If you’re a believer, take some time to learn from the apostles.
Down south we call every cold drink a “coke.” If you’re about to stop at a convenience store, you casually ask your friend, “Wanna get a coke?” That friend might end up getting a Nehi Peach, or RC Cola, or 7UP. It really doesn’t matter what it says on the can. Whatever they bought was a “coke.”
Now it’s a lamentable habit when we call any Christian pursuit, or impulse, or interest, or experience, “faith,” even when said “faith” comes packaged in questionable teachings. What we refer to as “faith” may have a very different label on the can.
This was Paul’s concern when he wrote Timothy,
“…I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. (1 Tim. 1:3-4).
Because of their restless intellect, the spurious teachers Paul warned against refused to abide within the boundaries of apostolic truth. They apparently promoted a works-based, sight-based approach to the Christian life. According to the context of 1 Timothy chapter one, their teachings served purposes other than New Testament salvation—probably for material blessings and self-improvement. They more than likely stressed the abilities of the flesh unto religious living—mere behavior—rather than the Holy Spirit’s power unto sanctification. By placing the focus on the individual, they diminished the focus on the redemption of Christ. Hence, Paul’s concern.
Teachers today make these same mistakes, assuming that a mention of Jesus or of faith legitimizes whatever is being taught. Quickie sermon clips go viral because, well…they’re basically a spiritual virus. They communicate attitudes that actually stunt spiritual health.
Meanwhile, real biblical teachings like those of Paul tend to fly like a brick. They’ve been branded as too deep and theological, because, well…they’re actually deep and theological. If regularly received and fed upon, they would instruct us, get us on board with God’s plan, make us immune to foolishness, and make our prayers spiritually intelligent.
Additionally, according to verse 4, some faux teachers had been sucked into myths—colorful tales and fudged reports meant to amaze the hearts of simple believers. These stories always make popular press. They involve visions, fantastic coincidences, angelic visitations, omens of the end of the age, signs, voices, etc., but ultimately they do nothing to strengthen faith in Christ unto a robust daily walk with Him.
These accounts, even if real, draw attention away from Christ to themselves, inviting an endless flow of speculation. The biblical narrative of God’s miraculous works have always functioned to demonstrate His holy nature and salvation, and where Christ is concerned, a spirit of selfless service and compassion. However, the false myths condemned here existed for little more than religious campfire tales.
They are much like the pointless dramatics of staged Christianity today, which neither build anyone up, nor exercises a power that affects the development of Christ-like character. It’s especially troubling when believers trapped in this dynamic become enamored with odd religious experiences at their churches. They’re giddy over what the Holy Spirit did at last week’s services, while being wholly unaware of the toxic personality defects they abide in. Such distracted folks are oblivious to the need of bearing the cross, of sanctification, or transformation, or anything that affects the character.
Teachings define reality for us. They tell us what is, what has been, what can be, what will be. They are the nuts and bolts, so-to-speak, of the faith system. If they aren’t right, your faith will be better at cooking cheese omelets than quantifying the things of God. Yes, you will get a lot of sizzle and sound from wrong teachings, but nothing that looks like the faith God wishes to distribute.
All of this should come as a warning to garden variety evangelicals, because we have a habit of disparaging doctrine, or at the very least being suspicious of it. Doctrine isn’t the equivalent of spiritual death, dryness, heaviness, legality, religion, or any other insulting descriptions. Yes, it becomes that way in the hands of some (I hope to speak about this within the next few posts), but that certainly doesn’t provide grounds for summary dismissal of good teaching.
There is a huge difference between faith based on a Christ who was human, but not divine, and One who is both fully human and fully divine. There is an immense chasm in a faith that trusts the substitutionary atonement of Christ, and one that trusts in personal perfection. The outcomes are like night and day.
If you want to seriously participate in God’s stewardship which is by faith, start off by getting our teaching as right as you can. Be a theologian, even if it isn’t with a capital “T.”