Berean cogitations

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Naming names when we identify false teaching

In modern Christianity, people often say that if you're going to complain about erroneous teachings, then don't name names. Why? Because they perceive that the naming of names is somehow distasteful and abhorrent.

This perspective sounds loving and kind, which is doubtlessly why it's so popular. What does the Bible say, though?

First, it's worth noting that nowhere does the Bible say "Don't name names!" If often speaks about exposing false teachings and false teachers, but not once do the Bible writers warn believers not to mention anyone by name.

Second, the NT writers themselves mentioned people by name when warning fellow believers. For example, Paul cited Demas, Hymaneus, Alexander, and Philetus in his writings ((1 Timothy 1:18-20; 2 Timothy 2:15-18, 4:10,15). Similarly, John warned his readers about Diotrephes. Peter likewise spoke of those who followed the way of Baalam (2 Peter 2:15).

Why name names? Because sometimes that's what it takes to warn people, especially when it comes to popular teachings and popular teachers. Paul could have said, "Let's preserve unity by not naming any indivdiuals," but he didn't. Rather, he said that we are to mark those who persist in teaching error, for this is what ultimately causes division (Romans 16:17-18). What's more, he practiced what he preached.

Or, as another writer said,

If we sit idly by we are in essence encouraging false doctrine to be spread. Wolves in sheep's clothing are thus enabled to ravage the flock, thereby destroying any.Remember John the Baptist? He called the Pharisees and Sadducees (the religious leaders of his day) "a generation of Vipers". Today would we dare tell him to "your too harsh, be kind to our brethren and don't judge"?? We must always remember that the scripture admonishes us if we do not expose error in
the flock. What are we to do when we know of 'false' teachers?

Saturday, June 07, 2008

How to reach post-moderns

Evangelical Christians often talk about the need to reach young people who espouse a post-modern view of life. In brief, post-modernism is a worldview which declares that there is no absolute truth -- or alternatively, if there is absolute truth, it cannot be known. Thus, people who fully buy into the post-modern philosophy regard straightforward declarations of truth to be arrogant and intolerant. Instead, they prefer that "truth" be communicated through illustrations, storytelling, and similar gimmicks, rather than being declared outright.

So many Christians agonize over the question, "How should we reach post-moderns? What kinds of tactics should we use? They don't want to hear 'truth', so what should we do instead?" This has given rise to a large number of "emerging" and "emergent" churches that avoid the use of Biblical exegesis or making dogmatic statements of belief. They employ narratives instead of exegesis and plead for tolerance instead of dogmatism; after all, wouldn't post-moderns say that it's arrogant to claim to know what a particular Bible passage really means?

Personally, I think they're overcomplicating this issue. I think the only right way to deal with post-modernism is to show people that it's wrong. For example, I'm sure that many of you have already picked up on one severe problem with post-modernism -- namely, that it's self-refuting. After all, if we can never really know the truth, then how can you know that we can never know the truth? And if claiming to be right is automatically arrogant, then how can you justify criticizing others who disagree with that viewpoint? In other words, the fundamental tenets of post-modernism violate their own logic, and are therefore false.

I expressed this viewpoint to a friend of mine a few days ago. He laughed and said, "But Dean, you're thinking logically! Post-moderns don't think with their heads; they think with their hearts. That's why your method won't work. We need need a different approach instead."

I think there are two problems with his answer. First, he assumes that post-moderns are completely incapable of rational thought. I disagree; after all, the self-refutations that I outlined are not difficult to grasp, and even people who are not logical thinkers by nature still retain some capacity for logical reasoning. Second, I think that the use of non-logical approaches -- appealing to their emotions, for example -- are bound to backfire.

Emotional arguments have their place, but they have shallow roots. Somebody who is swayed one way by an emotional argument can be swayed the other way, given enough time. This is why we need to ensure that our teachings are rooted in FACT, not just emotional appeals. A preacher can spin all sorts of stories about the harmful side of adultery, for example; but then "The Bridges of Madison County" comes on TV, and adultery is depicted as a wonderful thing. Or a preacher may object to homosexuality (couching it in storytelling and emotional appeals, of course), but when "Brokeback Mountain" comes on the screen, all of those emotional appeals can be undone within just two hours.

This is why we need to make sure that our teachings are firmly rooted in FACT, not just narrative or emotion. That is how Jesus Christ and the Apostles preached, even when reaching cultures that were different from their own.

Of course, none of this negates the need for missionary zeal, charitable works, or authentic Christian living. Those elements are necessary as well. Nevertheless, the point remains -- we can NOT afford to dance around the issue of truth, nor can we pretend that we are not making firm declarations about what the truth is. By doing so, we might "reach" larger crowds, but we will simply be validating their postmodern viewpoint, and we won't be reaching them with the real gospel.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Making assumptions about what the Bible teaches

I was discussing worship music with some believers one day -- always a touchy subject, of course. In the course of our conversation, I questioned the wisdom of songs that emphasize one's self, and especially those focus on what the singer feels or what he/she will do. ("I will worship... I will praise...") I innocently asked, "Is this really the most appropriate way to praise God? Instead of focusing on how God makes you feel, shouldn't we focus instead on God's characteristics and qualities?"

One fella, an experienced worship band drummer, piped up, "Of course there's nothing wrong with that. Just look at the Psalms! They talk about the writer's feelings all the time."

I wasn't sure what he meant by that, so I looked up the Psalms when I got home. I could not find a single instance wherein the psalmists focused on their feelings or even what they planned to do for God. Quite the contrary, the focus was always on God, his qualities, and what he has accomplished. There were a few incidental references to one's self, but they never dwelt on the psalmist's feelings. Moreover, such references were always secondary to lauding God for his holiness and righteousness. (In Psalm 26, for example, David talks about how he has served God. This was all just background information though, as the primary theme was David pleading with Yahweh for protection and vindication.)

I think this reflect a common problem among Christians: namely, a tendency to take something that sounds pleasing and profound, and then to assume that the Bible must surely teach it. I've fallen into that trap myself on occasion, especially in my younger days.

Here's another example. I remember attending a Bible study in which we were discussing the need for self-sacrifice and charity. One young lady said, "Just look at Jesus! He hardly ever kept anything for himself, and when he had something, he usually gave it away." Now, I know that Jesus did many great things, but I couldn't recall any such incident. So I said, "I don't remember that. Where does the Bible say that?" Slightly embarassed, she said, "Well, I don't know, but I'm sure it's there somewhere."

Then there's the Internet discussion I had on church discipline one day. I talked about a Sunday school teacher who left our church to live with her boyfriend. After a few months, she decided to return, and I casually mentioned that the church will need to watch her and see if it looks like she has truly repented. A couple of people got angry and said, "No, you don't! That's the pastor's job, not yours. And besides, the Bible says that you're supposed to mind your own business!" Now there are several problems with that retort, not the least being that the Bible teaches no such thing; quite the contrary, it speaks of church members holding each other accountable (Matthew 18). To avoid escalating any conflict though, I simply asked, "Where does the Bible say that? I'm pretty sure that it doesn't." One of the angrier respondents said, "Well, it's probably in Proverbs somewhere. I don't know. Anyway, you need to mind your own business if you're a Christian."

Speaking of Matthew 18, here's one last example. I attended a single men's Bible study one day in which we discussed repentance. The study leader meant well, but he was clearly unprepared for the task of teaching. We read Matthew 18, which speaks about the need to confront errant brothers regarding their sins. He then declared, "So when someone sins against you, you need to forgive immediately and forget all about the sin. Act as though it never happened, and never, ever bring it up again! Place it completely out of your mind. That's what the Bible teaches."

I said, "Wait a minute; that's not what I see in the Word. You certainly can't get that from the passage we just read. Quite the opposite, in fact; Matthew 18 says that when a brother refuses to acknowledge his sin, we are to eject him from the church and treat him like a heathen. That does not sound like 'forgiving and forgetting' to me!"

(As an aside, I think that most Christians have erroneous concepts of what forgiveness is and when it is merited -- but that's a topic for another day.)

Sadly, that's the state of modern Christianity. Instead of letting the Bible guide our beliefs, we tend to embrace whatever sounds good and then assume that the Bible teaches it -- or worse, pick out Scriptures and force them to match our interpretations. Ultimately, it's a sign of spiritual laziness. It's much easier to take that approach than to do the hard work of studying the Scriptures and submitting to their authority.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Who is more merciful, Jesus or the saints?

I will never forget this conversation that I once had regarding the issue of praying to Mary and the saints. I expressed the opinion that when we ask God for a favor, we can trust Him to respond with all appropriate love, mercy, and wisdom, saying "Yes" or "No" to our prayers as He deems fit.

The other person responded, "But if we need something, our chances of getting it are better if we approach Mary or the saints instead. That's because they know what it's like down here."

I quietly asked, "Are suggesting that God doesn't know what it's like?"

"Well, he's not...," she started to reply, then cut herself off. Fury and hellfire blazed in her eyes, but she could say nothing. She knew that she came this close to declaring that God was not omniscient -- that he did not know what it's like to have our personal sufferings and desires.

This is one reason why I get upset when evangelical Christians insist on treating the Catholic Church as though it were just another Christian denomination. Some of the uniquely Catholic teachings are not merely different from ours; rather, they are downright dangerous. This issue of saintly intercession is a perfect example thereof. It may seem harmless to a casual observer, but at its heart is the implication that Mary and the saints are more merciful, more capable of empathizing with us, than God can ever be. That's not just an erroneous teaching; rather, it is downright dangerous.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Revisiting the loss of teaching on Christian radio

On March 1st, 2008, I lamented the way more and more Christian radio stations have chosen to focus on music. They've been reducing the amount of airtime for teaching and preaching, and some have abandoned it altogether.

I happened to share this bit of disappointment over dinner with some believers one night. One fella apparently didn't grasp what I was saying, for he exclaimed, "Oh, yeah! I love Christian music! I like more than any of those teaching programs." He stopped short of saying that Christian teaching was boring, but that was the clear implication of his words.

I am deeply troubled by this trend. Today, I received a newsletter from John MacArthur in which he expressed the same disappointment. Dr. MacArthur said,

The pressure on stations to compete for a larger audience share is intense. Their very survival depends on those ratings, so wise stewardship includes a legitimate concern for reaching the largest audience they can reasonably attract.

On the other hand, Christian ardio is a niche market by definition. Biblical content doesn't appeal to everyone, and Christian programmers can't try to appeal to everyone without sacrificing their distinctiveness. To draw new and increasingly younger audiences while offering serious, edifying, biblical content is to walk a very thin tightrope.

But when stations start eliminating Bible teaching from their broadcast schedule, what message are they giving their audience? As much as I love good Christian music, I have to wonder, "Is the increase in audience size worth the loss of Bible teaching? In today's entertainment-saturated culture, is more music and less clear teaching what people need most?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

When Christians become weird in their zeal

I have a lot of respect for Christians who are bold and zealous in proclaiming their faith. I have sometimes wished that I had both their boldness and their passion in proclaiming the Good News to a dying generation. There are times when Christians can let their zeal overwhelm them to the point that it becomes counterproductive, though.

Back in my high school days, for example,I knew one believer who tried to inject Jesus into virtually every conversation. I remember sitting around with some non-believers, and the conversation turned to a female classmate and her latest boyfriend. He quickly interject, "Yeah, she's worldly. She jumps from one boyfriend to another, and that's not what Jesus would want." Now, I don't object when somebody brings Christ into a conversation; however, bringing him up so abruptly -- especially in a conversation with non-believers -- can tend to be off-putting. Moreover, this sort of thing happened all the time, to the point where I often wondered if he could ever have a relaxed, ordinary conversation about non-spiritual matters for a change.

Here's another example. I once encountered a fella who wore Christian t-shirts to work everyday. Every day, his shirt proclaimed some sort of evangelistic message. Now, I have no doubt that he was motivated by a sincere and passionate desire to warn people about the dangers of hell; however, I do question the wisdom of this method. I wholeheartedly believe that Christians should have passion and zeal; however, I doubt that many people would respond positively to this approach. Don't get me wrong; I think that Christian t-shirts can be wonderful evangelistic tools (I'm wearing one right now). However, when somebody wears these shirts every single day, I don't think people will respond by saying, "This man really loves the Lord!" No, they'd probably be thinking, "Boy, this guy has really gone off the deep end."

I hope that everyone who's reading this message understands what I'm saying. We need to have zeal, but we mustn't come across as being so heavenly minded that we're no worldly good. We must not act as though we belong to the world; however, we must also make it clear that we are normal, everyday folks who take our faith seriously and who choose to love, serve, and obey our heavenly master. I think that's a fair and reasonable balance to strike.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Must people know how much you care before they care how much you know?

Have you ever heard Christians declare, "People won't care how much you know until they know how much you care"? I certainly have. To be perfectly honest though, I disagree.

I hope you understand what I mean. By no means to I suggest that we have no obligation to love our fellow man. I do think that it's overly simplistic to say that we must always convince non-believers of the depth of our love before we can share the Word. That's just an overly broad statement.

The problem with this line is that it SOUNDS so good -- so loving, so wonderful. At best though, it's a severe overstatement.

Consider Jonah, for example. When Yahweh commanded Jonah to preach to the Ninevites, he didn't say, "Oh, but first show them how much you love them. Otherwise, they won't listen." In fact, Jonah did NOT have an abundance of love for the Ninevites. Quite the contrary; he had no desire to see them repent! After finally obeying God's command to preach the Word though, Jonah saw that the Ninevites changed their ways -- and this was without any overt display of love on his part.

In addition, do you remember when Jesus spoke to the Samaritanwoman at the well? Jesus focused on simply declaring the truth. Sure, he spoke kindly, and of course, he also showed love and consideration simply by speaking to a Samaritan woman in public. Still, it seems to me that this single act of kindness is not quite the same as making someone "know how much you care." It's not the same as demonstrating the depths of one's love.

Also, why do people convert to Buddhism, or Wicca, or Satanism. Is it because they're touched by the depth of love that Buddhists, Wiccans, and Satanists have for them? Probably not! By and large, it's because the words of these religions resonate with them -- because they make sense to them. (I'm not endorsing those views, mind you, nor am I suggesting that they're logical. My point is simply that people don't necessarily need to see an outpouring of love before they become receptive to a particular teaching.)