One of the things that I long to see take root in this generation is an ardent pursuit of sound doctrine (2 Tim. 4:3, Titus 2:1). Paul commands Titus to be an example of good deeds and to possess incorruptibility in his doctrine (Titus 2:7). The way some translations render this last phrase “teaching” is misleading. In context, it is not an act that is in view, as though Paul was encouraging perfect oratory skill. Instead, it was doctrine in which no error could be found, giving rise to speech for which no opponent could be found (verse 8). Titus was, therefore, to be a model of orthopraxy and orthodoxy. A life of righteousness goes hand in hand with a love for truth. They are inseparable. Across the modern landscape of Christianity in the West there exists an unbiblical separation between theology and lifestyle. The former is relegated to the domain of academia, the latter to the pastoral ministry at the congregational level. We must see that there is not even a whiff of such dichotomy in the New Testament. The basis of our theological study is largely found in pastoral letters to believers in the New Testament.
In other words, when Paul commanded his epistles to be read to the entire church in a city, he did so believing it was necessary for them to understand it and expecting that they could understand it. Romans, for example, was not written for an erudite niche of converted rabbis who would be the only ones in the city who could really apprehend what Paul meant. If we laugh at such a suggestion related to the historical milieu, why do we so readily accept the idea that diligent study of Romans is for seminary students and not for every single believer? Certainly, not everyone is called to be a teacher of Scripture. Yet the very reason God has set apart teachers is so that the entire body of Christ may have a clear conviction of the truth. Teachers are not intended to store up the revelation they are given, but rather disseminate it so that all may partake of that knowledge. I would suggest that teachers are just as rare as prophets and apostles in the Church today. Those who have this calling are steered toward a path of research where they are almost invariably shipwrecked in the rationalistic sea of the Christian academic world. For those who survive, they find almost no place in a culture of ministry where cheap pragmatism and charismatic personalities dominate the pulpits.
The widespread despondency toward doctrine and its perceived irrelevance were foreign to those who gave leadership to Early Church in the era following the death of the apostles. While searching for something else, I recently came across a couple of excerpts where the zeal for truth possessed by the Early Church Fathers shines forth. Every time I read similar things from them I am provoked by the intensity with which they address these subjects. When fighting to stave off heresies, they were not merely trying to win an argument. They were keenly aware that the eternal fate of real souls were at stake. Beyond apologetics, however, they talk about truth with such passion because that is what defined them as Christians. Their very lives were wrapped up in what they believed about Jesus. It was from this burning core of faith that their sacrificial obedience naturally issued forth. Christians today define themselves by stances on social issues, by adherence to certain moral standards, ministry involvement, and many other things. Yet rarely to modern believers define themselves by deep theological convictions. These convictions are the furthest thing from sterile intellectual assertions. Our beliefs about who Jesus is, what He has done, and what He will do – beliefs we should be willing to die for – are the foundation and fuel of our love for Him.
The first excerpt is from Ignatius (c. 35-107) in his letter to the church in Antioch. We know very little about his life historically apart from the well-attested story of his martyrdom. Taken from Antioch to be executed in Rome, Ignatius begged the church there not to attempt to intervene and keep him from the fate that awaited him. Such was his ardor for the crucified One on whom he had believed.
Whosoever, therefore, declares that there is but one God, only so as to take away the divinity of Christ, is a devil, and an enemy of all righteousness. He also that confesseth Christ, yet not as the Son of the Maker of the world, but of some other unknownbeing, different from Him whom the law and the prophets have proclaimed, this man is an instrument of the devil. And he that rejects the incarnation, and is ashamed of the cross for which I am in bonds, this man is antichrist. Moreover, he who affirms Christ to be a mere man is accursed, according to the [declaration of the] prophet, since he puts not his trust in God, but in man.
The second is from Justin Martyr (c. 100-165) in the eightieth chapter of his Dialogue with Trypho. Like Ignatius, Justin would also later be martyred for his confession. Notice the strength of his zeal over the resurrection of the body, something that is held with such apathy in our day.
For I choose to follow not men or men’s doctrines, but God and the doctrines [delivered] by Him. For if you have fallen in with some who are called Christians, but who do not admit this [truth], and venture to blaspheme the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven; do not imagine that they are Christians, even as one, if he would rightly consider it, would not admit that the Sadducees, or similar sects of Genistæ, Meristæ, Galilæans, Hellenists, Pharisees, Baptists, are Jews (do not hear me impatiently when I tell you what I think), but are [only] called Jews and children of Abraham, worshipping God with the lips, as God Himself declared, but the heart was far from Him. But I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged, [as] the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and others declare.
May these ancient words encourage us to strive for incorruptible doctrine, and may we press ardently to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). And may we all realize that the present climate of theological ambivalence and shallow knowledge will never produce witnesses who are faithful even unto death (Rev. 12:11). The sweeping trend of reducing orthodoxy to a handful of generic affirmations under the banner of fostering unity and facilitating outreach is hollowing out evangelicalism in the West and preparing it to be decimated by apostasy in the days to come.