Berean cogitations

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Rejoicing in pretense?

On a couple of recent occasions, I found myself discussing the issue of false teaching within the church. To my shock, on both occasions, some believers chimed in by saying, "Hey, don't complain about false teaching! Instead, rejoice! After all, didn't Paul say that he would rejoice, even in pretense? Paul knew that the Gospel is still preached, even in false doctrine!"

I was absolutely stunned by these replies, so I decided to look up the relevant Scripture. I discovered a reference to pretense and rejoicing in Philippians 1:18, which says,

"[W]hether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice."

I always like to consider verses in their proper context though, so here's what verses 15 to 18 have to say:

"Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice."

Note that this passage says nothing about false teaching or false teachers. Rather, Paul is expressing thanks that the Gospel is being preached, even when it is occasionally done with ill motives (e.g. envy, strife, selfish ambition). In other words, this passage does NOT say that we should be thankful when God's Word is being twisted around and preached incorrectly. I daresay that Paul would be horrified at such a thought; after all, he's the one who said "Test all things" (1 Thess 5:21). Luke would surely be aghast as well, for he commended the Bereans as they searched the Scriptures diligently to discern the truth. (Acts 17:10-11)

This shows the importance of examining verses in their proper context, instead of just reading them individually. You can open yourself up to all manner of abominable teaching unless you examine their context carefully.

Enforcing "unity" in a Bible study

I was at a Bible study this summer where we were discussing ways to serve the church and demonstrate leadership. One person said, "I think we can serve the church and lead by attending regularly and always showing up on time." Cautiously, I responded, "Well, I think that's very important indeed, but I wouldn't really call it service."

At that point, the person in question said, "Are you contradicting me?" Another person raised her voice and said, "There will be no contradicting other people at this table!"

I was stunned, and so I said nothing in response. Looking back, I wish I had said, "Well, I simply think we should be allowed to voice our disagreements... and if you disagree with me on that point, then that's okay!"

These people meant well; make no mistake about that. However, they were trying to impose unity by forbidding disagreement -- by enforcing a blanket type of "tolerance" where nobody was allowed to contradict another person's views. This type of unity is unbiblical, for true unity ultimately comes from conformity to God's Word. That's not to say that we will agree on every single point; rather, it simply means that unity must come about by striving earnestly for the Lord, without compromising in either doctrine or character.