I have to repent.
I have to repent of a form of self-righteousness which, at one time, I thought I was justified in.
Church leaders and other Christians alike feel that they have the liberty to speak out against people they think are preaching false doctrine. Some would go as far as to call them “false prophets”. Don’t get me wrong; I feel that it is incredibly important to combat false doctrine and lies with the truth, but many Christians go a step beyond that to badmouth individual people.
Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, Rob Bell—just to name a few—are pretty easy targets to most evangelicals. I suppose I have never written a blog post slandering these guys, but I know I have done so in conversations with friends. Typically, the conversation does not just stop at, “Yeah, I don’t think I agree with them.” More often then not, it comes to judging these leaders’ relationship with God. In our eyes, their view of God and salvation seem so warped that, after all, how could they be true followers of Jesus?
Though I do not want to focus on it in this post, there is actually one instance where we as Christians are supposed to judge—it is in relation to disciplining a fellow believer living in unrepentant sin (1 Cor. 5:12)—but I do not believe this judging of so-called “false teachers” necessarily falls into that category.
The first question I want to pose is, Why do we feel personally responsible for keeping tabs on all of today’s false teachers? Seriously, I feel like social media has become the tabloid of all the latest Christian gossip. But again, I am to blame as well. There were certain points in time where I made it my hobby to study up on the preachers and televangelists I felt were spreading lies.
You know what’s interesting, though? Some of the same Christian personalities that I studied up on and demonized, I actually agree with them now in a lot of ways. That just goes to prove a principle that many people cannot seem to grasp: we are all learning. I have learned that it is incredibly important to stay humble and teachable.
What if we actually approached the aforementioned personalities (and others like them) with this in mind? I am by no means saying that we take everything they say as gospel truth. Personally, there are many people that I still do not agree with one hundred percent. But maybe, just maybe these individuals are not intentionally spreading lies. Maybe they are just still searching themselves, and doubt is a part of their journey with God—some reading this can probably relate to that. Maybe they have just taken one principle in scripture to an extreme and have become imbalanced—who can honestly say they have never done this? Maybe they have just become prideful under the fame and spotlight—if you or I were in the same position, we would surely be tempted in the same way. The point is that they are just imperfect people like we are, but they are still children and servants of God.
I already know that many reading this will not be able to accept that. That is because we all have this unusual tendency to want to judge whether or not somebody is saved. But do we know these people? I mean, do we personally know them? I don’t. And frankly that is what makes it so easy to talk bad about these people. Jesus says “You will know them by their fruit” (Matthew 7:20), yet we think we can somehow judge the fruit of their life without actually being around them.
What we generally use to judge these supposed false teachers is their knowledge. To their credit, most evangelicals emphasize the Bible and sound doctrine (which is what I grew up in and, am I grateful for it), but they have emphasized it to the point where they think salvation hinges on it. So, you think the “prosperity gospel” is a false Gospel? The knowledge gospel is just as much so.
How are we saved? Through the grace of God through faith, not by how correct our theology is. You see, the ones who were named false prophets and apostates were the ones who denied the lordship of Jesus; that he is the Son of God, that he died, and that he was raised from the dead. From what little I do know about these controversial preachers, they do teach the basic gospel and the lordship of Jesus Christ. Now, do they have a sincere relationship with Christ? We can only look at their fruit to have any idea; and, again, we cannot accurately do it because we do not know them. Ultimately, only God truly knows their heart.
But again, why do we need to know whether or not they are saved in the first place? What is it in us that desperately wants to know? I have been pondering this a lot lately because so often I find myself judging someone else’s eternal state. I guess the easy answer is that it is a hypocritical and fleshly part of us that is left over from the “old man”. Think about it; this is exactly what the Pharisees did. They were the ones who elevated knowledge and judged others by their own human standards.
I have been a Pharisee, and I still am one in a lot of ways. By no means have I mastered these principles I am writing about. In fact, I actually feel like writing this post has been instrumental in God healing me from it. Literally, as I have been writing, I sense God speaking to me.
So, why does all of this matter? It matters because Jesus wants a bride that is still in one piece, not this divided and dismembered one we see so prevalent today. The world watches and sees the people of God fighting each other. To them, there is no difference between Billy Graham and Joel Osteen or Charles Stanley and Benny Hinn. Yes, let us teach the truth and rebuke the lies as they come, but let us not attack people. In spite of our differences, we need to come together in unity.