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Difficult Doctrine or Dangerous Deciever?

March 1, 2011

How do we know of something is genuinely difficult to understand in the text?  In every arena of Biblical debate, someone will make the accusation, “that’s just your interpretation.”  In heated conflicts over doctrine, it seems nearly inevitable that someone will accuse another of promoting a dangerous doctrine.  We recognize that there are many deceivers entered into the church.  The warning of grievous wolves is as true today as it was when first given.  We need great discernment in determining if someone has willfully deviated from the clear doctrines of the Word, or if they have just reached a different conclusion based on a careful study of difficult portions of the Word.  How do we distinguish between a genuine and a contrived ambiguity?  I would like to offer two avenues of thinking that should guide our determination of what is genuinely an ambiguous area.  First, careful personal Biblical study.  Unless one has studied the Word and determined for themselves what the Bible teaches on a topic, they are not qualified to speak to a doctrines clarity or ambiguity.  To put this very frankly, the assertion of a previous pastor or long held opinion about a particular doctrine does not mean the Bible is unambiguously clear on that topic. One must honestly and humbly study for themselves the Word to personally understand what God has said about a particular topic.  We are particularly susceptible to reading into a text our strongly held beliefs.  I fully realize we cannot, and should not, empty our minds of all we have been previously taught, but we must be very careful to deal honestly with the Word so that we glean from it what it is in the text.  While we do hold strongly to certain beliefs or systems, not all of them are as clearly expressed in the Bible as we sometimes claim.  An honest study of the Word, that searches diligently for the originally inspired intent, will guide us into understanding just how clear a particular doctrine genuinely is.

Second, and this is most definitely secondary, consider the disagreements between faithful, preferably dead, pastors and authors. God has given us faithful men down through the ages who have studied and labored in the Word.  The key is to find those men who have been proven to be faithful.  Have they handed down a heritage of Godliness and faithfulness?  Do we see evidenced in their ministries fruit (not just large numbers of professions, but all the Biblical fruits)?  Have later generations recognized these men as Godly, doctrinally sound men?  If so, then his doctrines become a reasonable point with which to compare our own and others understandings of the Word.  To help determine if there is legitimate difficulty in understanding the text, find out if the Godly men of the past have been in agreement.  Have different, Godly, faithful, approved men held to very different ideas about a particular doctrine?  Have they reached carefully thought out, well studied and sincere opinions, different from one another?  How far different were these opinions?  Have those different opinions been historically accepted throughout the text?  If so, then it is probably safe to assume the Word is less clear to our fallen minds in that particular area.  I am not suggesting that this be the end all consideration.  Charles Spurgeon came to accept a view of creation that fundamental believers today would adamantly reject.  Though he was a Godly, faithful man much blessed by God, that particular view has been rejected as not orthodox.

I need to make two more caveats.  First, I am not suggesting God is uncertain about His truth.  I am stating we are unable to fully comprehend His truth.  Second, I am also not suggesting that we do not hold to definite opinions concerning difficult to understand areas of doctrine.  I am saying exactly the opposite.  We need to do the best we can to understand what the Bible teaches and come to a firm conviction in our own minds and hearts while still recognizing that there is room for legitimate and gracious disagreement between equally faithful, obedient and devoted brethren.


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