With all of the unrest among churches of Christ today, with internal turmoil because of the emphasis of some upon “changing” the church, much is being said and written about what our attitude should be toward brothers in Christ with whom we disagree. Some contend for “unity in diversity” while others will not allow for any differences or disagreements without the breaking of fellowship. The old idea which was expressed by Thomas Campbell two hundred years ago seems to have been either forgotten or rejected: “In matters of faith, unity; in matters of opinion, liberty; in all things, charity.”
If someone disagrees with me, it is a small matter. But what of the case where one disagrees with what God has said in His word? What is to be our attitude then? My brother, Dillard, began GOSPEL MINUTES in 1952; nineteen years later he asked me to join him in writing and producing this paper. Over the twenty years we worked together until his death in 1991, we daily talked about the Scriptures. We disagreed on some minor matters, but we always agreed on the fact that the Bible is God’s word and is our final authority. I believe that is vital as we face the conditions among churches of Christ today.
“BELIEVE NOT EVERY PROPHET”
The attitude of many members of the Lord’s church today amazes me. “Surely you don’t think brother So-and-So is a false teacher!? People are against that one could think a fellow member of the body of Christ is a false teacher. But there have always been false teachers among God’s people. The apostle Peter wrote, “But there arose false prophets also among the people, as among you also there shall be false teachers, who shall privily bring in destructive heresies, denying even the Master that bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their lascivious doings; by reason of whom the way of the truth shall be evil spoken of” (2 Pet 2:1-2). And to a group of elders whom Paul loved very much, Paul said, “I know that after my departing grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30).
The fact that a teacher or preacher is eloquent doesn’t mean his is accurate. If he is a friend, that is not proof he’s factual. Being a good “mixer doesn’t prove he’s teaching the truth. And even his sincerity doesn’t guarantee that he is “speaking as the oracles of God (1 Pet 4:11). Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves (Matt 7:15). Was the Lord just talking about “other groups” and not “us”? And look at John’s warning: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
The inclination to “believe everyone and everything” is neither godly nor sensible. With people calling “evil good, and good evil” (Isa 5:20), the same prophet cried out in Isa 8:20, “To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” The idea of “checking up on preachers” is found in God’s commendation of the Bereans, “Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of the mind, examining the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). If we are really interested in pleasing God, we will not be blinded by friendship, by glad-handing nor by eloquence. We will “search the Scriptures” to see if these things be true.
“JUDGE NOT, THAT YE BE NOT JUDGED”
The most common defense of false teachers today is the cry that we are not to judge. But when Jesus spoke those words , He explained just what He ment: “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured unto you” (Matt 7:1-2). And then, just fourteen verses later, the Lord added, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves. By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt 7:15-16). We dare not judge another apart from the word of God, but we MUST “judge righteous judgment” as we “examine the Scriptures, whether these things be so” (Acts 17:11).
When the apostle Paul had to deal with the case of a sinful brother at Corinth, he wrote to that church, “For I verily, being absent in body but present in spirit, have already as though I were present judged him that hath so wrought this thing . . . For what have I to do with judging them that are without? Do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth, Put away the wicked man from among yourselves” (1 Cor 5:3,12-13). How in the world can we determine that teacher is a “false prophet” without making a judgment to that effect? The fact is that God demands we obey the truth. And that puts the responsibility on us to discern that truth and compare any teaching which we hear truth and compare any teaching which we hear with that truth. God never promises blessing to those who follow the wrong teaching.
“MARK THEM. . . AND AVOID THEM”
But what shall we do in the case of a teacher who teaches error? If a good friend, should we just overlook it, hoping that perhaps some day he will learn better? If he’s not a good friend, maybe we ought to “smear his name” by publicly branding him a false teacher, based on the rumors we have heard about him. Both of these attitudes are to be found in the LORD’S church today. And both are wrong. Why not simply do what the Scriptures tell us? Without respect of persons.
With concern for the soul, we should “take him aside, and expound unto him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26), just as Priscilla and Acquila did with Apollos. When one “errs from the truth” (James 5:19) today, doesn’t he deserve the same concern and consideration? As Paul wrote to Timothy, “In meekness correcting them that oppose themselves; if peradventure God may give them repentance unto the knowledge of the truth, and they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him unto his will” (2 Tim 2:25-26). That teacher’s soul is important, so make every effort to save him.
But what if he persists in teaching the error? The Bible answers that, also. Jesus, through John’s writing, told the church in Ephesus, “I know thy works, and thy toil and patience, and that thou canst not bear evil men, and didst try them that call themselves apostles, and they are not, and didst find them false” (Rev 2:2). Such men were still important, and their souls were important. But their influence was not to be allowed to contaminate the church. The same principle is found in Rom 16:17, “Now I beseech you brethren, mark them that are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which ye learned: and turn away from them” (Rom 16:17). Some complain that such action is too harsh. But it wasn’t too harsh then!
John writes about false teachers in 2 John 9-11, “Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God; he that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son. If any one cometh unto you, and bringeth not this teaching, receive him not into your house, and give him no greeting: for he that giveth him greeting partaketh in his evil works.” Some try to dodge the force of this teaching by quibbling that the “teaching” in those verses refers only to the divinity of Christ. But they miss the point. To receive one who teaches error, and bid him God-speed is to be partaker of his error. If we, by our silence, allow error to be taught, we have become guilty of that error and its results.
“WHOSE MOUTHS MUST BE STOPPED”
God has given several reason for “marking” the teacher of error. After he had told Timothy to “shun profane babblings,” the apostle Paul gives the result of such teaching: “But shun profane babblings: for they will proceed further in ungodliness, and their word will eat as doth a gangrene: of who is Hymenaeus and Philetus; men who concerning the truth have erred.” (2 Tim 2:16-18). The same idea is found in Rom 16: 17-18, “Turn away from them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Christ, but their own belly; and by their smooth and fair speech they beguile the hearts of the innocent.” In short, the influence of the teacher of error much not be allowed to destroy the faith of members of the Lord’s church.
When God gave the qualifications of elders in Titus 1, he stated last, “Holding to the faithful word which is according to the teaching, that he may be able to exhort in the sound doctrine, and to convict the gainsayers. For there are many unruly men, vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped; men who overthrow whole house, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake” (Titus 1:9-11). Yes, we must have patience with teachers of error, and we must be concerned for their souls. But we must also be concerned for the souls of others! Yes, let’s help the teacher of error, but we dare not allow him continue teaching that error “while he studies the issue.” God said it clearly, and we had better pay attention: “Whose mouths must be stopped.”
Under the guise of love and patience and time to study the issue, false teachers have been allowed to continue their teaching. And churches have been split, faith has been subverted, Christ and His gospel and His church have been held up to ridicule-and souls have been forever lost. We need love and patience and time to study. But meanwhile, let’s make sure that the teaching of error is not continued! The Lord Jesus Christ never intended that His church should become an open forum for those who would ridicule and destroy it. And while some will deplore the “lack of freedom” by following these Scriptures cited above, we must remember that “the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). For that reason, the Lord allows us freedom only within the bounds of His truth.
We live in perilous times. We have expected Satan’s influence to bombard us from without, But now his attack is coming from those within the church. We are being inundated with various doctrinal errors from pulpits within churches of Christ-instrumental music, women in position of public leadership, that baptism doesn’t really save, that we are a denomination and should admit it and “join the other denominations,” etc. Many of our largest congregations have already “progressed” far into several of the above errors, and are seeking to lead other with them. The ingratiating personality and great ability of the preacher only makes the danger of the teaching that much more dangerous While we try to “save that ability for the work of Christ,” we must also have love for the church and concern for the souls of those who are being taught and respect for the authority of God. Let’s have enough love for the teacher of error to seek to show him the truth of Christ. But let’s also have the courage to shut his mouth until he accepts the truth. That is exactly what the Lord says, “Whose mouths must be stopped.” (Titus 1:11).
I don’t ask that everyone agree with me. But I do insist that everyone should agree with God! And I must limit my fellowship to those who are willing to submit to the will of God and to His authority. I pray that all my readers will have that same purpose of commitment to the Lord and to His church.