We have received some not-so-supportive responses to our recent polemic posts. We’ve been criticized for what we’ve been saying and how we’ve been saying it. Last week Pastor Doug responded to the question of tone. Today I’d like to respond to the more fundamental question – why say anything negative in the first place?
The answer to this question is quite simple: we believe that it is the job of the Church – and specifically the elders – to proclaim what is true and rebuke what is false. This has been the job of God’s authoritative representatives from the beginning. From Moses and the Prophets to the Apostles and their delegates, God has charged his representatives with the most solemn duty of speaking for God.
Our goal is to live up to the charge given by Paul in the third and fourth chapters of 2 Timothy. Paul is writing his last letter to his son in the faith to encourage the young pastor and to emphasize the most important parts of his ministry. It’s a powerful letter throughout, but everything in the first two and a half chapters is building up to this, the most important part of the letter:
But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
There are (at least) three important principles to glean from this passage. First, just because someone is acting “in the name of Christ,” it doesn’t follow that they are doing what is right. Second, the initial response to false teaching is to “continue in the things you have learned.” And third, elders are charged with preaching the truth and refuting false teaching.
The name of Christ is spoken by many who have nothing to do with Him. Go back and read all of 2 Timothy 3, 2 Peter 2 or Jude and try to deny this. Paul and Peter are not describing the leaders of other religious institutions – they are describing what will happen inside the Church. This shouldn’t be anything new. The history of the Church – especially everything recorded in the OT prophetic books – is filled with men rebuking the leaders of the Church for their sin. Nothing has changed in the New Covenant except for the fact that things are only going to get worse.
This fact is lost today and I think it is because of a misapplication of Philippians 1:15-18:
Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice.
How are we to reconcile 2 Timothy 3 and Philippians 1? In Philippians, Paul is describing bad men teaching the right thing (the Gospel). In this case it doesn’t matter who the mouthpiece is as long as the truth is being preached. However, when describing false teachers, lies are in view and there is no circumstance where this is acceptable. To confuse these two wildly different circumstances exposes a fundamental inability to interpret the Scriptures. Just saying the name of Jesus doesn’t make you a legitimate Christian leader – faithfully doing what elders are ordained to do makes you one!
So, how should the elder respond to false teaching? They should hold fast to what has been delivered in the Scriptures. The Scriptures must be the sure foundation of everything the Christian, and especially the elder, does. But, the elder has an additional responsibility to build on this foundation: they must preach the truth.
Timothy is charged – in the most solemn manner that Paul could imagine – to preach the word, reprove, rebuke and exhort. Notice that Paul tells Timothy to do one positive action – preach – and three negative actions. According to Paul it isn’t enough to simply promote the truth, he must speak out against what is false. Nowadays we don’t take this command very seriously. The church has been convinced that as long as you say what is right there’s no need to condemn anyone else. Live and let live. Preach and let preach. Why can’t we just all get along? We do this because we don’t consider what a false teacher really does: they harm the sheep and make God to be a liar.
Harming one of God’s people is a serious matter. How did Jesus accuse Paul, then Saul, of his persecutions of the Church? Why do you persecute my people? NO! He says “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4) Jesus so identifies with His people that a malicious act against one of us is taken as a malicious act against Himself. You see the converse in Matthew 25 – a righteous act toward one of us is taken as a righteous act for Him. If this is true for God’s people in the case of physical harm, it is certainly true in the case of intellectual and spiritual harm. And if you don’t believe that teaching what is false is harmful to God’s people, read what Peter has to say in 2 Peter 2:
But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed, suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children; forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness
If they are fit for destruction, will those they teach be any better? If they will suffer wrong, can we expect only blessing for those who follow? If they receive the wages of unrighteousness, what will their followers earn? If the fate for these men is so terrible, how could it be any better for those they take down with them?
However, this is not all we can say about false teaching. What makes false teaching even worse is that it makes God out to be a liar. The elders are God’s officially delegated mouthpieces. We have been charged with preaching and teaching that which has been delivered to us. And what has been delivered to us but God’s own word? When anyone speaks a lie in God’s name it is evil, how much more so when it is one that has been specifically charged and appointed to speak the truth? God’s established authorities will be held accountable for those they care for and for what they say.
So, we speak out because it is the right thing to do. God has called His elders to refute what is false because he cares about his people who are being enticed by false teachers and because He cares about His name that is dragged through the mud when it is used to promote lies. As we look to the Church today, we see false teaching almost everywhere. There is no denying that things have gotten and continue to get worse. Turn on the “christian” TV station and you will see fool after fool that men have accumulated to tickle their ears. We speak so adamantly against what is false because there is so much falsehood out there! What other loving response could there be? Is it loving to see someone believing or teaching something false and turn a blind eye? We have been accused of hate for our actions – how much further from the truth can it be?! Refuting false teaching is the only way to save them from the destruction Peter describes in 2 Peter 2.
To preempt what is surely the first response to what I am saying, I must say that we do not do this because we think that we are the only ones that are right. We are not so foolish or arrogant to think that we have exclusive claims on the truth. We speak because we know we are not alone. God always has a remnant and we want to minister to them.
The Church today focuses almost exclusively on the world. Almost every service is “seeker sensitive” and organized to make unbelievers feel welcome. Every “ministry” is dedicated to taking the time, effort and money of God’s people and spending it on outsiders. All of this is done with a false piety that believes the world is all that matters. The Church has been very successful in accumulating “teachers in accordance to their own desires.” And while this is done, God’s people go unfed and neglected, told time and time again that they don’t matter. Do elders forget Christ’s identification with His people? When the sheep are neglected, God Himself is neglected. God always has a remnant and we want to minister to them.
So, if you are one of His in the midst of the wilderness that is the church, we want to encourage you. We want to help you get some meat. We don’t have any desire to steal you from your current congregation, we want to encourage you and help you know the truth so that you can work to refine it. We want a hearty and heart-felt debate based on the issues we raise so that people learn how to think and not just follow feelings or mysticism. And we must refute the lies that are being masqueraded as Biblical Christianity. God is not honored by falsehood, but He is most certainly honored when it is shown to be false.