Monday, October 15, 2012

Sound Doctrine

"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" (2 Timothy 4:3).

If you are reading this and believe that the Christian Scriptures are the inspired written words of God, you'll probably have a very different opinion of what I am about to say than if for you the Christian Scriptures are simply a collection of writings which have no special divine inspiration.  That, of course, will always be true of "quoting scripture" of any kind, from the sacred texts of any religion.  What you believe about these things influences your point of view.

I am fairly certain that most Christians interpret this verse in the following 5 points:

*Sound doctrine = what I/my branch of Christianity believes.

*"Men" who "suit their own desires" refers to either "the world" (those who are not Christians) or to people who say they are Christians but don't believe in the sound doctrine that I/my branch of Christianity believes.

*The "great number of teachers" are clearly heretics with evil desires intent on destroying the sound doctrine that I/my branch of Christianity believes.

*The things these teachers "say" that are "what [the people's] itching ears want to hear" are false doctrines that do not line up with what I/my branch of Christianity believes.

*"The time" has clearly come.

Would you allow me to challenge that interpretation for a moment?

How many people do you know - actually know - in real life - who seek out doctrines?  Look, I have been around churches long enough to know that even most church people could care less about doctrine (even though they know theirs is the only one that is right (despite the fact they do not know what theirs really is) and therefore their doctrine is what Paul means when he writes about "sound doctrine").  And I have plenty of friends outside the church who don't care about doctrine either (but at least they are not hypocritical about it).

So, doesn't it seem a little odd to you that people would reject Paul's "sound doctrine" and run off in search of their own doctrines?  Who does this?  Those who reject sound doctrine (however so defined) typically don't do so because they desire a false doctrine.  They do it because they don't care about doctrine, at all.

May I suggest that it is possible that Paul is not referring, primarily or necessarily, to "the world" or to Christians who have differing doctrinal stances, but simply to church people who do not care about doctrine or theology?  Church people who gather around themselves teachers (who may actually have quite good intentions rather than nefarious ones) who do not teach doctrine or theology (whether sound or false) but rather, something else altogether?

Outside of my own church (something different than the norms, altogether), I have attended the gatherings of two kinds of churches recently:  Those who "follow the Bible" and whose teaching centers on the very literal interpretations thereof; and those who "engage the culture" and whose teaching centers on how to live a better, more personally fulfilling life.

Neither kind of church seems to care for my preaching and teaching much.  Ah, the tyranny of the both/and.  But I will not get off the Via Bothandia.  However, I will get off point if I don't return to it.

The one part of the standard interpretation that I think makes sense and is right is this:  The time has come. 

We are living in a time where people, at least in the culture I find myself in, will not put up with sound doctrine.  Except, we still haven't defined what that means to Paul, have we?

As always, context matters.  Let's look at the verses around this one and the person to whom Paul is writing:

"In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.  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.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry." (2 Timothy 4:1-6).

Paul is writing to Timothy, a younger pastor/minister/preacher/teacher he has trained and mentored.  The context here is Paul's charge to Timothy to preach the Word in view of Jesus' Kingdom. In fact this line "preach the Word" is a key component of the liturgy that my branch of faith, the Church of the Nazarene, uses when she ordains her pastor/minister/preacher/teachers.

The Word is Jesus.  Jesus' message is repentance (turn away from sin, turn toward Jesus) and a new, transformed life of following Him and answering His calling in the Kingdom of God that is here, now.

This is sound doctrine.  But since it is sound doctrine, you'll have to listen in order to hear it.  For this Jesus disciple, I hear very little of it being preached or taught today, from either the right or the left, the conservative or the liberal, the Bible-followers or the culture-engagers, the big church or the little one, the old church or the new one.

And I can testify from experience that it is most definitely not in high demand in any of those places or with any of those people, either.

But alas, since this post is about sound doctrine, chances are, no one's listening anyway.


P.S. - For the sake of brevity (and maybe knowing what's good for me, too!), I have left unsaid much more than I have said, here.  So, what do you think (if I am not writing to an empty room in cyberspace)?  Too cynical?  Accurate interpretations?  Something to chew on?  Don't get it?  Want to know more of that left-unsaid stuff?  Think I'm off the deep end?  Leave a comment!