The title is my thesis in this post. This point might seem obvious, except that many people do not treat doctrinal failures this way. To prove the thesis is easy. A doctrinal failure leads people astray. Leading people astray is a moral failure. Therefore, doctrinal failures are moral failures. Scripturally, one can point to Acts 20:28-31 and the book of Jude (and there are many other passages as well).
But there are complicating factors, aren’t there? Consider these points: 1. every teacher is wrong on some points of doctrine or other; 2. there are degrees of failure, some of which would lead people to Hell, while others might only lead to confusion. How does one tell what kind of category governs a particular failure or not? And how does one judge how serious an error is? The Bible does tell us of a pattern of teaching, of sound doctrine. There is such a pattern. There is a faith once for all delivered to the saints. There is a pattern of sound teaching to which we need to conform. There is a system, in other words. The Westminster divines believed that they had codified that system in their standards. They were concerned to put the system of doctrine contained in the Holy Scriptures down in a form to which the church could agree. Therefore, I believe that the Westminster Standards is the system of sound teaching described by Paul, and that it is the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
Many folks would disagree with this, arguing that the system is much smaller than that. They might limit it to the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed. But there are many central things in the Christian faith of which those two creeds do not speak. For instance, neither the Apostles Creed nor the Nicene Creed speak of justification by faith alone. That’s pretty central. Neither of those creeds speak of the sacraments in any detailed way. Those are central to the very definition of the church. Now, the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed are very important, and surely everything that they DO address is certainly of the highest level of importance. But neither can be said to be a complete system, even when one takes into consideration the later expositions of the creeds. For Reformed folk, the best we have are the Westminster Standards and the Three Forms of Unity.
Take paedocommunion as a test case. If one believes that the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed are the only issues of importance, then one will judge paedocommunion to be a secondary matter. However, if the proper administration of the sacraments is a matter pertaining to the very definition of the church, then it is not a secondary issue. Paedocommunion is a doctrinal failure. Therefore, teaching paedocommunion is a moral failure.
This might outrage folks out there who are not thinking in these terms. But notice how different we usually feel about two hypothetical scenarios: if a pastor were embezzling funds from the church, or if he were falling prey to alcoholism and the Presbytery found out about it, firm steps would be taken to discipline that pastor, and rightly so. But so far, when a pastor is caught teaching unconfessional doctrine, practically no steps are taken, and when they are taken (usually under duress!), the situation is treated completely differently. The idea sometimes emerges that, even if he were teaching wrong ideas, and has “changed,” then it doesn’t matter whether he was teaching falsely before. That’s like saying that a pastor who was caught in having an affair can be given a free pass as long as he’s changed. The situations are identical. He has led people astray! Period!
The biggest problem right now is the “good ole boy” club syndrome. This is that teaching elders in the PCA are being given a free pass on their doctrine because “he’s such a nice guy,” or because he’s been there a long time, or because of some other social reason. We are forgetting the sheep in all of this. Sheep are being led astray, and because of our “good ole boy” syndrome, we are forgetting how serious a sin this is. And so, instead of exercising due diligence and following up problematic doctrine (such as the FV), we attack anyone who possibly, dares audaciously, in a totally unloving way, to actually bring up the remote possibility that there is an error somewhere in someone’s teaching! The whistle-blower is impugned, attacked and dredged through the mud, all in the name of love and charity, of course. Of course, if the issue were adultery, no one would even think of attacking the messenger. But doctrine is not being treated as a moral failure, but rather as a slight, insignificant “infirmity.” The Bible treats doctrinal failure much more severely than we do, and we are in big trouble because of it.