Hygiene & Doctrine

“Hygiene” is quite the thing right now, as we continue our pursuit of greater public health and safety in light of Covid-19. If you look too closely at your social media feeds (perhaps in your mirror) you’ll notice there’s a bit of disconnect going on, however. There is no shortage of hand-washing vids and tips. There’s also quite a bit of quipping about “letting self go” a bit. As those of us blessed with continuing work try to accomplish much of this over video, we are donning our clothes mullets (business up top, party/sleep/lounging down below). As well, there’s growing beards, challenges to exercise habits, and lengthening of locks, for those of us who can do so (I personally still can, and have attempted a Brad Pitt length, but unfortunately my hair grows out, not down…closer to Napolean Dynamite, probably). Regardless, while locked up we are washing hands, wearing masks, Lysoling the dog, but probably doing so with a few more days between baths than normal and perhaps a bit more germ-grabbing hair on faces and head.

Okay, kill the illustration.

What does this have to do with doctrine?

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

In 2 Timothy 4:3-4, Paul is reminding Timothy of the nature of the human tendency to surround self with what they want to hear. In doing so, he begins by saying they will not endure “sound” teaching. “Sound” here means “healthy” and is the root Greek word for our word “hygiene.” The definition connotes a holistic aspect to the health (think grace AND truth).

As I was meditating on this passage this morning it occurred to me that this word (and the associated warning) is not tied merely to technical truth. It is possible to have accuracy with errant gravity. What I mean is that doctrines carry with it a certain weight. Now, I understand the argument that will arise with some is that this veers into a subjectivity, but hang with me (and be gracious). The weight of any particular doctrine is, in my view, associated with its biblical clarity and frequency. For instance, the doctrine of the atonement would carry greater weight than a particular eschatology, because, although the return of Christ is certainly taught and affirmed, the clarity and frequency of the timing of that return is no where close to the clarity and frequency of substitutionary atonement in the Old and New Testaments (literal and figurative). Therefore, my view for any particular local church is that we should make certain we are clear and unwavering in our view of the atonement (still with grace), while affirming the return Christ and being flexible with the timing of that return (pre-trib, pre-mil, amil, etc).

My point is simply this, it is possible to be unhealthy in your doctrine / teaching by giving greater weight and emphasis to a particular point than the Scripture itself gives on the matter. That’s not to say we should not pursue greater understand, perhaps even becoming experts, on secondary or tertiary matters. But if what we are doing is to edify the body, those matters will be taught with a view of the gravitas of primary matters like the atonement.

The fact is, there are whole segments of churches, and certainly whole churches, that only want to hear about a particular doctrine within the larger scope of biblical theology, and in doing so, they have made those matters the litmus test for biblical fidelity. If we are to be faithful as pastors and teachers, it is incumbent upon us to teach what accords with the Scripture. We will, with sobriety, endurance, and a view to evangelism, teach the Scripture with in view…

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

I hold to the sufficiency of the Scriptures on all matters of faith and practice. Certainly, all matters will be addressed if we faithfully preach the whole counsel of God’s Word (OT & NT). We will also, however, be circumspect to remember that all these matters serve a larger redemptive story arch, where God is making for Himself a people; a people who must be made righteous through the prophet, priest, king, and suffering servant, who is Jesus Christ.

So, may we all aspire to trust that Scriptures are enough. May we all trust, too, that the Scriptures tell a larger wonderful truth of God’s redemptive love for His own in and through Jesus Christ. In doing so, we can pray that the Spirit, who breathed out the very thoughts of God through men, will give us discernment to connect each passage we preach to this larger narrative, and to be increasingly gracious in matters that are not of primary importance, yet still true at the core, even if more interpretive around the edges.

Pastor, grace and truth, truth and love, are part of a holistic hygiene to your doctrine and teaching. May the Spirit of God give you great passion, boldness, and clarity, being gracious even with yourself, because if you listen other, faithful expositors on a passage (and you should) and ever go back and listen to your older sermons (and you should…not too much, though) then you will see where you missed the “weight” of any particular passage. Pray, breathe, and get back at it.

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