"Daddy, I think you just shot your third cousin!"
Martin Luther used profanity in his writing to describe fellow Reformer Ulrich Zwingli's theology about the Eucharist.
Bob Jones, Sr., told his students in 1965 that Billy Graham was "doing
more harm in the cause of Jesus Christ than any living man."
Some pastors turned their chairs around
- showing their backs in protest - when Anne Graham Lotz was invited to speak at a large ministerial gathering in the early 1980's. She shared, "When
I concluded my message, I was shaking. I was hurt and surprised that godly men
would find what I was doing so offensive that they would stage such a
demonstration, especially when I was an invited guest."
notice some folks in Christ’s Body - what Richard Blackaby calls "self-appointed orthodoxy police" - snubbing other Christians because of a difference in theology - sometimes calling them “false prophets,” warning others to not listen to them. Some websites
today – from self-appointed spiritual policemen - even regularly review other
ministries and preachers to see if they pass their “doctrinal purity litmus
test.” If not, readers are warned to avoid them.
social media day, there’s also a bad practice of taking sound bytes of
someone’s sermon (usually about 60 to 120 seconds) and trying to use that to paint the
speaker with broad strokes as doctrinally incorrect. It's the same tactic political pundits use when they take one sound byte of a politician and try to characterize them in broad, sweeping, inflammatory strokes.
the desire for doctrinal purity narrows our focus much narrower than the
Lord’s. I’ve written about this before numerous places (see list below).
Testament, Jesus, and Paul warned of false teachers. More specifically, in the OT God often spoke through visions or direct revelations to prophets, like Daniel, Isaiah, or Nathan. These prophets spoke for God and at times foretold the future. When people claiming to be prophets arose and gave messages that did not come from God, they were labeled "false prophets."
In the era of the New Testament and beyond, particularly with the distribution of Paul's letters, the primary way God was speaking was through the revelation of Jesus Christ in Person - and then through the written Scriptures. When teaching came into churches that contradicted the witness of Jesus, the Old Testament writings, and the New Testament, that instruction was labeled "false teaching" or "false teachers."
In the Bible, a false
prophet was worthy of being put to death. To label someone a false prophet is
much different than saying, “I disagree with them over some doctrinal points,
they come to different conclusions than I do in some matters, I think they are in error on some points," or "I don’t
normally recommend that person’s teaching or writing.”
No, to call someone a false
prophet is to put them in an altogether different category.
False teaching abounds today and has the following characteristics: (1) teaches a doctrine other than that which agrees with basic, biblical orthodoxy,
particularly related to the person and work of Jesus Christ, and (2) leads
others into practicing, excusing, or normalizing sexual immorality.
In today’s culture that has jettisoned absolute truth and embraced the sexual
revolution, many false prophets abound. But methinks not as many as some
suggest (quite emphatically, I might add!).
– or evangelicalism – are terms encompassing a broad number of people. While
these people and groups disagree over secondary doctrinal matters (church
government, mode of baptism, role of the gifts of the Spirit, role of women in
ministry, divorce and remarriage, whether or not God “speaks” today,
soteriology, eschatology, etc.), there are some basic, orthodox beliefs that
evangelicals agree upon. That broad agreement looks something like this:
· The deity of Jesus Christ,
· The exclusivity and necessity of
salvation in Christ,
· The authority of the Scriptures
(different terms are used by different groups to describe this),
· The call from God to the Great
Commandment, the Great Commission, and the Cultural Mandate,
· The eternal nature of humanity,
· The distinction of male and female,
· The marriage union consisting of one
man and one woman,
· And the gift of sex as something to
be enjoyed within the boundaries of Christian marriage.
in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 20), their message changes to fit the current
culture, and they promise “peace” to people, telling them what they want to
hear (promising their best life now). Meanwhile, there are still faithful
Jeremiah’s holding to orthodoxy and preaching, “The Bible says . . . .”
false prophets abound today. It is not uncommon among Progressive Christianity
for preachers to deny some or all of the above list. They may embrace any of
· Multiple ways of salvation (many
roads to heaven)
· Universalism (everyone is saved)
Open Theism (God does not know everything.)
Jesus Christ was not God.
· The LBGTQ movement – embracing
homosexual/lesbian marriage, transgenderism as normative, etc.
words. If a preacher denies the basic of evangelicalism (which is simply basic
historical orthodoxy), they are a false prophet. I believe Progressive
Christianity should not even be called Christianity. Historically, Christianity
has been tied to a belief system coming out of the Bible. To embrace a belief system
that is dug out more from the culture than God’s Word is not actually
In a culture
rejecting truth, we need faithful preachers of historic Christianity as false
prophets will abound.
see evangelicals today taking aim at other evangelicals – who still believe in
basic orthodoxy but come to different conclusions and practices about some of
the secondary matters (which are many – I’ve already listed some in this
The social media day has created "experts" behind every laptop or smart phone. A caustic, critical spirit has taken over our culture and keeps influencing the way believers relate to one another.
Christians move into their “theological tribes” or “camps,” how easy it becomes
to narrow our vision of Christian theology. Suddenly our tribe (whether that is
Reformed, non-Reformed, Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, immersion baptism,
pedobaptism, pre-mill, post-mill, and dozens of other categories) becomes the
one that is “right.” Our tribe is the one correctly dividing the word of truth.
While it is
good and necessary to come to our theological convictions and conclusions over
secondary matters, it is always wise and good to give grace to others in the
Body who affirm basic orthodoxy but disagree with me and my tribe over
non-essentials. If not, how easy it is to major on minors and miss the point.
The Reformers Luther and Zwingli bitterly feuded over the doctrine of the
Eucharist, evangelical Christians today can do the same. I read in Christian History magazine once where Luther even cussed out Zwingli once in writing because he held to a different conviction. The false prophet! The heretic!
Thankfully, argumentative Luther did not have facebook or a website! He’d be warning everyone about that false teacher Zwingli and other reformers who didn’t agree with his theology on transubstantiation.
wish, moreover, that he had always bestowed the fruits of that vehemence of
natural temperament upon the enemies of the truth, and that he had not flash
his lightning sometimes also upon the servants of the Lord. . . . lest that
happen to you which Paul threatens, that by biting and devouring one another,
ye be consumed one of another. Even should he have provoked us, we ought rather
to decline the contest, than to increase the wound by the general shipwreck of
In our zeal, sometimes we shoot the wrong people.
Here are just a few modern examples:
* If you
embrace immersion baptism, you quickly tell someone who sprinkles infants how “unbiblical”
they are. (I knew a Presbyterian pastor who was an intercessor for Romanian
pastors who refused to attend Baptist pastors’ meetings because when he once
went they jumped on him about infant baptism.)
* If you
believe women should never teach men or preach, you call women like Beth Moore
or Anne Graham Lotz false prophets, unbiblical, or not pleasing to the Lord.
* If you
believe the Lord no longer speaks today and no longer uses things other than
the Bible to speak to His people, someone who disagrees is easily labeled a “heretic.”
* If you are a cessationist, you could label someone like Jack Hayford, RT Kendall, or Wayne Grudem as un-orthodox.
* If you embrace
Reformed theology, you say that you have the true Christian theology and that
anyone who does not agree is missing the mark.
*If you believe the baptism of the Spirit occurs at salvation, you could call Jim Cymbala or someone like him a false prophet, heretic, etc. for believing the baptism occurs after salvation.
* If you are a
pre-milliniest, you say that anyone who denies the rapture or embraces a
post-mill stance “does not believe the Bible.”
could go on and on.
3 Theological Tribes
12 people who are born again, love Jesus, and love His Word. They divide into three groups of four each
and in each group begin instensely studying the Scriptures, coming to their
theological convictions. After several years of study in their own “tribes,”
each group comes to these conclusions:
Group A –
This non-Reformed group baptizes by immersion, allows women to speak and teach to
men, is pre-millenial, thinks the idea that God chooses who goes to hell is
fiercely unbiblical, believes in a congregational form of church
government, and staunchly holds to a cessationist view of the gifts of the
Group B –
This Reformed group baptizes infants by sprinkling, does not believe in a
Rapture, does not believe tithing is a New Testament principle, follows an
elder-led form of church government, embraces post-millenialism, and forbids any
women from teaching any man or speaking publicly.
Group C are
staunch pre-millennialists, believes the sign gifts are in operation today,
believes that speaking in tongues is an automatic result of being baptized in
the Spirit, has a church structure that includes a staff and deacons, and believes that to not tithe is a sign of disobedience.
believes in the aforementioned basic doctrines of evangelical Christianity (see
above). But, after lots of Bible study, prayer, and reading writings and
commentaries of historical and modern biblical scholars, they come to different
conclusions about doctrines not specifically related to primary ones.
So, as they
begin comparing their convictions with the other groups, suddenly, they realize
the other groups have been “deceived!” They even have false prophets among
them. Oh my goodness, we must warn other Christians about these dangerous
doctrines. Run from these other groups! Flee from them!
After a period of time,
Group C begins concluding that the people in Groups A and B are probably
not even really Christians. “They don’t serve the same Jesus we do!”
is very proud of their own doctrinal purity and correctness. And they are sure
Jesus is pleased with them for being more correct theologically than the other
two groups – who surely don’t take the Bible as seriously as do they.
I agree with Richard Blackaby's words: "I understand
that many of these theological referees are motivated by a desire to protect
the church. One would wish, however, that many of them were not so proud and
self righteous in their work." (See his article, Why is it so difficult to believe God speaks?)
It’s kind of
like going to a big family reunion and shooting your third cousins.
Our Own Litmus Tests
persists when, in our own theological tribes, we take secondary matters and try
and make them primary ones – litmus tests for whether or not someone else is
agrees with the basic, broad tenets of evangelical Christianity, they are my
brother or sister. I may disagree with them over some things, but may my lips
speak grace and truth instead of labeling them a “false prophet.”
We're wise to remember Paul's admonition not to "fight about words; this is in no way profitable and leads to the ruin of
the hearers" (2 Tim. 2:14 HCSB).
I love how Peterson put it in The Message: "Repeat these
basic essentials over and over to God’s people. Warn them before God against
pious nitpicking, which chips away at the faith. It just wears everyone out.
Concentrate on doing your best for God."
Through the years, I've enjoyed learning from a wide variety of Christian thinkers, writers, and teachers - all who hold to general orthodoxy but come to different conclusions on secondary matters and practices. My shelves include resources from Charles Stanley, Charles Swindoll, Charles Colson, Kay Arthur, Jack Hayford, John MacArthur, Beth Moore, Brennan Manning, James Dobson, Johnny Hunt, John Piper, Richard Blackaby, Jim Cymbala, Mark Batterson, Danny Akin, Albert Mohler, Gordon MacDonald, Billy Graham, Dutch Sheets, Elmer Towns, Jerry Falwell, Sr., Anne Graham Lotz, Priscilla Shirer, Tony Evans, Charles Spurgeon, C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, Eugene Peterson, Martyn Lloyd Jones, James Boice, Kent Hughes, Wayne Grudem, Gordon Smith, R T Kendall, Peter Lord, and a host of others. No, I don't agree with all of their convictions and applications, but I learn from each one. Like different facets of a diamond, they all teach me various aspects of the grace of God in all of its forms (1 Peter 4:10).
There will be surprises for all of us when we get to heaven.
The words of
Tim Keller, commenting on Martin Lloyd Jones’ sermon “Knowledge Puffeth Up,”
come to mind:
Lloyd-Jones identifies the marks of someone who has learned to master the Bible
as a set of mere information, not extraordinary power. One mark is that you
become a spiritual crank. A spiritual crank is someone always complaining about
relatively fine shades of doctrinal distinctions, always denouncing others in
arguments over Bible translations or denouncing people on the wrong side of the
latest theological controversy. A spiritual crank treats the Word of God as
something you use, not something that uses you. He’s puffed up on intellectual
pride and his theological tribe.”
And Nancy Pearcy aptly shares, “We may
preach a God of love, but if nonbelievers do not observe visible love within
those ministries or churches and Christian organizations, then we undermine the
credibility of our message.
is the message,’ to use Marshall McLuhan’s famous phrase. And for Christians,
the medium is the way we treat one another. . . .
that the Lord’s table is an awfully big one.
See my related articles:
Pictures used by permission from Pixabay.
Pardon my formatting on this article. I could not get all of the spacing correctly!