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Doctrine Does Not Divide

Doctrine Does Not Divide

After writing the last article (Who’s the Heretic?[1]), I gave more thought to the question of dividing on the Non-essentials: If we ought not to divide on the non-essentials, why then is there so much division amongst Christians and leaders, often on non-essentials?

The common misnomer is that it is doctrine that divides. This misleads many to avoid doctrine since it appears to be such a divisive issue. (A search of the internet will deliver a plethora of articles that support the notion that doctrine divides and must be avoided.) Both extremes of the argument repeat the mantra that doctrine divides: Those who are weak on doctrine will emphasize love and use the argument to discard all doctrine because it is “divisive”. On the other hand, those who are more rigid will say that it is right that doctrine divides since truth and error cannot be in fellowship. Thus, the same saying is used both to avoid doctrine and to over-emphasize doctrine. Yes, doctrine can be over-emphasized – if it is simply a cold, hard set of facts, void of love, grace, and transforming power. And no, I do not believe that our fellowship should be based on the lowest common denominator and that doctrine should be scrapped for the sake of unity, nor do I believe that true love removes the need for, or mitigates against, sound doctrine. (When I refer to “doctrine” in this article, I am referring to what we define as the Non-essentials – see the previous article for a fuller definition.)

The fact is that doctrine does not divide but doctrine has become the great scapegoat on whose back is laid a multitude of sins that are the real cause of division. I know this sounds like “heresy” but follow my argument: Division is the product of bad attitudes and bad behavior and not of bad doctrine.

If the differing parties both exhibit the spirit of Christ (Philippians 2:1-11) and are humble and respectful in their treatment of the other, then no matter how big the doctrinal differences, those differences can be worked through in order to arrive at the truth. However, if just one of the parties is arrogant, legalistic and judgmental, no matter how small the difference – unity will be fleeting and is guaranteed to be destroyed sooner or later.

“… with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace… till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:2,3,13). The unity of the Spirit here refers to the unity we have by virtue of our salvation. Since we share a common salvation, we have the unity of the Spirit. Ephesians 4:4-6 lists seven things that all true believers have in common and that is the basis of our spiritual unity. Note that Paul says we need to keep the unity of the Spirit. You can’t keep what you don’t have, but because all believers have the unity of Spirit simply because Father, Son and Spirit cannot be divided, we are urged to maintain the right attitude and preserve that unity.

Later Ephesians 4:13 speaks of the “unity of the faith”. The term “the faith” refers to our doctrine[2] and in this context speaks of the time when there will be unity in what we believe. While verse 3 says we need to keep the unity of the Spirit, verse 13 says we need to come to (arrive at) the unity of the faith. Note that Paul says to keep the unity of the Spirit “till” we come to the unity of the faith. Thus, we are not to divide even if we do not believe exactly the same and are to maintain the unity of the Spirit until we come to the unity of the faith. Here is my paraphrase these verses: “As Christians we have a common salvation, Lord Jesus, Father and Spirit. We must have the right attitude towards one another in order to preserve our unity of the spirit until we have all matured and believe exactly the same.”

There is therefore no excuse for division on the basis of differences on the non-essentials and any division on these issues is rank disobedience to the plain teaching of Scripture. Note also that we do not arrive at the unity of the faith by consensus, negotiation or intimidation but by submission to the ministry gifts of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12).

When we do not have the right attitude (or spirit), division becomes inevitable, not because of doctrine, but because of arrogance, unteachableness, selfish ambition, jealousy or hurt. Then, because we do not want to appear to divide on such carnal things, we begin to nitpick the other’s doctrine until we find something that we can use as the scapegoat for the division! Many times, I have witnessed how brothers begin to pick at various minor issues until they find a doctrinal issue they can blow out of proportion so that they are “justified” to break fellowship or denigrate the other party. In addition, because the doctrinal issue is tenuous, at best, they will exaggerate the differences by using straw man arguments. The idea is make it appear as a violation of an essential doctrine, thereby making you a heretic, which “justifies” them in turning others against you. But, what they are really doing is allowing the Devil to use them to do his dirty work of destroying the work of God. Sadly, they pride themselves in being “defenders of the faith” when in fact they are the exact opposite.

Even if such people are one hundred percent correct doctrinally, they are still one hundred percent wrong:

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:13-18).

True wisdom is manifest in meekness. Wisdom that divides and destroys comes from selfish ambition and is ultimately demonic – plain and simple!

Paul says: “…though I… understand all mysteries and all knowledge… but have no love, I am nothing” (1Corinthians 13:3). Thus even if one had perfect knowledge of all doctrine, but had no love the knowledge is useless and invalidated.

In fact, Paul says we should withdraw (break fellowship) with those who are argumentative and whose doctrine does not agree with, and produce godliness (1Timothy 6:3-5). In using the word ‘godliness’ here, Paul does not just have holiness in mind but specifically points to the fruit of the Spirit. Here are some of the things that the context defines as godliness: “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness”. (1Timothy 6:11). Therefore, Paul says, anyone who claims to have the true doctrine but does not exhibit love, patience and gentleness is to be avoided. The reason for this is, as I have said, because no matter how correct their doctrine, if they have the wrong spirit, or attitude, their knowledge is empty and they become a tool of the Devil to sow discord among the brethren.

It seems that as we get closer to the Lord’s return, there is a proliferation of those who pride themselves in their hardline, legalistic, and unchristian attitudes and who boast in those things as though they are desirable attributes when in fact, they are simply evidence of their immaturity and carnality (1Corinthians 3:3).

Finally, lest you accuse me of being soft on doctrine: I am fully committed to purity of doctrine and the defense of the faith, but that is only part of the true faith. True wisdom and true knowledge is proven by the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) and not by boastfulness, bluff, bluster and bullying. Jesus said the fruit will separate the true from the false prophets (Matthew 7:15-20). Our doctrine shapes our behavior therefore the true measure of our doctrine is in our actions more than in our words. Remember that even demons and unsaved academics can learn to recite correct theology, but that does not mean they are saved.

Paul calls his lifestyle to witness to the correctness of his doctrine (1Thessalonians 1:5) and John says “He who does not love does not know God…” (1John 4:8). Therefore, those who wish to demonstrate their spiritual superiority need to do it through the right attitude. Knowledge proves nothing. Computers and the Internet contain more knowledge than anyone who ever lived but they are cold, heartless and devoid of any spirituality. Those who boast of their supremacy on the basis of their superior doctrine but who cannot apply that knowledge with love, patience and meekness are simply walking automatons, programmed by Satan to do his work.

Please permit me to challenge you to think about those with whom you have broken fellowship since becoming a believer. Did you reject them because of jealousy, pride, anger, selfish ambition or any other carnal reason; did you show them the same love, patience and gentleness you expect from the Lord for yourself? If not, don’t use your “pure doctrine” as a cover for your carnality but rather repent and make things right.

Oh Lord, preserve us from those who simply want to use Christianity as a means of proving their superiority and to satisfy their lust for endless arguments, and may I not be one of those. Teach me your kindness, love, gentleness and patience and the true wisdom that comes from above and not from below. Amen.

 

 

[1] http://antonbosch.org/who-is-the-heretic

[2] See Colossians 2:7; Titus 1:13; Jude 3.

Who is the Heretic?

Who is the Heretic?

As I was preparing to teach a course on Apologetics (the defense of the faith) recently, I realized that I did not have a good definition of “heresy”. A search of the internet also produced nothing that seemed to be exactly right. The terms heresy and heretic are very much abused and mean many different things to different people. Some people label anything that doesn’t agree with their narrow doctrinal position as heresy, while others are reluctant to apply the label to beliefs clearly outside the Christian faith. What a Catholic would regard as heresy is very different to what an Evangelical would regard as heresy and what one Evangelical regards as heresy is different to what another Evangelical would count as such.

As a result, I set about attempting to define this term we all use, mostly with little understanding of the meaning or implications of the word.

The term is derived from the Greek word hairesis, literally meaning a choice, but referring more specifically to a sect, party or division. Luke uses the term in Acts to refer to the sects of the Sadducees (5:17), the Pharisees (15:5; 26:5), and even the Christians – called Nazarenes or the Way (24:5,14; 28:22). When Paul uses the term in 1Corinthians 11:19 and Galatians 5:20, he refers to the divisions and factions which cause strife in the church, while Peter links the term to false prophets and teachers (2Peter 2:1).

Paul uses the term in Titus when he explains how heresy should be dealt with: “Reject a divisive man (Gr: aihretikos, heretic in the KJV) after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.” (Titus 3:10-11).

The New Testament sense of the word therefore combines two things: A doctrine outside the norm that becomes the basis of a division. However, our modern understanding is slightly different in that the word tends to lay the emphasis on unorthodox doctrine which requires that the heretic be excommunicated.

So here is an attempt at a definition: “Heresy is a teaching or practice which denies and/or adds to one or more essentials of the Christian faith, divides Christians, and deserves condemnation.” John gives a good example of such a doctrine: denying the true nature of the person and work of Jesus Christ (IJohn 4:1-3; 2John 1:7-11).

Note that in the definition I said that it is a teaching or practice that denies and/or adds to an essential of the Faith. The idea of “essentials” comes from a quote by a 17th Century German Theologian who said: “In Essentials unity, In Non-Essentials liberty, in all things charity”. This says then that there are “essentials” and “non-essentials” and the statement, when applied in practice, is generally stated in reverse: “We must divide when the Essentials are violated and maintain the unity when someone has a different view on the Non-essentials”.

Non-essentials are clearly things like whether the hymn book has a blue or green cover, whether the service starts at 10am or 11am etc. The problem is that most Christians struggle to agree on what are Essentials and what are not. Some will elevate things like which translation to use, or whether men should wear neckties to the services, whether Adam had a navel, and a host of other less-important things, to the level of Essentials and will divide on those. (More on this later).  Because of this confusion, I felt the need to briefly define what the Essentials are, for my own benefit, and for those of my students:

Generally heresy falls into four main areas:

  • A wrong Christology (a wrong view of the person and work of Jesus Christ)
  • A wrong Theology (a wrong view of the nature of God)
  • A wrong Soteriology (a wrong understanding of salvation)
  • A wrong Bibliology (a wrong understanding of the inspiration and authority of Scripture)

While this may seem simple, it is not. As you may appreciate, there are many details and nuances of the above that may, or may not, be defined as heresy. While even agreeing on whether the above four areas are the Essentials is problematic, defining when someone has crossed the line on any of these is even more difficult.

What is clear is that we dare not use straw-man arguments nor extrapolation to “prove” a heresy. It is common to hear that if this or that teaching is taken to its logical conclusion, it is heresy and therefore the teaching (before being extended to its conclusion) is heresy. This is simply not true. For example; because someone believes that God is loving and gracious, if extended to it “conclusion”, could mean that everyone will be saved (Universalism) and therefore those who teach the love and grace of God are all heretics. While an emphasis on grace certainly could lead to heresy, it is not necessarily heresy when it is balanced by a clear understanding of the holiness and righteousness of God. Thus, to take one statement and declare someone a heretic without understanding the balance that person may bring through a counter-balancing doctrine is unrighteous judgment. The fact is that a lot of genuine heresy is simply the overstatement of one truth without bringing the counter-balancing truth into view. Thus overemphasising the three persons of the Trinity is polytheism (worship of many gods) while the over-emphasis of the oneness of God leads to several opposite heresies.

The difference between truth and heresy is often a very fine line and we must be careful before branding someone with such a label without unequivocal evidence, righteously and objectively weighed by those who are skilled to do so.

On the other hand, once heresy has been established, there is no recourse but to excommunicate such a person unless the heretic repents. This procedure is clearly spelt out in Scripture (Titus 3:10) and cannot be done capriciously or at the whim of just anyone.

Finally, there is an opposite form of heresy to the above – those who make non-essentials the basis for division: There are many who will gladly divide on non-essentials even though we may agree on the Essentials. These people are guilty of heresy even though their doctrine on the Essentials may be quite acceptable. Their heresy is that they have turned non-essentials into essentials. Thus those who readily divide on the King James Version Only, whether the bread at the communion is unleavened, or whether baptism is by immersing three times or once, or any of the thousands of other non-essentials on which people divide so easily, are by definition, heretics.

However, unlike the first kind of heretic who must be excommunicated, these people excommunicate themselves by rejecting anyone who does not agree with them and their pet ideas. They are self-destructing in that they typically excommunicate themselves into a corner with one or two others who have an equally critical spirit. Once they have isolated themselves, they begin to turn on each other until they have consumed one another (Galatians 5:15).

Diotrephes is a good example of this kind of behaviour: “… Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church.” (3John 1:9-10).

Even though these people finally destroy or isolate themselves, the damage they cause is still serious because they bring unnecessary divisions and hurt to the body of Christ, disrupt the work of the Gospel, and bring dishonour to the name of Christ among the Gentiles.

Truth and heresy, and maintaining fellowship, are serious matters and should never be a cover for pride, a divisive spirit, or selfish ambition. Heresy and sin must be dealt with justly and decisively, with love. The same applies to those who boast in their exclusiveness, elitism and narrow-mindedness. These attitudes are simply a manifestation of carnality: “… For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” (1Corinthians 3:3).

Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled ” (Hebrews 12:14-15).

 

I am Not Sola Scriptura

I am Not Sola Scriptura

Sola Scriptura is Latin for “Scripture alone” and is one of the five foundational principles that came out of the Reformation, 500 years ago this year. It is supposed to mean that the Christian Scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith, doctrine, and practice. Well, in theory. In practice however, it does not mean that at all.

The Church of Rome, Anglicanism and Eastern orthodoxy all openly deny Sola Scriptura and place church traditions, the authority of the church and several other things at an equal or even higher authority than the Scriptures. At least they are honest about that, but the Reformers on the other hand, emphasized their commitment to Sola Scriptura.

So, we must ask whether the Reformers did indeed believe and practice Sola Scriptura and the answer is a resoundingly NO. The Reformers held to Sola Scriptura only as far as it suited their own ideas. However, for the most part their theology was based on a mixture of Scripture, Catholic tradition, the teachings of the so called “Church Fathers[1]”, and rationalism. All the Reformers quoted the “Church Fathers” extensively and held to many doctrines that the “Church Fathers” taught which the Bible does not. They freely confessed that and an examination of their ideas and doctrines against the Bible confirms this.

Since the Reformers leaned so heavily on the “Church Fathers” and the creeds the “Fathers” produced, and since modern Reformationism hold the “Church Fathers” in such high esteem, we must ask if the Church Fathers were Sola Scriptura? Again the answer is simply NO. Even a cursory reading of church history and of the “Fathers” shows that their theology was heavily influenced by Greek mythology and Gnosticism. In fact, several of their cardinal doctrines had absolutely no Scriptural basis whatsoever and were taken directly from Greek mythology. Augustine in his On Christian Teaching speaks frankly about plundering the Egyptians and baptizing the truth that we gain from pagan thought. Many of these doctrines steeped in pagan thinking were carried over to the Reformers and are still held by modern Reformationism.

Luther thought that the Ante-Nicene Period (roughly between AD100 and AD325) was the “golden age” of the church and that the “Church Fathers” who emerged from this period were spiritual giants. But even a cursory examination shows that in spite of the church being persecuted and many being martyred for the faith, it had strayed far from what was believed and practiced by the Apostles. The church and its leaders that produced the Creeds were politically compromised, basically Arian (denying the divinity of Jesus), and far from what we understand to be Bible-believing fundamentalists. Their view of salvation was very different to that of the apostles and that of the New Testament and they can therefore not be called Evangelical. Their church structure had more in common with Catholicism as the State religion than with New Testamental Christianity and the way they interpreted Scripture was capricious, at best.

The bottom line is that the “Church Fathers” were not Sola Scriptura and neither were the Reformers. The same has to be said of those who hold to modern Reformationism or Calvinism. The very fact that they identify themselves with the Reformation or the man, Calvin, acknowledges their devotion to these things rather than to the Lord Jesus or the Scriptures. Once again, if you were to examine many of their cardinal doctrines and ideas, you will find that they have re-interpreted Scripture in the light of the teachings of the “Fathers” and of the Reformers, rather than based on the plain teaching of Scripture. Thus when they use the term Sola Scriptura, it clearly does not mean “only Scripture” but is rather a euphuism for “Scripture plus”.

What they do is in many respects similar to what the Pharisees did. The Pharisees, out of a sincere desire to protect the Law, built a “fence” around it. This fence consisted of the teachings of the Rabbis and of their traditions. Thus what the Pharisees taught was no longer Scripture alone, but was “Scripture plus” and that was exactly why Jesus opposed them saying they were: “…making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (Mark 7:13). And “Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:24). Not only had these endless additions to the Word brought them into extreme legalism but it robbed them of the kind of personal, living, relationship that they should have had with the Lord, and it blinded them to the ultimate truth of Jesus as the Messiah. Further, rather than their system bringing about true spirituality, it brought about spiritual pride, elitism and intellectual snobbery. And, rather than strengthen the Word, they stripped it of its glory, power and simplicity.

The Word of God is living and powerful (Hebrews 4:12) and it does not need to be spiced up with the ideas and traditions of men. Clearly what we need is not to return to the Reformers or the “Church Fathers” but to the Bible: “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (Isaiah 8:20).

Our modern thinking makes us believe that complexity is equal to intelligence and wisdom. It is not. Wisdom is revealed in the simplicity (yet unsearchable depths) of the Word. One of the miracles of the Bible is that a child can understand it, even though it reveals the inscrutable things of God. Yet, we set aside the riches of God’s wisdom for the rags of our foolishness. “For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” (1Corinthians 1:19-21).

This appeal to return to the simplicity and purity of the Word alone permeates the entire New Testament: “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” (2Corinthians 11:3). “…nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith.” (1Timothy 1:4). “O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge– by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith.” (1Timothy 6:20-21).

It seems simplistic to say that we only believe the Scriptures and that unless it is plainly written we will not be deceived as Eve was by the question “has God indeed said”. But the moment one removes the boundaries of Scripture alone, there is no limit to how far one will stray: “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8).

To conclude: I am not Sola Scriptura, I am Scripture only. “…that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written” (1Corinthians 4:6).

[1] It must always be remembered that the “Church Fathers” were the fathers of the Eastern and Roman churches and not of the true church.

When Fools Become Kings

When Fools Become Kings

There is an evil I have seen under the sun, As an error proceeding from the ruler: Folly is set in great dignity, while the rich sit in a lowly place. I have seen servants on horses, While princes walk on the ground like servants.” (Ecclesiastes 10:5-7).

For three things the earth is perturbed…For a servant when he reigns…” (Proverbs 30:22).

Luxury is not fitting for a fool, Much less for a servant to rule over princes.”  (Proverbs 19:10).

The Lord’s vision was for Israel to be a theocracy with God at the head and the nation a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:6). The Lord had raised up a series of men to lead them – men like Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb. But even under Moses they rebelled against their leaders and the Lord. The Lord’s plan for Israel was a careful balance between personal responsibility and a personal relationship with God (a kingdom of priests) and the administration of divinely chosen leaders, both spiritual and civic.

On the threshold of the Promised Land, they rejected God’s order and experimented with democracy. The overwhelming majority voted not to enter the Promised Land and only two out of 600,000 voted to obey the Lord. This resulted in 40 years of hardship in the wilderness and death to all who participated in the referendum (Numbers 14).

During the time of the judges they again swung the pendulum of personal freedom to another extreme as “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25). This statement was not a commendation of their actions, as I have heard some say, but rather a criticism of their lawlessness and self-centeredness and the rejection of those leaders that the Lord had instituted. Doing what was right in their own eyes included families appointing their own priests and devising their own form of religion, in opposition to the Tabernacle and Aaronic priesthood which had been instituted by the Lord. Not long after they went to the other extreme when they insisted that Samuel appoint a king and in the process they surrendered all personal rights and responsibilities (1Samuel 8:11-18).

For a while the church of the first century was able to maintain the balance between personal responsibility and submission to God-given men in various positions of leadership. But by the end of the first century a hierarchy had begun to evolve that would soon strip the individual of personal responsibility and place unlimited spiritual authority in the hands of church leaders. Eventually the common man was not even allowed to read the Scriptures for himself and his whole spiritual responsibility had become to simply follow the dictates of the “church”. In the Reformation, the Reformers spoke of rediscovering the priesthood of every believer but this was in theory only. In practice the power and authority of the clergy continued unabated, except for small groups of believers who continually sought to return to Biblical principles.

In the latter part of the 20th century the pendulum again begun to swing, this time back to “everyone doing what is right in his own eyes”. The concept of the priesthood of every believer was driven to the extreme so that many rejected all forms of spiritual leadership and accountability. With the advent of the internet, everyone has now also become their own theologian and is able to pick and mix from the many ideas available online, and create their own cut-and paste religion and theology. We are back to the book of Judges where preachers are for hire and each one does as he pleases (Judges 17).

Even worse; now any Tom Dick or Harry, can download a manual for starting a church, complete with pre-made sermons, marketing plans and ordination certificates. And if that is too much trouble, he can buy a church franchise from some other equally unscrupulous charlatan. Every city is over-crowded with churches started and run by people who are not called by God and ill-equipped to handle the sacred Text. Indeed, not only are servants ruling as princes but fools are reigning as kings over their self-made empires.

So what qualifies someone to be a teacher of the Word of God and a leader in a local church? Two things; – gifting and training. Neither on their own qualify a man to lead a church or teach doctrine – both are absolutely essential.

In many circles education, preferably of a religious kind, is sufficient to qualify for the ministry. But education, no matter how good, cannot make a preacher, teacher or shepherd. Sadly many pulpits are occupied by the ungifted and even more have set themselves up as theologians and authors just because they have a few degrees. Yet, it is God who gives gifts to some for the benefit of the church. (1Corinthians 12:18, 28-30; Ephesians 4:11.) Note that 1Corinthians 12:28 says that God appoints ministries. This does not only mean that the idea of ministers is God’s idea, but the context is clear that specific men are appointed for specific ministries. In plain English this means that not everyone can become a teacher, shepherd or preacher.

There is absolutely no way that one can learn to be a teacher, shepherd, or preacher. Yes, you can learn the techniques and you may even be a good actor, public speaker, or leader but without the divine gifting and equipping from on high,  any ministry will simply be in the flesh and will not carry God’s blessing and any “results” will be purely human activity without any spiritual power to transform and save. Saul reigned over Israel for 38 years after the anointing had been taken from him and given to another. Yes, he went through the motions of being a king and did all the kingly stuff, but God was not with him and God was not backing him up. Even worse, he had plunged Israel into a civil war that lasted 30 years! This kind of ministry in human power is all too popular today as many are deceived into following charismatic actors parading as men of God.  But the consequences are devastating as the people are abused, fed on drivel or led into error.

As much as the church scene is blighted by these “professional” imposters, almost every church is marred by armchair theologians who think they know more about everything than those whom God has called and gifted. These Monday morning quarterbacks feel it is their “ministry” to second-guess every sermon and every decision of God-ordained leaders. Instead of praying for, and supporting their leaders, they feel it is their God-given ministry to criticize. There may be music and art critics and there may be sports commentators but the Bible knows nothing of a ministry called “pastor critic” or “church faultfinder”. If you are not building, you are breaking down, and if you are breaking down you are opposing God – that’s all there is to it. Yes, I know about the Bereans (Acts 17:10-12). But they were not anything like modern “Bereans”. True Bereans receive the Word with readiness while false Bereans don’t. True Bereans check against Scripture while false Bereans check against their own preconceived ideas or the internet. True Bereans recognize God-given ministries and support and submit to them while false Bereans only submit to themselves.

Just as God’s order for the church is leadership by those whom God has called and gifted, it is also the Lord of the church’s design that those who have been gifted be trained for the work. Just as there are too many who have learned to do the job without any gifting, there are also too many who are indeed gifted, but who have had no training for the ministry. Thus they blunder on making a mess of the work, totally unskilled in the Word or in the work of the ministry – workmen who need to be ashamed (2Timothy 2:15). Many times these men rely heavily on the internet for their theology and just like the armchair theologians, cobble their theology together out of scraps they glean from all sorts of questionable sources. They are just as dangerous as the imposters who have not been gifted, yet who have an education.

I am not necessarily referring to an academic, theological training, but training under a proven minster who himself has been called and trained. In fact, academic theological training without the hands-on input of a teacher who teaches application with theology is just as valueless as no training at all. Paul is very specific how this works: He had trained Timothy through many years of apprenticeship or discipleship. He then instructs Timothy to commit the doctrines to other faithful men who will teach others in turn (2Timothy 2:2). Yes, the Lord can teach someone directly with just a Bible and the Holy Spirit, but that would be the very rare exception, the pattern He has ordained is that there is a continuous line of pure doctrine and lifestyle that is handed down from one generation to the next. Let me be clear, God never ordained the internet as the place we are to be taught for one simple reason: “But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them,” (2Timothy 3:14). People and leaders too readily run to books and the internet to learn, not knowing who they are learning from and in the process are often learning from the devil’s agents!

Just as to Solomon it was a shameful thing to see servants in the place of kings, it is shameful to see ungifted and uncalled men in pulpits and just as Solomon decried that kings should be in the place of servants it is a shame that those who are gifted are so ill-equipped to fulfill their calling that they are walking instead of riding on horses.

God’s plan for the church is that local churches should be led by men whom He has specifically called and gifted and who have been trained and prepared for the work. Without the calling and the training, no man should ascend the pulpit. The second, but equal plan of God, is that every believer take responsibility for his own walk and family while submitting to, and supporting, those whom the Lord has set in the church. Anything else is as much an aberration as fools who become kings and will never carry the Lord’s blessing.

From Hamburger Hill to Calvary

From Hamburger Hill to Calvary

The Battle of Hamburger Hill was a battle of the Vietnam War that was fought by the United States and South Vietnam against North Vietnamese forces from May 10–20, 1969. Although the heavily fortified Hill 937 was of little strategic value, U.S. command ordered its capture by a frontal assault. The hill was finally taken at the cost of 72 Americans killed and 372 wounded. Losses on the North Vietnamese side are estimated at more than 630 dead.

What makes this battle so significant is that the hill was of little strategic value, which was proven by the fact that it was abandoned by the US forces two weeks later. But more significant is the fact that the fall-out from this battle back home forced the Nixon administration to order the end of major tactical ground operations in Vietnam. So in a sense the hill and the battle were won while at the same time losing the war!

In the same way, we as Christians individually and collectively in our local churches, sometimes engage in spiritual battles that are of little strategic (over-all) importance. In the process we expend enormous amounts of time and energy and incur severe losses of all kinds for hollow victories that make no difference in the light of eternity. We may even win a particular battle and yet, lose the war. One example of this could be winning an argument with someone who differs from us yet, losing the person for the Lord. We become so fixated at winning the argument, that we forget that our objective is not to win the argument, but to win the soul. We easily forget that Jesus did not die for arguments, but for souls.

The Pharisees were very good at the minutia of the Law and would win those battles every time, yet they lost sight of the more important things like “justice, mercy and faith” (Matthew 23:23).  Indeed they could win every doctrinal and theological battle, but lost their own souls and those of their followers. Allow me some liberty as I apply Matthew 16:26: “What is a man profited if he gain all doctrine and theology and lose his own soul?”

Doctrine and theology are important. There are times when we must stand for truth and defend it vigorously, even at the cost of our very lives. But to try and correct the fool who does not want to know truth is a waste of time (Proverbs 23:9). Paul warns about endless arguments over words (1Timothy 6:4). To tweak the theology or behavior of an unbeliever is pointless, unless he comes to Christ first. And to correct someone who is wise in his own eyes is futile (Proverbs 26:12).

It is vital that we choose our battles, or put in another way, choose which hill we are willing to die on. Dying for something that in the end is not important is a waste of a life. If one is going to give one’s life for something, surely one needs to make sure that it is for the right reasons and the right cause. And if you are going to expend resources, surely you should make sure that they are being spent in the best way possible. Jesus said: “do not… cast your pearls before swine…” (Matthew 7:6).

Daily the enemy of the church wins victories as we are drawn into divisions and strife over non-essentials, while not engaging the serious issues in our own lives and our churches. Jesus called it swallowing camels while straining out gnats (Matthew 23:23-24). We will argue and divide over doctrinal nuances with such venom and hatred. That shows that our focus on doctrinal niceties is simply a cover for the real issue – our carnality (1Corinthians 3:3). It is frankly no good winning every doctrinal argument, even if you are right, but in the process your spirit is more that of the devil than that of Christ. You are fighting the wrong battles – the real battle is within your own soul!

Yet we are amazingly inept at seeing the forest for the trees, and choosing the right battles. As we fight the wrong battles, we not only waste time and resources, and possibly our lives, but we are distracted from the real issues. This is one of the oldest tactics in war. Even in the sword fight the attacker will lunge at a part of the opponent’s body to draw his attention away from where the fatal blow will strike. Leading up to the Normandy landings on D-Day, the Allies staged a number of elaborate diversions to draw Hitler’s forces away from where the actual landing would take place.

Daily we are deceived by the enemy’s diversionary tactics to get us to focus on something other than the main and strategic goals. As in war, we need to ask the question all the time: Does this contribute to the over-all plan of God for my life and ministry, or is it a diversion and distraction? Many times the diversion looks important, but it is not – it is all part of the devil’s strategy. One diversion I frequently fall for is entering a debate with someone who is not really interested in the truth, but simply wants to argue. These debates consume a lot of time and energy and seem to be important as we feel we are “defending the faith”. But we must ask the question whether the other person is really interested in the truth or is simply being used by the enemy to distract us from the real task at hand. (And yes, the devil frequently uses other Christians in this way.) It is not easy to know the difference, but we must get better at not tilting at windmills[1] if we are going to win gloriously in the end. The fact is that every skirmish and every maneuver takes resources from the main front which plays into the hands of the enemy.

I vex my soul daily over Christian leaders who choose the hill of Calvinism, or of some view on the Rapture, or a specific Bible translation, or any of a thousand other issues, as the hill on which they make their stand. For many it becomes their last stand where they, like Custer and his brave men, eventually die in defeat.

It is absolutely vital therefore that we have a clear view of what the objectives are and having those in mind, we gear our lives and our churches towards those objectives and those alone. So what are our objectives? I thought much about this because it is crucial that we get this right otherwise we will be fighting the wrong battles and taking the wrong hills, only to abandon them again for the next unimportant one. Here is my understanding of the objectives of the church:

  1. To seek and save that which was lost (Luke 19:10).
  2. Keep those that have been entrusted to us (John 17:11,12).
  3. To bring believers to maturity into the image of Christ (Ephesians 4:12-16)[2].

It is essential therefore that each of us determine whether every endeavor, every project, every dollar spent, and every hour consumed works towards those objectives lest we find ourselves attacking or defending hills that make no contribution towards ultimate victory, but rather could cost us the war.

Throughout the life of the Lord Jesus, the devil sought to divert and distract Him from His goal – Calvary. The temptations in the wilderness, the adulation of the crowds, the good intentions of His disciples, the opposition of the religious community, and even the great needs around Him, all worked to divert Him from His objective.

In Nazareth (Luke 4:28-30), the mob thrust Him out onto the hill in order to throw Him off and kill Him. But Jesus understood that this was not the hill on which He would shed His blood and that dying here would play into the hands of the enemy whose strategy was to prevent Him from reaching the objective. Jesus recognized that the objective was for Him to die an atoning death on the hill called Calvary and not to die a martyr’s death at the wrong time on the wrong hill. He therefore quietly excused Himself and disappeared. It seems that our perverted sense of chauvinism forces us to never “run away” but always to stand and to fight. Yet Jesus knew when to fight and when to just walk away. Oh, that we might learn such discretion and wisdom!

It is with the ultimate, strategic goal in mind that He set His face as flint towards Jerusalem (Isaiah 50:7; Luke 9:51) knowing that for this cause He was born and for this cause He had come into the world (John 18:37). He was not distracted or diverted for one moment. His entire life, every decision, every action, and every reaction was focused on the one objective – the cross.

At the judgment the question will not be how many battle scars you have or how many hills you defended or won. There will be only one question: Did you do His will? His will is absolutely in line with His objectives of saving, keeping and conforming.

May it be said of us, as of Him:

Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me.  In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure.  Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come– In the volume of the book it is written of Me– To do Your will, O God.” (Hebrews 10:5-7).

[1] Tilting at windmills comes from Cervantes’ Don Quixote in which Don Quixote wanted to attack a group of “giants” until his loyal servant Sancho Panza pointed out that they were not giants but windmills.

[2] These are summed up in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19,20.