Monday, May 07, 2007

The Accuser of the Brethren

There is a reviewer of John MacArthur’s lastest book, The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception, who insinuates that the likes of MacArthur are suitably called "the Accuser of the Brethren," also known as Satan. He wrote:

"There are so many people who make a ministry out of accusing other people of being cultic and unorthodox. Satan is the accuser of the brethren. Christians are the brethren and it is not becoming for them to treat one another like this. The devil accuses us and we should not help him."
So, what the reviewer meant was that MacArthur was guilty of "shooting his own wounded."

It is strange that whenever names are named, or whenever some favorite personalities are criticized in an essay, book or sermon, deep emotions are often stirred up. Like a pre-pubertal girl infatuated with her pretty boy-next-door, such emotions and loyalties are sometimes hidden until that momentous event - the publication of a critique of her beloved personality. And hell knows no fury like a woman scorned. In the same vein, New Evangelicalism knows no fury like hearing names named.

But what are these names? I mean names of favorite, widely publicized "Christian" personalities, teachers, events or even churches. Such names include Billy Graham, Robert Schuller, and Brian McLaren. It is believed, and sincerely held by numerous believers, that we should not criticize overtly or name such personalities directly in our critiques. Well-meaning Christians insist that we should not name names openly, or publicly expose in an unequivocal manner the identity of such compromising Christian leaders or organizations. But is such a methodology of exposing error erroneous or perhaps unjustified biblically?

Paul commanded Christians everywhere, and indeed, he beseeched them earnestly, to "mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which [we] have learned; and avoid them. For they [i.e. the false teachers] that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple (Romans 16:17-18)"

Paul’s instructions were simple. The first step for us is to "mark them" or keep our eyes on those who cause dissensions and hindrances. But who are "them?" According to some, "them" refers to everyone who disagrees with us! This is, of course, not what Paul is advocating. MacArthur writes, "Paul is not talking about hair splitting over minor interpretations, or about immature believers who are divisive because of personal preferences, as disruptive and damaging as those things can be. We are to "shun foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless" (Titus 3:9). We are to "refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels" (2 Tim. 2:23). Paul is here talking about something immeasurably more serious. He is warning about those who challenge and undermine the teaching which you learned, that is, the divinely-revealed apostolic teaching they had received (MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary on Romans 9-16)."

As you might have already realized, false teachings can be divided into three categories. There are those known as differing preferences or opinions. These include different interpretations of certain verses of Scripture (e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:29), as long as these variant interpretations do not influence any major doctrine, or affect any system of theology. The second category is known as systematic errors. Such doctrinal errors are reasonably serious, and affect at least some major doctrines or systems of theology, but at the same time, will not render the Gospel ineffective for salvation of souls. In other words, systematic errors alter one’s system of theology, but will not endanger one’s salvation - provided that the errors are not taken to the logical extreme. Such doctrinal errors include Arminianism, Charismatism, and Limited Inerrancy. But in the last category lies soul damning heresies. Heretical teachings concerning Theology proper, Christology and Soteriology should be included within this last category.

Paul, in my humble opinion, required us to at least "mark" them who are heretics, and to avoid them. Yes. We must avoid them, and not dialogue with them, or shake hands with them, or try to understand their fascinating exegeses concerning some crucial passages of Scripture. MacArthur continues, "The right response of believers to false teachers, especially those who teach their heresy under the guise of Christianity, is not debate or dialogue. We are to turn away from them, to reject what they teach and to protect fellow believers, especially new converts and the immature, from being deceived, confused, and misled (MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary on Romans 9-16)."

My question to those who insist on not publicly exposing such heretics who teach publicly is this, "How do we mark them unless we know who these false teachers are?" "And how do we avoid them if we do not know who to avoid?"

Yes, we can preach against the heresies or other relevant issues concerning a certain false teacher or organization, but unless we can enable the flock to connect the identity of the false teacher with the content of our preaching, we have failed to warn the flock against those wolves. And we can rest assure that such failure will bring with it dire consequences, and eventually, judgment from our Chief Shepherd. We simply cannot afford such a failure if we are to remain faithful to the calling that God has given to every shepherd of His flock.

When we read the New Testament, we realize that our Lord Jesus Christ rebuked false teachers and heretics publicly (Matthew 23). We see Paul rebuking Peter publicly for his compromise of the truth (Gal. 2:9-14). Paul did not beat around the bush to talk about all the related issues, all except to name Peter’s name. In the Pastoral Epistles alone, eight men are mentioned publicly for their errors (1 Tim. 1:19-20, 2 Tim. 1:15, 2:17, 4:10, 4:14-16). Hymenaeus (1 Tim 1:20, 2 Tim 2:17), Philetus (2 Tim. 2:17-18), Alexander (1 Tim 1:20, 2 Tim 4:14), Demas (2 Tim 4:10), Diotrephes (3 John 9), Phygellus and Hermogenes (2 Tim 1:15) were all properly identified and dealt with in the epistles. If the act of naming names in rebuking error were a sinful attitude likened to that of the "accuser of the brethren," wouldn’t Paul be guilty of "accusing" the brethren just like Satan did? In this case, New Evangelicals are indeed more righteous than the Apostle Paul.

We are commanded to "preach the word," and to "reprove, rebuke, exhort (2 Tim. 4:2)." Thus, reproving error is a matter of obedience. The failure to reprove error, therefore, is disobedience, and is rightly called sin.

I would rather be called an "accuser of the brethren," than to be guilty of sin and failure before my Master and Chief Shepherd. We are the servants of God, not man. And it follows logically that if we are to do the bidding of our King in heaven, we are to follow His Word in the Bible. And Paul says in the Scripture, "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them (Romans 16:17)."

Mark them by name. And avoid them. Thus saith the Lord God of Host.


Mike Messerli said...


I agree completely! Most believers (the sheep we are to care for) do not discern error well, and need some clear direction from leadership to know what to do....that's our fault in part for not teaching the church well. thanks for your thoughts.

ddd said...

Amen and amen!

Jenson said...

I wished I could be more supportive of John MacArthur, but that is not the point of your post.

Good one, Vincent.

vincit omnia veritas said...

Yes, Jenson. I am pointing in another direction, and hoping that folks from a particular direction will look in this direction and catch my drift.

It is no longer surprising to hear from a New Evangelical leader within a Reformed church nowadays. And I heard them well... ...