speculations are set above God’s revelation, of which we are stewards (1 Timothy 1:4). A more widespread cousin virus goes by the name Experiencing God, that effects the body in much the same way.

Along these lines you can identify Heaven is for Real as a viral virus that has infected the body. Remember, viruses try to look like normal body cells. Here again man’s speculation is elevated above God’s revelation. I am thankful that the title is so helpful in pointing out the problem. Heaven is for Real, really? Because of a boy’s vision we now have greater assurance, peace, and faith? Never mind the Father’s infallible, inerrant, inspired, incredible words about His Son, we now have a boy’s vision. If your faith isn’t settled in the Bible, it isn’t Biblical faith (Romans 10:17). Besides Scripture’s being sidelined, compare the boy’s nonchalant, casual encounter with the risen Christ, with the awe and glory of His New Testament appearances. Compare Burpo’s book to Randy Alcorn’s excellent book Heaven. By the way, if you are a properly functioning antibody, you must alert the body for her health. We must name the virus, anything else is unloving. It matters not if the virus’ host is a little boy.

Also, bacteria like the Bible code, hidden meanings, and the prophecy specialist with his charts, dates, and antichrist suspect list now are recognized for what they are. But a bacteria that still goes unnoticed by many is those who are orthodox on paper, but whose papers are pretty hidden. The doctrine is the fine print, the experience gets the bold face, colored, graphic-designed font. Beware the church that is all about providing you an experience, and beware your own heart if that is what you are seeking. When experience becomes the priority, the doors are wide open for false teaching, both for “shepherds,” and the flock. Look at the charismatic crazies. The glue that binds together all kinds of incompatible doctrines is experience—a direct experience with the Holy Spirit, so they say.

Don’t play in man-made, putrid, stagnant, bacteria-ridden, tepid, toxic ponds, swim in the God-accomplished, God-revealed, sweet, refreshing, and pure ocean of the gospel found in the Holy Bible.

The Dogmatician: Dogma—A Good but Fallible Servant

Accordingly, dogmatics is not itself the Word of God. Dogmatics is never more than a faint image and a weak likeness of the Word of God; it is a fallible human attempt, in one’s own independent way, to think and say after God what he in many and various ways spoke of old by the prophets and in these last days has spoken to us by the Son. —Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics