One Faith (One Body of Doctrine)
In his epistle to the church in Ephesus, Paul teaches that there is only one faith (Eph. 4:5). One reason for such a reminder is against the backdrop of the growing heretic influence on the church (Eph. 4:14). Paul exposes the harmful effects of the heresies, against which the church must stand firm. Since there is only one faith, any other which falls outside the boundary of the apostolic teachings would be deemed heretic. However, it would be pointless advice if in the first place, the church has not put in place the one doctrine (one faith).
This one doctrine cannot be altered and abolished after its establishment. Paul instructed Timothy to remain in Ephesus to charge some that they should preach no other doctrine (1 Tim. 1:3). ‘To charge’ indicates ‘to command’ in a military sense. The subordinate must be subservient enough to obey whatever charge is issued. This instruction of Paul goes to show that the doctrine of the early church is to be kept wholeheartedly with the strictest adherence demanded. The whole church must come together not only to spread the doctrine but to preserve its divine origin.
The charge is on ‘teach no other doctrine’. This advice to Timothy surfaces the presence of false prophets in the church. They preach a deviant doctrine, which is contrary to the apostolic doctrine (cf. Acts 2:42; 1 Tim. 6:3-4). Their doctrine is far detached from the glorious gospel of the Lord (1 Tim. 1:11). Apparently, what they taught is against the gospel of salvation. They must be stopped from preaching another gospel. The apostles’ doctrine deserves the highest respect. There is no exception. No one, including Paul himself (Gal 1:6-7), can function above the apostles’ doctrine.
In his epistle to the Romans, Paul urged the saints to stand against those who come with a message contrary to the doctrine (Rm. 16:17). They must note those who come in with another gospel. This means that the correct set of doctrines must have been taught to the church, and under no circumstances should it be amended. So, there must have been a set of commonly acceptable beliefs established in the church. Otherwise, there would be no premise for them to identify the conflicting message, not to mention defending it.
The apostolic belief unites the church. God’s children are expected and must be determined to follow it through obediently. Deviation from the established truth (2 Pet. 1:2) is just as bad and guilty as bringing in offences (Rm. 16:17) to the community of God. Peter uses the term ‘offences’, which is a word with a strong negative connotation. Its meaning is inseparably fused together with the ideas of desecration and destruction. No wonder, Paul bravely points out that these people do not serve the Lord but themselves. They come in with a clear intention to deceive.
Likewise, John, in his first epistle, unreservedly warns the church to test the spirits. The reason given is that there have been many false teachers who have gone out into the world (1 Jn. 4:1). One of the ways to test is based on the apostolic standard: ‘We (the apostles) are of God. He who knows God hears us (the apostles); he who is not of God does not hear us (the apostles). By this we (the apostles) know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error’ (1 Jn. 4:6). The refusal to heed the apostolic doctrine indicates a severance from Christ, resulting in going into the world.
More profoundly, the apostolic doctrine is divinely inspired and Spirit-driven. It becomes the standard to differentiate between the work of the Spirit and the work of the spirit of error. Clearly, any doctrine which differs from the apostolic one is not from God. The danger cannot be greater for those who piece their own set of beliefs together. The danger is two-fold. First, it gives ground to Satan to work judging from what John says. Second, what will Satan do? Will he lead man to salvation? Surely not! He brings corruption and eventually leads man to destruction.
The form of Doctrine of the True Jesus Church
How should we view the doctrine of the True Jesus Church? How can we be certain that her existing set of doctrines is the apostolic one? We can address these questions in two ways. First, it is the Spirit who guides the church into all truth (Jn. 16:13). With the abiding presence of the Spirit with the church, the accompanying system of beliefs can be confidently believed to be the truth. Recently, there have been many ill-intended questions posed to undermine the doctrines of the church. We believe that through the presence of the Spirit, the Lord will teach us how to answer their provocations (see Matt. 22:15-46).
Second, the form of belief of the True Jesus Church is in line with the core belief of the apostles: it is on the resurrection of Christ, and is followed by repentance and the remission of sins.
Prior to venturing out to preach, the apostles are told to wait for the coming of the Spirit (Lk. 24:36-49). The church firmly believes in the resurrection of Jesus. This is what the church teaches and frequently reminds both truth-seeking friends and brethren alike time and again. In terms of evangelism, the teachings of water baptism and the receiving of the Holy Spirit are always proclaimed.
An example of a provocative challenge is that while accepting that the foot-washing and Holy Communion sacraments are performed on account of Christ’s instruction, some question why Sabbath observation is singled out from the Ten Commandments to be included in the set of doctrines of the church. These people then accuse the church of not following the doctrine of the apostles because there is no clear-cut indication in the New Testament which confirms that making the Sabbath to be part of the system of belief is valid.
We can answer this question by looking at one of the functions of the doctrine. It is given to correct (Tit. 1:9). In the apostolic times, observing the Sabbath was not a problem. Both Jesus, the apostles and the church kept the Sabbath. (Thus, we have first established that keeping the Sabbath is a teaching of the Lord and His apostles.) However, in the third century the Sabbath commandment was changed, moving the Sabbath to the first day of the week (Sunday) in the process. This change caused the entire Christian world to have no part in the rest of God. This in effect draws Christians away from entering into the future rest that God has prepared for His people (Heb. 4:9-10).
Since the mission of the true church is to save, which the early church had faithfully carried out, it is thus necessary for the True Jesus Church to point out to the world the need of keeping the Sabbath - to correct the Christian world in order to save. Not keeping the seventh day Sabbath would result in losing salvation. In this light, making the Sabbath observance on the seventh day to be a system of doctrine of the church not only has not gone against the teaching of the apostles, it in fact reinforces the mission of the church that Christ has given to His servants. The intention is to point out the wrong and lead man to the right path – it saves. This is truly Spirit-inspired.
When comparing the system of beliefs of the apostles and that of the True Jesus Church, we first see that there is no contradiction between the two. Second, although there are some innocuous variations in emphasis between the apostles’ doctrine and that of the TJC, both are of the same foundation. That is, the apostolic church emphasised one aspect of the system of beliefs more than us and vice versa. In view of the Sabbath having been changed, we emphasise it more than the apostles did. However, they emphasised more on salvation through grace in the wake of some Judaizers advocating returning to the Law for salvation (Acts 15:1-2), as compared to our situation though the need to do so nowadays is beginning to emerge as well.
The doctrine, which is concerned with the way of salvation, must be kept in faith and love (2 Tim 1:13). ‘In faith’ means believing the rightness and trueness of the pattern and holding on to the pattern with great resolve. ‘In love’ calls for practising the doctrine in its essence – to love God and to love man (I John 2:3-10; 5:2-3). Together, they give the idea that the pattern shall never be changed given the most difficult of circumstances and that love and doctrine are not mutually exclusive. This is what must be done constantly throughout the life of the believers, despite the relentless and increasing challenges against the pattern of the sound words.
However, the true believers of God know full well that there is only so much we can do to help ourselves. We need the Spirit, who lives in us (2 Tim. 1:14). The advice of Paul is to rely on the Spirit to keep the pattern of the sound words. On the one hand, it tells us how important it is to remain and live within the framework of the truth. On the other hand, such an advice brings to light the uniqueness of the pattern of the sound words. There is only one form and it must be kept with the power of the Holy Spirit.