Friday, October 30, 2009

An Open Letter

Concerned to Discern

By Pastor Larry DeBruyn

"Why then has this people, Jerusalem, Turned away in continual apostasy? They hold fast to deceit, They refuse to return."
(Jeremiah 8:5, NASB)

As could be agreed upon by most believers, Christians have the right, even the duty, to evaluate and hold accountable to Holy Scripture professing evangelical Christians who, for reason of their manifest beliefs and behaviors, appear to be departing from the faith.[1] Jude told his readers to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). To shirk this responsibility means that believers are being disobedient to the faith once for all delivered. To all Christians the Spirit gives His anointing which places upon them the responsibility to discern the "spirit of truth" from the "spirit of error" (1 John 4:6; 2:20-21, 27). To the congregation at Rome Paul wrote:

"Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they 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; Compare Philippians 3:17-19.)

This same apostle also warned the elders at Ephesus:

"I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears." (Acts 20:29-31)

In one context, Paul even named the false teachers! (2 Timothy 2:17; Compare 1 Timothy 1:18-20.)

Thus, in fidelity to the apostolic injunctions, in an open forum known as Herescope, we attempt to differentiate truth from error. We do so because mainstream Christian publishers and churches--not wanting to become overly controversial and therefore risk the loss of membership and/or sales revenue--ignore issues that we, for the integrity of God's truth as revealed in Holy Scripture, are compelled to engage. In past generations, the pan-evangelical movement exposed and faced down the errors presented by Christian-like cults without, but has, for whatever reason, been quite unwilling to expose equally destructive heresies within. As John MacArthur noted fifteen tears ago, an undiscerning spirit amongst evangelicals has bred and is breeding "reckless faith."[2]

Recent emails to the Herescope blog's administrator have questioned the spirit with which its discernment ministry is conducted; specifically, that some writings are too critical and therefore unloving. As we proceed with further website posts, we shall consider this criticism. We desire to approach our ministry in a godly spirit and therefore consider that such criticism may reveal a spiritual blind spot. If and where valid, we will strive to take the issue raised into consideration. As he did to the Ephesians, Paul does admonish believers to speak "the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15).

Interestingly, this admonition of the apostle follows on the heels of Paul's stating his hope that the Ephesians would have matured to the point where they would no longer be "children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming" (Ephesians 4:14). Thus, one evidence of spiritual maturity involves the ability to differentiate spiritual truth--those beliefs and behaviors which accord with Holy Scripture--from spiritual error--those which do not agree with Holy Scripture. It is therefore understood that discernment must pursue the truth, but must do so in a spirit of love. At times, and given the fleshly nature that remains in every Christian (none of us is perfect), this can become a difficult balance to keep.

Yet on this point we note that though recent emails have accused Herescope of being un-loving, they do not accuse nor document that we are untruthful, that we lie. This of course, raises a tangential issue: can speaking of truth offend some persons to the degree that it will create in them an emotional impression that those who speak the truth do not love them?

On this point, we ought to remember that Proverbs inform us, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy" (Proverbs 27:6, NASB). We might also remember the instance when Jehoshaphat inquired of the king of Israel about where he could find a prophet of the Lord to make inquiry to. So the king of Israel informed Jehoshaphat: "There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the LORD, but I hate him, because he does not prophesy good concerning me, but evil" (1 Kings 22:8). On another occasion Ahab addressed Elijah: "Have you found me, O my enemy?" (1 Kings 21:20). It is evident that the kings perceived the messages of these prophets, Micaiah and Elijah, to be unloving. Of the latter's encounter with Ahab, Anglican pastor J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) noted something that is as relevant today as it was in his day. He observed:

Alas, there are many like Ahab in the nineteenth century! They like a ministry which does not make them uncomfortable, and send them home ill at ease. How is it with you? Oh, believe me, he is the best friend who tells you the most truth! [3]

We would note that received communications have not challenged the truth of what has been posted on Herescope --the documented facts, biblical citations and theological arguments employed--but only personal impressions that blog articles have been unloving. In syllogistic fashion, this perception might be stated as follows:

Christians are to love other Christians.
Discerning Christians appear not to love other Christians.
Therefore, discerning Christians and discernment are un-Christian.

This is the implication implied in the scriptural citations we have received, especially 1 John 4:20-21 which says: "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also."

Our response to this does not rest upon the truth of the NT passages that have been pointed out to us (John 17:23; 2 Timothy 2:14-16; James 4:11; 1 Peter 1:22; 4:7-8; 1 John 2:9, 11; 4:20-21; Jude 18-21). Agreed--we are to love genuine brothers and sisters in the Christian faith. But, like Jesus, we are forced to ask, especially in the days of apostasy in which we live, Who are our brothers? (See Matthew 12:48.) Any definition of brotherhood must rest upon NT passages that define "brotherhood" to include those individuals who evidence submission and fidelity to the beliefs and behavior of Holy Scripture, who together manifest that we're members of the born-from-above family of God. In Christendom, there are professors and possessors, for Paul wrote that, "they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel" (Romans 9:6). Ultimately, Jesus will separate the wheat from the tares (Matthew 13:36-43). That is why what we engage in is a ministry of discernment, not judgment.

Nevertheless, let's look at 1 John--the epistle that, with the exception of 1 John 4:1, we have been chided as being unfamiliar with--to see if it confirms the assumption that division and differences are invariably wrong, that discernment hinders the greater Christian community from aggregating itself into a single polymorphous "Kumbaya."

We note John wrote his first letter to a hurting church that false teachers/antichrists had devastated with their false teachings. False teachers--professed Christians, who for reason of having subtly introduced destructive and divisive heresies into the body of Christ, revealed they were not Christian--had devastated the church to which John was writing at that time and place (By the way, where's the "love" on the part of false teachers?). The naïve sheep did not know what had hit them, what had ruined the loving fellowship they had once enjoyed. Wolves in sheep's clothing are very unloving and destructive. The biblical metaphor implies them to be the natural born killers of the sheep. So John informed the remaining believers: "They" [i.e., the false teachers and their followers] "went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us" (1 John 2:19). Discernment ministry is necessary to expose unbiblical beliefs and behaviors which destroy the blessedness enjoyed by the beloved. Discernment is necessary to expose those who, often contrary to their claim to be otherwise, are not "of us." We note the division in the fellowship was instigated by those who pretended to be Christians but were not. So John added: "These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you" (1 John 2:26).

All of us have a right to our take on the state of the church today as we also have our right to express scripturally informed views pertaining to the same. May God's truth win out as competing views play out in the blogosphere. Yet amidst it all, Jesus' warning ought to be heeded:

"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity."
(Matthew 7:15-23, KJV)

Jesus' words serve as a solemn warning to all who profess to know Him, including anyone and everyone in discernment ministry. Therefore, Paul tells us: "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves" (2 Corinthians 13:5). Again, the apostle instructs believers to "examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22; See Ephesians 5:11.). Yet again, he states:

"If anyone advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain." (1 Timothy 6:3-5)

In light of these scriptural admonitions--and others abundantly extant in both testaments--Dr. Harry Ironside (1876-1951) observed:

Of late, the hue and cry has been against any and all negative teaching. But the brethren who assume this attitude forget that a large part of the New Testament, both of the teaching of our blessed Lord Himself and the writings of the apostles, is made up of this very character of ministry . . . [4]

He then went on to state:

Error is like leaven of which we read, A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. Truth mixed with error is equivalent to all error, except that it is more innocent looking and, therefore, more dangerous. God hates such a mixture! Any error, or any truth-and-error mixture, calls for definite exposure and repudiation. To condone such is to be unfaithful to God and His Word and treacherous to imperiled souls for whom Christ died. [5]

To genuine Christians love "does not," indeed cannot, "rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth" (1 Corinthians 13:6). Meanwhile, as the age unfolds and plays itself out, all of us ought to heed the question of Jesus:

"Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh,
shall he find faith on the earth?"

(Luke 18:8)

[1] We ought to remember that through two-thousand years of history, Christian churches, even the Roman Catholic, have declared certain beliefs to be incompatible with the Christian faith. Discernment ministry has thus had a long history in the church! Discerners are not an odd group, but find precedent even with the Protestant Reformation itself. Remember, the heart of the word Protestant is "protest."
[2] John F. MacArthur, Reckless Faith, When the Church Loses Its Will to Discern (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1994).
[3] J.C. Ryle, "Unsearchable Riches," Holiness (Durham, England: Evangelical Press, 1879) 281.
[4] Dr. Harry Ironside (1876-1951) was a Bible teacher and author who for eighteen years served as pastor of Chicago's Moody Memorial Church (1930-1948).
[5] Ibid.