TAMMAS IS A FIGURE WE HAVE ALL MET. ‘A great theologian was Tammas’, writes F. W. Boreham. ‘As soon as I announced my text, he took a large notebook from his breast pocket and a stubby blue pencil from his waistcoat.’ Boreham checked the activities of the blue pencil by threatening to read his sermon in order to ensure the exactness of utterance which Tammas demanded.
Sitting next to Tammas may be Jamie. He has no critical blue pencil, but a notable habit of closing his Bible and perusing his hymnbook when the preacher expounds doctrine. Start to drive some practical application home, and he is with you immediately. These two men represent opposite extremes. They are both unbalanced and their attitudes are dangerous. Each can do a great deal of damage to church life.
In these days when Scripture doctrine is assailed from many sides, it is especially necessary to maintain the truth. Skilful campaigns are being waged against the deity of Christ, the necessity of the blood of Christ for redemption, the eternity of the punishment of the unsaved, and a number of other Bible truths. Experience shows, too, that agnosticism regarding a doctrine is the first step in denying it. The brother who says of a certain truth, ‘Well, I used to believe that. I'm not sure now. I’ve been reading So-and-so, and he puts a different light on it. I don’t think anybody can be sure on such points’ is probably a good half way to heresy. This type of agnosticism is increasing among believers with the increase of higher education. It is the fashionable cant of the intellectual world, the idea being that truth is unattainable anyway, and that orthodoxy is the badge of a low intelligence. But this position cannot be squared with Christianity. For Christian teaching is a dogmatic assertion of truth received by divine revelation. It is ‘the faith once delivered to the saints’. It was expressed by the apostles, ‘not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth’. To be a straw Christian - ‘carried about with every wind of doctrine’ – may be a mark of intellectual sophistication, but it is not a mark of spiritual maturity.
The man who is impatient of doctrine and will listen only to exhortation is acting unreasonably. Right doctrine is the basis of right action. Doctrine provides the divine reasons for or against a line of conduct.
Some believers are interested in doctrines which they believe essential to salvation, but are careless regarding the doctrine of believer’s baptism, or doctrines relating to the Church. Who gave them authority to pick and choose? The duty of presenting all the teaching of Christ is clear from His parting instructions: ‘Go ye therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you’.
At the opposite extreme are those whose sole preoccupation is with doctrine. This, too, can be a snare, for the devil is cun¬ning. In the hands of such persons even the beautiful poem of love in i Corinthians 13 becomes a doctrinaire statement, a dry as dust analysis of a theological concept. They are keenly interested in the Bible, but their interest is intellectual and not spiritual. If they speak in public they do not get down to the application of truth but leave that to the imagination of their hearers; whereas in Scripture the application is always given in plain, practical words. The great doctrines of the Church’s destiny are followed in Ephesians by such challenging commands as ‘Let him that stole steal no more’.
The doctrinaire Christian usually relegates the epistle of James to a very inferior place – a fact not without significance, for James’ thesis is ‘be ye doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves’.
When Jude wrote ‘earnestly contend for the faith’ he was pointing to a moral as well as a doctrinal conflict. For the opponents he had in view not only ‘denied the only Lord God’ but turned ‘the grace of God into lasciviousness’.
To contend for anything else but the faith is unchristian. Yet some persons with a doctrinaire outlook do not in fact contend for the faith, but for their own peculiar interpretations. Such controversialists may insist on a line of things in the local assembly which cannot be supported by one clear verse of Scripture. The ‘proofs’ they put forward are commonly based on some minor detail in a parable, or on an Old Testament story or principle, the application of which to the assembly cannot be demonstrated by plain New Testament teaching. Where such persons become dominant the assembly often loses contact with the unsaved and ceases to feed hungry believers. The fleshly energy behind their activity is revealed by the fact that they drag in their pet theory whatever Scripture is under discussion. This is not the manner of the Spirit of God, who presents truth in its due proportions.
The balanced believer, seeking to avoid cither of these extremes, will store his mind with wholesome teaching. He will welcome exposition of the truth, even where he cannot see its particular application to his immediate circumstances. But he will also value exhortation, and will not close his eyes to the practical claims which the Word of God makes upon him. A man may learn many things and yet go on with an unworthy way of life. ‘But ye have not so learned Christ.’ In His blessed person, truth is shown in its pure and practical outworking. You cannot go on with evil ‘if so be that ye have heard him, and been taught by him as the truth is in Jesus’.
What a pleasure if next Sunday we should see Tammas and Jamie united in a balanced appreciation of the whole counsel of God! Then Jamie’s hymnbook would outlast his Bible, and, who knows? perhaps on Monday morning the caretaker would find a stubby blue pencil amongst the sweepings!