Thursday, October 25, 2007

Test the talker

Adrian is thinking about Discernment... as is Phil Johnson (Willow Creek, Charismatics etc). Challies - The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment is forthcoming. At 6.20am I found myself waiting for a train to arrive and thinking about what to do with false teaching, an ever present in the life of the church...

How do we respond to teachers? How should we respond to sound teachers? How should we respond to false teachers? If we're to capture anything of the ethos of the first century church then we will have to wrestle with this. Part of Paul's final comissioning of Timothy was to do with how to deal with false teachers who were ravaging the church at Ephesus. Before turning to them, it seems to me that we need to think about how we deal with those humble men who are seeking to teach faithfully.

1. When someone preaches a true message with true motives.

Rejoice and commend them for their faithful ministry. Identify grace in them and encourage it. Faithful ministers rarely receive encouragement for things done well but are frequently criticised for inevitable imperfections.

Every faithful preacher teaches what they think the passage says - sometimes they get it wrong. Sometimes we think they got it wrong but actually the word was correcting us. Let us honour our leaders. Gladly partner with them in the gospel, like Paul with Epaphras in Colossians 1v7.

2. When someone preaches a true message with false motives.

Rejoice that Christ is preached like Paul did with those who capitalised on his imprisonment. Whenever Christ is preached there is reason to rejoice. Philippians 1v18.

When Christ is preached we should be delighted, and when he is preached out of true motive let us abound in joy.
But, not every preacher gets it right, not every ministry is faithful... what then?

3. When someone preaches an inadequate message from the best of intentions.

Instruct them with patience and kindness like Priscilla and Aquila with Apollos in Acts 18v24-27. It's easy to get things wrong because no-one has ever taught us better - I'd been a Christian for 4 years before I realised context was important when approaching the Bible, and to my shame I gave my first talk a year before that moment... the penny had just not dropped before.

It wasn't that I wanted to get it wrong I just didn't know any better. That's not an excuse but it is the kind of consideration that can temper critique. The instinct of some would have been to throw Apollos out of the church for the gaps in his theology when all he needed was someone who loved him enough to correct and instruct him. And what a gift to a church his ministry became.

4. When someone preaches a false message because of fear.

Don't shrink from saying they're out of step with the gospel but then gently walk them back to the cross like Paul did with Peter at Antioch. Paul's approach in Galatians 2v11-3v1 is a classic example of love for the person and the gospel. Care for right teaching out of care for the gospel, but also respond carefully out of concern for the out-of-step teacher to be restored.

We know Paul didn't take false teaching lightly - he called down curses on those who perverted the gospel, but that wouldn't stop him from careful pastoral conversation to bring restoration. Leaving Peter in his heresy would help no-one. Immediate separation from him would not have helped either. But, the restoration of Peter (again) was glorious.

Worth noting that the one who got it so badly wrong that day at Antioch was the church-building apostle... His otherwise faithful ministry (which Paul accepted fellowship from - 2v9) wasn't without value because of this bad day out with a bacon sandwich.

5. When someone preaches a false message from bad motive.

Call it the gangrenous defamation of the glory of God that it is, don't let them teach and still seek to correct them in hope that God might grant repentance, as Paul instructed Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:25. As before, care for the church by caring for the gospel, and care for the false teacher by seeking to bring them back to the gospel.

I'm struck in this chapter by the danger of a youthfully arrogant response to false teaching. Timothy is to respond to false teaching but without youthful passions. He could quarrel and fight but instead he is to teach enduringly and patiently with ink and kindness.

The antidote to quarrelling is a 'big-God-theology' - trusting that God knows his people and God grants repentance liberates the Lord's servant from arrogant theological fighting to be able to minister the word of God unashamedly.

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