The Lord had blessed her work as a Bible instructor with 70 precious souls in the first baptism of that series of evangelistic meetings. One day in her enthusiasm for the Lord she expressed her amazement in observing the transformation that was taking place in the life of so many people. "The more I teach the gospel to people the more I marvel of the transforming power of our message," she exclaimed.
For her the words of Paul "the gospel is the power of God unto salvation" was a vivid reality. She understood that she was indeed teaching the gospel, going from home to home as she helped people to understand the doctrines of the Adventist church. She understood the gospel as the doctrines of the Adventist church. She could not distinguish them because she had experienced first hand the many lives that had been transformed by the power of the Message.
Accompanying her was a young intern who had just graduated from college with a theology degree. He became the pastor of the new church and as the work continued, he came to understand this approach with apprehension. At last deciding that it was a severe detriment to her ministry, he decided to provide new insight to the faithful Bible instructor so that she might understand some fresh theological concepts that he just learned from his updated teachers in college.
"You are not teaching gospel but Adventist doctrines," he began, "and you are using one of the worst methods of studying the Bible-the 'proof-textmethod'." He told her that he would have more time to talk about this since he would be remaining there as the coordinator of the followup activities for this campaign.
GOSPEL AS OPPOSED TO DOCTRINES
Today we increasingly face this trend in Christianity. Preachers, administrators, and theologians are speaking of the gospel as opposed to doctrine. Often this concept is expressed in sentences like the following: "If we are preaching doctrines we are not preaching the gospel"; "The important emphasis should be placed on gospel and not doctrines"; "To bring about a spiritual revival to our congregations we need to preach gospel and not doctrines." It is the conviction of some people today that doctrine is more related to the intellect and gospel to experience.
Dr. John R. W. Stott in his book Your Mind Matters illustrates this point mentioning a leader of the neo-Pentecostal movement that said to him that what matters was not the doctrine, but the experience. This concept has influenced the very structure of the neoPentecostal churches affecting mainly its worship style. Stott concludes that this is equivalent to putting our subjective experience above God's revealed truth. 1
This idea that gospel and doctrine are different things has been repeated in pulpits, publications, and in schools, bringing confusion in the minds of many faithful preachers, students, and members, while discrediting the loyal work done by evangelists and Bible instructors through the years. I would like to suggest that such a concept in some way demonstrates a lack of understanding of the true meaning and purpose of the doctrines. It is not fair to the message of the Bible itself, to the great gospel commission given by Jesus to His church, and the excellent work done by pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and lay people around the world. It is a distortion of the true meaning of the word doctrine and the theological content of the gospel. And I believe that it more truly reflects the prevalent concept so widely spread among Christians today, that of justifying the accommodation of the church with the world.
If it is true that some preachers and members have given, in some instances, a wrong impression of the true meaning of certain doctrines, it is also true, that due to the lack of the correct and consistent presentation of doctrines, some of our preaching does not provide the quality of spiritual nurture to our congregations. Doctrines are part of the solid message of the Bible that must be given to our congregations through the preaching process of God's Word.
E. G. White counsels: "We do not go deep enough in our search. Every soul who believes present truth will be brought where he will be required to give a reason of the hope that is in him. The people of God will be called upon to stand before kings, princes, rulers, and great men of the earth, and they must know that they do know what is truth."2
"ALL THAT I HAVE COMMANDED"
In Matthew 28:20Jesus instructed the church that it was her responsibility to teach the new disciples to observe all that He had commanded. The word "teaching" is a translation of the Greek word didaskalos and is related to the verb didasko that means teach, instruct. 3 This word refers to the specific responsibility that Jesus entrusted to His Church. That responsibility is to pass on to the new disciples of the future Christian church His teachings. The Holy Spirit, when He inspired Paul to suggest the several spiritual gifts, did not forget to include the gift of teaching "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ" (Eph. 4:12 RSV).
Some natural questions that one might pose could be: What did Jesus teach when he was on earth? What was the content of His teaching that we were to carry on to the believers? Was it the gospel or not? What is the gospel? Conzelmann answers in this way: "In brief, the answer is God, His kingdom and His will. ..." (on the whole subject, see H. Conzelmann, An Outline Theology of the New Testament, 1969, 115-27). 4
"TEACHERS TO SUIT THEIR OWN LIKINGS"
The church that fails in teaching "all things" that Jesus commanded is not fulfilling the evangelical mandate that Jesus gave to His Church. It is easier to be selective in what we preach to our congregations in order to make our pastoral road smooth and uncomplicated.
Many are avoiding to preach some of the basic ethical teachings of Jesus because of the potential confrontation they may face from some members of their congregations. To please their listeners and to be loved by their congregations they preach only a partial message which arbitrarily can be called gospel, but is neither the full gospel nor the eternal gospel (Rev 14:6) as proclaimed by Jesus Himself. In some churches the preaching has been limited to subjects socially attractive such as forgiveness, love, acceptance and some subjects that improperly are called righteousness by faith.
My dear Elders, if we want to be faithful to the gospel we have to go beyond that. We would do well to review the admonition of Paul, the prince of the gospel's proclamation: "I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching (doctrine), but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings" (2 Tim 4:1-3 RSV).
WHAT IS BIBLICAL DOCTRINE?
The word "doctrine" comes from the Latin language, "doctrine". Its basic meaning is: "teaching, instruction; something that is taught." In the Greek, the original language of the New Testament, doctrine is didake (used 30 times) and didaskalia (used 21 times). The one that teaches is didaskalos (used 59 times).
In the Old Testament the word used is torah, that is, a set of revealed teachings. The importance of it is underlined by the repetition of the word (216 times). In Old Testament times God called Himself Didaskou (Psa. 94:10), the Teacher. In the Septuagint, the pre-Christian version of the Jewish Scriptures, this word doctrine was used to refer to the concrete manifestation of God's will: (1) God's will in general (Psa. 143:10); (2) God's exhortations (Deut. 4:1); (3) God's words (Deut. 4:10). In the scriptures of the Old Testament, in many instances, the word law refers to doctrine and in the New Testament the word faith was applied by the apostles in making reference to doctrines as well (Jude 3, 20; Gal. 1:23; Eph. 4:5; Phil. 1:27; Gal. 1:23; 1 Tim. 3:9, 13; Titus 2:2; 3:15; etc. . . .).5
In the Bible every teaching related to the revealed will of God, through the prophets, apostles, and Jesus Himself, is doctrine. From this perspective if we say that we have to preach the gospel and not the doctrine we are making a mistake that compromises our role as preachers of the Word in its fullness.
Likewise, in merely using the name of Jesus and in making some emotional description of His sacrifice is not preaching the gospel. Jesus Himself gave a warning against this inconsistent type of preaching saying, "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord' and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like" (Luke 6:46- 47 RSV).
CHRIST THE CENTER OF ATTRACTION IN EVERY DOCTRINE
It seems that some people today are afraid of the doctrines because they believe that if they study doctrines they are losing Christ. It is true that some preachers have lost already the ability of making Christ the central focus of the doctrines. But this has nothing to do with the nature of the doctrines itself, but with the spiritual vision of the preacher.
In the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament doctrines are beams of light coming from the "Sun of righteousness" (Mal. 4:2). Doctrines are means that God uses to convey certain aspects of the truth about Himself to His people. If the doctrines are disconnected from Jesus, the living Source of truth, surely they will have no transforming power. They are dead in themselves. In that case we should not discard or blame the doctrines but the preacher.
John W. Fowler says: "The purpose of all preachingdoctrinal, prophetic, moral, and ethical is to lead to Christ. The Sabbath, man's condition in death, health reform, dress standards, the law of God, the mark of the beast, the sanctuary, the second coming all must find their relevance in Him."6 And E. G. White beautifully supports this concept: "Increased light will shine upon all the grand truth of prophecy, and they will be seen in freshness and brilliancy, because the bright beams of the Sun of Righteousness will illuminate the whole." 7
In presenting doctrines we will not undermine necessarily the power of the person of Jesus as revealed in the Bible. David never undermined the merciful character of God in exalting the law. On the contrary, he exalted it.
Jesus must be lifted up in every message delivered in the pulpit as E. G. White says concerning the third angel's message and the doctrine of the Sabbath: "The third angel's message calls for the presentation of the Sabbath of the fourth commandment, and this truth must be brought to the world; but the great Center of attraction, Jesus Christ, must not be left out of the third angel's message . . . ."8 The great Central Focus of any biblical doctrine is Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.
All the doctrines of the Bible are the gospel in its fullness when properly understood and preached. It is our responsibility as spiritual leaders within our congregation to avoid this compromising dichotomy and be sure that sound biblical doctrines in their right perspective are being taught to our people. That is why Paul wrote to Timothy, "Take heed to yourself and to your teaching (doctrine)" (1 Tim 4:16).
William Carey Taylor says: "If the doctrine or the evangelical faith is undermined and destroyed, there will be no room for evangelism anymore. Some are discarding doctrines under the pretext of evangelizing. This generalized idea had its origin in the ecumenical presuppositions. But evangelism without doctrines is like leading people to apostasy."9
We cannot speak of the gospel as opposed to doctrines. Every teaching of the Bible, when properly understood, is gospel because it leads us to understand better the plan of salvation and the love Jesus Christ our precious Savior. And that is good news.
1 Stott, John R.W. Crer E Tambem Pensar (ABU Editora S.C.- Sao Paulo, 1991) p. 9.
2 White, E. G. Testimonies to Minister and Gospel Workers (Pacific Press Publishing Association, Boise, ID, 1962) p. 119.
3 Dictionary of the New Testament Theology, Vol. 3 (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1971) p. 762.
4 Ibid., p. 762.
5 Reis, Anibal P. 0 Crente Pode Perder a Salvacao (Edicoes "Caminho de Damasco", Sao Paulo, Brazil, 1987) p. 19.
6 Fowler, John W. Preaching "Present Truth", Berrien Springs, MI, Adventist Affirm Journal, 1988) Vol. 2, n. 2, p. 33.
7 White, E.G. Evangelism (Review and Herald Publishing Association, Washington D.C., 1970) p. 198.
8 Ibid., p. 184.
9 Reis, Anibal P. 0 Crente Pode Perder a Salvacao, p. 18.
Joel Sarli, D. Min., is Associate Secretary of the Ministerial Association and the editor of Elder's Digest.