August 11, 2019
Should we care about pure doctrine? Should we pursue it? Well, first, what is pure doctrine. You know what it means to be pure. Your water purifier purifies your water by taking out all the stuff, the chemicals and microbes that you don’t want to consume, out of your water. Silver is purified when all the dross is removed from it. Doctrine means teaching. So, pure doctrine refers to teaching that is true; teaching that doesn’t have any foreign stuff in it; teaching that agrees fully with our Lord Jesus Christ.
We’re concerned about purity when we shop for our food. Everywhere in the grocery store you find ads on boxes promising “No artificial ingredients,” “All natural,” and so forth. So, should we be concerned with the purity of our doctrine? It seems obvious, but most think that devotion to pure doctrine is too extreme. What’s really important is that we all love Jesus. That’s where the true unity is. But when you start focusing too much on doctrine and ask too many questions, like “Who is Jesus?”, and “What did he do?” and “What exactly does he teach?” well, then we start to get divided. People are concerned that when you focus too much on pure doctrine then instead of Jesus being this great source of unity, he becomes a sword that divides households and sets sons against fathers, daughters against mothers, and daughters-in-law against mothers-in-law.
But of course, we should be concerned with pure doctrine! Jesus tells us to. Christ commands us to beware of false prophets, who come in sheep’s clothing. And he tells us we will recognize them by their fruits. Their fruits are their teaching; their doctrine. If a preacher’s doctrine is not pure, Jesus tells you to mark and avoid him. Even in your Small Catechism you are taught that when you pray, “Hallowed be thy name.” you are praying that the word of God be taught in its truth and purity and that we as the children of God also lead holy lives according to it.
Well, is that even possible? I mean, is it possible to have pure doctrine? Or are we setting ourselves up for a pipe dream to obtain the unobtainable? Well, of course it’s possible. Pure doctrine is not something you must obtain through your own great intelligence or hard work. Pure doctrine is a gift from God. God gave us pure doctrine when he gave us his holy Scriptures, which were caused to be written by the Holy Spirit himself, which are profitable for teaching, for reproof, and for training in righteousness. Pure doctrine was given to us as a gift, when the Word of God became flesh, fulfilled all Scriptures by dying and rising again for our salvation, and taught his Church that all Scripture teaches of him. Yes, pure doctrine is possible, because the God by whom all things are possible, who cannot lie and is the source of all truth has given us pure doctrine through the Holy Scriptures.
Yet, you might object, “But lots of churches have the Holy Scriptures, yet they don’t all have the same teaching!” And this here is the source of great doubt, which causes many to say, “There are so many different churches, how can you possibly know which one, if any, teaches the truth? Can we Lutherans possibly make such a claim without being completely arrogant?” Well, yes, we can.
Yes, there are innumerable churches that teach lots of different things. And even if you discount those church bodies that reject that the Bible is without errors, there are still many different churches, that all claim loyalty to the Scriptures. So, how do we know that we have the pure doctrine?
First, you must understand that Scripture not only is the pure doctrine given by God, but it is the purifier of all doctrine. We heard God speak through Jeremiah, “Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” God’s word is like the fire that melts the silver, so that the dross can be removed. God’s word is a hammer. Miners must crush rock to separate the valuable minerals from the waste. This is what God’s word does. When Scripture rules and is the source of all your teaching, your teaching is pure. Yet, when Scripture is ruled over, then your teaching is not pure.
The Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church both claim that the holy Scriptures are part of the tradition which the Church has handed down to us. This means that they deny that the holy Scriptures are the only source of pure doctrine. That is how they are able to deny that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone apart from our works, even though Scripture clearly teaches this in Romans chapters 3 and 4, Ephesians 2, and other places. They give the Church the authority to interpret the Scriptures. Whatever the Church says the Scriptures mean, that is what they mean, even if the Church says the opposite of Scripture. In other words, they do not let the Scriptures act like a fire that removes all dross or a hammer that separates the waste. They place the Church and human traditions above the authority of the holy Scriptures.
Although the protestant churches differ in many ways, they are all the same in one regard: they place human reason above the holy Scriptures. One example of this is the teaching, “The finite cannot contain the infinite.” This is a very simple statement. Finite means limited. A 20 oz bottle is finite. It can only contain 20 oz. If you try to pour 30 oz into it, it will over flow. The finite 20 oz bottle cannot contain an infinite amount of liquid. Human beings are also finite. A human can only be so big and can only be in one place at one time. This is true. So, protestant churches use this argument to prove that Jesus’ body and blood are not present in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus is a human being. True. A human being cannot be in more than one place at a time. Also, true. Therefore, they conclude that Jesus Christ cannot be present at numerous altars with his body and blood while also ruling at the right hand of God the Father.
The problem is that this teaching is nowhere taught in Scripture. It is a logical syllogism, which contradicts the clear teaching of Jesus in holy Scripture. Holy Scripture teaches us that Jesus’ body and blood are given to Christians to eat and drink in the Sacrament. Human reason disputes this clear teaching. But if God’s word is a fire and hammer, then human reason must give way to the pure teaching of Scripture.
You can be confident in what you have been taught in your Small Catechism, because the Small Catechism is not some additional teaching to the pure teaching of Scripture. Rather, the Small Catechism is the pure teaching of Christ, which has been purified by the fire and hammer of Scripture. It teaches what God’s word teaches without the dross of human reason or tradition.
This is why we must always learn our Catechism. It is the job of every one of you to judge what I preach to you. Not to judge it based on your own personal preference or feelings, or thoughts, but to judge my preaching based on the pure word of God, which is clearly laid out for you in your Small Catechism. In order to recognize whether the fruit I dish out to you is good or bad, you must know what good fruit looks like. Your Catechism teaches you what good fruit is.
Now, this is not to say that only those who belong to Lutheran congregations will go to heaven. You are saved by faith in Jesus Christ alone. There are many who belong to churches that do not have entirely pure doctrine, who still trust in Jesus Christ their Savior for forgiveness and salvation. Yet, just because you can be saved while attending a church that teaches falsely, does not mean that it doesn’t matter where you attend church and what teaching you listen to. Jesus warns against false teaching, because it is harmful.
God speaks in Jeremiah concerning the false prophets, “So they do not profit this people at all, declares the LORD.” False teaching does not profit you. It hurts you. The false prophets in Jeremiah’s day told the people that it would be well with them when they stubbornly followed their own hearts. I’m sure that made them feel good for a moment, but it did them no good. God remained displeased with their idolatry and sexual immorality and he punished them for it. The false prophets harmed the people they lied to by not warning them to repent!
Would you go to a doctor, who would only give you a clean bill of health, even if you were sick? Do you want your dentist to lie to you and say you have no cavities while your teeth rot away? Would you be pleased with your lawyer if he told you, you had a winning case, even though he knew you would lose when you got to court? Of course, not! Then why would you want a preacher to lie to you in order to make you feel good?
It is a sin to skip church. That is to despise God’s preaching and word. It is breaking the Third Commandment. But saying that upsets people. So, should we stop saying it? It would still be a sin. It is a sin to have sex outside of marriage. Couples should get married before they move in together. Scripture is abundantly clear on this. But saying that upsets people. So, should we stop saying it? Should we stop preaching the Ten Commandments, because we might offend someone? Many churches do. They have stopped condemning sin as sin, so as not to offend. Are they helping anyone? No. God tells us that refusing to preach the law does not profit anyone. Rather, it hurts sinners worse by not warning them to repent, so that they can receive forgiveness.
Pure doctrine is important, because it gives true comfort. False teaching does not comfort you. Rather, it robs you of comfort. Why is it important that we teach that we are only saved through faith in Jesus Christ alone and not by our own works? Because if we trusted in our works, we would lose the comfort that Christ gives by dying for our sins. Does it matter whether we baptize babies or not? Or is it just a tradition we have? Yes, it does matter. Baptizing babies gives great comfort. It tells us that Baptism is God’s work, not ours. It assures us that God has washed away our sins and the sins of our little children. It assures us that God has given them faith even before they can speak. Denying baptism to babies denies them God’s grace and forgiveness. Yet, baptizing them gives them and their parents confidence in Christ.
Does it matter whether Jesus’ true body and blood are present in the Lord’s Supper or not? Yes, it matters. If Jesus’ body and blood are not present in the Lord’s Supper, then we are just eating a remembrance meal out of obedience. It means the meal does not give us the forgiveness of sins. It means that we must judge Jesus’ teaching against our own reason. It means that Christ is as far away from us as the heavens are from the earth. But, if Jesus’ words are true and we can trust them even against our own eyes and reason, then we have confidence that Jesus is with us with his peace even today.
Although, every one of us should continue to be a student of the Catechism and faithfully hear the word of God taught and preached regularly, you do not need to be a scholar for pure doctrine to benefit you. Pure doctrine benefits the newborn baby when he’s baptized just as it benefits the elderly grandmother in the hospital bed when she hears that Jesus died for her and that her sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. Pure doctrine benefits all who have faith in Christ, because pure doctrine gives Christ, his forgiveness, righteousness, and salvation.
The other week I said that no one has died with greater certainty that he’ll go to heaven than the thief on the cross to whom Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Despite the fact that Jesus was nailed to the cross next to him as a condemned criminal, the man was confident enough to acknowledge that Jesus was the king of heaven and to ask him to remember him. And the pure words of Jesus gave this repentant criminal confidence to die upon his cross.
Now, I don’t know if that man knew anything about Baptism. I doubt he knew that Jesus had just hours earlier fed his disciples his very body and blood under the forms of bread and wine for the first time. Yet, I have no doubt that had he survived the cross, he would have devoted himself to the apostles teaching, the fellowship, and the breaking of bread, and prayers, been baptized and learned all these things. Yet, even with that one sentence the man benefited from Jesus’ pure teaching. And with those words he gained eternal life.
Pure doctrine saves, because Jesus saves. When we speak of pure doctrine, we are not speaking of a science formulated by men. We’re speaking about the words of our Savior, which are the words of eternal life. We want to hear pure doctrine, because we only want to hear Jesus. Jesus teaches us to watch out for false prophets, because he loves us. He is our Good Shepherd, who speaks to us. And we, his sheep, want to hear only his voice, because only he gives us eternal life. Amen.