1 Timothy 6:3-4 [ESV] “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing.”
I am divisive.
In fact, according to some, I’m divisive and unloving. Ouch.
So who are these folks that sling insults my way; sometimes to my face, sometimes not so much? If you’ve followed this blog or podcast for any amount of time it would be natural to assume maybe an angry atheist, disenchanted Roman Catholic, hacked-off Mormon, or offended homosexual would be the party launching these fiery audible projectiles my way. As you have likely deduced, that would be incorrect.
Sadly, the bulk of these attacks come from my brothers and sisters in Christ while they simultaneously espouse exhibiting Christ’s love. Often, accusations of being divisive and unloving are delivered in the most divisive and unloving way possible; this is hypocrisy of the highest order. Why is it that those claiming to be “all about love” exclude the extension of that attitude to their biblically discerning brethren?
Before that question may be properly addressed, those of us who consider ourselves biblically discerning must first examine our own hearts, motives, and intent. I’ve been told stories of Christian “discernment bloggers” who have been outright nasty and ridiculously aggressive in their pursuit of defending the Truth of the Word. In fact, well-known blogger and Pastor Tim Challies had an unfortunate experience with some of those very folks, which he wrote about here. Here is a small excerpt of what he had to say, “Some of their commenters were crying out for people to hack my site and destroy it. A few were expressing themselves in profanity and threats of physical violence.”
Obviously this is awful. For any human being to treat another in this manner is despicable, much less so-called Christians. One interesting thing to note, however, was that Challies pointed out that those remarks were made by “commenters” on the discernment blogs in question, not necessarily by the author him or herself. He did go on to say that the blogs themselves, “…misinterpreted even what is obvious, stretched what is true, assumed what is dubious, and fabricated the rest. They shared all of this with their readers as if it was based on verifiable facts, as if they were privy to details, as if it was anything more than conjecture.”
The issue here is that Challies, and so many others who find it ‘cool’ to bash on discernment bloggers, speak in broad-sweeping generalizations. Are there bloggers out there who release information that is merely conjecture? Yes. Are there bloggers out there whose comment section gets hijacked by overzealous watchdogs? Yes. Does this mean that every blog and every Christian that has the audacity to point out false teaching is looking to systematically destroy someone’s life and/or ministry? Of course not.
The reality is that, like anything else, folks can allow their pendulum to swing too far one way or the other. I realize Mr. Challies had this affect him in a very personal way so he’s obviously defensive, and rightfully so. But there are Christians who allow the pendulum to swing too far the other direction and allow all manner of heresy to permeate the church in the name of just “lovin’ on people”. (By the way, can we please eliminate the phrase “just love on ’em” from the Christianese dictionary? It’s creepy and inaccurate.)
So, what about me? I began this blog in April of this year (2014) as a way to simply share what I learn through study of scripture with those who may not have the time or passion to dig as deeply themselves. Interestingly, the more I familiarized myself with the Truth, the more obvious the error all around me became. It was at that time I felt I needed to warn my brethren that the famous mega church Pastor they look up to is peddling a Gospel that is not of Scripture. As Justin Peters rightly points out, “If it’s not the Gospel of the Bible, it has no power to save.” In other words, these men (and women) are sending people to hell with their heretical half-Gospel teachings.
Here is where I went wrong, and I think where so many of my brothers and sisters error as well; the Truth became so familiar and the false teachings so obvious that I wanted to shout from the rooftops to those unwittingly soaking up such nonsense. In so doing, my delivery became very terse, harsh, and generally abrasive. What I was saying was biblically accurate, but how I was saying it lacked the love called for in Scripture. (Ephesians 4:15)
In referring to those newly converted to Reformed Theology, Dr. James White humorously coined the term “Cage Stage”. Dr. White describes it thusly, “I’ve seen it many times. The Cage Stage. A believer’s eyes are opened to the majesty of God as the sovereign King of the universe, and their entire life is turned upside down. And for a while, they have more zeal than they have knowledge. We call it the ‘cage stage.’ That period in the experience of the new Calvinist where they would be better off kept in a cage until they can gain enough maturity to handle these vitally important topics aright. That time when they are more likely to hurt themselves, and others! You know, when they are all running around smacking someone upside the head with Pink’s The Sovereignty of God?”
This term correctly describes my demeanor as I began to read scripture in context and with purpose. I became a “cage stage” discerner and sadly pushed people away. Was my intent to be controversial and try to make myself seem smarter than the next guy? Absolutely not! As Dr. White said, my zeal outweighed my knowledge and wisdom. I would have been much better off kept in a cage until I matured to the point I could rightly handle these topics. That was not God’s plan for me, and many psychological bruises and broken friendships later, here I stand wiser, more theologically mature, and increasingly more spiritually mature. While I still struggle at times with being overly abrasive, I’ve learned to control my zeal and better relay the warnings of apostasy and false conversions creeping into the Church.
I praise God for opening my eyes to where I had gone off the rails. I stand by everything I said as being accurate, but again, the delivery was poor. With that in mind, what saddens me is that during that time of my Christian walk, not a single brother or sister pulled me aside to lovingly rebuke me and set my path straight. Instead, the reaction I received was the hypocrisy I mentioned earlier where I would be verbally attacked as being unloving and divisive; nevermind the fact that neither the tone or the words coming from said Christian “lover” were in any way loving toward me. It reminds me of when I wrote my article on righteous judging when I pointed out that those loudly shouting Christians aren’t to judge are actually simultaneously judging me.
What bothered me more than anything was the fact that these brothers and sisters who were absolutely skewering me for pointing out error in Rob Bell’s and Joel Osteen’s teachings, where at the same time defending those men’s heretical teachings! In other words, they defended teachings that were sending people to hell because they felt as though I was being unloving by having the gall to call out said teachings. How backwards is that?!
The other main point of contention slung my way was that I had no right to point out false teachings in people whom I do not know because they sit under their own eldership and it’s not my place. That’s simply foolish logic. These men (and women) post their sermons in the public arena with hopes that as many people as possible listen to their teachings. So, to follow the logic of my angry brethren, it’s fine for a false teacher to peddle his heresy publicly but I am in no way to publicly point out those heresies. Remind me again, who exactly is hurting the body of Christ here? It seems to me as though the Evangelical institution is dead set on protecting heretics in the name of love while treating those practicing proper biblical discernment in a most unloving way.
In fact, who does scripture refer to as “divisive”; those defending proper doctrine or those preaching a false doctrine? Romans 16:17 says, “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.” That’s right, Paul says to avoid those causing divisions by teaching false doctrine! He does not say to protect the false teachers from discerning Christians.
At this point you may be saying, “But Landon, 1 Corinthians 8:1 says that ‘knowledge puffs up, but love builds up!'” You are exactly right. However, one of the primary keys to reading Scripture is that you must read everything in context. I invite you to have a look at this article over at Bible.org as this article is already long enough. In summary, this verse is not saying that we should never learn anything instead to focus on becoming more “spiritual”. Thus, if this verse “has been historically misused in Evangelical Christianity, then when is the proverb ‘knowledge puffs up’ appropriate? Certainly not when one encounters a lover of learning. It is appropriate and necessary, however, when a believer ‘does not know to the degree that he needs to know.’ As in 1 Corinthians 8, when a Christian is not using his knowledge to build up his brother—when his knowledge is not coupled with love—he is deserving of correction. He is not to be discouraged from further learning, but encouraged to grow in knowledge and love.”
You see, to say that “knowledge puffs up” is to not rightly handle the Word of God. The trap into which I fell was that while I was a lover of learning, my knowledge was not coupled with the love necessary to build up my brothers and sisters. Instead of my brethren lovingly correcting me, I was attacked and called hateful, unloving, and divisive… all supposedly in the name of Christ’s love.
I do not consider myself a “discernment blogger”. If you explore the Entreating Favor article and podcast archives, you’ll find much more teaching than you will discernment warnings. But, if one is being true to the faith once and for all delivered to the Saints, you cannot help but naturally practice biblical discernment. After all, doctrine is important! The same folks bagging on discerners often shout the line “doctrine divides”! Well, yes, it divides the sheep (saved) from the goats (unsaved). They would have you think that doctrine is unimportant because it causes quarrels among Christians and that we’re simply to love everyone. So, let’s turn to the inerrant, infallible, and sufficient Word of God:
- Titus 1:9 “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”
- Titus 2:1 “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.”
- 2 Timothy 4:2-4 “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
- 1 Timothy 6:3-5 “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.”
- 2 Timothy 3:16 “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…”
- 2 Peter 1:20-21 “Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
- 2 Timothy 3:5 “Having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.”
- 2 Timothy 2:15 “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”
- 1 Timothy 1:3 “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine,”
- 1 John 4:1 “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
- Jude 1:3 “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”
Do you think sound doctrine was not important to God the Holy Spirit? This is merely a brief sampling of the charges in Scripture to rightly divide the Word of God, endure sound doctrine, and avoid any who preach a different doctrine as they are “puffed up with conceit”.
We are absolutely to love one another (John 13:35). But sometimes the most loving thing to do for a brother or sister in Christ is to warn them and/or rebuke them concerning false teachings and false doctrine. The key is that we undertake that task gently and with a spirit of love, not self-righteousness. We cannot forget that “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) Satan is after us; he hates us. But remember, he is also cunning and rarely attacks Christians in an overt manner. Just like in the Garden, he plants seeds of doubt like, “did God really say?…” to get us to question our Lord. In modern American Evangelicalism, Satan is using smooth-talking preachers such as Joel Osteen, Rob Bell, and Rick Warren to ever-so-slightly alter the Gospel to one that sounds nice but is rooted in narcissism and sends people to hell.
Let us not be so naive as to immediately dismiss those whom God has given the gift of discernment. Just because there are a few bad apples does not mean the entire orchard is poisoned. As John said, “test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” In other words, test what your favorite Pastor or celebrity Pastor says in the name of God to the Word of God to ensure you are enduring sound doctrine. And rather than immediately dismissing a brother for sending a warning about a popular teacher, listen to what he has to say and then get into Scripture and let the Holy Spirit illuminate the Truth.
Dr. Craig Blaising, professor of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has astutely stated, “The antithesis of spiritual is not academic. The antithesis of spiritual is unspiritual. And the academic can subsist in either a spiritual or an unspiritual mode.”
We are called to exhibit the love of Christ; often times that means having the discernment to protect His flock from ravenous wolves.