Friday, 9 May 2008

On Critically Testing Church Leaders

Several years ago I read the book Christianity in Crisis by Hank Hanegraaff of the Christian Research Institute. While I enjoyed the book immensely, others I talked to about it thought the book far too critical and controversial because of its nature of, as some have said, “airing other peoples dirty laundry.” The book exposes and documents some of the blasphemous teachings of popular faith movement preachers such as Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, John Avanzini, Morris Cerullo, and a host of others.

Today I sometimes hear from well-meaning brothers and sisters that I am also too critical in the way I address what I believe to be errors (and blasphemies?) in the modern institutional church. If my motivation is to correct errors and to lovingly restore the church to what it originally was intended to be, then my question is, “How can that be wrong?” Acts 17:11 tells us that even Paul’s words were not taken at face value by the Bereans without them first examining the Scriptures. Were they criticized for doing this? No, they were actually commended for doing so.

Recently I was once again reading in Revelation 2 where Jesus begins to deal with the seven churches. One verse in particular caught my attention: “I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false” (Revelation 2:2 - NIV). The Amplified Bible says, “…tested and critically appraised …”

What I noticed here is that Jesus commends them for testing and critically appraising. This may sound harsh, but Jesus is not against them for this, but rather commends them for taking such action. Jesus does rebuke the church at Ephesus for something else, but He first commends them for testing those who called themselves apostles. The result of the test is that these so-called “apostles” were found to be impostors and liars. If this was true already back then in the church of Ephesus, does it not stand to reason that the same thing could be true today? Of course it would, and maybe even more so today.

As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we would be irresponsible if we didn’t warn other unsuspecting brothers and sisters of the false teachers and false church systems. Paul says, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be Shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!”(Acts 20: 28-31).

Time and again the Bible warns us to be on guard against false teachers (see: Romans 16:17,18; 1 Timothy 1:3,4; 4:16; 2 Timothy 1:13,14; Titus 1:9; 2:1). Am I also simply “airing the institutional church’s dirty laundry” as critics of the aforementioned book claimed that Hank Hanegraaff had done? Maybe. If so, however, then it is only because we are called by Scripture to do exactly that. In 1 Timothy 4:6 we are instructed, “If you point these out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching you have followed.” Do we want to be good ministers of Christ Jesus? If so, then one of our key tasks must be pointing out error and false doctrines in and effort to promote the truth of the Gospel. People don’t always want to hear that, and they may even be offended if they’ve come to believe the lie. However, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).

What is the lesson here? The lesson is that the institutional church and her leaders need to be constantly put under the microscope and examined in order to keep the church (Christ’s Body) pure. The fact is that there will be wolves in sheep’s clothing that will constantly creep in among us. The fact is also that there will constantly be tares growing up among the wheat. We need to be aware of this problem. How are we to do that? We become aware by constantly “testing and critically appraising” (Rev. 2:2). Why do we do this? We do so because we are called to “point these out to the brothers” (1 Tim. 4:6).

On another note, anyone can point a finger at another and call them a “false teacher.” Many have done so. My goal is not to personally point fingers at individuals, but rather to encourage you, my readers, to also be like the Bereans (Acts 17:11) with regards to personally examining the Scriptures for yourselves to see if what I say is not true. Please do not just blindly take my word for either; prayerfully look up the Scriptural references for yourselves.

Do we believe that the Bible is the “Word of God?” This is either true or it is untrue. If it is untrue, then our faith is a sham and we collectively as a group are nothing more than a social club. However, if we believe that it is true, then we can and must use it as a guide for everything pertaining to our faith. Therefore, when the Bible says something is so, we must take it at face value and believe that it is in fact so. When an institutional church system operates in ways that are not found in the Bible, or are blatantly contradictory to it, then we must speak out against it.

Finally let me say that we do not want to further faction the Body of Christ. If anything, the reverse is true. What we are after is mending and restoring the truth of the faith so that in the end, we can all truly be one (John 17: 20-23). If error is left to continue on its present course without any opposing voice, then we will never see that day. Religious confrontation is never politically correct, but the alternative is a Body of Christ that is so factioned that in truth it is no longer even a body at all, much less the Body of Christ.

The last word belongs to the Apostle Paul. “Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Timothy 2: 25-26).

4 comments:

  1. Another good post, thanks.

    Been looking a lot lately at what constitutes 'the word of God'! In particular, John 1.

    I cannot find a place in scripture calling the bible anything other than scripture!

    In the first century and probably later, the church, would have not had access to the bible only portions of the Old Testament. Paul planted churches and then walked away knowing his job was done and leaving the church to follow the direction of Jesus through the Holy Spirit.

    He did'nt build a 'super' ministry around them nor did he believe he should! For crying out loud, he only planted thirteen churches, he would'nt have even qualified as an assistant underling pastor today! :)

    In short, Jesus was not expecting us to be directed by anything other than himself as 'the head'. I believe this to still be the case and where this is not the case, error, blasphemy and all the other problems of 'church' institutional or otherwise have crept in!

    As paul said, all scripture is God breathed and useful for all manner of purposes. But was he referring to his own words or the OT?

    Did he and the other apostles believe what they were writing down for posterity was actually scripture? I suspect not, but they did come to a place of realisation as indeed we see in paul's letters, that they would not see Jesus return and as such the need to record what He had shown and had said to them.

    Church leadership as we know it, on the whole does not follow the biblical pattern. The bible reveals a 'bottom up' structure that emerges from the body and serves it fully and completely, providing for and facilitating each and every member to fulfil there own destiny in Christ; 'he who wants to be first must be last'. A lot of talk about servanthood, not much about leading from the top!

    'Big' church leadership by its very existence, should be challenged as should any form of institutionalism that perports to represent God.

    Keep on Keepin on.

    Ian

    Institutional preaching has become a monologue without questions!

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    1. Good observation on what constitutes "Word of God." Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Ian.

      Peace :)

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  2. Good points, Will. I have that book, but haven't read it yet. I suppose now I will.

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    1. Jeremy,

      I would be interested in knowing your take on it. It's been a while since I last read it. I may have to do so again. Blessings.

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