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Abraham Lincoln is popularly quoted as having said, “Give me six hours to cut down a tree and I will use four to sharpen my axe.” His words tell us as much about using the right tool for the right job as they do about the need to thoroughly prepare for the job we have been called to. The New Testament reveals that the local church is God’s chosen tool for proclaiming, protecting, and portraying the gospel in a fallen world. If we are to combat false doctrine for the world’s sake and for God’s mission, we must start with preparing our local churches for the fight for truth in accordance with the Scriptures.

In 1 Timothy 3:14–15, Paul identifies the church as a stronghold for the truth of the gospel: “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.”  The local church is to the truth what a pillar is to a building—weaken the local church and you make the truth vulnerable. It follows, then, that if we are to fight this battle biblically, we need all our provisions directed to the task of strengthening local churches for the battle that will be won or lost on that battleground. In his letter to Timothy, Paul spells out for him the order and function of a local church/pillar of truth. We do well to heed his instructions.

If a church is to be well set up to play its role as a pillar of truth, it needs the biblical offices of elders and deacons in place. The qualifications that Paul gives for these two offices are staggeringly similar except for the “able to teach” in 1 Timothy 3:2. The godliness that he calls for in these offices is important because the lives of the church’s officers must not undermine but must commend the gospel truth that the church has been called to protect. That said, the fact that those who oversee the church are to be able to teach says a lot about the institution. Doctrine is at the church’s very heart. Its overseers are not distinguished by their corporate leadership abilities, charisma, or likability; they are to be able to teach God’s Word. In 1 Timothy 4:6, Paul commends his son Timothy to that which will make him “a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.” If our axe is to be ready for the task, we need godly men thoroughly trained in sound doctrine teaching in our pulpits and among our people.

When pastors in local churches devote themselves to sound doctrine by both teaching the Word of God and defending the Word of God, the church maintains its truthful witness to the world and the integrity of the mission of God to the nations.

It naturally follows that we need not only elders who are biblically qualified but also elders who stand up for the truth by confronting false teaching. Churches are called not only to proclaim the truth but also to expose false teaching. As Paul left Timothy in Ephesus to “charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:3), so too must every elder in every local church combat false teaching as part of his job description. Paul was writing to Timothy in a time when, he says, “some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” (4:1). Paul’s response to that danger was to write a letter to Timothy instructing him on how one ought to conduct himself in the church, the pillar and buttress of truth. When pastors in local churches devote themselves to sound doctrine by both teaching the Word of God and defending the Word of God, the church maintains its truthful witness to the world and the integrity of the mission of God to the nations.

It should not surprise us that the New Testament strategy for confronting false teaching does not stop with the officers of the church; it also depends on the members of the church. In Ephesians, Paul lays out God’s plan for how His people can stand strong in the face of false teaching. Right organization and execution of the offices in the church are only the beginning of the work. According to Ephesians 4:7–16, it is the members of the church who are the soldiers who plant the flag and declare the ground won. Excellent sermons from the pulpit that are not echoed from the lips of the members to each other are like bullets loaded into weapons that are never fired, battle plans that are never executed. This would be fine in peacetime, but not as we charge the gates of hell. The way that Jesus is building His church is through members who have been equipped for the work of the ministry who speak the truth in love. The result of this is “that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14). There are no shortcuts to confronting false doctrine in this world. Churches must be strengthened, and that means that members must be equipped with doctrine. The saints need doctrine so that they can stand strong against the winds of false teaching.

Weak churches plant weak churches. How well trained are the missionaries that your church sends out? Do they have a clear understanding of how the local church should be ordered and how it should function? It’s time for us to bulk up for the sake of the nations. May each of us resolve to play our part, to commit to not be the weak link in the chain, to strengthen the churches we belong to so that the truth may hold in the face of false doctrine.

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