Doctrinal Fads And Fancies
Mr. William MacDonald has travelled worldwide ministering the Word of God and is the author of dozens of booklets, Bible correspondence courses and books. He directs a Discipleship Intern Training Program at San Leandro, California.
The ease with which many evangelical Christians latch on to doctrinal novelties and absurdities is appalling. There seems to be an alarming failure to test teachings by the Word of God, to prove all things and hold fast that which is good.
If a book becomes a best-seller, that is taken as proof of its reliability. As they read it, people come across some new teaching and say, “Isn’t that wonderful! I never saw that in the Bible before.” It is possible that the reason they never saw it in the Bible before is because it isn’t there.
Let me list some of the questionable teachings that I have come across recently and test them to see if they are really Scriptural.
A spate of books and articles has appeared on the general theme of loving oneself. The contention is that you’ll never be able to love others until first you have learned to love yourself.
Proponents of this teaching quote Matthew 19:19 as a proof-text, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” They say that we are commanded to love ourselves. But that is not what the verse says. It tells us to love our neighbor, for we already do love ourselves. The first half of the verse is a command; the second half is fact.
It seems strange to actively promote self-love when that is condemned as one of the signs of the last days: “… men shall be lovers of their own selves” (2 Tim. 3:2).
If you read the books on self-love carefully, you suspect that what is really meant is self-acceptance. But if that is what the authors mean, why don’t they say it? To use loving self as a synonym for self-acceptance only confuses people and sends them off on doctrinal tangents that harm rather than help.
No Confession for the Christian
At least two current best-selling authors espouse the view that the Christian never confesses his sins; he just thanks God that he has been forgiven. They fail to distinguish between judicial forgiveness and parental forgiveness. When we first believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, we receive judicial forgiveness of all our sins. That means that the penalty has been paid by Christ and that the Judge, God, has forgiven them. We can thank God that we have been forgiven once for all as far as the penalty is concerned.
But when we sin in our daily lives, we need parental forgiveness, the forgiveness that restores us to fellowship with our Father. We do not receive this forgiveness until we have confessed and forsaken the sin. The teaching of “no confession” is in flat contradiction to 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
“Aught … Any”
Writing under the caption “Aught…Any,” a prominent writer creates the distinct impression that we should forgive any sin that is committed against us by anyone. Does this mean that when a man runs off with another woman, his wife should phone them both and tell them she forgives them?
I think this teaching about forgiveness needs qualifying. As soon as someone has wronged me, I should forgive him in my heart. That leaves the matter between him and the Lord. But I do not administer forgiveness, that is, I do not tell him he has been forgiven until he repents (see Luke 17:3, “if he repent, forgive him”). To forgive a man before he repents would only encourage him in his wickedness.
“If it be Thy will …”
A popular book on prayer teaches that it betrays a lack of faith in our prayers when we say, “… if it be Thy will.” This seems to rule out any approach to God in prayer if we cannot do so in utter confidence of His will.
But what about the Lord Jesus when He prayed, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt. 26:39)? What about the Apostle Paul when he wrote, “… I trust to tarry a while with you, if the Lord permit” (1 Cor. 16:7)? Or what about James’ words, “…ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (James 4:15)?
To eliminate the words “if it be Thy will” from our prayers puts us in the place of omniscient claimants rather than finite supplicants.
Praise God for Everything
A book with phenomenal sales directs Christians to praise God for everything, probably based on 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “In everything give thanks.” The author quotes himself as advising a woman whose husband was an alcoholic, “ I don’t care whether you stay with him or not … I just want you to thank God that your husband is like he is.” On another occasion, he said to a soldier whose wife was coming unglued, “I told Sue the solution to her problem and now I’ll tell you. I want you to kneel down and thank God that you’re going to Vietnam and that Sue is so upset that she is threatening to kill herself.”
There is a big difference between giving thanks in everything and giving thanks for everything. We are not expected to be thankful for any outbreak of sin, and yet in all the circumstances of life we can be thankful to God for Who He is and for what He has done for us.
“Submitting yourselves one to another …”
A final doctrinal misunderstanding is based on Ephesians 5:21: “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” This is used to teach the mutual submission of husbands and wives, an emphasis that is dear to the heart of Christian feminists. But is that what the verse means? Does it mean that husband and wife go round in circles of servile indecision with no one having the final word?
It seems to me that the following verses define the relationships in which submission is to be shown. Wives are to submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:22). Children are to obey their parents (Eph. 6:1). Servants are to be obedient to their masters (Eph. 6:5).
Total submission of everyone to everyone else would result in a stalemate of inaction.
And so it goes. The books roll off the press, each one carrying its own new doctrinal fad. Many readers are carried about with these novel winds of doctrine, and the theological miasma deepens. The only hope is in getting back to a balanced view of the Scriptures.