Victoria Fellowship Church
International & Interdenominational
Bible Study Worksheet – October 23, 2016
Theme: A Call to Christian Commitment – 1 & 2 Timothy
Topic: False Teachers and True Teachers: Give Attention to Doctrine
Main Texts: 1 Timothy 4:1-16
Key Verse: 1 Timothy 4:16: “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (NIV)
Last Sunday in discussing the topic “Fitting Behaviour for Leaders: Faithful in All Things” (based on 1 Timothy 3), we examined what would be a Bible-aligned governance structure and leadership appointment process in a modern Church. We noted how critical it is for Church leaders to be above board, and that having such leadership does not just happen – the Church must be deliberate in this process. Our key learning from that study include:
- The early Church set a model for governance and leadership of a typical Church that identifies a pastoral team and an administrative team. Whichever role a leader finds himself or herself in, the requirement to be Spirit-filled, live responsibly, and have a credible testimony within and outside the Church is the same.
- Churches need to put in place structures and processes that minimise the risk of scandals in the leadership in the areas of family life and materialism. Many of today’s church scandals arise from weak structures and procedures in the appointment into leadership positions and governance.
- All in leadership positions in the Church need to be constantly aware of their ministry as having responsibility to God and the Flock, and to constantly draw strength from the Holy Spirit to live lives consistent with their profession of faith. They must take whatever practical steps the Holy Spirit guides them to take regarding their lifestyle to avoid embarrassing the faith.
This Sunday, we will be considering the topic “False Teachers and True Teachers: Give Attention to Doctrine” , anchored in 1 Timothy 4:1-16. False doctrines and teachers have been around for almost as long as the Church, and Apostle Paul deemed it necessary to alert Timothy to this reality, and give clear guidance on dealing with it. Our learning from this study should include the following:
- False doctrines that threaten our faith or the well-being of the Church rarely originate from outside the Church; they usually originate from the Church, by individuals whom we may have respected as leaders and sometimes, who may have been our mentor.
- The ultimate test of the soundness of a doctrine must be the Bible. “Rightly dividing the word of truth” or “correctly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) means applying the Scriptures in a manner that fits the intent, not manipulating it to suit our pre-conceived notions. Many false doctrines are as a result of people twisting the Bible out of context.
- Our faith and principles for living must be anchored, not in the words of some respected leader – no matter how credible -, but in the Bible. Do not believe that bribery is evil because a Church leader says so; believe it because the Bible says so. Those that teach and preach the Bible must focus their listeners’ attention on the Bible and not on their own words.
In the context of the Christian faith, a false doctrine could take several forms: a doctrine that (a) directly contradicts the Bible, (b) adds to the Bible to make it say what it does not say, (c) creates a rule from what may be a personal revelation to an individual, (d) elevates a hypothesis to the level of truth. We sometimes think that false doctrines are a modern-day development, but they have been around and are almost as old as the Church. Paul, in 2 Timothy 2:16-18 mentioned two Church members – Hymenaeus and Philetus, who seemed to be so influential that they successfully deceived some Christians into believing that the resurrection had already happened! Many are familiar with the concept of Purgatory – a supposed intermediate place of moderate suffering between heaven and hell, and of indulgences that could be procured for remission of sins committed and yet to be committed! More recently, there was the Jim Jones who started out as an evangelical pastor but later led some 800 followers to their suicide in Guyana in 1978. There will continue to be false doctrines in the Church until Jesus comes.
1. (a) What are the key tests of whether a doctrine is true or false? (b) Why do some Christians embrace what seem to us as obviously false doctrines?
The false doctrines to which Christians fall victim are very rarely promoted by those seen as unbelievers. Often, they are initiated and promoted by known and respected Christians with strong persuasiveness. Jim Jones was rightly indignant at the racial discrimination he witnessed in a typical white-dominated American Church, and began door-to-door evangelism mostly among the blacks. The converts became the pioneer members of the Church he founded which he eventually led to their mass suicide. Some false doctrines have their roots in a conveniently warped interpretation of Scripture – like the Roman church hinged the doctrine of purgatory on 1 Peter 3:19; 4:6, giving a false sense of comfort that there is still a chance to repent and be saved after death. Doctrines have been created out of incidents and allegories from Scripture such as 1 Peter 3:3 being a basis for forbidding women from hair braiding and wearing earrings.
2. Discuss the practical application of Paul’s words “… rightly dividing the word of truth …” (KJV) or “… correctly handles the word of truth …” (NIV) in 2 Timothy 2:15.
Many victims of false doctrines fall victims as a natural consequence of holding a leader in such awe that his words have become the de-facto “bible” by which the follower lives. One of the greatest dangers in modern churches is the prominence given to the words of their leaders at the expense of the Bible. Many believe that bribery is wrong, not because the Bible says so but because their Church leader says so. But we note that the Berean believers were said to be “more noble” than the Thessalonians because “… they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Act 17:11 NIV)
3. What can (a) Church leaders and (b) Church lay members do to avoid having faiths that are anchored in a leadership rather than the Bible?
Prayer: Father, teach us to study Your word under the guidance of Your Spirit, and to give Your word the supreme place over and above those of any Church leader, in Jesus’ name. Amen.