False teaching/false doctrine comes up several places in the New Testament (e.g. 1 Timothy 1:18-20 and 1 John 4:1-3). The doctrine Paul talks about in 1 Timothy 4:16 is not false teaching, and it is not the distinctive beliefs of various denominations.
This doctrine is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. How do we know? It is saving teaching—“You will save yourselves and your hearers.”
Obviously our different secondary doctrines and practices cannot all be right. Some are not important. We have used the word “doctrine” and our secondary teachings to create divisions among saved people. To my knowledge, the Bible does not use “doctrine” that way. Read Romans 14. It is the primary doctrine of the gospel that saves and sanctifies and is, consequently, of ultimate importance.
“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men” (Romans 14:17-18).
When Paul stood up to Peter in Galatians 2, the issue was saving truth.
“When Petercame to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?” (Galatians 2:11-14).
It was the same in Acts 11 and 15: “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?” When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life” (Acts 11:15-18).
“No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are” (Acts 15:11).
The early creeds were designed to refute teaching that did not save. The later confessions were made to divide saved people. Yet we call all these confessions “sound doctrine.”
*Excerpted from Being Christian. To purchase, visit ccmbooks.org/bookstore.