Jesus warned that the last days would be characterized by mass deception:
- “At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” (Matthew 24:23-24)
Deception comes in many packages – the most appealing packaging arises from within the church itself. Paul lamented:
- “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:29-30)
Several scholarly wolves have even insisted:
- In the beginning, Christianity did not have a fanatic concern about doctrine and orthodoxy. This was an aberration that introduced later.
This represents one of many attacks on the teachings of the Bible originating from our postmodern culture in its disdain for truth. Instead, this culture favors mystical techniques to “experience God.” However, from every indication that we have, the central focus of the Bible is the teaching of truth/doctrine. The early church was “continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). They insisted that “everything we need for a godly life [is given us] through our knowledge of him” (2 Peter 1:3). Likewise, Paul proclaimed that the Word of God “can build you up and give you an inheritance” (Acts 20:32).
It can be argued that everything that the Apostles wrote and taught reflected their overriding concern for right doctrine. Paul insisted that anyone who taught a different take on Jesus’ teachings should be accursed (Gal. 1:8-9) and that anyone who disagreed with his teachings was misguided:
- If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. (1 Tim. 6:3-4)
Not only was Paul himself profoundly concerned about right doctrine, he insisted that these truths had to be safeguarded and used as the standard to correct false teaching. Therefore, Paul insisted that elders had to be able to teach according to the Gospel and that “opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25). The elder had to be able to “refute those who oppose it” (Titus 1:9) and to oversee the teaching ministry of the church (1 Tim. 1:3-4; 2 Tim. 1:13; Titus 3:9-10; Rom. 16:17). All of this gives us the impression that doctrine was of utmost importance.
The other Apostles reflect the same priority. The Book of Revelation contains letters to seven churches. Two of them were castigated by the Spirit for allowing teachings that contradicted the Gospel (Rev. 2:14, 20). John concludes with a warning:
- I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll. (Rev. 22:18-19)
Clearly, John not only regarded his epistle as authoritative doctrine, he also regarded it as Scripture! In contrast, the false teachers claim that the Apostles never regarded their teachings as Scripture. However, this is clearly untrue. Paul declared his own epistles to be Scripture:
- And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. (1 Thess. 2:13)
Despite their differences, Peter also regarded Paul’s writings as Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16), as he did the other apostolic writings (2 Pet. 3:2). All of the Apostles seemed to have regarded their writings as authoritative and normative for the church. Consequently, those who rejected these teachings were to be brought up on charges and subjected to expulsion if they refused to repent.
Equally problematic are the charges of the false teachers that, “Jesus came to bring a new life and not a set of stale doctrines.” However, this charge is also meritless. Jesus was intimately concerned about right doctrine. He was the herald of the Good News. This took precedence even over healing. Therefore, when Peter instructed Him to return to the village to heal the many people who had assembled, Jesus corrected him:
- “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” (Mark 1:38)
His message was weightier than any of His other blessings. Embracing His message was a matter of life and death (Mat. 7:24). It was both the key to salvation (Luke 11:52; John 6:29; 8:24; 17:26) and sanctification (Mat. 13:23; John 17:3, 17). He therefore amply quoted Scripture and insisted that it was life:
- The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Mat. 4:3-4)
For Jesus, the Word of His Father was everything. He had no doubt that Scripture was the Word of God. Therefore, His disciples would have to live by His every word or teaching! Scripture and its teachings were of such preeminence that Jesus opened the minds of His disciples to understand it:
- Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.” (Luke 24:45-46)
Having a saving relationship with Jesus was unthinkable without also following His teachings (John 15:7-14; 14:21-24). Consequently, when He commissioned and sent His disciples out, He instructed them to instruct the nations to embrace everything that He had taught them (Mat. 28:19-20). He never said anything like this: “Don’t worry about the teachings as long as you love one another.” Clearly, Jesus is doctrine-centered. It would be impossible to live the life He had taught without His teachings.
As obvious as all this should be, many have drifted away and have adopted a doctrine-less Jesus – a Jesus who suspiciously resembles the dictates of their own hearts.