Featured Question

What is doctrine? Is doctrine absolute truth? Thank you.

Doctrine is defined as “something that is taught.” In the context of the Bible, doctrine is what the Bible teaches about any number of subjects. Whatever the Bible’s teaching may be, it is true; it is always true.

When it comes to what people teach from the Bible, there is true or sound doctrine, and there is false doctrine. That explains why we see in the Bible God giving instructions like these to those who minister on his behalf: “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16). “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3). “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (Titus 1:9). “You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1).

Recent Questions

Is a "clique" within a congregation a problem? If we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, doesn't this destroy the fellowship we should share in a congregation? Should this person be confronted?

Cliques within congregations do war against the unity of the family of believers. Chapters 1 and 3 of 1 Corinthians address the divisions that existed among the believers in the congregation in Corinth. That part of Scripture would be good reading material in the context of your question. If an individual is sinning by destroying Continued.

Should a Freemason and a Boy Scout leader be spiritual leaders (elders) of a church?

The answer is “no.” If you have knowledge of this, you want your course of action to be guided by Matthew 18:15-20.

Can a lay person hold the pastor and leaders of a church accountable for overlooking open sin in the congregation?

Certainly. Following the example of the Christians in Berea (Acts 17:11), Christians have the responsibility of examining the teaching they receive from their spiritual leaders with the message of the Bible. As God instructs the leaders of his church to watch their life and doctrine closely (1 Timothy 4:16), it follows that Christians will speak Continued.

Author

James Pope
Professor of Theology, Staff Ministry and History

Education:
MDiv Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon WI
BA Northwestern College, Watertown WI

Professor James Pope writes “Light for our path” questions and answers in Forward in Christ magazine.

FAQ

How do I know there is a God?

Have you ever thought about how many things you know and believe without having seen them? Take gravity for instance. No one has ever seen gravity, but I see evidence of it is all around. As a matter of fact, we depend on it for almost all of our everyday activities. Gravity holds our cars on the road. It keeps us from floating away into space. We would be in serious trouble without it.

Look at God in very much the same way that you look at gravity. You have never seen him, but you see evidence that he must exist in the world. Whether taking in a soft summer sunset or a late night display of the constellations, know that someone took some serious time and effort to get things just right. The Bible puts it this way, “Every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything.” (Hebrews 3:4)

Have you ever taken time to look closely at the world in which we live? Get up a little earlier than normal tomorrow and let the sunrise speak for itself. You decide which is more impressive, the beauty of the sunrise or the fact that is has risen every day in the history of the world. You will hear an inaudible voice in that sunrise. It is God’s voice. (Psalm 19:1-4)

Perhaps you are more impressed with detail. Take time to count the hairs on one of your arms from your wrist to your elbow. As you notice the delicacy with which each hair is connected, consider how hard plastic surgeons work to duplicate a “normal” hair pattern. They never do get it quite right, do they? All of this is part of God’s great attention to detail and more evidence that he does exist.

We have never seen God, but, like gravity, we know he is here. He has taken the time to leave evidence of his existence all around the world in which we live. Take time to notice it. You will see that he is very real. If you want more, definite information, take time to get to know him better in the Bible.

How do I know the Bible is the Word of God?

This is an extremely important question. “Because the Bible says it’s God’s Word” is the short answer, but one that most people won’t be satisfied with. It’s certainly true that the Bible says it is God’s Word (2 Peter 1:20, 21). Just think of how many prophetic books in the Bible begin with, “The word of the LORD came to” or how often the prophets introduce their words with, “This is what the LORD says.”

On the other hand, most people who pose the question want corroboration from an independent, outside source that proves that the Bible is God’s Word. And that, of course, is the problem. What independent outside sources are there? God is one, of course—but the Bible is the only Word of God that we have, and the Bible itself tells us not to expect any other (Isaiah 8:20, Revelation 22:18, 19). God isn’t going to speak from heaven and tell us, “This is my book. Believe it!”

Human beings are the only other possibility. But human beings are hardly unbiased or impartial. As they are by nature, they have every reason not to believe the Bible’s claims about itself. That’s one reason why arguments that believers find persuasive—like biblical prophecies that were clearly and obviously fulfilled, or the fact that the Bible is still around despite centuries of being vehemently attacked and suppressed—don’t necessarily convince unbelievers.

Fortunately, the Bible doesn’t need independent corroboration, because it is self-authenticating. The best advice we can give to someone who is wondering whether the Bible is God’s Word is, “Read it, and you’ll find out.” You’ll discover a book by people you’ve never met, and yet who know you better than you know yourself. And you’ll find them leading you straight to your loving Savior. That is finally the only “proof” that the Bible really needs.

Does WELS practice infant baptism?

Yes, we baptize infants. We do so because they have a need for forgiveness (Psalm 51:5), they too are included in the command to baptize “all nations” (Matthew 28:19-20), and they can believe through the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 18:6; Luke 18:15-17). We are grateful that God has this means of reaching out to infants and including them in his kingdom.

Do I have to believe the whole Bible?

Your chest feels as if an elephant is dancing on it. You’re gasping for air. Sweat is glistening on your face. You are in the emergency room of a hospital. Nurses are hooking wires all over your chest. Another nurse is searching for a vein to start an I.V. Another nurse is putting a small pill under your tongue. After looking at the monitor and the EKG tape, the doctor informs you that you are having a heart attack. It’s a frightening scene. Other tests prove that there is a blockage in your heart. The doctor tells you what has happened to your heart and then proceeds to explain what needs to be done to repair your heart so that you can continue to live.

Are you going to believe everything he says? Or are you going to pick and choose what you want to believe and disregard the rest, which could cost you your life? Your life depends on believing everything the doctor tells you.

There are people who believe the whole of the Bible. There are people who don’t believe anything in the Bible. But how can a person believe just some of the Bible? How does a person pick and choose what parts of the Bible are true and what parts are not true? How can a person believe that Jesus died on the cross to take the sins of the world away and yet not believe that Jesus rose from the dead? How can a person believe that Jesus did miracles, but that Jonah could not have spent three days in the belly of a great fish?

What is true and what is not true? The Bible is God’s Word. Not believing some of the Bible will lead to doubting all the Bible. The Bible is not a collection of human ideas and thoughts. The Bible is God’s Word, given word for word by the Holy Spirit to human writers. If any part of the Bible is merely human thoughts, and not God’s Word, then all of God’s Word can’t be trusted. If it is God’s Word, then all of it is true and is to be believed.

We believe the entire Bible is God’s Word and it is true. Our belief is not founded on shaky ground. First, there is more evidence for the documents of the Bible than for any other ancient book. Second, all the writers of the New Testament wrote within the first century of Christ’s birth. They all knew Jesus. Third, even historical facts cited by the writers have been proven to be true. Fourth, God promised that the writers would tell the truth. The Holy Spirit guided them so that they did just that.

We believe all of the Bible because in it God tells us that he loves us sinful human beings so very much that he sent His Son Jesus to live, suffer, die and rise for us so that we could be with him in heaven. That is why God tells us that his words “are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

God’s Word is all true. You can trust every word of it from beginning to end.

Am I good enough to go to heaven?

Mom went over to the slow cooker where the turkey had been all day. As the lid was taken off, a shriek filled the air. The slow cooker had been unplugged hours before to make room for Uncle Bob’s famous sweet potato soufflé.

Tears filled Mom’s eyes. “My dinner is ruined!” she cried. Dad chimed in, “Oh, honey. I am sure that it is good enough.” However, the half baked turkey was not good enough, nor was it safe to eat.

In our lives we probably hear or say those words often. “Oh, the lawn looks good enough. I can wait another couple of days to mow.” “Oh, the house isn’t that dirty. It is good enough for now.” “My job was done well enough for today. I am going home!”

What about when it is quitting time here in this life? Are we sure that we are going home to heaven? Are we good enough?

We may be individuals who settle for good enough more than we like to admit. However, we have a God who doesn’t settle for anything but perfection. Jesus says, “Be perfect . . . as your heavenly Father is perfect” Matthew 5:48.

So are we good enough to go to heaven?

God takes the “lid” off of our hearts and tells us what he sees. “Every inclination of the heart is evil from childhood” Genesis 8:21. Even if we try hard and work at being kind, good, and perfect we still fail. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23.

So now what do we do? Similar to an uncooked turkey, does the heat get turned up on us in hell? Is our hope to have life in heaven ruined?

Thanks to Jesus Christ our Savior the answer is, “No.” We do have hope because Jesus has forgiven our sins by dying on the cross and he has declared us to be innocent by rising from the dead. Because of what Jesus has done, every time that God looks at us he sees “you holy in his sight without blemish and free from accusation” Colossians 1:22.

Are you good enough to go heaven? Jesus did not just make you good enough but he made you perfect! Through faith you receive “the gift of God which is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” Romans 6:23.

Are some sins worse than others?

Since God created us to love him perfectly, and to love our neighbor as himself, any failure to love in heart, word, or action is the equivalent of shattering the whole law of God. James tells us that in the second chapter of his epistle, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (2:10). Every one of my sins is lawless rebellion against the God who created me to be a perfect reflection of his love in this world. Every failure to live in love is a damnable rejection of his purpose for our lives. In that sense all sin is equally evil. It is all equal evidence that we have a nature within us that is exactly the opposite of what God created us to be.

But for the believer in Christ, there’s more to the story. Because we stand forgiven and holy in God’s sight through the perfect life, death, and resurrection of his Son, every sin does not instantly make an unbeliever out of us. As we live in repentance that runs each day from the evil of our sin to the cross of our Savior, we find that “the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Through faith in Christ we stand in God’s grace (Romans 5:1-2).

However, if we grow careless about sin we are inviting spiritual disaster. If, when we become aware of sin in our hearts and lives, we continue in that sin and begin to excuse and defend it, then we are in danger of allowing sin to rule in our hearts again just as it did when we were unbelievers. To persist in what we know to be sin, will soon drive the Holy Spirit and faith from our lives. Paul warns us in Romans 8:13, “If you live according to the sinful nature, you will die.” In that sense, stubborn and willful sin is more dangerous to our faith than sins of weakness or ignorance from which we run to his cross as soon as we recognize them. That’s true even though all sin is by nature damnable in and of itself.

This sounds a bit paradoxical but here is the truth: if we treat sin as the evil it is and run to our Savior’s gracious arms, it cannot harm us. Christ has paid for them all! But if we treat sin as harmless and defend and excuse it, then we are giving that sin the power to destroy us all over again.

All of this isn’t about categories of sins (“big ones” and “little ones”), as if we could make two lists of different “types” of sins. The difference is the attitude of our hearts toward sin. Are we clinging to our sins or are we clinging to our Savior?

CHRISTIAN LIFE

No matter what your situation God is always with you. WELS has developed resources to help members in variety facets of their Christian life. Enrich your faith. Find answers. Be encouraged.

PRAYERS

Is something troubling you? Take it to the Lord in prayer. If you need some inspiration, view the prayers in the topical index on the left to help you get started.