Solid Teaching and How It Happens

I’m reading a book on house churches that says that if a house church isn’t teaching regularly, then it would be better to go to an institutional church with solid teaching.

Uh huh. Where would I find one of those?

You want solid teaching? It’s going to require some honest evaluation of our current teaching.

Look around, folks! Protestantism is divided into tens of thousands of sects.

Tens of thousands!

And no one cares!

When the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he gave them some encouragement at the start, and then he launched immediately into a problem. They had a lot of problems, but Paul spent at least the first three chapters focusing on just one.

Division.

Paul said that as long as the Corinthians were saying “I’m of Paul” and “I’m of Peter” and “I’m of Apollos”–and even “I’m of the King (Christ)”–then they were carnal and behaving like humans.

Does it really take an insightful, spiritual teacher to recognize that when we say “I’m a Baptist” and “I’m a Methodist” and “I’m a Pentecostal,” we’re doing the same thing?

Where’s our “solid teaching” when it comes to issues like these?

Jesus said that the world would know that the Father sent him because of our unity. Everyone knows that the Protestant Church is known for its division and bickering.

Where’s our “solid teaching” when it comes to issues like these?

Dodging Reality

Almost 30 years ago I walked into an (English language) bookstore in Germany. It was an unusual bookstore. It was small, but it had all of Watchman Nee’s book in it. Nee’s books were on one wall in wide hallway that separated the two small rooms that made up the store.

On the other wall were the typical books that you find in a Protestant bookstore.

I remember standing in the hallway looking at the two walls and wondering, Do these people know that the books on Nee’s wall teach that the books on the other wall are carnal, lukewarm, and of little spiritual value?

Recently, I read “The Old Cross and the New Cross by A.W. Tozer again. Tozer’s books are popular, but much of his writing condemns almost all of modern Christianity. The tract to which I just linked does not specifically mention “seeker-friendly” Christianity, so it can’t directly condemn it, but the tract nonetheless directly teaches that seeker-friendly Christianity is an offense to Jesus our King.

Do we pay attention to these things?

For the most part, we do not. Many Protestants know about these problems, but they consider them unsolvable, so they do nothing.

Reality and Solid Teaching

The book I’m reading recommends a church with solid teaching.

I assert that in Protestant Christianity those churches are nearly impossible to find because no one pays attention to the problems I mentioned above and the hundred others like them.

It’s just too costly to fix the problems.

Despite these problems, most of us think that “solid teaching” means repeating the same old things that have been taught in Protestant churches for centuries (though no more than five centuries since Protestantism is only five centuries old).

The very teachings that have produced the myriad of horrendous problems in the Protestant churches are just parroted as “solid teaching.”

Why? Because they’re Biblical?

Are you kidding? Oh, wait. You’re not kidding. You haven’t looked at the problems, so you don’t think they need a solution. You just go merrily along thinking that Protestant “solid teaching” is justified because some part of Protestantism has taught your doctrines for one-fourth of the church’s existence.

Okay, let me try to help you with this.

The book that recommended finding a church with solid teaching was written by a group of house churches that has “the doctrines of grace” as their primary, number one consideration.

“Doctrines of Grace” means that they believe that everyone is so totally depraved that no one would ever choose to believe the Gospel on their own. They believe that God randomly (“unconditionally”) chose a small percentage of the human population to believe before the creation of the world. Those randomly selected people are the only ones capable of believing the Gospel, and they will believe the Gospel, no matter what, because God’s grace is “irresistible.”

Believing all this, they conclude that Jesus only died for the “elect,” those randomly selected few. They also conclude that the elect must persevere to the end or they wouldn’t be elect. On the last day, every one of the randomly chosen will be justified by the blood of Jesus before the judgment seat of Jesus.

Those who were unfortunate enough not to be chosen will be tormented in hell forever for not being selected.

Makes The Hunger Games seem positively utopian, doesn’t it?

How anyone could derive these ideas from a book that says things like “He is the atonement for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” is beyond me. Knowing that the men who made these doctrines popular were familiar with the earliest writings of the church puzzles me even more.

I once read a “systematic theology,” a book which analyzes a number of theological ideas, which had a chapter on “soteriology” which advocated “eternal security.” That means that those who are once saved are guaranteed, by the promise of Jesus, to go to heaven after dying and live their eternally in the presence of God.

The end of that chapter listed some verses that “seem” to contradict the idea of eternal security.

It listed at least 50 verses.

FIFTY verses that “seem” to contradict what the book taught.

That kind of thinking is the habit of Protestants. It is normal, not unusual.

The Catholics point out to us that James said that salvation is not by faith alone. That’s true, but we write them off because we know Catholics are deceived by works salvation. The apostle Paul knew better. He taught that salvation was by faith apart from works.

We don’t think about the fact that this means we’re saying James is as wrong as the Roman Catholics are.

I don’t know why we don’t think about that. Martin Luther did. He solved the problem by saying that James had nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it. “A right strawy epistle,” he called it.

Witness Lee was equally bold. He explains in his Recovery New Testament that James did not understand the “New Testament economy.”

What else? It’s those horrible Jehovah’s Witnesses who point out to us that Jesus called the Father the one true God (Jn. 17:3).

Now that’s one is easy to handle. The JW’s are a cult, and we can find dozens of verses that tear apart their doctrines.

Um, but what about John 17:3? It appears that we can just ignore it as long as we can silence those cults that bring it up to us.

My wife grew up in a Southern Baptist church. Now that is a church that would definitely have solid teaching. They are by far the most popular Christian denomination in the US besides Catholicism.

As we got to know each other and marriage became a real possibility, I decided I had better talk to her about 1 Corinthians 11.

1 Corinthians 11? Why would I be talking to her about the Lord’s Supper?

Actually, 1 Corinthians 11 has two subjects. One is the Lord’s Supper, and the other is women covering their heads (and men not covering their heads or having long hair).

After more than a decade of being a devoted, faithful member of the Bible-believing Southern Baptists and a faithful reader of the Bible herself, she had no idea that the Bible talked about a subject like women covering their heads.

No problem. The rule we Protestants would never verbalize, but which has been ingrained in us by long practice, is that if no one brings up the verse, we don’t have to deal with it.

Maybe the rule could be better written this way: “If a book somewhere explains why a verse that seems to contradict what we believe doesn’t really contradict it, then we never have to look at the verse again.”

Baptism is always an excellent example of this problem. We know that baptism is only a symbolic, public testimony because salvation is by faith only, and baptism is a work.

  1. Jesus said that the one who is baptized and believes will be saved (Mk. 16:16). Ah! But he adds only that he who does not believe will be condemned. This, then, proves we’re right. It is not those who are baptized and believed who will be saved. It is those who believe who will be saved, and they will also be baptized, which of course will have nothing to do with salvation.
  2. Peter told the Jews to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). Hmm. We know that can’t mean what it says, so this is a really tough one. Fortunately, dishonesty is always an option when defending Protestant doctrines, so a couple of Greek scholars have kindly helped us out by telling us that the Greek word eis could possibly mean “because of” in that verse. (For the record, that’s simply not true, and Robertson and Wuest both ought to know that.)
  3. Paul said we are baptized into our King (Gal. 3:27) and into his death (Rom. 6:3). No problem, we have invented a new baptism. Now there is a baptism by the Holy Spirit into Jesus that is different than a baptism by a preacher into water and also different than Jesus baptizing us into the Holy Spirit.
  4. Peter said that the flood saved Noah and his family from the old world as a figure of how baptism now saves us (1 Pet. 3:20-21). Again, no problem. Peter added a parenthetical statement telling us that baptism does not save us, so that the passage should read, “… baptism now saves you (but it doesn’t save you).”

I could on and discuss being born of water in John 3:5 or the washing of regeneration in Titus 3:5. I could point out that from the earliest writings of the church until the rise of Pietism in the 17th century everyone thought that those verses meant what they say and that being born of water or washed for regeneration is a clear reference to water baptism.

I am not going to.

I am going to return to the start of this post and ask you to look around.

The Problems

We are known for our division. Jesus said that our unity was his proof that the Father sent him (Jn. 17:20-23), but few seem to care. Paul was confident that the work of God would continually grow in his disciples throughout their lifetime (Php. 1:6). Most of us know that the majority of the people in Protestant churches don’t read the Bible regularly, don’t pray very often, nor have any solid commitment to obeying all the teachings of Jesus.

Rather than fix these things, we excuse them. Charles Stanley, the famous pastor from Atlanta, taught publicly that we would be forgiven by God even if we don’t forgive others despite the fact that Jesus taught the opposite (Matt. 6:14-15). He had some brilliant excuses based on different types of forgiveness, but in the end, he simply denied this Scripture and taught people it did not apply.

I listened to a Sunday school teacher try to address Galatians 6:7-8 once. That passage says that if you sow to the Spirit you’ll reap eternal life, but if you sow to the flesh you will reap corruption. The teacher made a joke about the possibility of losing our salvation, then moved on.

The teacher was an acquaintance of mine, so I wrote him a letter telling him that even if that verse did not refute eternal security, it is nonetheless a warning, and he had not passed on that warning to his hearers.

My “brother” in the King turned my letter over to the pastor, who called me in to his office and asked my why I dared talk to one of “his” Sunday School teachers about this. (When he couldn’t intimidate me, he got somewhat bewildered about what to do.)

People “converted” to the Protestant Gospel fall away much more than they continue. Those who do continue generally find that they stop growing before too many years have passed. As a result the large majority of our church members are lukewarm at best.

How is it possible, then, that Protestant teaching could ever be solid?

The Route to Solid teaching

When a set of churches has problems as great as those I have been describing; when they refuse to address those problems because they are too difficult to address; and when they have to excuse and ignore multiple portions of Scripture to defend their doctrines, they do not have solid teaching.

There are two routes to solid teaching.

1. Stop ignoring the problems, stop explaining away verses from the Bible, and struggle through rejection, loneliness, confusion, and long periods of not knowing what is true, all the while crying out to God and searching the Scriptures.

Sometimes that works. You will know if it has worked if the problems go away and are replaced by unity, holiness, and the common growth of all or almost all of those that you are in fellowship with.

That’s a really hard route.

2. Find someone who has done the above and join yourself to them.

You will know if they are worth following if they are not alone, if they are united in love, living as the family of God, and are growing together in obedience to the commands of Jesus.

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