There’s Doctrine and Then There’s Doctrine?
Introduction by Doug Krieger:
In Henry Hon’s latest book, ONE TRUTH (the second in his trilogy: One Ekklesia; One Truth; One in Life & Glory), he discusses one of the prickliest issues which incessantly divide Christians from one another: DOCTRINAL DISPUTES.
For example, an ardent believe can be all over the eschatological map when it comes to the “final days” or end of the age. One can believe in a pre-tribulational rapture; another a mid-tribulational rapture, and still another in a post-tribulational rapture – yet, another in no tribulation period (70th Week yet future); or, for that matter, any rapture at all. Thus, the Body of Christ is divided via doctrine. Hon may have resolved these most difficult “Christian doctrinal issues” by bringing the Body of Christ into embracing the “doctrine of Christ” (Heb. 6:1; 2 John 1:9) by distinguishing two Greek words for “doctrine” having very different emphases. (Read the article here as Hon amplifies.)
The same goes for “Truth” vs “Truth” – here, Jesus said: You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life (John 5:39-40). Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6); yet, Pontius Pilot was starring Christ right in the face inquiring: “What is truth?”
Hon’s insights on these issues of doctrine vs doctrine and truth vs truth are most profound—and, I believe it leads us to “make the main thing, the main thing” wherein the Centrality of Christ for all believers is the key to “keeping the unity in the Spirit, in the uniting bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). The following are excerpts from One Truth and constitute a most profound TRUTH which, unfortunately, escapes most believers in Christ:
Truth: God and His Eternal Work
In the New Testament, the word truth is always used in the singular. It is never truths plural. Secularly, the expression “truths” is used and preferred. Due to this influence, even Christians would use the plural rather than the singular truth. To people of the world, there are many truths, such as many ways to enlightenment. In other words, truth in the secular world is relative—not absolute (i.e., “truth” is in the eye of the beholder).
Therefore, one person’s truth can be different from another. This kind of thinking has also impacted Christians so they can have conflicting truths. Conflicting and contrary truths have led to divisions and sectarianism. Therefore, it is critical to recognize in the divine revelation within Scriptures: There is only one truth. Since there is a unique truth in this universe, all believers are one in the truth. This may sound to some ears rather simplistic; however, as we examine the consequences of multiple truths, the profound nature of truth or reality will become more than clear to us.
Just as God is one and three (Father, Son, and Spirit) simultaneously, truth is one with multiple facets. The more Christians understand and appreciate these facets, the more grounded and established they will become in walking in truth (3 John 1:4).
Let’s briefly consider the major items of the truth.
First and foremost, God is truth. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . and the Word became flesh . . . full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 14).
Second, Jesus Christ who is God in the flesh is truth. Truth was revealed in Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I am the truth” (John 14:6), and Paul declared “the truth is in Jesus” (Eph. 4:21).
Third, the Spirit is truth. The Scriptures declare the Spirit of truth (John 14:17, 15:26, 16:13; 1 John 4:6); this Spirit is Truth (1 John 5:6). The Spirit of Truth guides believers into all truth by declaring and infusing the reality of all Who the Father and the Son are into believers (John 16:13–15).
Fourth, all that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit have accomplished in the New Covenant for His eternal purpose is truth. This includes the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, His resurrection, His ascension and enthronement, and His work of redemption for the forgiveness of sins, justification, sanctification, the believers’ regeneration (new birth) and glorification. Therefore, the person of the Triune God dwelling bodily in Jesus Christ (Col. 2:9) and His work of redemption and regeneration is the Word of truth—that is, the gospel of salvation. It is through believing the truth people are saved and sealed by the indwelling Spirit (Eph. 1:13). It is in truth God and humanity are joined and unified together to be the Lord’s ekklesia, His body—the new man spoken of in Ephesians 2:15. This is God’s eternal purpose: A corporate entity, ultimately the New Jerusalem, created and built up into maturity in truth (Eph. 4:24).
Finally, the Word as recorded in the Bible is truth. The Bible conveys the truth, and truth is understood when the Word is made real to a person. The Word, the logos, speaks to people and communicates to their reasoning. When the Word is received, understood, and becomes real in a person, then it is truth. That is why people need to know and come to the full knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 2:25, 3:7; 1 Tim. 2:4). For example, the Bible says Jesus Christ is God who became man, died for mankind’s sin and was resurrected on the third day. Many unbelievers have heard this, but it is not truth or real to them. One day as they consider this word, they will hopefully open their heart and connect with Jesus through faith. At that very moment, the Spirit of Truth will enter them and make the word of God they heard real; they will understand with a living knowledge, and then, that will be truth to them because they have encountered the truth!
The sum of New Testament revelation of the truth is rich and deep. It is God in Jesus Christ as the Spirit with all that they have accomplished for man and in man, which includes the eternal purpose of God’s ekklesia (assembly) fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Therefore, truth is God Himself, with His life, nature, and essence, intrinsically joined with humanity. The truth is eternal (2 John 1:2). Anything which is temporal and has no effect in eternity is not truth.
This entire book, ONE TRUTH, is dedicated to exploring the various facets and items of the truth as outlined above.
What Is Not Truth?
Jesus prayed in John 17 for believers to be made one through the truth. Thus, anything which divides believers—things over which Christians argue becoming sectarian—is not truth. Most Christian groups agree truth is what was outlined above. Any doctrines not defined as truth are non-essential. What has divided Christians include doctrines (Grk: Didaskalia which will be defined later), various Christian practices, or human causes. Christians have been divided, have fought over, and have rejected each other over some of the most ridiculous items such as musical style in worship, whether women should have their head covered, whether the rapture is pre, mid, or post-tribulation, methods of baptism, and even methods of leadership. Some of these items are tantamount to the rise and fall of denominations—if you’re not pre-trib you’re deceived, maybe not even saved!
There are literally thousands of such things which have divided Christians; yet, the truth remains the same. A believer who has a growing understanding of the truth stays anchored in the truth and will not be distracted by positioning themselves in non-essentials; they will remain one with all believers.
The tactic of the enemy (Satan) is to use men and women—specifically Christian men and women—to elevate non-essential doctrines and practices thereby forming groups and churches around those doctrines. For example, a major dividing doctrinal point among Christians is centered on the debate over predestination or free will. Churches have been grouped together on one side or the other. Both sides can show supporting Bible verses and speak of how their doctrine is better for Christians, but the fact is, neither of those doctrines died for humankind or was resurrected!
Nowhere in the Scriptures does it say in order to receive eternal life a person needs to believe in one of these doctrines. Ultimately, it does not matter in eternity which doctrine is correct. Therefore, neither doctrine is truth, and certainly not worth dividing over. Whether a person espouses one side or the other, or even both, is not a problem unless it becomes a condition for fellowship—and a rejection of those with contrary views.
Another major point of division is whether the Holy Spirit is still doing works of power as in the days of the early apostles, or if these works of power have ceased. Again, using the definition of truth above, this belief is not truth either way. A person who is established in the truth will be able to have fellowship and receive believers no matter what their doctrinal position or preference is. Those who are not standing in truth may be so biased with their personal doctrinal stance they end up taking an extreme position. For example, some may not acknowledge a genuine miraculous healing today can be from God; others may belittle believers for not receiving any manifestation of the Holy Spirit.
Practices are much more common than doctrinal differences in dividing believers. For example, the moment a person believes in Christ and receives salvation, this person is regenerated in Christ; this is biblical truth. It is faith which brings a person into Christ. Baptism is a physical symbol declaring the truth of being in Christ. Every believer agrees with the truth that faith uniquely brings a person into Jesus Christ; however, many sectarian groups have formed over the physical symbol of baptism. Some insist on water baptism, while others insist baptism must be by immersion and not by sprinkling. Still others within the same immersion camp insist the following phrase has to be recited at baptism: “In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Others insist the wording should be: “In the name of Jesus Christ.”
All the above are various ways to practice baptism, but not the truth of being immersed into Jesus Christ, the Triune God. Different teachings on baptism use different scriptural verses as their foundation, and many believers are helped by their way of baptism. However, it is against the truth to use any of these practices to build up an entire sectarian group hindering believers in that group from accepting and fellowshipping with other believers if they do not hold to the same practice
It’s Easy to Be Distracted Away from the Truth
At this juncture, let’s consider the story in Matthew 17 because it shows how easily and quickly the Lord’s disciples forgot the revelation they received just eight days earlier. Here, Jesus brought a few of His disciples up to a high mountain. Peter was included—one who recently received the revelation concerning Jesus being the Christ, the Son of God (Matthew 16). On this mountain, Jesus was transfigured before them; He became shining as the sun. Together with this glorious Jesus were Moses and Elijah, also standing there conversing with Jesus. Peter grew excited and immediately said they should make three tabernacles, one for each of them. Moses represented the Law given by God, since Moses gave the Law (John 1:17); therefore, many times the Law was associated with Moses throughout the Bible. After Moses, the major prophet who performed many miraculous works was Elijah. He was the only prophet prominently named in the New Testament, twenty-nine times; therefore, Elijah represents the prophets with God’s supernatural power.
When encountering all three, Peter viewed them the same, giving them “equal honors”: Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Since he wanted to build three tabernacles, one for each, this demonstrated Peter considered them with equal standing, requiring equal reverence. Suddenly, the Father spoke from a cloud and said, “This is my beloved Son, hear Him.” The disciples fell in fear of such a voice. When Jesus came to lift them up, and when they looked up, they saw “no one, but Jesus alone.” Both Moses and Elijah were gone; only Jesus was left for them to behold.
This is the experience of most Christians. They are saved by a wonderful revelation concerning Jesus being the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Then they immediately view the law and so many other items on an equal level as Jesus. “Now that Jesus saved me,” they think, “I have to learn these doctrines, keep these laws, pursue these spiritual gifts, do these works, and on and on.” Even though Jesus is the shining One, from their perspective, Jesus is now just another item among a long list of things. No, no, no! Another revelation is needed after believing—there is no one else other than Jesus. It is not Jesus plus this and that. It is Jesus Himself alone!
It is unfortunate when most believers study the Bible, they consider it elementary to stay focused on Jesus Christ. There is a thought “deeper truth” is how to behave as a Christian, understand the end times, learn self-denial, obtain a special gift from God, or many other topics. Some think, “I already know Jesus Christ died and resurrected; let’s learn about all the other Biblical matters.” One can study, know, and discuss many topics in the Bible; yes, it is advisable to read the Bible from cover to cover thoroughly, but a mature believer is one who can only be satisfied with the excellence of the knowledge of Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:8–15). Those items which expand upon Him are focused on the “knowledge of the Son of God.”
A mature believer is one who has lost the taste for all peripheral topics other than Jesus Christ, and His pursuit of the truth is to see and know how Jesus Christ’s person and work is revealed upon the pages of the Bible. There is a recognition and appreciation Jesus is unsearchable and unlimited in His riches; therefore, it is an eternal pursuit to come to the full knowledge of the Son of God. In fact, Jesus is INCOMPARABLE!
Confusion: Doctrine Unites, Doctrine Divides
The matter of Biblical “doctrine” or “teaching” has also been a great source of division in the Body of Christ . . . let me explain. These two words “doctrine” and “teaching” can be used interchangeably. It simply means “that which is taught” (Vine’s). There is a doctrine which is essential and unites and there are many doctrines causing division. Which is which?
The Bible is full of doctrines, unless you do not read the Bible, but if you do, it is unavoidable to pick up all sorts of doctrines. Believers are encouraged to study the Bible in order to be taught by various doctrines. Some have such a strong emphasis in learning doctrines with a desire to resolve all seemingly contradicting ideas in the Bible; consequently, they formulate and organize these various doctrines into a more uniformed and cohesive arrangement for easier understanding. That body of doctrine is what can be defined as “systematic theology.”
The difficulty is this:There are literally thousands of teachings in the Bible ranging from the mysterious and heavenly concerning the person and nature of God . . . to the mundane and earthly such as what one should wear and eat. The more students of the Bible desire to teach and live according to the doctrines in Scripture, the more conflict they discover—interpretations widely vary.
Therefore, Christians are inclined to simplify doctrine by asking: “Just tell me the right doctrine to believe and live by.” Depending on personality and influence, some will emphasize one side of conflicting teachings while others will highlight the other side. For example, the Bible does not actually have a doctrine of the Trinity. Sometimes it refers to God in the singular and at other times it speaks of God in the plural, specifically: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Some can then emphasize their teaching on the side of God being one, while others on the side of three persons within the “Godhead.” This has caused great divisions in the past.
Salvation by faith or works can also have conflicting verses. Some will cite why believers are saved by grace, not by works (Eph. 2:8-9), while others will cite “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20). This is the same for whether salvation is eternally secure or whether a believer can lose their salvation. This has been a major divider among Christians for hundreds of years—right up to the present. Beyond these major theological doctrines, there are hundreds or thousands more concerning church practices, methods of prayer, end times, Christian blessings and even life-style doctrines such as marriage, diet, clothing, music, etc.
Due to the many doctrines throughout the Bible, many divisions and factions have been formed among Christians. Additionally, the misuse of Biblical doctrines has placed many people into bondage. They feel if they do not follow and abide by the teachings in the Bible then they are breaking God’s laws and are thereby susceptible to God’s judgment.
Reacting to how Christians have used doctrines to divide and oppress God’s people, numerous believers begin to devalue and even belittle doctrine. They may say something like: “We don’t need doctrines; we just need the Spirit.” Or, “Doctrines kill and divide.” Or, “Studying the Bible is not necessary, it’s the Spirit that gives life.” They have pitted the experiences of the Spirit against the understanding of the Bible; yet, that is in and of itself their doctrine. Ironically, Christians pushing-back on this “no-doctrine” teaching respond by doubling-down, emphasizing all controversies can be explained with intensive study and “cutting-straight” (e.g., “rightly dividing”) Scriptures. It seems constant arguments over doctrines in the Scripture are unavoidable and unending. Those who clamor for “sound doctrine” warn us to beware of those who deprecate the same.
The English word for “doctrine” or “teaching” comes from two different Greek words. The two Greek words are used differently and have two distinct meanings, but since they are both translated as “doctrine” in English, the exact meaning of each is lost. It is a source of confusion for English readers when these two Greek words are not clearly delineated. It would be a great help for believers to understand “doctrine” which they need to embrace as truth, and those doctrines which are flexible in application so as not to divide nor be oppressed by them.
The two Greek words translated to “doctrine” or “teaching” are: Didachē (Strong’s #1322) and Didaskalia (Strong’s #1319). According to Biblehub.com, Didachē means: Established teaching, especially a “summarized” body of respected teaching (viewed as reliable, time-honored). However, Didaskalia means: Applied teaching; systematic theology; Christian doctrine (teaching) as it especially extends to its necessary lifestyle (applications).
Didachē is used 30 times in the New Testament and 25 out of the 30 times refers to the doctrine spoken by Jesus (Matt 7:28, Luke 4:32); the doctrine of Jesus Christ (2 John 1:9-10); and, the doctrine of the apostles (Acts 2:42, 5:28). The other five times are used negatively (Heb. 13:9)—specifically, doctrines of: the Pharisees (Matt. 16:12), Balaam (Rev. 2:14), Nicolaitans (Rev. 2:15), and Jezebel (Rev. 2:24). Both the positive doctrines relating to Jesus Christ or the damaging ones are consistently time-honored and reliable for acceptance or rejection. There are no situations where the doctrine of Jesus Christ should be rejected, or the doctrine of Jezebel should be accepted.
The constant and eternally profitable doctrine (Didachē) represents the teaching concerning the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is this fundamental doctrine wherein the truth of the New Testament is found. It teaches people to know God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the entire work of Christ from incarnation, human living, death, resurrection, ascension, the outpouring of the Spirit, regeneration of His people unto the building up of His ekklesia, the assembly, His Body until His bodily return in glory. This is the doctrine all believers should speak (1 Cor. 14:6); and from which Christian teachers should not deviate (Rom. 16:17). The above usages fit the definition of a “summarized body of respected teaching (viewed as reliable, time-honored).”
Didaskalia, on the other hand, is used 21 times. It refers to applied-teaching, application to Christian lifestyle with a view to systematizing theology. Therefore, this kind of doctrine instead of being “time-honored” is more contemporaneous. It seeks influence on the hearer’s lifestyle. The effect on the hearer can be positive: leading them toward seeking and living a well-pleasing life before the Lord Jesus. However, it could also be negative: leading them away from the Lord toward self-efforts and bondages. Whether positive or negative, those influenced believe the source of this doctrine is divine or Scriptural—sound Biblical teaching.
On the positive side, we are told this teaching (didaskalia) of Scripture is for learning, providing us patience, comfort, and giving hope through difficulties in conflicting situations (Rom. 15:4). The Scriptures also provide doctrine (didaskalia), corrections, and instruction in righteousness. When one comes to the Scripture for Spiritual breath (life-sustaining), he/she receives the proper “doctrine” to be instructed to live and work in an evil generation (2 Tim. 3:16). How we apply Scriptures becomes the doctrine which governs how we live and act as Christians from day to day (2 Tim. 3:10).
Therefore, ministers of the Word should do their best to apply Scriptures in a way that is healthy or sound. When it comes to applying Scripture to a lifestyle, one can imagine all these various approaches. Thus, Paul stressed it needs to be healthy (1 Tim. 1:10; 2 Tim. 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1). “Healthy” points to life and growth, not merely behavior. When applying Scriptures, it needs to be in a way leading people to grow in their spiritual life.
It is by this strengthening and growing through the indwelling life of Christ believers are transformed. It is through life-transformation the daily life of believers is truly affected. The Christian life should not be governed by a set of rules; rather, it should be by God’s eternal life within each believer. Healthy doctrine (didaskalia) is applying Scripture in a way leading the hearer to turn to Jesus Christ, so His life will cause the believer to grow and be transformed from within. Nevertheless, applying Scriptures improperly can also have a very harmful effect—the opposite of applying them in a healthy manner:
And in vain they worship Me, Teaching [as] doctrines [didaskalia] the commandments of men.
– Matthew 15:9 NKJV
In order that we may be no longer babes, tossed and carried about by every wind of that teaching [didaskalia] in the sleight of men, in unprincipled cunning with a view to systematized error . . ..
– Ephesians 4:14 DBY
In Matthew 15, when Jesus condemned the Pharisees, their teaching was about tithing. They were not teaching something sinful, such as lying or stealing. They were teaching something according to God’s command: tithing—giving something to God. However, in their application of God’s law concerning tithing, they negated another one which is to honor one’s father and mother. This doctrine of “If anyone tells his father or his mother, ‘what you would have gained from me is given to God’” became a commandment of men. It sounded so spiritual and Scriptural, but it was also in direct disobedience to another one of God’s commands: honor your father and mother.
The Scriptures are full of seemingly competing and contrary ideas. When a person applies only one set of verses and negates conflicting verses, the doctrine derived by a one-sided application, no matter how Scriptural, is of man and not of God.
In Ephesians 4:14, the doctrines which were like a wind blowing young believers about can be assumed to be doctrines from the Bible. These differing emphases in applying Scripture became a wind to toss and carry immature believers from one side to another. Bible teachers can use their cunning ways of interpretation to come up with doctrines in support of their sectarian systems. Babes are blown about, captured into such a system by doctrines (didaskalia) or “systematized error.”
Even doctrine (didaskalia) of demons as described in 1 Tim. 4:1-3 were not related to idolatry or some other sinful act; rather, they can be traced to applying scriptural and spiritual references. Didn’t Paul say it is better for a man not to marry, so he can be pleasing to the Lord (1 Cor. 7:1, 8, 32)? A doctrine to forbid marriage is just a codifying of a portion of Scripture to help believers to love the Lord without entanglement. As far as abstaining from foods, isn’t this also Scriptural and spiritual? Jesus Himself spoke of fasting (Matt. 6:16)—believers in Acts also fasted (Acts 13:2-3; 14:23). Demons merely formulated a doctrine by applying Scripture to regulate a Christian lifestyle.
Today, doctrines (didaskalia) which are causing arguments and divisions are mostly focused on how Scriptures are applied. It is not over the doctrine (didache) of Jesus Christ. Understanding and appreciating the doctrine of Jesus Christ as the truth brings believers into oneness. Attempting to systematize the Bible correctly among certain Christian lifestyles continues to segregate and divide believers. One desiring to serve the Lord needs to be grounded on and enriched by the doctrine of Jesus Christ with all His unsearchable riches, and simultaneously, be able to apply the appropriate Scriptures to a person in need with a particular condition.
For example, if a person’s doctrine (didaskalia) is “once saved, always saved” or “saved by grace” alone, then that person cannot apply verses such as Philippians 2:12 “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” in order to help a believer who is lackadaisical in his pursuit of the Lord. Likewise, if a person’s doctrine is “you can lose your salvation,” there will be another list of verses concerning the security of the believer’s salvation which will not be used for comforting one who is under condemnation due to willfully sinning. Rather, a person who is fortified with the doctrine (didache) of Jesus Christ will be able to apply all verses without negating any. A healthy word can be spoken based on the need of the person at any specific time. This healthy word will turn the hearer to Jesus, strengthen his or her faith to pursue and serve the Lord. We’re not talking about “situational ethics”—we’re sharing the riches of Jesus Christ!
There are many more examples of doctrinal (didaskalia) applications: head covering for women, the exercise of miraculous gifts, name and claim, modesty, choice or life, social equality, prosperity and health by faith, repentance and many more teachings in the Bible that can be applied to Christian living and practice. Some of these teachings have no doubt helped many believers; therefore, it is precious to them. However, according to the definition given to didaskalia, all these doctrinal applications are not truth at their core. Although these kinds of applications have helped many, they have also stumbled many. They have become a source of division and confusion if applied “religiously” in order to compel a certain lifestyle or Christian practice.
Therefore, it is crucial for those desiring to answer the Lord’s Prayer for the oneness of His people to understand these two different kinds of doctrine. On the one hand, we need to be those who keep mining the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ so the doctrine (didache) of Jesus Christ becomes fuller and deeper for our enjoyment and our ministry to people. Satan’s strategy is designed to distract believers from focusing on and knowing Jesus Christ.
On the other hand, we need to be wary of Satan’s other tactic: motivating ministers to emphasize Biblical doctrines (didaskalia) to the point of divisiveness whereby these “healthy teachings” turn into unhealthy food. Instead of teachers divisively tossing believers around by every wind of doctrine, what is needed are teachers who can apply Scriptures to a person in need at the right moment to bring individuals back into fellowship with Jesus for the building up of His One Body. Jesus alone is precious.
“Sound doctrine builds up the Body of Christ.” Know this: the doctrine (didache) of Jesus Christ is always beneficial for building up; whereas spiritual discernment is needed when applying doctrine (didaskalia) to a person’s lifestyle. Ministers are needed to equip the saints, so all believers can speak the doctrine of Jesus Christ, which is the knowledge of the Son of God, producing the Perfect Man (Eph. 4:13). This will build up the Body of Christ into one ekklesia.
What will be covered in the following chapters are major points affecting the general understanding of the truth. This is what would be considered as the doctrine (didache) of Jesus Christ or the apostles’ teachings (didache). These chapters will not focus on the various doctrines (didaskalia) in their sundry applications: the how, when, and to whom teachings of the Scriptures are applied. The application of teachings is where divisions and factions have been generated. Even disagreements concerning so-called deeper and richer points of truth, such as the Triune nature of God, should never break fellowship. Only the essential faith which brings salvation determines whether one is in fellowship with Jesus Christ. This saving faith is the only item for which believers should contend.
For a fuller disclosure regarding ONE TRUTH – please secure Henry Hon’s ONE TRUTH @ https://www.amazon.com/One-Truth-Liberating-Nourishing-Unifying/dp/1732556326