Saturday, July 09, 2005

Teaching and Teachers

“I believe that, at this present time, we are in great danger of being burdened with a crowd of so-called converts who do not really know anything as it ought to be known. They attended a revival meeting, were much excited, and thought they were converted; but just ask them to explain to you the simplest truths of the gospel, and you will soon discover how little they know. Could they explain the three R’s, ruin, redemption, and regeneration. Do they know what the ruin is? Do they know what the remedy for that ruin is? Do they understand at all what it means to be born again? Do they comprehend what the new nature is, or what “justification by faith” means? Perhaps someone says, “They do not comprehend your theological terms.” I do not mind whether they know the meaning of the terms that are familiar to many of us; but do they know the truths themselves? There is a certain degree of Christian knowledge which is absolutely necessary to salvation.”

-Charles Spurgeon

A neat Spurgeon quote. It gets me thinking. This is what I fear about false teaching -and I don't mean teaching sprinkling versus immersion; I mean teaching anything that deviates from the Gospel where man has no claim and God saves purely by grace by Christ alone -versus a gospel of works-righteousness whereby man makes a claim upon God and God responds. God has given us the Word, but He has also given us teachers who are to proclaim and teach what the Word says. It is not as though teachers just stand there and read from the Bible and thats it -although, it wouldn't be a bad idea in many situations (hehe). Still, teachers and what they teach are an integral part of the Church. Teachers proclaim and instruct and explain, and people listen. That's the sobering thing -people listen and often take very much to heart what teachers say. God expects a lot from teachers and will hold them to stricter judgment. If that isn't enough to freak out anyone who seeks to communicate the truths of God, I don't know what is.

God saves men through means, particularly through the Spirit applying the Word of God and/or the truths contained therein to the soul. It is not that God cannot and does not work in spite of our false teaching -He thankfully does, but let's not get to think that God works in a vacuum. God sovereignly works through appointed means. We can't forget that. And yes, God does use the very smallest of means, at times, to bring souls to Him in even the most parched spiritual lands. Praise God for this. My big stink with false teaching is not that I think somehow God can't work. It is not that the false teachers hurt my feelings because I disagree with them. It is not because I have an insatiable need to have everyone on the same page. It is not that I am being impatient with the teachers themselves -because we are all in different places along the same path. After all, we are all in different places. It has nothing to do with me at all, and it has nothing to do with those who teach false teaching. It has to do with the hearers.

First, I can't think of anything worse than having a person think they are safe when they are not. It reminds me of the false prophets of Jeremiah's time -preaching "peace" where there "is no peace". We gobble that stuff up. Second, I can't think of anything worse than sending real sheep, truly converted ones, off into falsehood. But doesn't God use that, too? Of course, but we can't confuse the secret providence of God with what we are called to. The apostles never excused such things by deferring to the fact of God's sovereignty. The apostles referred to something called "sound doctrine". To them it was a defined, knowable body of teaching -not exhaustive by any means, but still essential. They taught it, defended it, and even rebuked each other for walking outside of it (like when Paul openly rebuked Peter). But that is just the apostoles, right? We live in a different time, and we don't have their authority. No, they also taught others to teach it, defend it, and gently correct others who oppose it.

This is what I want to explain to others. When I personally insist upon theological truths it is because the truth of God is wonderful, freeing, glorifying to God, powerful, joyous, heart-breaking, heart-renewing, man-shriking, Christ-magnifying stuff. It is food for the soul and builds up the body in Christ. It is both necessary and awesome. It is not that I have a chip on my shoulder to try to ruin people who disagree with me. It is that people actually hear the stuff teachers teach them, and many of them don't know better to know if we are off-base. So let us insist upon God's truth, for the sake of the sheep, but also for the sake of the teachers. If we love our brothers, will we not want to do whatever we can so that, by God's grace, they may be rescued from error? And for the sheep, will we just say, "God will providentially keep them alive, so it doesn't matter if we feed them slop instead of the finest grain and produce? In fact, if they are barely fed at all God will still catch them." I hope not. Would we say that about our own children?

How does this practically fall into our lives? What do we do when a brother is teaching something treacherous to those who hear him? I wish I knew precisely how to handle it. I wish I knew the full extent of that "sound doctrine". I wish I had the discernment to always know when the line has been crossed. I wish I had the wisdom and love to know what to say and how to say it when those situations arise. I wish I knew, also, that speaking up would always result in change for the better -because what do you do when nothing changes? Its not that everything is hidden, though. There are certain things that are obvious from Scripture about this -like mingling works with faith or putting a claim upon God, making him our debtor, for salvation. Those are obviously way past the line. Paul made no hesitation in saying that those who teach such things ought to be eternally condemned. He also made no hesitation in saying that the Judaizers, who were adding circumcisions, should keep going and emasculate themselves! So much for calm, reserved piety :). Still, when confronted with a similar situation, how do I address my brother? I wish I knew exactly. All I know is that I must do it with gentleness and love, as Paul instructed Timothy.

I am not a teacher in a church, so perhaps my idealism is because I have not dealt with the pressures of being a teacher among those who blatantly teach against things I hold dear. I hope it is not just idealism, and I don't believe it is. Nonetheless, I know I am speaking as an outsider who doesn't have really any experience within a church setting when it comes to this stuff. I pray if I am wrong that the Lord would show me.

"But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will." (2 Tim 2:23-26)

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