Sunday, June 25, 2017

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Wolves need not apply

Imagine one day your daughter came home to tell you about what she learned in school. "Daddy," she cries with excitement, "guess what I learned in school today!" You reply to match the excitement, "What did you learn sweetheart?" "Daddy, I learned that America was started by people from the planet Venus in 1936! And I learned in science class that heroin is good for you, especially in large quantities!" While our schools are not that radical (yet), I'm sure your response would be to correct your daughter's "facts" and find the culprit who fed her those lies.

But what happens when this occurs in a Congregation? What should we do when you hear some outrageous things like "God told me the world is ending next year", or "if you eat pork you are dammed for all eternity," or "the apostle Paul was a heretic?" How should the Elders respond to these problems when it happens in the Congregation?

Some will immediately object: "This is America! I can say what I want because I have free speech!" Yes your speech may be protected, but there is an order to things nevertheless: recall when Joe Wilson screamed "You lie" when the President addressed Congress last year. Just like Congress should have a respectful means for dealing with dissent (so that we don't shout like idiots and disrespect the President), so does a Congregation. But our guide for establishing standards takes us to the Scriptures, not Congress.

Firstly we need to realize that the Lord reveals there will be people who are not from God who will try to derail Spirit-led ministry. Different names for them are given, but some are wolves (Matthew 7:15, Acts 20:29), false prophets/apostles (Matthew 7:15, Mark 13:22, 2 Peter 2:1, 2 Corinthians 11:13-15) and antichrists (1 John 2:18-19). In other words, they will come; they always come because it is what they do. And Yeshua, Paul and John make it clear: these wolves are not welcome in that assembly.

But the criteria for consideration as to "how bad" an erroneous doctrine is to make someone a wolf in sheep's clothing are very simple yet very important. Looking through the writings of Paul in particular, we find that he quite often had to deal with people who taught and promoted errant doctrines that undermined the Lord's work. Paul even names some of them, presumably because their movements had traction. But there are two main considerations expressed by the Lord through Paul as to when Elders should take action with those promoting erroneous doctrine in a Congregation.

One litmus test is for anything that threatens the gospel. An example of this is found in Galatians 1:6-9, where Paul admonishes that anyone who teaches a "different gospel" is cursed (anathema). The context was that "certain persons" had distorted the gospel in the province of Galatia. Paul did not have kind words for them. Note this is dealing with believers who are misguided, not those who have yet to trust in Yeshua. We are talking about those who should know better, yet refuse to do so and teach contrary to the doctrines handed down by Yeshua to his apostles.

Another litmus test is whenever congregational unity is threatened. The issue may not be directly related in the gospel, but could be say a prophetic view or placing tradition above Scripture. Paul instructs us to "have nothing to do with one who stirs up division" in Titus 3:10-11. Those who love to argue and upset others reveal their own self-centered idolatrous heart that is not desirous for the gospel to win, but desperately wants to be seen as wise.

Thus the Scriptures reveal that there are grounds for expulsion from a community of faith. In my experience, Congregations do this way too easily or they never do it at all. You can't expel someone because you don't like them or think they are ugly or vote differently than you. And you can't let people run around and teach whatever they want in the name of "fairness" or "multiculturalism." Remember that the goals of expulsion are to protect the sheep from heresy and also to restore a brother who is in serious error. Healthy and loving debate is important and should be encouraged. But you can't really do that with a wolf; just ask young Timothy in Scripture. Wolves, after all, need not apply for fellowship because they are there to eat the sheep, not dialogue with the sheep.

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