Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Sound and Unsound

It is difficult to miss the adjective “sound” in the first couple chapters of Titus. In fact, it occurs more times in Titus than anywhere else in the New Testament. In instructing his younger associate, the apostle Paul refers repeatedly to both “sound doctrine” and being “sound in the faith”, the latter being the result of the former. Soundness was the apostle’s desire for the Christians in Crete, and indeed for all believers everywhere.

In Greek, the word “sound” is hygiainō, which means “healthy”. It has the sense of fitness and functionality. In Luke it is contrasted with both sickness and injury.

Sound Doctrine is Practical

Sound doctrine is not merely intellectual, it is exceedingly practical. It produces a worldview that impacts our personal behavior. Sound doctrine goes hand-in-hand with a healthy lifestyle, so that Paul can write to Timothy about lawlessness, disobedience, ungodliness, sin, unholiness, profanity, parental abuse, murder, sexual immorality, homosexuality, kidnapping, lying, perjury “and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine”. Sound doctrine is the antidote to such things.

When Paul wrote to Titus in Crete, it was in order that the Cretans might be “sound in the faith”. Interestingly, their over-attention to “Jewish myths” was accompanied by bad behavior: quoting Epimenides, Paul says, “ ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’ This testimony is true.” Poor practice is often associated with unsound teaching. Either unhealthy doctrine especially attracts sinners, or else it encourages those who are not currently sinning to join with others in violating their own consciences. In Thyatira, Jezebel, who taught sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols, claimed the authority of a prophetess. It is unlikely she would have been so effective in spreading bad habits among believers if she did not first pull the wool over the eyes of the Christians in Thyatira by claiming to be speaking for God.

In his letter to Titus, Paul speaks of teaching things that “accord with sound doctrine”. Regardless of the age or sex of his target audience, there is a consistent feature to practice that goes together with healthy teaching: it is always self-controlled. Paul says the grace of God trains us to “renounce  ungodliness and worldly passions”. Decency and order are hallmarks of correct doctrine. Indecency and chaos are not.

Sound Doctrine is Firmly Established

Unsound doctrine is full of controversy and “quarrels about words”. It is speculative. In 2 Timothy, Paul contrasts sound doctrine with wandering off into myths. Sound doctrine is firmly established. That does not mean it cannot be argued against. People disagree with sound doctrine all the time. But what it does mean is that sound doctrine cannot be argued against logically and biblically. It requires some novelty: a quirky new interpretation; the redefinition of a term with a well-established meaning; or the “discovery” of some new historical factoid that appears to argue against the words of scripture.

Novelties get attention, both good and bad. The good is that orthodox scholarship usually rallies and exposes them for the houses of cards they are, just as Wayne Grudem roundly debunked the egalitarian “source” teaching about New Testament headship. The bad is that people who most need to hear the evidence against a novelty doctrine rarely do. Liberals are terrific at making error sound fair, reasonable, appealing and so overwhelmingly popular that there’s really no point in pushing back against it. Shutting down principled disagreement is a necessary part of implementing a novelty doctrine; falsehoods and pretenses are not capable of withstanding the scrutiny of men and women who really know the word of God. Rather, they simply provide a fig leaf for those who are already secretly engaged in bad practice and looking for a pseudo-scriptural excuse to drift away from an inconvenient truth.

The “old, old story” never gets boring if you are one of those people who has a vital, daily spiritual connection to the word of God and the Head of the Church. But unspiritual men and women who hang around the fringes of church life are suckers for every exciting new idea, no matter how dubious.

Sound Doctrine is Christ-Centered

Sound doctrine starts and ends with Christ. Paul says to Timothy:
“If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing.”
Here I think he is not just referring to the actual content of the teaching the Lord Jesus did, and the words which are now recorded for us in the gospels and early book of Acts, but to all the teaching about Christ found in the scriptures. It might be “sound words concerning our Lord Jesus Christ”. This is consistent with Paul’s reference in his second letter to Timothy to “the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus”.

Sound doctrine has Christ at the core. When the Lord Jesus sought to firmly establish his disciples, he “interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself”. Unsound doctrine is always characterized by inattention to the most fundamental truths of the faith, all of which are tied up in Christ, who is the subject of the word of God from its first chapter to its last.

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