A GODLY APPROACH TO
THE FORMULATION OF DOCTRINE
A Study By
Gary Ray Branscome



"The carnal mind is hostility against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." (Romans 8:7)

    The deceitfulness of the human heart is at the root of all false doctrine, and all division in the church (Jeremiah 17:9). Because the carnal mind has no desire to submit to God, men would rather make the Bible say what they want it to say than carefully try to determine the intended meaning. Consequently, the most common approach to the formulation of doctrine consists of little more than making up explanations for some passages while explaining away others. And, those who follow that approach, wind up replacing God's Word with man's word, while passing their own ideas off as the Word of God (Isaiah 14:14).

A SPIRITUAL APPROACH


    In contrast, those who are spiritual will seek the intended meaning of God's Word. And, the Bible tells us that the intended meaning is the plain grammatical meaning of the words, or as Paul put it, "what ye read" (2 Corinthians 1:13). For that reason, we should forget all of the man made explanations and concentrate on what the words actually say. Instead of beginning with passages that are hard to understand, we should begin with passages that are so clear that they need no explanation. Then, instead of trying to tie hard to understand passages together with man made explanations, we should simply collect the information that is plainly stated in Scripture "line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little" (Isaiah 28:10). In short, those who are led by the Spirit of God build their spiritual house on the solid rock of God's Word, not on the shifting sands of human opinion (Matthew 7:24-27).

    The difference between the carnal approach to Bible interpretation and the spiritual approach, can be illustrated very clearly by the way end times prophesy is handled. For example: some of those who take the carnal approach claim that the resurrection of believers described in 1Thessalonians 4:16 will take place years, or even centuries, before the end of the word. However, that doctrine does not come from the Bible, and those who teach it do not seem to care that it is not in the Bible. They are indifferent to the fact that it is simply a man made explanation that is being passed off as the Word of God. In contrast, those who are led by the Holy Spirit accept what 1Thessalonians 4:16 says, without making up any explanations as to when it will take place. The words, "every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day," then tell them that the resurrection of believers spoke of in 1Thessalonians 4:16 will take place on the last day (John 6:40).  In short, they simply collect the facts, " line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little," just like the Bible tells them to (Isaiah 28:10).

PRIVATE INTERPRETATION


    The blindness of the human heart is such that it is hard to explain the proper way to formulate doctrine, for the carnal mind distorts everything that is said. For example: If I say that doctrine should consist of fact, not opinion, those who are carnal will simply start calling their opinions facts. If I say that we should interpret each statement of Scripture in the light of what the Bible says elsewhere, those who are carnal will simply start interpreting passages in the light of their own man made explanations of other passages. Without God's help, they seem unable to distinguish between the actual grammatical meaning of the words, and the ideas that come to their mind as they read those words. That is one reason why we constantly need to ask God for wisdom (James 1:5).

    One characteristic of private interpretation is that it always goes beyond what the words actually say. In other words, the interpreter reads his own private ideas into the text. Sometimes those ideas are called tradition. At other times they are presented as a reasonable explanation, or a new revelation. Sometimes, the idea being read into the text is assumed. At other times, conclusions based on hidden assumptions are presented as the Word of God. However, a private interpretation always changes the meaning of the words, and for that reason is not of God (2Peter 1:20, John 8:44).

    When the words "who were before of old ordained to this condemnation" (Jude 4) are interpreted to mean that God wants some people to go to hell, that interpretation is actually a conclusion, not something that the Bible actually says. Furthermore, we know that that conclusion is a private interpretation, because it contradicts the words "As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live" (Ezekiel 33:11).
    I once corresponded with a man who insisted that if God really wanted to see all men "turn from their wicked way and live," they would do it. However, the Bible says of all who contradict God's Word, "If they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isaiah 8:20).

    When the words, "Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling," are interpreted to mean that we cannot fall, that interpretation is actually a conclusion that is being passed off as the Word of God (Jude 24). Furthermore, we know that interpretation is a private interpretation because it contradicts the words "these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away" (Luke 8:13). While it is a great comfort to know that we are in God's hands, and that we are kept by His grace: if we could not fall, He would not have to keep us from falling.
    Although you may think that this is a little matter, a departure from God's Word is always serious. Since Jude 24 tells us that God is able to keep us from falling, ask yourself this question. Could we fall if He did not keep us from falling? The answer, of course, is yes. For if we could not fall there would be no need for God to keep us from falling. Therefore, the purpose of Jude 24 is to get us to trust in God's grace, and those who deny that we could ever fall are, in effect, saying that we no longer need God's grace. Therefore, those who think that they are actually improving on this verse, by interpreting it to teach that we can never fall, are actually making this verse of none effect (Mark 7:13).

CONCLUSION


    The carnal approach to the formulation of doctrine has created untold confusion, obscured the gospel, given birth to a multitude of cults, and led millions of people into hell. It not only is a constant source of division and strife, but once strife has done its work, those who are convinced that what the Bible says is just a matter of opinion, close their minds to anything it has to say.