Determining Soundness

By Connie W. Adams

The word “sound” means whole, healthy. Metaphorically it is used of doctrine. The book of Titus is a treatise on sound doctrine. Paul said elders are to use “sound doctrine” to convict gainsayers and to stop the mouths of those who go from house to house “teaching things which they ought not” (Tit. 1:9-11). Titus was charged to “speak things which become sound doctrine” using “sound speech” (Tit. 2:1,7-8). Sound words of rebuke would help to correct false teachers so they might be “sound in the faith” (1:13). Sound doctrine would also help the aged men to be “sound in faith” (2:1-2).

Sound doctrine is also related to moral issues. Paul wrote that lawlessness, disobedience, what was unholy, profane, murderers, whoremongers, homosexuals, liars and perjured persons all are “contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:9-10). To teach other than sound doctrine is to contribute to blaspheming the name and doctrine of the Lord. “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmising, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself ” (1 Tim. 6:3-5).

The Whole Counsel

What churches should expect of preachers and what preachers should deliver in their teaching efforts would be helped greatly by considering what Paul said to the Ephesian elders. He summarized his word among them by saying, “For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). That statement must be understood in light of what he said in verse 20  “I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you.” The truth of God on any subject is the sum total of all he has revealed on that subject. Did Paul mean that he had given a full exposition of every verse of Scripture written up to that point? No, but he taught what was needed for their benefit. Nothing was withheld which they needed simply because it required drastic change in their thinking or manner of life. Gospel preachers now must preach what is needed, where it is needed and when is it needed. The burden of our message must always be “what saith the Scriptures?”

There are times when preaching must be aimed at specific problems which cry for attention. But we cannot afford to forget that while we are beating back the devil on one front, he is already planning to breach the walls at a point least expected. Hence, the need for balance. Sometimes teaching must be preventive. The best defense against error in all forms is a thorough knowledge of the truth.

It is possible for good men to become hobby riders. Certain subjects so occupy their study and teaching (and writing) that they become larger than life and rallying points of soundness to the neglect of other things equally important. It may be that their convictions on their favorite subjects are entirely correct. But we would all do well to reflect on Paul’s summary statement about “the whole counsel of God.”

Supporting Preachers

Paul said the Philippians had “fellowship in the gospel” with him (Phil. 1:5). They sent “once and again” to his necessities (Phil. 4:16). When Paul preached in Corinth, he received “wages” from other congregations to do service there (2 Cor. 11:8-9). It is important to send wages to men who are faithfully teaching “the whole counsel of God.” If they are teaching error, and you support them in it, then you are having “fellowship” in what is unsound. This poses a great problem for elders or brethren who make such decisions in the absence of elders. No eldership nor any other set of men can put together a sufficient list to cover all contingencies unless it is identical to the New Testament, in which case it is unnecessary. Before brethren ever decide to start supporting any brother anywhere, or invite a man for a gospel meeting, they ought to have good reason to believe that he is committed to faithfully preaching and teaching the word of God.

But how can this be determined? In the case of a man who has had considerable experience, his deeds follow him. It is not all that hard to see the pattern of his work from where he has been and the results left behind. In the case of men unknown to brethren who are asked to support them, it may be that good brethren who are known to them may be able to offer information and recommendation. Barnabas vouched for Paul in Acts 9:26-28. Paul recommended Timothy, Titus and a number of other brethren by name as worthy co-workers in the gospel. If brethren do not know a man, or he is young and just beginning, and you are minded to check into his appeal for support, why not invite him to come and talk with you face to face and discuss any area where there might be some concern? Or talk with him by phone, or correspond with him.

While I do not believe that brethren can draw up a list of questions that will cover all the ground the New Testament already covers, I have never objected to answering questions about what I teach on subjects of interest. I have tried to make it clear that I am a student of the word of God and plan to be as long as I live. That means that as time passes and as I grow in my understanding, I reserve the right to change my mind when convinced that I have missed something. That is an allowance which all of us must make for each other. Young, inexperienced men may have pure hearts and be fully resolved to preach and teach only what they can prove from the word of God, before they have had the time to sort out all the questions which will occupy their study over a lifetime. Should it be obvious to elders that a man is not fully committed to the truth, then certainly he should not be supported. Or if it is learned that he has begun to teach error on any subject, then efforts should be made to show him the error. If he will not correct it, then brethren should not have “fellowship” in spreading what is unsound (unhealthy).

Over the years I have gone to preach several times and discussed the work at certain places with a view to moving there and working in the gospel. Always there have been sessions with brethren to know each other’s mind and I have never resented inquiries into what I believe and preach on any Bible subject. There have been times when I have had to say, “I have not really given enough study to that to answer fully on it but am open to study what the Bible says.” There have been times when I have inquired of the brethren where they stood on certain subjects. A clear understanding of each other in advance is necessary to a productive work together.

While it is in order for brethren to understand each other if they are to have a working relationship, great care needs to be exercised not to be eaten up by our zeal for the Lord’s house. There is a great danger when the same set of questions is circulated from church to church and this becomes the absolute standard by which to measure the soundness of men and their suitability for support in the gospel. I do not believe that simply asking questions of men as to what they preach on subjects of interest at the moment is necessarily creedal. Further, the autonomy of local churches must be respected as brethren attempt to fulfill their God-given duties in spreading the gospel and supporting those occupied in that work. But let us all beware of thinking that the sum total of the gospel revolves around marriage, divorce, remarriage, modest apparel, social drinking, and things of like nature. I, for one, have no hesitation in stating precisely what I believe and preach about any one of these issues and a host of other things which could be mentioned. And it appears to me that sound men could do so in words easy to understand.

Sound speech is that which conforms to divine revelation. Sound life is that which is molded and shaped after the image of Christ. We all need to preach the whole counsel of God, keeping back nothing profitable. But let none of us presume that he can draw up a better standard to determine soundness by isolating a few questions, than the word of God itself.

Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 12, p. 3-4
June 16, 1994