1 Tim. 1 (Part 1) - Doctrine and Doxology: Why we must fire boring teachers and preachers

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Preaching on 1 Timothy 1:16-17 on Sunday, I was struck by a number of things.  First, doctrine and worship go together.  Doctrine may often seem a dry word but in fact it is simply the description of who God is and how he has acted.   As Paul reflects in 1 Tim. 1 upon how God has dealt with him, his language becomes exuberant and he speaks of God's grace `overflowing' towards him.  Then, able to contain himself no more, he bursts into a doxology.  This is hardly surprising.  The description of God's actions should naturally call forth worship; and here Paul offers a paradigm of a worshipful response in which he ascribes to God glory and honour, i.e., that to which God's person and actions entitle him.  Paul's praise is doctrinal in origin and doctrinal in content.  To state what should be obvious, praise and worship that is neither is simply not praise and worship as the Bible would understand it.

Yet there is surely more here: the relationship between doctrine and worship in the structure of Paul's letters allows us to infer that doctrine which does not lead to praise is not really true in the richest sense of the word. Teaching of doctrine and appropriate response to the same are inextricably tied together such that the former should really terminate in the latter.

Sadly, this is not always the case.   I was talking to a friend recently who told me of a Sunday school class on providence which he had attended.  The presentation, while precise and correct at the level of formulation, left my friend cold. Nothing of the glory or the grace or the mercy or the patience of God had been conveyed in the presentation.  There was nothing to call forth a response of praise and adoration.

Now, we need to be wary of being fooled by aesthetics or of rooting truth simply in the reader's response.  Many an inspiring presentation has no doubt been carried along by fancy rhetoric despite a complete lack of content.  Yet this does not mean that form is not important.  That is one of the reasons why the Bible contains a variety of literary genres.  This also carries over into teaching: the man who can regularly teach on things like providence and send his audience away cold or indifferent needs to ask himself if the problem is with the audience or with himself.  Is he really qualified to teach in the church if he makes the deep, mysterious and glorious things of God into so much bland tedium?  It is hard to imagine Paul speaking on such a topic as providence and not bursting forth in that praise which ascribes honour and glory to God.  It is harder still to imagine him sending his audience away cold or indifferent: he might provoke them to anger or to awe maybe; to coldness or indifference, never.

The other aspect of this doctrine-worship connection is that, if doctrine which does not culminate in praise is not true doctrine, then praise which is not a response to true doctrine is not true praise.   Praise and worship - the ascription to God of the honour and glory which is his - is a response to knowing who he is and what he has done. It is provoked and shaped by the description of God which the teacher gives. Anything else which calls itself worship, whether traditional or contemporary, whether exhilarating or soothing, is not worship.  It is merely an aesthetic experience which helps to achieve a certain psychological or emotional state.  I remember at college I would often hear people talk of this church as being great at doctrine and that church as being great at worship.  That should a false dichotomy.  One cannot really be good at one and not the other, for they are intimately and inseparably connected.

This is why Bible reading and good preaching are critical in a worship service.  If they are absent, then there is nothing to which to respond, nothing which provokes the doxological reaction we see in Paul in 1 Timothy 1.  The same applies to worship in the home and on our own.  Reading the Bible and reflecting upon who God is and what he has done are basic.  These are the necessary foundations for all Christian devotion.   Doctrine should be a joyous thing, driving us to our knees in praise and gratitude again and again.  We must never forget that.   

So, elders should make sure they fire consistently boring teachers and preachers (making providence, for example, as dull as ditch water is false teaching as sure as open theism is); and congregations should connect their acts of praise and worship to the declaration of God's wonderful acts about which they hear from the pulpit.

More from 1 Timothy 1 later this week.  If I don't get fired in the meantime, that is.

Posted August 7, 2011 @ 10:55 PM by Carl Trueman
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