Posted by: Harry Sasnowitz | June 27, 2010

Defining “Sound Doctrine”

I was recently driving down the road when I pulled up behind a car at a stoplight. It’s during these times that I like to scan the various bumper stickers that people proudly exhibit. The one I read this day boldly proclaimed, “The Bible Says It, I Believe It, And That Settles It!”

There was a day in times past that I would have pumped my fist in the air with a hearty, “Amen Brother, Hallelujah” shout. But not this day. Honestly, I was a bit frustrated by the bumper sticker’s message, for two reasons. Let me explain.

First, I believe that this particular attitude, which permeates much of our Christian culture, is one of the main reasons why many in the world don’t take us seriously and have no interest in what we have to say. Instead of engaging them in a relational sense, allowing them to ask tough questions and providing reasonable answers that challenge their intellect, we hide behind our Bible and bluntly tell them, “Hey, it’s in the Bible, so I believe it, and you should, too…” This is totally unreasonable. Of course there is always the element of faith that’s necessary when dealing with the subject of God, but if we as believers took a little bit of time to think and study ourselves, we could be much more effective in reaching the world for Christ. The high majority of questions that people ask about the Bible. God, Jesus, etc… can be answered with a tactful, reasonable, logical and intellectual response that in many cases will be well received by those who hear, stir their interest in the subject matter even more, and create an even greater openness to truth. By willingly relating to them where they’re at, instead of relationally offending them by dismissing their questions and insisting they rise to our level of faith, we honor and respect the individual and develop a firm relational foundation for future discussion and evangelism opportunities.

The second reason I didn’t like the bumper sticker’s message is simply this: from a New Covenant perspective, it’s bad doctrine.

For example, the Bible says, “You shall keep my statutes and practice them; I am the Lord who sanctifies you…….If there is anyone who curses his father or mother, he shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother, his bloodguiltiness is upon him.” (Leviticus 20:9-10)

Perhaps you have an unruly teenager who has let a few words fly your way in the form of profanity or cursing. As grievous as the behavior might be, no one in their right mind would stone their child for it (although one might consider it… :@). After all, this is Levitical law….it doesn’t apply to us…we are not in bondage to the law but live in the freedom of Christ, being led by the spirit. Right?

Unfortunately, the church is not at all consistent on this matter. From most pulpits and teaching ministries in America come an odd mix of  law and grace. And I’ve lost count of the Sunday morning services I’ve attended where the worship time was very much Christ centered and grace based, while the message to follow was full of performance based religion.

If I turn on my water faucet, and out of it comes 60% fresh water, and 40% bitter water, what will the water taste like? What about 70%-30%? Lets say that out of the same faucet comes 90% fresh water and only 10% bitter, how will the water taste? Bitter, indeed. I’m unashamedly a New Covenant believer in Jesus Christ. With that being said, I believe that Christ in the end of the law for righteousness for all who believe; that is, “Christ plus nothing” for all positional and practical righteousness. This was Paul’s doctrine.

We can talk about the need for “sound doctrine” all we want, but the real challenge lies in “definition.” How can one heed the call to teach sound doctrine, or to embrace sound doctrine, when one cannot adequately define what “sound doctrine” is? How do we define “sound doctrine” anyway?

When first thinking about this subject matter as a blog post, I emailed a good friend of mine, Randy Jordan, and popped him this question. I was curious as to what he would have to say since he is an elder in the faith with a strong teaching gift, and firmly grounded in New Covenant reality. With his permission, I share his email response below as it really captures the essence of what sound doctrine is, from a New Covenant interpretive perspective. I trust you will be blessed by his input as he begins with reference to the Word of God:

“….holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.” (Titus 1:9)

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers…” (2 Timothy 4:3)

“If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed.” (1 Timothy 4:6)

“If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness…”  (1 Timothy 6:3)

“But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine:” (Titus 2:1)

“I find it very interesting that the references to sound doctrine all come in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus.  Letters we know he wrote to younger men he mentored/discipled in the faith and set in place to carry on in ministry in building up and giving oversight to local expressions of the Body he had planted.

The Letter to Timothy is particularly known to be short in its stroke.   It opens with Paul calling Timothy his “true child in the faith” and reiterating Timothy’s purpose at Ephesus to “instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines….nor pay attention to myths and genealogies… rather than God’s provision of faith!”  He then says that   the  “goal of our instruction/commandment is love from a pure heart and good conscience and a sincere faith” and then juxtaposes that against those who want to teach the law.     2nd Timothy is an even stronger a kick in the seat of the pants for the younger Timothy to drop his timidity and pick up his mantle as a ministry gift to the church.

Paul also calls Titus His “true child in the faith” and reiterates the purpose for which he left him in Crete … to set in order what remains…and appoint elders.   He then addresses the false teachers of the circumcision and Jewish myths and commandments of men.   Then the sound doctrine he outlines following the reference in chapter 2 verse 1 boils down to character qualities and behaviors that accompany living in a Godly way with one another.

Against this back drop of Paul mentoring his protégé disciples as they shore up churches he planted, it becomes obvious that Paul thought  sound doctrine involved that which was uniquely “Christian” without the mixture of Judaism enforced dependence on law keeping rather than faith that works obedience by the Spirit. Sometimes we think of “sound doctrine” as being that which is steeped in tradition and old ways. It is obvious Paul was embracing a new and different way, based in a Gospel to the Gentiles that he uniquely had revelation of.   As such, what he taught and embraced was new, cutting edge, yet founded in an understanding of the nature, character and purposes of God through the ages.

I find it quite interesting that in all but one of the above referenced scriptures, the word translated for sound is “ hygiaino” from which we get the word hygiene. As such, it is a somewhat medical term meaning to be well and in good health, whole, wholesome.

In that light I would say to be “sound” certainly means to be without any fundamental germ/impurity that spreads disease/sickness/infirmity.   To be “sound” teaching/doctrine, the teaching, then, must be free of that which may infect and rot that which comes by pure faith.  Faith which is not initiated in or by tradition, or by us, but by the now word/revelation (rhema) of God by His Spirit.

One last personal note on the basis of sound doctrine: For me, sound doctrine/teaching is often more a matter of how it stands up in the light of the nature and character of God revealed by the scriptures than any other one thing.  If it flies in the face of what we know of God’s character, either as a direct assault or a simple, and sometime innocent mishandling –misstatement of the word in the light of God’s nature and character, it must be refuted.

For instance I have heard people say,  “Just quote the word…God is a fool for His word and He has to perform it.”  God is no fool, nor is He our servant, or ours to manipulate by recipe. Why would I give myself to, or want to serve a God who is a fool? This is an assault on His character and nature and misrepresents who He is.  I’ve heard so-called prophetic words speak of Gods desire for us in terms of  “God needing us”.  Again, He is all sufficient, omnipotent, omniscient. He is without need. If  He has a need, then He cannot meet my need, but He is the God who is more than enough. These are just a few examples.

Most of the erroneous doctrine that finds its place foundationally in the church gets it start through a teacher who does not truly know/understand the nature and character of God, and then is perpetuated by acceptance and parroting by an ignorant (not stupid) following that rarely considers His nature and character but only their want/desire/lust/need of the moment.   WE MUST KNOW HIM!  Jesus said “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” John 17:3

His disciple John wrote, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” 1st John 5:20

These make it clear that sound doctrine shall remain focused on the preeminence of Jesus in the eternal purposes of God.

Sound doctrine/teaching is that which is focused on leading us to knowing Jesus as the way, the truth, and life and the only exclusive way to come to the Father and know Him. It trains us to walk out His eternal purposes in Christ in obedience to His Spirit within administrating His kingdom/rule by His word written on our heart.”

Wow! What great input on the subject of defining “sound doctrine.” May we test all things that we hear against the foundation of “by grace through faith in the power of the Holy Spirit.”


  1. Reblogged this on Relationship Over Religion.


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