A Discussion of "ISMS"
Establishing Christian Doctrine
Stan Cox

It is universally recognized that standards are necessary to avoid confusion. For example, there must be a standard for time, or else we would not all agree to the length of an hour, or a week, or a year. For two to meet at 4:00pm, they both must be in agreement as to when 4:00pm actually arrives. Since such an agreement can't be arrived at arbitrarily, our society has established standards so that everyone will be on the same page. Someone might say that 4:00pm falls 45 minutes later, but such silliness does not make it so! That would not truly be 4:00pm.

A butcher weighs out a pound of beef. The consumer sees that the scale reads only 12 ounces, and objects. The butcher says, "As I weigh meat, 12 ounces equals one pound." Such arbitrary statements do not change the fact that one pound equals 16 ounces. Just because the butcher refuses to accept the standard does not invalidate its truth.

Such standards are recognized and followed in just about every aspect our our lives. How do we know our children have attended sufficient days in school? - a standard has been set by the state. How do we know if we are traveling at a safe and legal speed? - again, we have standards (laws) set. The examples could be infinitely expanded.

One area where people seem not to recognize the existence of a standard is religious doctrine and practice. Here, in the minds of many, truth becomes subjective rather than objective. Never mind that it is more logical to think that a benevolent Creator would leave us with a divine standard, people are determined to act religiously according to their own devising. Truly, "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes" (Proverbs 12:15). The end result of such anarchy is the establishment of literally hundreds of contradictory and confusing belief systems. It seems obvious that an Almighty God would establish a standard to avoid such confusion. He has. God's standard is found in the holy scriptures.

All Authority

When Jesus came to earth, he claimed the power of God to set the standard. He said, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28:18). Further, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6). Finally, "If you love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15).

Many deny Jesus. They do not accept that He is the Messiah. They deny the evidence supplied by Jehovah God, "Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know; Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it" (Acts 2:22-24). We would not expect those who reject the evidence, strong as it is, to feel compelled to acquiesce to God's will. However, it is appalling that so many who do accept the evidence that Jesus is the resurrected Son of God nevertheless refuse to keep his "commandments."

All Truth

Others seek to make a distinction between the actual words of Jesus, and the directions given by his apostles and other inspired writers in the epistles which follow in the New Testament. Since all authority has been given to Jesus, some assume all that is required is that we read and study the words of Jesus, and that we can safely ignore the rest of the New Testament. What did Jesus say about this?

During his ministry, Jesus informed his disciples of his need to leave them. For our Lord to fulfill his purpose in coming, he would have to die a sacrificial death. This would necessitate His separation from his disciples. He said, "These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you." (John 14:25-26).

It is obvious that Jesus delegated the authority to establish doctrine to his disciples. He promised them the Holy Spirit, who would "teach you all things." In his conversation with Peter, when speaking of the establishment of His church, he said, "And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:19).

Later, the Apostle Paul, in defending his teaching wrote, "For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe" (1 Thessalonians 2:13). Truly the "apostles' doctrine" (cf. Acts 2:42) makes up a portion of that divine standard.

All Scripture

In fact, all of scripture constitutes the divine standard of God. Notice the following passages:

So, if we desire to know what God's answer is to any question, we must go to scripture. Scripture contains His divine will for man. If we go to the Bible, rather than having a "private interpretation" of what God wills for us, we will have the inspired answer. Surely any honest individual can see that this is much preferable to the opinions and traditions of men.

"Keep My Commandments"

To this point we have established that God has a standard for man, and it is the Bible. Some say, "It doesn't matter what you believe, so long as you are sincere." Others, "We do many things for which we do not have authority." Still others, "I can worship God in any way I choose." They wish to go beyond what is written, and claim that God accepts their additions to that standard. The only way to determine if this is true is to consult the standard itself. If God instructed us to worship Him in a certain way, but then added, "If you desire you may substitute worship of your devising", we would be free to add to his standard. However, He did not do this. Notice the following:

  1. If we love Jesus, we must obey his commands rather than our own desires. Jesus said, "If you love Me, keep My commandments", (John 14:15), and, a few verses later, "He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him." (14:21). It is a serious thing to disregard the commandments of Christ, or to substitute our own ways for His.

  2. Human traditions constitute vain worship. The Pharisees were quick to substitute their own religious ideas for the divine standard. Regarding them, Jesus said, "Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 'These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men'" (Matthew 15:7-9).

  3. Religious practices, if they are not in accord with the divine standard, are unlawful. There were religionists of Jesus day who were claiming their works to be in his "name." Though they claimed their actions were in His name, what they were doing was without divine authority. They were not following the standard. Jesus rejected their works. "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" (Matthew 7:21-23). Immediately following his condemnation of such "lawlessness", he indicated that the wise man is the one who "hears these sayings of Mine, and does them" (vs. 24). So, according to the words of the Savior Himself, we must abide by the standard established by Him.

Abide in the Doctrine of Christ

The significance of these principles is clear. God demands that we follow the Bible faithfully, and it alone. John wrote, "Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds" (2 John 1:9-11).

We must not heed those who would pervert the gospel of Christ. Paul wrote to the Galatians, "I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:6-8). The faith has "once for all" been delivered to the saints (cf. Jude 3). Rather than trusting in our own devices, may we all defend the standard established by God.


In this series of articles we will be discussing several doctrines and practices which are prevalent among religious people today. As we examine them, we seek only to determine whether they are in accord with the divine standard. If they are, we are to embrace them. If they are not, no matter their popularity, seeming beneficience to men, or their desirability, we must reject them. Remember our Lord's admonition, "If you love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15).

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