In the last post, I believe I presented a cogent argument for the establishment of sound doctrine as a fundamental reality of Christian faith as well as a necessity to leading to an understanding of true faith. Though I built my case from the Scriptures, it is a sad reality that oftentimes the understanding of sound doctrine is not based on the Scriptures but often upon something else, resorting to some "other" source.
The Wesleyan Quadrilateral, though it has a tattered history, is a useful tool for seeing these other sources. Though I do not think that Wesley considered the four sources of authority equal, the immediate implication of a quadrilateral, it still has merit, if only pedagogical. From where should Christians develop their understanding of sound doctrine? Wesley's sources, in order of "usefulness," were Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience. I am not proposing that we frame our beliefs according to this model; the model is only useful as a grid, because most folks' frame of understanding doctrine is borne of what Wesley is credited with systematizing. Rather, I am proposing that we frame our beliefs within the parameters of Scripture. It is a sufficient source for faith and practice and therefore we can draw the necessary conclusions regarding sound doctrine from it. What we should not do is formulate a position and then look for a Scripture to defend it.
So, sound doctrine does not arise from experience. Experience is subjective. Your experience is always going to be different from mine, therefore making it a less than trustworthy companion for developing sound doctrine. It is perfectly acceptable for sound doctrine to bear on practice, but never the other way around. A hearty example is the Purpose Driven phenomenon, which according to this article, is splitting and dividing churches. How often do churches look at a particular phenomenon that brought significant results and then attempt to implement the same methods, not even certain that those methods are biblical? Pragmatism is the death knell of many churches that elevate experience over that of God's Word. To what advantage are these pragmatic positions adopted and treated as doctrinal positions and then become bones of contention among the Body of Christ? Unfortunately there has always been a tendency to model successful practices after the successes of others, and though experience is necessary for us all, it is not the appropriate source for establishing sound doctrine.
Sound doctrine is not based on reason. Reason is flighty; it can make sense one moment yet seem so foolish after quiet introspection. In this age where information is exchanged in a matter of seconds and ideas live and die within a few months, it seems reasonable to go outside of the parameters of Scripture to determine what is best to answer a particular spiritual "fad." However, this notion is veiled postmodern irrelevance, that there are no absolute truths, and we must adapt to the changing landscape to see results. The Apostle Paul wrote, "the foolishness of God is wiser than men" (1 Corinthians 1:25). Reason can be the friend of faith, in that it can help to get compass bearings and wade through the mire of the muddy thinking. Reason can assist in challenging the role of tradition, evaluating the claims of others, and formulating what actually is sound doctrine. But in no way is reason to be elevated above the Scriptures.
Moreover, sound doctrine is not based on traditions. Many churches follow traditions to their own peril. Like doctrine based in pragmatic experience, so it can also be adopted from time-honored traditional practices. However, a century-old mistake is still a mistake, and as such should be rejected. Jesus had scathing denunciation for the elevation of tradition above the Word of God, and the Pharisees were the likely culprits (Mark 7:1-23). They had jumped on the disciples about eating with hands that were ritually unwashed; they tenaciously held to this "doctrine" handed down to them from their elders, and this leads to a necessary question to the church and the Body; do you hold the traditions of men over the heads of your brothers and sisters in Christ? Are they needlessly washing their hands just to meet your approval, thus unwittingly spurning the Word of God? Tradition can be an evil taskmaster.
Finally, and though this is not part of the quadrilateral, I offer it as an additional source that some Christians appeal to. Sound doctrine does not arise from extra-biblical revelation. Without a lengthy defense, there is no new doctrine or additional revelation other than what is contained in the canon of the Holy Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation. Often Christians will accept what a highly visible Christian personality says and then treat that, just because this talking head said it, as sound doctrine. Recently I posted on Dr. John Hagee's views on Islamofascism. So many good Christians accept this man's radical views of Islam as normative and then form their own doctrine based on what he said, rather than acting the Berean and evaluating his comments in light of Scripture. It is unfortunate that so many men like him abuse their position of leadership in the church-at-large to propagate their views as opposed to what God says on a particular matter, thereby misleading many. Yet it is also tragic that so many Christians accept these teachings at face value, and assuming that since Dr. So-and-So said it, then it must be true.
So what is the source for sound doctrine? The standard and norm is of course the Word of God. One who builds their doctrine beginning and arising out of the Word of God is then orthodox in their doctrine; the use of any other source to supplement, augment, or dilute in any way the message of the Scriptures is to push them beyond their original bounds and imposes either too great a limitation on them or too broad a scope.
Consider the words of Jesus in John 7:16-18: My doctrine is not mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true; and no unrighteousness is in Him.
It is one thing to give the assent of our minds to true doctrines yet quite another to give the consent of our wills to Him who is the Truth. It is an unhappy fact that many poor souls make a great boast of their Christian orthodoxy, idolizing their formulas. Such people accept truth about God, passionately adhere to it, but they do not commit themselves to God Himself. It is much easier and less costly to commit oneself to ideas about God than to commit to Him.
Stay tuned, this will be the subject of the next post.