The Lord blessed the work of a Bible instructor with seventy precious souls in the first baptism of a series of evangelistic meetings. One day in her enthusiasm for the Lord she expressed her amazement in observing the transformation taking place in the life of so many people. "The more I teach the gospel to people the more I marvel at the transforming power of our message," she exclaimed.
She knew that she was indeed teaching the gospel; going from home to home helping people to understand the doctrines of the Adventist church. Her memory could not separate the many first-hand experiences with 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 degree in theology. He became the pastor of the new church. As she continued to work, he came to regard her approach with apprehension, eventually deciding that it was a severe detriment to her ministry. He decided to provide new insight to the faithful Bible instructor that she might understand some fresh theological concept that he had just learned from his college courses.
"You're not teaching gospel but Adventist doctrine," he began, "and you're using one of the worst Bible-study methods the 'proof-text'method." He told her he would have more time to talk about this since he would be remaining there as the coordinator of the follow-up activities for this campaign.
Today, we increasingly face this trend among our congregations. Elders, pastors, administrators, and theologians are speaking of the gospel as opposed to doctrine. Often we hear statements like, "If we are preaching doctrines we are not preaching the gospel." Ideas such as this have even been repeated in our pulpits, in our publications, and in our schools, thus bringing confusion to many faithful members, while discrediting the loyal work done by our evangelists and Bible instructors.
Insecurity plagues the person who is not sure of the doctrines of the church; one who is not sure that what his church teaches is true, or not sure of his own familiarity with it. The latter has produced fearful witnesses and the former a multitude of apostates.
If it is true that some of our members and preachers have a misconception 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 we intend. Nevertheless, doctrines are part of the solid message of the Bible and must be given to our congregation through preaching the Word of God. This was Paul's conviction when he said, "Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity" (Heb. 6:1, RSV).
It is the responsibility of every elder to help the members to know the biblical basis for what they believe, and to move from elementary teachings to a deeper understanding of the truth.
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 know what is truth." Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, p. 119, pr. 1.
Doctrine is the verbal revelation of God's character in its essence and action, and as such may never be properly discussed without reference to its divine center Jesus. Unfortunately, a dichotomy has developed in the interpretation of this principle, leading to the twin evils of antinomy and oracular sterility.
A sermon or presentation may be eloquent, interesting, and correct acording to the Scriptures. But if it fails to make Christ the center, it is not in the proper form. If the doctrines are presented merely as the teachings of the church, there is no impelling incentive for decision for Christ. However advantageous it may be to know that one is "right," it is even more important that this include a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. "The truth as it is in Jesus will subdue the most powerful opponents, bringing them into captivity to Jesus Christ." Ellen G. White, in General Conference Bulletin, Feb. 25, 1895.
Traditionalist religion in Christ's day made its boast in the oracles of God. The insensitive Pharisee was the result. Being "in the truth" avails little if one is "out of Christ." "Of truth," the Master said, "they are they which testify of me." There are no powerless pulpits where Christ is rightly preached. "I ... will draw," said Jesus, and He did and does.