I fear that something inside of us is broken. I am not speaking about the institution of the church, I am speaking about us, as the sinful individuals that sometimes mess it up. This is something that has weighed on my heart for some time, and I cannot hold my tongue any longer. We need to talk about it.
*Note: I love you with everything that I am. That, is why I am writing this letter. I want you to be who our Lord designed you to be, and yes, I am writing this to me as well as to you. This is not aimed at anyone in particular, rather, it is aimed at a diseased mindset (let’s call it “stinkin thinkin”) that I have watched grow through the years*
Perhaps, the best way for me to begin to say what is in my heart, is to ask you to remember a man we read about in Acts 18. His name is Apollos. Apollos was everything you would want in a preacher/teacher of God’s Word. The Bible tells us, he was very eloquent in speech. Don’t you prefer listening to eloquent speakers? (It’s ok, you can admit it.) He was passionate, not just a “happy to be here” attitude, the man was on fire for Jesus! Those people are a joy to be around.
The Bible tells us that he was competent in the scriptures (that’s pretty important!). Then we read that Apollos did the unthinkable. Are you ready for it? Brace yourselves, it’s not pretty.
Acts 18:25 (ESV)
25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John.
Did you read what I just read? Here is a man, who is one of those energetic, charismatic, eloquent speaking guys. The crowds love him. You hear him preach and you can’t believe what you hear. This man is preaching publicly… a wrong message. He is not just preaching something you disagree with, he is messing up the truth about Baptism!
Now, let’s stop the story. Let’s pretend you hear a man preach this sermon. What is your reaction?
Sadly, the normal reaction would be to call this man a false teacher. Label the man as liberal. Assassinate his character. Assume the man hasn’t poured his heart and soul into his study, but is just teaching nonsense because he thinks it’s what the people want. Or you could let the world around you know that you care about the Bible but he does not! He just ignores it! You could tell the world that you have the “sound doctrine” and this man is only trying to “please men.”
Boy, we are good at letting men like this “have it”, aren’t we? We are the kings of “cancel culture” in this arena. Someone steps out of line from what has been taught before… canceled. Where did this sense of duty come from? Surely, that is how the first century church handled this issue…. right? Let’s check back in with the text.
Acts 18:26–28 (ESV)
26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouragedhim and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.
Did you just read what I read? Here we have Christians who heard a false teaching being proclaimed publicly, and they handled it by… Taking the man off to the side, in private and studying with him? They didn’t yell at him? They didn’t mark him as a false teacher? They didn’t tell everyone around not to listen to him, because he couldn’t be trusted? Weren’t they worried about the problems that could create?
It appears they were more focused on that man’s soul and the souls of those that he would influence in the future.
Before anyone gets the wrong idea… I believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, and that it is God’s only revealed will to mankind. I believe that I can be wrong and the Bible is always right. I believe we should strive with all that we are to understand it’s riches. I am not “ok” with false teaching where it exists. I am also not ok with handling difficult situations in an ungodly manner. I am outraged at the thought of handling situations differently than Christ would handle them, all the while, doing so “in the name of Christ.”
- A father attends a youth rally with his son, looking forward to a time of encouraging worship and study to help the boy grow stronger in his love for Jesus. Yet, the sermon is anything but encouraging. The sermon does not amount to much more than complaining about “culture” and demonizing people who are outside of Christ. Rather than leaving encouraged, this small family walks away angry, confused, and if anything… feeling more distant from the one they came to be near.
- A preacher fresh out of school, cannot contain his excitement to begin speaking from the scriptures in a deep and meaningful way. Only to be told that something he said was “not sound”. When he asks, what was wrong with what he preached, he is not met with reasoned explanation from the text. He is told that it didn’t match what their favorite preacher used to say. No scripture is given, but the young preacher learns that to many people, “Sound teaching” simply means, “Teaching that I agree with.”
- Something is said in the assembly on Sunday morning, and the next thing you know, it is on social media. Someone is now “calling out” the person who said the “unspeakable thing.” You reach out (privately) to this person who is venting publicly and encourage them to keep the matter private, (in keeping with biblical principles.) They retort, “The teaching was public! The rebuke will be public!” I’m still waiting to see that as a Biblical way to treat a brother in Christ, because that certainly isn’t how it was handled in Acts 18.
I could go on, but I do not want to. I want to point out, that I fear that there are some who have lost their way. There are some who think that the world will know that we belong to Jesus if we condemn all the false teaching. They forget that the world will know us by our love. (John 13:35). There are some that want to spend all their time focusing on “pet topics”, and their emphasis on these tend to elevate their status. When Paul would say with zeal, “I decided to know nothing among you except for Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2)
As disciples of Jesus, we have a mission (Matthew 28:18-20). If we want to bring God glory in our mission we must SHOW our love for one another (John 13:35) We must fade into the background as we elevate our king (1 Corinthians 2:2).
Simple suggestions for each of us:
- Preachers, spend less time bashing culture and more time exalting Jesus. You can do one without the other. One tears people down, while one gives people life.
- Christian, love your brother. Even the ones that you disagree with.
- Christian, if you ever have a problem with something someone has said or done. Do what Jesus would tell you to do. Go to them alone and try to win your brother (Matthew 18:25). (Name calling, blame shifting, and public bickering do not count.) Please Christian, stop naming reasons that you won’t follow Jesus’ words on this point. Far too many are unwilling to speak to the person face to face as the Lord said, but are all too willing to gossip with their friends. If you do not handle these situations the Lord’s way, it is best that you avoid them altogether.
- Christian, do not neglect to study. Sometimes, maybe sometimes… I can’t believe I’m going to say it… Here it goes… Sometimes, that brother that you thought was teaching “unsound doctrine” was right, and you were wrong. I have been the “wrong” brother more times than I care to admit, that is how I know this painful truth.
Allow me to leave you with one thought from the apostle Peter – 1 Peter 3:8- Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
Peter wrote these words in the context of relationships and suffering. He deals with all kinds of relationships. Marriage relationships, relationship with government, masters, elders and the church under their care. Peter offers these words a lens through which to see and interact with each other. The next time you see or hear something with which you disagree, whether it be presented in private study, in the assembly, or online. Pass your response through this filter:
- Is my response going to help or harm the unity in the church? (unity)
- Have I taken a moment to truly consider the other person? What is going on in their life, their perspective, their reasoning, their emotion? If not, I am not qualified to speak on the issue at hand. (Sympathy)
- Have I prayed for this person and their soul? Have I done anything, anything, to show this person that I love them? (Brotherly love)
- How can I show my love and concern for this person so that they will know they can trust me? (tender-hearted) – Think Pricilla and Aquilla in Acts 18
- Have I considered that I might be wrong? No, I’m not asking if you quickly reminded yourself that you are right. Have you really considered that you might be wrong? Only a (humble mind) can do that. Only a humble mind can still be taught.
Church, I love you. I am eternally grateful for the countless blessings that I have received from the Lord, through you during my lifetime. The vast majority of my brothers and sisters are not only great models of what is written here, but have taught me better how to be more like this (I still have a long ways to go). The future of the church is bright because our King is on His throne. I am honored to call you my family. Please consider this letter as nothing more than an encouragement to myself and my closest friends/family to eliminate the “stinkin thinkin” from our lives, and be better at treating people the way Jesus would. Let’s do everything that we can to build up His kingdom. Remember, you cannot build the church with a wrecking ball.