(5 Minute Read).
“Why can’t we all just get along?” Jack Nicholson asks the queen of the Martian Aliens after their hostile takeover of the earth in the 1996 cult classic, ‘Mars Attacks’. There seems to be an ever-increasing culture of offense growing in Churches where we are cautioned not to point fingers in the direction of any believer or leader. “Shame on you,” or “touch not God’s anointed,” have become the normative response hurled against anyone that is suggesting that some leader might be wrong. There is a big difference between fighting error and being critical in the Church; and somewhere, some Christians have confused the difference. What we should fear above all else is Christian leaders without accountability and teachers without scrutiny. Sadly, in our Church circles, we have assumed that older men of God, or even young, gifted Prophets, should be exempt from any form of criticism. There is nothing as deceptive as a Church or culture of conformity for the desire of an assumed unity.
Why do we need to call out falsehood?
Author and Theologian John Stackhouse write in his article, Why I Criticize in Public, that as a primary Gospel imperative we should follow the example of the Christian Scriptures.
“First, I’m a Christian, and I try to follow the example of Jesus and the apostles. They criticize other believers—fairly routinely, as it appears in the pages of the New Testament.”
The very Apostle of Love John writes that we must “test the spirits” (1Joh.4:1) and Jesus tells us to look out for false prophets (Matt.7:15-16) because they will even come with signs and wonders (Matt.24:24). First, I always maintained that it is a Biblical imperative to discern and expose any false teaching/teacher as we see in the example of the Apostles and Jesus Himself (Matt 7:1-6; 15-23, 19:28, 1 Tim 5:20, 1 Cor 14:29, 2 Tim 2:17-18;25, Heb 13:9, 2 Cor.11:14-15, 2 Tim 4:3, Gal 1:9, 1 Cor2:14-16, etc.). The Word of God is the final measure of all truth (John17:17) “correcting and rebuking” being an essential part of Gospel preaching (2 Tim.4:2). The Late Dr. Jay Adams wrote an article where he shows that every single book of the New Testament concerned itself with maintaining and defending the truth of the Gospel. I have shared this in the sources section at the bottom of this article for your perusal.
The Dangers of Sectarianism.
Gavin Ortlund writes in his book, “Finding the right hills to die on”, that;
“We know there is a spirit of self-justification about our theology when we feel superior to Christians from other tribes and groups, or when a particular believer, “church, or group unduly annoys us. It is one thing to disagree with another Christian. That is inevitable to anyone who thinks. It is another thing when our disagreement takes an attitude of contempt, condescension, or undue suspicion toward those with whom we disagree. If our identity is riding on our differences with other believers, we will tend to major in the study of differences. We may even find ourselves looking for faults in others in order to define ourselves. When we notice the unhealthy symptoms of doctrinal sectarianism in our hearts, we need to return our deepest level of emotional loyalty to Jesus himself. He is the one who died for us. He is the one to whom we will ultimately answer, and his business is what we are about in the first place. Jesus alone is worthy of our ultimate commitment, and all other doctrines find their proper place in relation to him”.
There are many ways in which we create unhealthy dissension within any given Church community, but for the sake of time let me mention only two.
- Us versus them mentality.
When we direct criticism towards a person based on their personality, image, or ethnicity, rather than towards the position they maintain, it is an “ad hominem” reaction. We direct criticism and attention to the person based on what we deem socially acceptable and aesthetically pleasing without addressing the merit of their arguments or teachings. This is fallacious and should be avoided at all costs. Another side to the “us versus them” mentality is when people criticize you for calling out false teachers on the basis that they are unique because of their office, anointing, or perceived calling, as affirmed by a Church or community. This is called an argument “ad populum.” An individual thinks that they are right because, in their mind, most people believe what they believe. The problem is that when you live in an echo chamber or set group, you tend to only affirm that which your collective bubble esteem. Both these extremes are unhelpful and wrong.
- Theological Perfectionism
There are essentials of the faith that is non-negotiable, like for example, the Deity of Christ, the Trinity, God’s Personhood, the inspiration of Scripture, the Virgin birth, and many more. I found the creeds of the Church a welcome indication for that which is essential or not. That being said, biblical discernment is not a call for theological perfectionism, as there are certain doctrinal non-essentials of the faith that’s not cardinal and Christian communities can disagree upon these points. These can include the procession of the Holy Spirit, the extend of Salvation, the efficacy of the baptism, the role of woman, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, election, or some view on eschatology. About these non-essentials John Calvin wrote;
“For not all the articles of true doctrine are of the same sort. Some are so necessary to know that they should be certain and unquestioned by all men as the proper principles of religion. Such are: God is one; Christ is God and the Son of God; our salvation rests in God’s mercy; and the like. Among the churches there are other articles of doctrine disputed which still do not break the unity of faith.”
We should never underscore the fact that all of us have blind spots, but when it comes to blatant theological error there is a big difference between peripheral issues and brazen blindness. We should confront individuals that perpetuate error, and call out heresy! Here are two reasons we usually avoid doing so.
The Dangers of Minimalism.
I cannot tell you how many times I received messages with the suggestion that I rather focus on teaching the saints about their benefits than pointing to the errors of others. “Just be quiet”, “Leave them, the Holy Spirit will lead them to sort their doctrines out.” “Who are you to judge?” (These are the calm replies befitting for sanctified ears). There is a quote associated with the German Martyr, Dieterich Bonhoeffer that says;
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
Not pointing out error is an equal error in itself. The very nature of Christianity is to speak out against that which is not true (Jude1:3, 1 Cor.15:1-2, Gal.1:8). Jesus is the truth personified (John 14:6) and His Spirit is the Spirit of truth (John 16:13) and his Church should worship him in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:23) and be a pillar of truth (1 Tim. 3:15). Paul cautions us about those that are zealous for God without an informed basis of knowledge (Rom.10:2). He even says a time will come (and is here);
“when people will not tolerate sound doctrine and accurate instruction [that challenges them with God’s truth]; but wanting to have their ears tickled [with something pleasing], they will accumulate for themselves [many] teachers [one after another, chosen] to satisfy their own desires and to support the errors they hold.” (2 Tim.4:3 AMP).
We cannot simply choose to ignore errors for the sake of uniformity or amicability. Any form of ambiguity should be open for scrutiny. Here is another way we minimalize our responsibility.
The Scriptures relate one of the saddest stories where the Prophet Samuel neglects his responsibility to confront the abuse of his sons in the temple. The indictment God brings against Samuel is startling.
“Why do you honor your sons more than me.” (1 Sam.2:29).
I know of ministers that choose not to say anything to people that are in error because they are afraid of losing their monthly financial contribution or ministry support. Leonard Ravenhill said;
“A man who is intimate with God is not intimidated by man.”
We are to give an adequate defense for the faith we profess, and any form of neglect because of the fear of men should be set aside. Recently, a lady, who is part of a Church in grave error, mentioned that she fears confronting their mistakes because she is scared of losing her relationship with her peers and daughter. I reminded her that “perfect love cast out fear” (1 Joh.4:18) and that “God did not give us a spirit of fear but of love power and a sound mind” (2 Tim.1:7). We cannot love people in error without telling them the truth in love! Neither can we cower away in fear. Because we love, we confront so that people can come to the full knowledge of the truth.
Many times the Church has been silent when it should have spoken. Many times we waited for someone to confront error in a spirit of meekness and truth. Part of the Christian mandate is to confront in love and to hold each other accountable not by the preferences of our own desires, but by the truth of God’s Word!
Ps Rudolph P. Boshoff
 Take a quick look at the Books of the New Testament, merely scratching the surface, and see what you think.
- In the GospelsJesus warns against false teachers, speaks of wolves in sheep’s clothing and the “leaven of the Pharisees.” The record of His ministry is one of conflict with those who refused to accept the teaching He set forth.
- Acts contains the record of the church’s first major controversy over whether or not a person must become a Jew before he could qualify as a Christian. A church council was called to settle the matter. Paul goes to lengths to warn the Ephesian elders about wolves who would devour the flock and schismatically draw away disciples to themselves.
- Romans is an entire doctrinal treatise about justification by faith alone in contrast to salvation by works, and how sanctification follows thereafter. In it, Paul also takes up the rejection of the Jewish church.
- I Corinthians is loaded with problems; schism, misuse of gifts, church discipline, marriage and divorce, and on, and on, on.
- II Corinthianstakes on false apostles who had invaded the church and charged him with pretending to be an apostle. The place of apostolic authority is set forth, along with the qualifications of an apostle.
- Galatians is a sterling defense of Justification by faith alone over against those who taught otherwise, and were upsetting the church by Judaistic legalism.
- Ephesiansis less controversial, being a universal epistle rather than directed to the adverse circumstances of an individual or a congregation
- Philippians deals with a split in an otherwise good church. But it has to do with self-centeredness and sets forth a key Christological passage.
- Colossians is consumed with fighting Judaistic Gnosticism.
- I & II Thessalonians take up false teaching about the Lord’s coming and eschatology.
- I & II Timothy & Titus teach “healthy” doctrine over against many false ideas. And, in them, Paul doesn’t hesitate to name specific heretical individuals.
- Philemon is a welcome exception
- Hebrews, in its entirety, combats all influences that would cause Jewish Christians to revert to Judaism.
- Jamesutterly destroys the idea that one can have genuine faith that does not result in good works.
- I Peter explains how the New Testament church is no longer a physical political entity, but that the church is now the spiritual people of God, the new Israel.
- II Peter warns against scoffers and libertines unsettling the church and reveals the true picture of final things.
- I Johnargues quite effectively throughout the book against Gnosticism of a Cerenthian sort.
- II John warns against hospitality for heretics
- III John deals with church discipline gone so far astray as to virtually destroy a church.
- Jude throughout its entirety is and exhortation to contend against the libertines who invaded the church that failed to listen to the warnings in II Peter.
- Revelation speaks of the warfare of God against apostate Judaism, the first persecutor of the church, and Rome, the second persecutor, and predicts the fall. It also mentions cults like the Nicolatians.
Now, in light of the above, if you can, tell me why we should not be prepared to detect and refute falsehood in the Church?
 Calvin, Institutes, 4.1.12.
 Leonard Ravenhill. Source: Meat for Men (n. d.).