“Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them” (Hebrews 13:9).
This cautionary reference to “…various and strange doctrines” is just as relevant today as it was when this warning first appeared. In fact, this message takes on greater significance today, for those who promote such doctrines have the benefit of 21st century technology to market their teachings to a broader audience.
A similar admonition appears in the Biblical epistle of 1 Timothy…
“As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work–which is by faith” (1 Timothy 1:3-4 NIV).
We can identify such doctrines by measuring them against the New Testament Scriptures. For instance, if the doctrine in question…
- Was not taught by Jesus within the Gospels,
- Was not practiced by the early church as seen in the book of Acts,
- Is not referenced by the authors of the New Testament Epistles,
…then we would be wise to exercise caution before we accept it.
Hebrews 13:9 also provides valuable guidance when addressing non-essential elements of the Christian faith. There are many areas where Christians of good conscience may reach different (but Biblically valid) conclusions on peripheral aspects of belief and practice. Unfortunately, a non-essential doctrine may effectively become an essential element of the faith for those who are heavily invested in their particular subject of interest.
Those differences may devolve into contentious online criticisms where others with different views are ostracized and portrayed as dangers to the Christian community. Sadly, those who engage in such tactics provide an excellent venue for outsiders to mock and disparage the church. That leads us to an important reminder here in Hebrews 13:9: “…it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace” (KJV).
While the context of that reminder involves religious dietary restrictions, we can apply this principle to other non-essential elements of the Christian faith as well. For example, before we “like” or re-post a disparaging criticism, we would be well-advised to ask two questions…
- Does the speaker demonstrate grace toward other Christians who disagree?
- Does the speaker display the fruit of the Spirit in evaluating another Christian’s view regarding a non-essential element of the Christian faith?
As we’re told in Colossians 4:6, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.”