Honey, Vinegar and Flies
Vol: 146 Issue: 16 Saturday, November 16, 2013
I used to know a fellow, let’s call him “Bill” who was afflicted with a most annoying habit. When he wasn’t finishing my sentences for me, he was either correcting my grammar or my pronunciation.
One could seldom finish an entire sentence when talking with Bill: I once caught myself speaking faster in the hope I could get to the end of it before he did.
(Of course, then I’d make some kind of grammatical error as a result and he’d correct that. . . Grrrr)
The worst part about it was that he was just a heckuva nice guy in every other respect. He was one of those guys who’d climb a tree to fight a bear if he thought it might be helpful; in fact his annoying tic was part of that “I-just-wanna-help” mindset.
Personally, I didn’t mind it so much . . . as annoying as it was, he had a terrific grasp of the English language and an amazing vocabulary, so I learned something in almost every conversation.
But not everybody wants to hang around with a guy whose favorite Reader’s Digest section is “It Pays To Increase Your Word Power.” People don’t appreciate being around other people who make them feel stupid.
Of course, I’ve always been a writer and so words (and their proper usage) are more important to me than most, but not every body appreciates being corrected every other sentence. So this guy didn’t have many friends, despite the fact he lived to be helpful.
Sometimes, one can be so helpful that it begins to drive folks away.
Back in the 1960’s Walter Martin made a name for himself in evangelical circles when he began his ministry, the Christian Research Institute, following a series of successful books exposing false Christian cults.
In his first book, “The Rise of the Cults“, Martin exposed the doctrinal errors of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, Mormonism, the Theosophical Society, and took on “Father Divine” a cult leader from Brooklyn who claimed to be God. “The Rise of the Cults” was published in 1965 and is reputed to have sold nearly a million copies since.
In the 1980’s Martin turned his critical eye away from non-Christian cults to less obvious heresies within Christianity, most notably the “Word of Faith” movement popularized by guys like Kenneth Copeland and Kenneth Hagin.
While Martin was critical of these teachers’ claims concerning their views of Christ, healing, faith, and prosperity, Martin was generally acceptive of the charismatic movement, editing and reprinting DL Moody’s book on spiritual gifts called “Secret Power.”
When Martin died in 1989, he was succeeded by Hank Hanegraaf in a takeover still being challenged by Martin’s surviving family.
Hanegraaf’s “The Bible Answer Man” program claims to present the only “true” Christian doctrine.
I have a copy of Hanegraaf’s 1993 book, “Christianity in Crisis” in which he highlights some of the more outrageous doctrinal claims made by some of the ‘regulars’ on TBN, from founders Paul and Jan Crouch to Benny Hinn, Copeland, Hagin, etc., etc.
It’s a pretty good book, if one is the kind of person who would seek Bill out at a party to chat with. But if you just want to be sure that you are right with God, then Hanegraaf’s book raises a lot more questions than it answers.
Suppose, just for a second, that you’ve just finished reading Hal Lindsey’s “Late Great Planet Earth.”
Having read the book and compared it with the Bible and the morning newspapers, you became convinced from the evidence that God is real, that He sent His only Son to have a relationship with you, and you need only accept the Gift of Pardon Hal says Jesus already procured for you.
You’re heading to work, mulling it all over. Then you turn on Hank Hanegraaf’s radio program and learn that Hal made it all up. All Bible prophecy was fulfilled in AD 70. The evidence was all just a clever ruse designed to sell books.
Or you pick up Hannegraf’s book, “Christianity in Crisis” and discover that every single TV preacher is a lying con man who will say anything if it increases donations.
If these are the cream of the crop, then does anybody know the real truth? Can anybody know the real truth?
It’s been rightly said that a man with one watch always knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never quite sure.
What is a guy who hears the Gospel of Love — from the same lips that tell him how cynical and manipulative most Christian preachers really are — supposed to think?
We have entire threads in our member’s forums dedicated to ‘exposing’ this guy or that guy’s false teaching. Generally speaking, it goes like this. One guy starts a thread exposing some other teacher’s false doctrine.
Suppose somebody else in that thread got saved watching Jack Van Impe, for example. Then somebody starts ripping into his ministry over something he said.
Now, that new Christian starts to wonder. . . if JVI is really a cynical liar, then how can I be sure I am really saved?
So he jumps in to defend JVI, except he’s really not defending JVI — he’s defending his own salvation. (From another Christian! How confusing is that?)
Next thing you know, the debate isn’t about doctrine anymore. It’s about being right. For the guy who found Christ through JVI, it’s even more important than that.
It’s about the efficacy of his salvation experience.
Mature Christians have a tendency to forget how difficult it is for new Christians. Nobody wants to think they’ve been sold a bill of goods by a slick operator.
They have barely gotten a grasp of salvation by grace through faith and now they find themselves in a bar fight over whether or not JVI has correctly interpreted a verse they’d never heard of until now — and now they are locked in combat over the messenger.
I believe that God intended for there to be some degree of doctrinal ambiguity in the Scriptures. The Book of Genesis records God’s decision to confound human speech and divide mankind ethnically.
The people of Babel had set out to build a tower to which they could seek refuge should God ever again decide to destroy the world by flood.
“And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.” (Genesis 11:4-5)
The issue wasn’t that God believed they could actually build a tower that would ‘reach unto heaven’. It was because they were unified under a single leader. Separating them into smaller, like-minded groups prevented one person, in this case, Nimrod, from uniting them in rebellion against God.
In the Church Age, we are separated doctrinally for the same purpose. It is not until AFTER the Holy Spirit’s restraining influence is withdrawn from the earth that the world is once again united under a single political and religious authority.
We even have a word to describe human effort to try to overcome these doctrinal differences. It is called ‘ecumenism’.
“Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division:” (Luke 12:51)
When we set out to ‘prove’ that this guy or that guy is really a heretic, consider what it is that we are claiming for ourselves in so doing. The Roman Catholics call it speaking ‘ex cathedra’ — what the RC calls the “Doctrine of Infallibility.”
Non-Catholics take great joy in running down the list of ‘infallible’ papal statements that have since been reversed or modified by subsequent papal pronouncements. Then they turn around and assume for themselves that same mantle of infallibility while explaining why nobody (else) is infallible.
You were once a baby Christian. Think about how confusing it all was.
There is a place for doctrinal study and doctrinal discussion. It is incumbent upon us to hold, “fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.” (Titus 1:9)
A ‘gainsayer’ is a person who twists doctrine for his own gain, rather than that of the Kingdom. That is not the same thing as a person who sincerely holds to a doctrinal worldview because he believes it to be true.
I believe that the Rapture will take place before the Tribulation. If somebody wants to know why, I am more than happy to explain why I hold to the view that I do. That doesn’t mean somebody else who disagrees isn’t sincere, or is deliberately teaching error.
Someone can be sincere and still be sincerely wrong. Even more importantly, they can be sincerely wrong on some minor point of doctrine and still be every bit as saved as you are.
We are exhorted to ‘hold fast’ to our doctrine, but the ‘Prime Directive’ so to speak, is not to finish everybody else’s sentences or correct every minor point of doctrine, but to spread the Good News that Jesus Christ paid the penalty due for our sins and made a way for us to have eternal fellowship with God.
It is a fine line to walk, but nobody said being a Christian was easy. Paul divided the Word into two parts; the ‘milk’ and the ‘strong meat’.
“For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.” (Hebrews 5:12)
We are to spread the Good News, and to be ready to give an answer for the reason of hope that is in us to a hopeless and dying world. That ‘hope’ isn’t found in accepting my interpretation of minor points of doctrine.
That hope is found in the fact that Jesus accepts us as we are, not in converting everybody else into scholars of our chosen discipline of Scriptural interpretation.
The Apostle Paul could have been reading one of our forum threads when he wrote:
“For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.”
(Or, “I am of Copeland; I am of Crouch; I am of Lindsey; I am of Kinsella”; etc.)
“Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?”, Paul asks. (1st Corinthians 1:12-13)
It is one thing to present sound doctrine in the context of Scripture. It is another thing altogether to target this ministry or that one for some minor doctrinal differences or toss around phrases like ‘false teacher’.
The Omega Letter is designed for mature Christians — it’s mission is to equip you with the tools necessary to be an effective witness for Christ in your day-to-day evangelistic efforts.
But taking that as a mandate to expose ‘false’ teaching only makes one effective with people that already agree with them.
“Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. (1 Corinthians 8:1)
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
What are your own motives? Do you want see people come to Christ, or to come to your point of view? Are you correcting out of love? Or to show off your own knowledge?
“Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.” (Colossians 3:13-15)
Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time and a place for everything, including doctrinal debates. I can’t tell you when the time is right and when it isn’t. But you can tell for yourself.
Sharing the Gospel of Christ isn’t supposed to make you mad. If it does, it’s time to step back and take another look at the Big Picture.
“And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace,” writes James, the Lord’s brother. (James 3:18)
Or, put another way, ‘you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.’
Food for thought.
Note: Jack wrote this Letter on March 3, 2008.