Sometimes, in our quest to mine scripture for its spiritual insights into the great mysteries, we miss the easy messages that are right before our eyes. Today we read Paul:
17 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. 18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. 19 For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
Paul specifically tells the Romans to avoid those who teach doctrine contrary to what they have been taught. This goes right back to what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians and he said,
15 So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.
Remember, the Thessalonians had received a, “letter purporting to be from us”. Paul challenges them, saying, “5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you this?” In other words, the Thessalonians should be able to spot this forgery because it is inconsistent with the teachings Paul had previously conveyed to them.
We see here the Paul’s message to the Romans is remarkably consistent with the his message to the Thessalonians. There is one faith, one doctrine. Anyone who comes preaching something different is to be avoided. What does it mean for us? Quite simply, it is not sufficient to accept differences in doctrine as mere differences of opinion. Paul writing in Romans is conveying a duty to every Christians to discern right doctrine. What does Paul find great joy in from the Romans? There, “obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you”. But Paul has never met these Romans personally. Thus the obedience that he has joy over is not obedience to him but obedience to the truth.
Again we come back to the fundamental question. How do we know right doctrine? If Paul, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, enshrines this duty in Scripture then God must have somehow made it possible to know what right doctrine is. The first way is through the Church Fathers. Their writings are a historical record of what their beliefs were. Paul’s command to us it to keep our understanding of Christianity the same as it was taught to these first converts. The historical documents of that teaching help us do so. The second is of course, the Church. In Matthew 18, Jesus said if you have disputes about right doctrine to “go tell it to the Church”. For those words of Jesus to be true today the Church must have existed since that time, it must be visible and easily found. We saw the Apostles use the procedure Jesus established in Act 15 to decide the first great controversy of the Church. The Church has met in council about 20 times since then, always following the instruction of Jesus from Matthew 18.
Sometimes finding important information in the Bible is not mining complex passages for their spiritual meaning. Sometimes it just reading the list of greetings at the end of a letter and seeing that in last Paul reminds his readers to be faithful to the teaching of the Church.