The Sound Doctrine Church: An Analysis

We've gotten a couple of requests to look at a group that calls itself the "Sound Doctrine Church". Readers directed me to a site titled, and I checked a sample of articles on subjects which were within our expertise.

Call what's below a sort of "blog" of my encounters. I consider this group to be typical of "reactionary" churches founded mostly on responding to inadequacies (perceived or otherwise) in the church -- particularly, in which churches do not provide the sort of emotional support that is desired. That lack is often perceived rightly, but the solution, as we will see, is often misguided.

5/17/06 -- Something here where much of what I found was spot on. Take these comments from an article titled What Made Jesus a Christian?, which introduces an audio sermon of the same title:

There is one thing that made Jesus a "Christian." And if we don't have that one thing, we are not a Christain [sic] either.

It’s "smorgasbord Christianity" which plagues our churches today. Whether you are old, young, rich, poor, boy or girl, there remains a salvation ticket perfectly designed for your needs. Yet amidst this hodgepodge of easy-believisim, there remains one foreboding question, What Made Jesus a Christian?

Though at first the idea of questioning the Christianity of Christ may seem heretical or strange, it remains the absolute crux of our faith and well worth exploring. What really makes a Christian a Christian? If good works, noble deeds, or extensive study of Scripture are all that is needed for holiness, then any so called theologian could place himself on the same level as the apostle Paul or even Jesus Himself.

John 5:39-40 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

But what is the truth of the matter? Can a one-time “mountain top” experience make us Christians? Will reciting the sinner’s prayer every time we feel guilty actually magically transform us into Christian believers? There remains only one biblical and spiritual answer to the problem, The Cross. It was for the cross that Christ came to earth and it remains the cross that separates us from the earth. Today, this same cross is offered to us. We can either slothfully sit in our comfortable pews, basking in some make-believe Christianity, or we can gaze intently into the life of Jesus and come to experience the cross which makes us truly Christians.

Aside from the implied dismissal "so called theologians" this seems fairly solid if not far too vague. One reader expressed concern that this group claimed that those who said the Sinner's Prayer were bound for hell, because it wasn't an approved means to salvation. Such legalism would be unsupportable; yes, reciting a formula isn't salvation, but it certainly can be an effective aid in knowing what one must profess to.

Taken that way, the sinner's prayer, while even in my mind insipid, effectively indicates what is found in Scripture. On the other hand, who can dispute the matter of needing to have a real loyalty which means that we don't simply rest on our laurels?

But what does SDC offer as a solution? Listening to the sermon, here's what I found.

The message began with a series of admonitions such as, "Believing in things like the Trinity, doing evangelism, baptism, etc. does not make one a Christian." The point seemed to be that belief must be rooted in a true loyalty to Jesus (James' admonition about demons believing in God was used), though I had misgivings about the idea that God actually answers the prayers of those outside of His covenants or not submitting loyally to him, and the implication that the nine lepers who did not return to Jesus by that show could not have received salvation is misplaced: Salvation isn't even at issue in this story, and if anything, the loss would be of honor and not salvation (if that were so, if anything, the lepers would have had their disease return on them).

But one would have liked an affirmation about the necessity of belief being accurate as well, and there was not one. There is no cognizance that the words of Matthew 7 ("I never knew you") finds contextualization in the false political Messiahs of the day and in sorcerors like Simon Magus, not in persons using the genuine power of God to heal or do miracles (and yet are not saved).

It is also misplaced to refer to persons in Solomon's day as "Christians" (and even Jesus, for that matter; hopefully this is only meant metaphorically, but I have my doubts.

In any event, after a very long list of things that don't make you a Christian (which is accurate as far as it goes, within the caveats above), it takes a while to get to the point of what DOES make one a Christian, and that is said to be "having the cross in your life" and following Jesus Christ. One can indeed hardly fault this focus, or the focus on submission to the will of God; nor fault the implication that Christianity is a lifelong pursuit, not a moment of commitment or a collection of such moments.

Yet it is hard to escape the impression that a gnat is being strained while a camel is being swallowed. The interactivity of thought and action makes the existence of such a person as is supposed -- one who does the range of deeds described and believes the range of beliefs listed, but does not actually carry the cross, as they put it -- unlikely to the point of impossibility.

In microcosm we see here perhaps the lowest levels of the struggle that emerged years ago in the "lordship salvation" controversy and a low-level effort to try to resolve the paradox. It's not a thoroughly coherent effort, rooted (it seems) in a sort of emotional defensiveness that keeps judgment of others at the ready.

In the end I found little that could be called outright false; I found some exegetical errors (no less than the sort I could hear at any sermon anywhere); but as a whole the teaching hovered within the pale of orthodoxy.

5/18/06 -- But there are some warning signals about this group. In an article about joining SDC, it says:

What I found when I joined Sound Doctrine was the difference between life and death!
2 Corinthians 2:16 To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?
I found love! From the moment I walked into the doors of the church until today I have experienced the true love of Jesus. All of us come to God as a result of Him drawing us to Himself, but we also come with a sinful nature that is weighed down with so many sins. The church should be a place where we can come and be cleansed by being washed in the Word by leaders who walk in the fear of the Lord as they have the task of shepherding God’s people. I can say with all sincerity that I know and have a Pastor who seeks God about every member of his flock. He shows no favoritism but loves everyone and seeks to present every one of the members of his church perfect in Christ.

Experiential basis? Yet it is "experience" that lies at the root of much that is objected to in "smorgasboard Christianity," is it not? I am not saying that a chuch body should not in fact be loving as described, but love Biblically defined was not rooted in what one "experienced" but in practical application.

It may be that SDC is typical of certain wayward groups today that recognize a real problem but propose the wrong solution. They are right to demand "true action" but their solution (such as is offered, which is not much) sounds like it would too easily fall into the shepherding trap.

I looked hard to find an exegetical "acid test" within my expertise from this group, and I found one in the article/sermon on women preachers:

Is 1 Timothy 2:12 for today's church? The simple answer is, "Yes." And anyone who says different is in sin and rebellion.

1 Timothy 2:12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.

The Bible is very clear on this issue but, as compromise and whitewash become the norm in today's church, there is an even greater need to stand up for the truth - however unpopular it may be. The fact is that those who support women preachers or pastors, who will not accept the offensive message of the cross, who place their own opinions above Jesus Christ, and who rebel against the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, show themselves to be false Christians. This tract explains simply and plainly what should already be obvious to anyone who reads Scripture with a soft heart. This is not a minor or secondary issue, but a deeply serious matter of sin and rebellion.

This set off alarms. As we know from Glenn Miller, 1 Tim. 2:12 has a very specific application. The indignance would perhaps have some justification if there were some contrary and sound exegesis at the scene, but all we get is a cart before the horse, and threats comparing churches with female pastors to Sodom and the like.

Exegesis? This is all we get:

  • Isaiah is quoted as saying "women rule over them" as an insult. Aside from calling Israel "the church" (!) anachronistically, this fails to see that Isaiah is offering a calculated insult to the effect that the men have been beaten down as rulers and thus are "acting like women". It is not a literal indication that women are ruling over people, and women ruling is not, as claimed, a sign of God's impending judgment; this is a result of disaster, not a cause of it. And of course ruling isn't teaching.
  • The verse from Timothy above, of course, but other than use of the companion verses in 1 Cor. 14 (also addressed by Miller), we get NOTHING in the way of contextual exegesis. No knowledge of the context of Gnosticism that led to Paul's words, just a literal English interpretation of Paul's words with Genesis added with the same presuppositions.

    And then, an attempt to get around the fact that Deborah led Israel. This isn't relevant, the preacher says, because:

    1) it was a case of men refusing to lead so women had to take over, which is nowhere in the text;

    2) "judging" does not mean leading, which is patently false; the role played by the judges was one of ingroup leader;

    3) Judges 4:8-9 shows that Barak was a weak person and Deborah was trying to get him to lead, a creative exegesis with no foundation in the text, the preacher merely begs the question of proper leadership under men and then reads out of the text what he wants out of it. He even imagines that Barak's soldiers were asking among themselves, "What's that girl doing here?" Needless to say, that's not in the text either.

    More could be said about this, and about attempts at response to other verses used in support of women preachers, but it's enough to stop here because the use of the "anti" verses is a failure. On this one, SDC comes off as misogynists without the ability to interpret Scripture contextually.

    An item titled "The Idol of Sports" does a little better. I can sympathize with the objection of a pastor at the Super Bowl praying for a championship. I can see no reason to pray for a sports victory, perhaps aside from other considerations (eg, pray for the New Orleans Saints to win, to restore morale in New Orleans after Katrina, hypothetically speaking).

    But SDC wants to go so far as to call sports fanship (and patriotism) "idolatry". Is it? I don't doubt that for some it "becomes" one in a metaphorical sense -- just as do TV, and pastoral personalities like the leader of SDC. But I suspect the leader of SDC won't do harm to himself if someone idolizes him. He will correct their priorities.

    Sports that becomes "glorifying in man's strength and achievements, motivated by pride and money," is "idolatry" of the first sort (but is really obsession, not Biblical idolatry). Sports for "love of the game" is not, and the latter type of fan exists, prominently.

    I hold no truck for sports of any kind. Yet it is hard not to see the pastor's objections about a "Basketball Bible" (a Bible with a basketball leather cover) as misplaced. Idolatry, no. Silliness, yes, it is that. Trivializing the Bible? Maybe. Calling the publishers "enemies of God" and objecting to a "Sports Devotional Bible"? Far too much. I'm all for getting past such things and into meat, but it is excessive to call such things idols.

    And yes, there's poor exegesis here as well. A magazine foldout picture is called a "graven image." An image was a point of presence for a deity to appear, and no one thinks that a magazine foldout of Herschel Walker will produce communication with Herschel Walker. The best idea would be that such a person might be an ideal as Paul set himself to be for his flock. The worst is that the person is an obsession....but not an "idol" or "image" in the Biblical sense.

    Then 1 Tim. 2:15 is misused to suggest that women should stay home and be baby producers (see above article by Miller again).

    Re: The use of the word "hate" to describe one's proper attitude towards football, etc. (interestingly, the pastor says it is OK to go to games!) it is hard to tell if properly informed by this understanding. Perhaps I'll find a sermon later that explains Luke 14:26 as they see it.

    The pastor objects to how cheerleaders are dressed. I wonder what he thinks of the Song of Solomon, then?

    The application of Jer. 9:23 to sports ("Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches") is unfounded. Organized sports did not exist in this time. Jeremiah refers undoubtedly to military power, and/or the ability of tribal and family leaders to muster armed forces. And it doesn't say "don't do it", it says, "don't glory in it" -- in social context, more applicable to seeking honor as possessors of these things.

    It is also excessive to take a statistical sports almanac and call it boasting, or to think that anyone thinks that they sole purpose in life was to get a high golf score. It is excessive to say that it is wrong to say things like, "I want to be on God's team" as a way of relating to persons who relate to sports lingo (try Paul's example of being all things to all men) and to claim that "Satan owns the NFL" (even if you're not a preterist).

    There is a section suggesting that it is sin to engage in sports on Sunday. With the due respect Paul indicated for those who wish to make a day special, there is nothing that makes Sunday a "no work" day or a Sabbath anywhere. (But apparently, it is OK to go to a game on Sunday to root for an athlete in his stance, even though you'd have to walk to the stadium, or drive a car, etc.)

    On the other side of the coin, there's nothing wrong with objections over excessive salaries being used for selfish purposes. But with the end of the sermon that says, "Do not even grumble against this sermon. Do not even whine," we are getting a suspicion of cultic attitudes in the offing.

    5/23/06 -- One of my favorite objections is the one about Luke 14:26, and it is on this one that SDC is far too literalisitc:

    Rather than letting Scripture define Scripture and allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us into full understanding and obedience, we use Scripture to undermine Scripture. The end result is that, under the guise of "correct interpretation," the Word of God is robbed of its power and is rendered all but meaningless.

    This is the sort of epistemology that may as well lead to Mormonism, so it is a little ironic that SDC advertises a book on this subject as "100% Cult Free". I wish I could say that the 60 minute sermon on this verse is better, but it isn't, and that's a shame, because this preacher regards Luke 14:26 as "central to everything that we are building on in the this body."

    Thankfully, SDC at least does not go as far as the atheists do with this verse and claim it means active hate. It is seen rather as saying, "I don't care what X, Y, or Z want, I just want God's will for today." In other words, it's more like indifference than what we call hate. And fortunately, God's will just might include doing things for X, Y, and Z (we have the preacher's permission on that).

    Nevertheless what the teaching amounts to is, "You must engage in an extended play-act where you don't actually love even a spouse, but act as though you do for the sake of Jesus." And that's a setup for doctrinal confusion.

    In practical terms, little is said about how this works about in life. The tenor of the message seems to assume that one who disagrees with the preacher has obviously not allowed the "crucifying" of their opinion for Jesus. Indeed one wonders what the difference is when we read Luke 14:26 contextually and understand it to be a command of prioritization, but it is never explained.

    And then there is this: How about the command to love one another? How about Paul's command to love one's wife? How about the command to love enemies? For those who read Luke 14:26 contextually, there is no contradiction; but there's a big one the way SDC reads it, and how do they resolve it?

    The answer is, they don't. The preacher simply pretends that the problem does not exist, saying that the Christian life itself is contradictory. But in fact, it isn't once we read verses like Luke 14:26 contextually. A resort of contradiction is a high price to pay for hyperliteralism.

    Exegetical error abounds as usual. Imprecatory verses from the Psalms are taken with astounding literalism and given universalized applications, as are passages in Paul that are typical of ancient rhetoric. There is a failure to distinguish between Paul putting a curse upon enemies of the corporate body and loving one's enemies as individual persons. It is wrongly said that someone who loves the sinner but hates the sin has little desire for justice (perhaps some are that way, but it is not an automatic result of that philosophy).

    The analysis done by this preacher comes from someone who is apparently too polarized to read the texts any other way than with wooden literalism -- it's the sort of thing earnest discipleship in the form of a scholarly education would correct, but unfortunately it is the sort of reactionary attitude that is far too common in those who fear learning and also fear the image of God they have made from their own misreadings.

    In close, I noted today two rather peculiar comments on the SDC website. Reference is given to a retired pastor, of whom it is said:

    In keeping with Numbers 8:25 Timothy has retired from full-time ministry at Sound Doctrine Church after 30 years of faithfully preaching the message of the cross.

    Numbers 8:25 says, "This is that which belongs to the Levites: from twenty-five years old and upward they shall go in to wait on the service in the work of the Tent of Meeting; and from the age of fifty years they shall cease waiting on the work, and shall serve no more..." How this manages to have application to a pastor in a church is something that exegetically is impossible -- or maybe not, considering this:

    No spiritual insanity is allowed. We do not preach miracles or hermeneutics, but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (emphasis added)

    Keeping in mind that hermeneutics is defined as "the science of Biblical exegesis...the collection of rules which govern the right interpretation of Sacred Scripture," this is as much as anything a pledge to pretend nothing s wrong when contradictory views emerge. And that too is a recipe for a cultic behavior, even if (as seems to be the case) many other doctrinal positions are completely sound (eg, Trinity, inerrancy, etc.).

    And with that, we have one last look at an SDC sermon on water baptism. Our analysis of that issue here is our benchmark; how well does SDC pass the test?

    It doesn't. Indeed there are open contradictions within mere sentences of each other, as on the one hand it is said that water did not save you, but a moment later it is said that baptism through water did. The contradiction no doubt does not bother this preacher any more than the one above did. Apparently the tension is necessary to keep the flock dependent on the pastor's teachings.

    SDC is right to see obedience as an essential, and to say that without obedience there is no evidence of true faith, but lacking the necessary contextualization, it is no surprise that a contradictory view is so readily accepted.

    On the bright side, though, it as at least admitted that persons who have never been baptized can still go to heaven -- though in context, that becomes yet another unresolved contradiction in SDC's paradigm.

    And yet, even here hints of the truth come through when it is said that to believe is to be baptized, and that they are the same action. It remains unfortunate that SDC rejects the tools that would enable them to reach this conclusion without open contradiction. But with such exegetical errors as using Acts 22:6 to teach that God comes to us at the noon of our activities, it becomes clear that for SDC the Bible often becomes more of a typological Ouija board than a source of sound doctrine.

    I close this series of comments with notes on certain SDC errors that deserves mention.

    According to SDC, presenting the Bible is a way appealing to the world is a sin. What's this mean? Using attractive graphics (this according to a tract of theirs that has some, er, colorful graphics in it). It is also wronge to market as Bibles any Bible with commentary in it, like a Scofield, because it mixes God's Word with man's (as they say it) opinion. And a true Bible will also not have maps in it, and it is also an abomination to have someone's name (like Scofield's) on it -- though "the Gospel According to Matthew" apparently isn't a problem, and they seem to not be aware that the Darby Bible is named after someone, too, and so is the Holman Bible, and Young's, for all get positive ratings.

    Copyrighting translations is a sin. It's also rather ironic that they think that such Bibles rob an omnipotent God of the ability to convict sinners.

    SDC answers charges that they take material out of context from the Bible by saying that critics only say this because they don't like SDC's teachings, are puffed up with pride, engaging in godless chatter, etc. In other words, they can't actually answer the charges.

    Buying things because they are on sale, or taking a new job because it pays more, and not ever having the Spirit prompt you to give more money than you actually have, and wanting to buy ANYTHING at all, are all evidence that you love money.

    In close, to expose the unreasonableness of SDC's stance on these matters, here's a parody of their teachings with respect to Bible versions.

    I'm going to go one step further than SDC. I think it's an abomination to print Bibles AT ALL.

    You see, Bibles are printed on paper. And paper is made from trees. And do you know what crawls all around inside and on trees? Bugs. Wild animals. Yuk!

    And these bugs and wild animals EAT. And after they eat, well, you KNOW what they do! And they sometimes do it in and on the trees that are used to make paper to print Bibles.

    Even worse, some Bibles are printed on paper that is recycled. Why, who knows what the last person who used that paper did with it! They could have used it to write an adulterous love note. They could have used it to send someone an eviction notice. They may have (shudder) even used it in the bathroom!

    If you own a Bible in print, you are guilty of one of the greatest blasphemies even conceived. I insist that everyone at SDC throw away their Bibles, because they dishonor God. From now on, you can only get God's Word by hearing it spoken. Preferably by the pastor at SDC.

    Wait a minute...have you ever said anything evil with that mouth?