There is a popular movement in the larger body of the Church to set aside doctrine. Doctrines are seen as unnecessary and divisive. You might hear that “Doctrine divides, but love unites”. If you do talk plainly about doctrines, fellow Believers will challenge you and may even attack you for not keeping the focus on God’s love for us. This sounds very convincing by itself for truly God loves us and His love for us, particularly as found at the cross, is the central theme of Scripture. So what is the problem?
The problem is that false teachings about God and His love distort the Gospel, rob people of their joy in Christ, and may even lead to their destruction. False teaching and teachers are directly addressed throughout the New Testament epistles. The dangers of false doctrine and the importance of sound doctrine are repeatedly stressed.
The Great Commission may be the place to start:
“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” – Matt 28:18
Part of the Great Commission is teaching. That teaching includes ALL that Jesus commanded the Disciples. Most would conclude that the Disciples were not baptizing unbelievers, so from this structure it appears that the teaching was to occur to the baptized Believers. We are commanded by Jesus to not only spread the Gospel but to teach Believers.
In addition to the Great Commission it is useful to look at the tasks that are assigned to an Elder.
“For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 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. For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons’. This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth.” – Titus 1:7-14
Allow me to recap from this passage, an Elder is instructed by Scripture to:
- Give instruction in sound doctrine;
- Rebuke those who contradict sound doctrine even “rebuke them sharply”; and
- “Silence” those who teach falsehoods.
Silencing others, even false teachers, does not sound very “politically correct” or “loving” by our societal standards. I believe that the way we are supposed to silence is not to talk over them, or force their silence, but rather to remove their influence by rebuking the falsehoods and instructing others in sound doctrine.
Learning sound doctrine, teaching sound doctrine, and rebuking false doctrine are not negative characteristics that are associated with Spiritual arrogance. They are not interfering with Christian unity. They are commands to Elders given directly by God.
Paul instructs Elders to “silence” false teachers. John uses similar strong language when he instructs not to let the false teacher into your house.
“Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.” – 2 John 1: 9-11
It is likely that John was not discussing hospitality, but rather the acceptance of a false teacher into a circle of believers meeting in the home. The command was about protecting the flock from being exposed to someone who was known to be a false teacher.
We can also look at the commission Paul gave to Timothy, because that instruction is not limited to Timothy but is given, by extension, to all who have been called to the role of teacher.
“I 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, 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.” – 2 Tim 4:1-4
This list is remarkably similar to the list given to Elders in the book of Titus:
- Rebuke; and
Paul’s idea of a rebuke was not necessarily gentle, but it was loving.
“I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!” – Gal 5:12
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” – Gal 1: 8
How can one conclude that this is loving? Because these words from Paul are Scripture meaning that they are God-breathed. So these words accurately reflect the love of God. Confused? Consider it from another perspective, how “loving” is it when the shepherd slays the wolf? From the standpoint of the wolf, it might not seem very loving. But from the standpoint of the sheep who are being kept safe from the wolf, this is certainly an act of love.
Acting in love requires defending the sheep from wolves. Exposing and rebuking false doctrine is an act of love.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://blog.lifeassuranceministries.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Rick_1_5x2.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Rick Barker is a native of Southwestern Ohio and facilitates a weekly FAF Bible study for former and transitioning SDAs in the Dayton, OH area. Information on this FAF meeting can be found at www.gracediscovery.org. Rick graduated from Andrews University in 1987 and received a Masters degree from the University of Dayton. He served on the staff of the Thomas Bilney Institute for Biblical Research and is an active member of his local Lutheran church. Rick was a volunteer on the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry website for 6 years and remains a participant on the discussion boards. Rick and his wife Sheryl formally left the SDA chuch in 2004. Prior to this they had been active in the Miamisburg and Wilmington Ohio churches.[/author_info] [/author]