Berean cogitations

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Are we obligated to personally confront teachers in error?

Earlier, I mentioned a discussion I had with a pastor about a popular Christian book. In the course of this discussion, I said that Chuck Smith, John MacArthur and various other teachers have criticized the doctrines within that book.This pastor responded (and I paraphrase), "Well, did Smith, MacArthur and company personally speak to this author before criticizing his teachings? That's what the Bible teaches, after all. Wouldn't they want to obey the God's Word?"

I said, "No offense, but I don't think the Bible says such a thing. If you're talking about Matthew 18:15-17, that passage pertains to sin within the church, rather than to erroneous doctrine. After all, verse 17 talks about casting that person out of the church, and one can scarcely do that to the pastor of another congregation!" (Additionally, please note that v. 15 talks about a brother who "sins against you." Clearly, this pertains to personal offenses, rather than false teachings.)

The pastor said, "Well, the principle still applies."

I have no doubt that the pastor meant well, and that he has a good heart. Nevertheless, I was disappointed to hear him express such a view. Sure, it is sometimes appropriate to approach a false teacher first, especially where some personal relationship exists. The Bible never makes that an absolute command, though. In applying proper hermeneutics, we should not take a passage that pertains to personal sin and church discipline, and then force it to apply in instances of false teaching. That is eisegesis (reading interpretations into the Scriptures) rather than exegesis (deriving interpretations from the Word).

Careful exegesis honors god. Eisegesis -- even when well-intentioned -- is tremendously disrespectful to God's Word. We should never claim that a Bible passage teaches something if that's not truly the case.

Besides, even if the Bible did command such a thing, the failure of John MacArthur, etc. to personally reprove this author has no bearing on the truth of their criticisms. In other words, they could have personally failed in this regard, but that would not make their criticisms false.

Finally, I think there are good reasons why someone should not have to engage in personal dialogue before correcting false doctrine. That's because false doctrine can cause great damage, and can do so quickly. In many cases there are hundreds of thousands across the globe who read a preacher's books or listen to his messages each day. Should a pastor wait around for a chance to dialogue with a false teacher first, before warning his flock? I don't think so!

Our ultimate obligation is to the truth. There are times when it would be prudent to personally confront someone regarding the errors of his preaching, but this is not always a requirement -- and it's most certainly not what Matthew 18:15-17 is teaching. Certainly, when it comes to severe doctrinal error, we may have to speak the truth first -- waging damage control, if you wish -- instead of waiting around for a chance to engage the erring teachers in dialogue. The truth has to come first.