By BL Graham.
Because divine truth, which grows out of God’s nature and character, never grows untrue and is really never “old,” it is necessary to teach it again and again as long as it is still part of the current divine arrangement (covenant). Because humans tend to forget or to grow weak in faith, it is necessary for them to hear the truth again and again. Some Christians had had enough time to be teaching others, but they needed to be taught again some elementary things (Heb. 5:11-14). In a context where some willfully (and conveniently) forgot important truth that could have stabilized them, the Lord’s apostle sought to remind the brethren of truth they had earlier learned (2 Peter 3:1-8). How easy it is for lessons of the past to grow dim in our minds and to exercise even less influence over our lives. Sincere minds can be stirred up by reminders of what they need to retain; Peter thus reminded them in both of his epistles of words spoken by the prophets and by the Lord through his apostles. Against the background of some who had willfully forgotten, he also challenged them not to forget (same word in verses 5 and 8, meaning they “wished to forget”).
The principal reason for not forgetting what we have learned is spiritual growth, the divine antidote to error and apostasy (2 Peter 3:17-18). Observe Peter’s exhortation in these verses, where he clearly stated that their knowledge could keep them from such dire results as he identified. The first result is for one to be “carried away with the error of the wicked”; and the second, resulting from the former, is falling from their steadfastness. The error (wandering, straying from the straight path of truth) of the wicked (lawless, unprincipled men) is here pictured as the active influence in leading faithful disciples away from the Master. Such is the inevitable course of all who turn from Christ’s teaching to the wanderings of such false teachers as Peter warned about in chapter two. They then fall from their former position of steadfastness in the service of the Lord, having followed the counsel of those who deny the Master who bought them (1 Peter 2:1). One can fall from God’s grace and be lost; otherwise such warnings as these and those of chapter two are meaningless.
Why Do We Stray Today?
The same forces operate today as Peter identified in his time. Truth still is essential for people to remain free from sin and error. Those charged with teaching and watching for souls must take their work seriously. There is no substitute for truth, and there is no replacement for faithful men who will uphold truth at all times and against all opposition. It is the easy course to pursue popularity or the approval of men; it is the God-approved course to insist on the divine will and divine pronouncements. What difference does it make whether men demand something other than truth, when Christ will judge us in the last day? In too many congregations there is a laxness about teaching truth in unpopular matters. If it causes some to leave or others to reduce their contributions, then the way of least resistance often is busily travelled. We tend to give preference to those weak in faith and cowardly in courage over the Lord of glory. We form our own strategy more along the lines of compromise and tolerance rather than follow the strategy of our Commander-in-Chief. Generations then grow up untaught. The result is straying and spiritual destruction.
Truth Is God’s Remedy
Parents, elders, preachers, and Bible class teachers must develop a strong backbone, one that will not bend to the pressures often exerted by weak brethren or the world. This is no defence of ugliness, hate, spite, or rancour, all of which are sinful and instances of the kind of straying that sometimes leads Christians away from the Lord. Truth must move both the heart and the mouth. On the other hand, it is call for men of courage to arise and demand that truth be lived, heard, believed, and obeyed. Like the prophets of old, we must remain true to God, even and especially when others are manifesting weakness.
When the world would seduce us all by its stress on the secular, we must remain spiritually minded people, counselled by God and guided by truth. When the denominational world of false religion would lure us by its emphasis on peace, harmony, and the irenic spirit, we must dedicate ourselves anew as soldiers of Christ in the fight against sin in all forms. When current popular religious literature would advise that we reduce our emphasis to the bare minimum of doctrine, upon which all “Christians” could agree, we must remember that our loyalty is not to “Christians,” but to Christ. When weak brethren would discourage our speaking the truth too loudly, we must shout it from the housetops in the love that we must show for God, truth, and others. When some would discourage our teaching on unpopular subjects, we must remind the brethren of what the Lord still says.
We might find ourselves alone and lonely in such circumstances, but the Lord will never forsake us (Heb. 13:6). We might find ourselves lacking support, both moral and financial; but the Lord will provide for those who love and serve Him. We might find ourselves in distress over the departure of many, but there will be a remnant in His service. We might even find ourselves being used and abused by people lacking in faith, but we will enjoy the good company of the apostles of Christ (1 Cor. 4:9-13).
When We Fail to Indoctrinate in Truth
While some would refuse to use the word “indoctrinate,” I would defend its use on the basis of Peter’s insistence of reminding brethren of matters of truth. Teaching on such a matter once does not usually finish the job. It is rare for attitudes and behaviour to change so quickly. We must refuse to yield to the popular way or to the whims of untaught men. Spiritually mature people must exert a godly influence by insisting that truthall truth only truth have its place in the lives, teaching, work, and worship of God’s people. While Peter described it as “the present truth” (“truth which is in you” in the ASV), he nevertheless tried to give saints a remembrance of such truth (2 Peter 1:12-13, 15). When some object to studying something that was studied at some time in the past, just remember what Peter wrote about these matters. Remember that each generation needs to learn the truth. One untaught generation departs from the Lord, because truth is not there in the heart to stay the digression. Remember that those already taught sometimes did not learn well or forgot because of few reminders. The world is ever present, competing with truth for a place of prominence in the lives of God’s people. The basic teaching of the New Testament way needs to taught and re-taught. The congregation that goes long without such teaching will stray, and the individual who goes long without it will lead the way into error.
Current practices of members’ “testifying” before the assembly about what the Lord has done for them, calling for more “edifying” services, making the church more “consumer-oriented” and “people-friendly,” tailoring the message of the gospel to “the un-churched,” manifest a lack of teaching and conviction in truth. This writer fears that woeful ignorance and weak faith, its logical offspring, are quickly overtaking truth as major determinants in the faith and practice of people who once found stability and steadfastness in truth. The testimony that is needed is divine testimony, not what some weak, untaught brother calls “my testimony.” The Lord’s appointments for worship and service do edify when hearts are earnestly seeking the Lord in His truth. The unchanging gospel of Christ is yet the need of the church and of the world. Anybody looking for edification, teaching, or practice elsewhere than the New Testament is looking in the wrong place and for the wrong thing. It is usually true that if people look for something, even in the wrong place or from the wrong source, they find it.
There is no reason to excuse teaching the fundamentals of faith in the New Testament. If the Lord taught them, there is prima facie evidence that man needs them and no excuse is needed to teach them. It is a must that we do so. Brother, are you teaching such basics as follow in the list below? This is not a creed or even a complete list, but some items that are woefully neglected in many quarters.
1. The authority of God and Christ in the world and over our lives
2. The verbal inspiration of the Scriptures
3. The direct creation of man by God
4. How the Scriptures authorise (including the silence of the Scriptures)
5. The role of Jesus’ life in preparing him as a sacrifice and preparing for the coming kingdom, realised in his reign announced in Acts 2 at the beginning of the church
6. The one church (all aspects)
7. Purity in the Christian’s heart and life
8. The role of baptism in salvation
9. The two covenants
10. NT teaching on marriage, divorce, and remarriage
11. The coming judgement and two destinies: heaven or hell
Please do not assume that people already understand these matters. Some do, but many do not! Those who do understand need reminding, and those do not need to learn them. Teach old lessons even at the risk of accusations of indoctrinating people. Approach them in new ways, but teach what people need. People can be saved and go to heaven without some of the pabulum that is offered, but they cannot long survive the onslaught of Satan without the milk and solid food of God’s Word. You will help people go to heaven by such teaching. You will be partly responsible for their going to hell if you fail to teach them.
Presented by the Cape Rd Church of Christ