Sunday, November 28, 2010

Biblical shepherding is not for the weak

jesusshepherdVery often these days, too often, we read about or watch so-called shepherds of God's flock being unfaithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I wrote a post just recently on Joel Osteen fudging the gospel!

The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians concerning the stewards of the gospel:

"[1] This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. [2] Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. (1Co 4:1-2)"

A preacher of the gospel must be a trustworthy steward of that given to him. A steward does not own what he has been put in charge of. He is to manage his charge well. And that charge is not anything found within the vast imaginative recesses of the shepherd's mind! He is to be a steward of "the mysteries of God!" If the church were a secular club of sorts, then it would be conceivable to think that the pastor (shepherd) could come up with all kinds of clever ideas as to how he would run the church and what he would say to his flock on Sundays or on other occasions.

Having said that, man has a propensity of drifting away from God, and the apostle Paul, knowing what lurks in the heart of man (Rom 7), warned the Ephesians

[29] I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; [30] and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. [31] Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears. (Acts 20:29-31)”

Paul knew that there would always be those that would twist the gospel of Jesus Christ to suit their own twisted thoughts. Because of this he also wrote to Timothy and urged him to

[3] ... remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, [4] nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. [5] The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. [6] Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, [7] desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. (1 Timothy 1:3-7)”

Paul also wrote to Timothy saying:

[1] Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, [2] through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, (1 Timothy 4:1-2)”

I do not think that the mandate to Timothy, to “charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine,” has changed for our day at all. We still have “fierce wolves” coming among us, whether in person or via audio, video or book, who are “not sparing the flock.” These men speak “twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them,” to follow them in their “teachings of demons.”

Paul warned us in many passages that we should watch out for these false teachers and heretics. Yet, he also told us that we should charge these false teachers to desist from teaching their “teachings of demons.” He also appealed to us

[17] ... to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. [18] For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. (Romans 16:17-18)”

When Paul wrote to Titus to inform him of the qualifications of a pastor, he wrote in Tit 1:9 that the pastor

must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

We are not to “hang” with these false teachers and heretics, but we are to rebuke and avoid them! These wolves are creeping into the minds and hearts of the flock unseen through their deceptive ministries that can be found on TV, in books, podcasts, etc. They are teaching a different doctrine to the one handed down to us, and then there are some people who say that we shouldn’t judge? If someone hacks my son to death I shouldn’t stop him, since I shouldn’t judge? That is pure insanity! While these wolves are destroying the flock, pastors should rise up and stand against these heretics, name them, rebuke them, and teach their flocks to avoid these false teachers!

Of course, the apostle Paul did not judge these heretics. He simply wrote:

“[6] I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— [7] not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. [8] But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. [9] As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
[10] For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
(Galatians 1:6-10)”

No, Paul cursed those that preached false, defective gospels! Not only did Paul curse these heretics, the New Testament is full of commands and examples to fight error in the church! Pastors, and indeed mature Christians, simply cannot sit back allowing these false teachers to poison the church. These false teachers and their heresies must be pointed out, of which the prosperity preachers are only a part! All Christians, especially those that preach in pulpits and on TV, are ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor 5:20). We do not come with our own message! We carry the message of the King! If we come with any other message but the message that was given us in the gospel, then we come with a false message and we dishonour Christ, the King. That.Is.Treason!

As ambassadors, we represent God. Tim Challies writes:

“A.W. Tozer began The Knowledge of the Holy, his most highly acclaimed book, with these words: ‘What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.’ No person or religion has ever been greater that its idea of God, and worship is seen as being true or false on the basis of its high or low thoughts of God… And so the first area in which we must exercise discernment is our thoughts of God. Our theology must accurately reflect God as he has chosen to reveal himself. We must dedicate ourselves to the pursuit of knowing and understanding God by separating what is true about God from what is false.”1

We have to preach the truth about God, and teach our people to avoid those that teach false doctrine about God. Teaching false doctrine about God means not teaching about God at all, but about a god of our own making!

Heresy usually comes from only a few important areas, the fundamentals of the gospel! We have been given the gospel in the Bible, and we need to ensure that we preach it faithfully! We simply cannot equivocate on the meaning of the gospel, especially not when we are asked straight up about it!

When Joel Osteen was with Larry King Live, Larry asked Osteen: “What if you are Jewish or a Muslim and you don’t accept Christ at all?”

Osteen, without hesitation answered: “You know Larry, as a Christian I just have to believe what the Bible says. In Jn 14:6 Jesus said, ‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No-one comes to the Father but through Me!’ So, yes, Larry, without believing in the substitutionary death on the cross of Jesus for my sins, I cannot go to heaven. Jesus also said that all who received Him, who believed in His Name, God gave the right to become His children. That is the good news, Larry!”

Actually, that is not what Osteen said! He did say this:

“You know, I’m just, I’m very careful about saying who would and who wouldn’t go to heaven… Weeell, I don’t know if I believe they’re [Jews and Muslims] wrong. I believe here’s what the Bible teaches and from the Christian faith this is what I believe, but I think that only God can judge a person’s heart. {I spent a lot of time with my father in India.] I don’t know all about their [Hindu’s] religion, but I know they love God, and I don’t know, I’d have to, I’ve seen their sincerity, so, I don’t know. I know for me and what the Bible teaches, I want to have a relationship with Jesus...”ji-packer

Osteen seems like a political spin doctor, doing his utmost not to offend with the gospel. He simply doesn’t want to say the gospel as it is in the Bible! That is not the gospel at all! The gospel itself has offence for those of the world. It is utter foolishness to them! Of course, Osteen does not even attempt to give the gospel here and waters it down tremendously. J.I. Packer writes that

“the result of these omissions [from the gospel] is that part of the biblical gospel is now preached as if it were the whole of that gospel; and a half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth.”2

One of the biggest problems, I think, is that the church wants to become acceptable to the world. As Leonard Ravenhill once said: “The Church used to be a lifeboat rescuing the perishing. Now she is a cruise ship recruiting the promising,” andThe early church was married to poverty, prisons and persecutions. Today, the church is married to prosperity, personality, and popularity.”  As a result, the church has worked hard at becoming popular. Just a pity about that pesky gospel! Osteen is simply the poster boy for this cancer that is busy eating away at the soul of the modern church. In this world where “tolerance” is so highly valued, it has become inevitable for many in the church to chisel the offensive edges off the gospel.

johnmacarthurConcerning this search after popularity, John MacArthur writes:

“Perhaps the dominant myth in the evangelical church today is that the success of Christianity depends on how popular it is, and that the kingdom of God and the glory of Christ somehow advance on the back of public favor.”3

MacArthur continues:

“Local church pastors are among the first to be seduced into using this designer gospel, crafted to fit the sinner’s desire and carefully tweaked to overcome consumer resistance. They stylize church meetings to look, sound, feel, and smell like the world, in order to remove the sinner’s resistance and lure him into the kingdom down an easy and familiar path.

“The idea is to make Christianity easy to believe. But the unvarnished, untweaked, unmodified, unavoidable truth is that the gospel is actually hard to believe. In fact, if the sinner is left to himself, it is absolutely impossible. ...

“To maintain their positions of power and influence, once they’ve achieved them, to maintain this tenuous alliance with the world in the name of love, attractiveness, and tolerance, and to keep the unconverted happy in church, they must replace the truth with something soothing and inoffensive. In fact, as a Calvinist once said: ‘Sometimes we don’t present the gospel well enough for the non-elect to reject it.’”4

In the light of all this, it can certainly be said that Biblical shepherding is not for the weak! The love of a shepherd for his flock must drive him to protect them against the false doctrines and false teachers that are invading the minds of Christians today. Heresy is not a trivial matter, and it has eternal consequences. Harold Brown writes about the consequences of heresy:

“[W]hen tolerance so often means indifference to truth, justice and morality: just as their are doctrines that are true, and that can bring salvation, there are those that are false, so false that they can spell eternal damnation for those who have the misfortune to become entrapped by them.”5

As a minister of the gospel, Paul wrote about the ministry of the gospel:

[1] Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. [2] But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. [3] And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. [4] In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. [5] For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. [6] For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:1-6)”

In a post I wrote in 2005 called “Without truth, wrong doctrine,” I wrote:

“Are you adulterating the Word of God? Are you making light of the truth of the gospel? If the gospel is the message about salvation, then you MUST realize that the truth of the gospel is of utmost importance. It is literally a matter of life and death. Do you want to mess with this truth, and risk the lives of many? Apart from ensuring that the way we live is correct before a holy God, we also need to ensure that our teaching is in order (1 Tim 4:16). Living and doctrine cannot be separated! Correct doctrine (and its application) will lead to living correctly. The truth sanctifies us! "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." (2 Tim 2:15) Are you indeed doing your utmost to present yourself to God as one approved, one who rightly handles the word of truth, or do you have something to be ashamed of? (Tit 2:7)”

Concerning ministry by a pastor to those in his church, John Piper writes:

“The Puritans believed that without perseverance in the obedience of faith the result would be eternal destruction, not lesser sanctification. Therefore, since preaching and the pastoral ministry in general are a great means to the saints’ perseverance, the goal of  pastor is not merely to edify the saints but to save the saints. What is at stake on Sunday morning is not merely the upbuilding of the church but its eternal salvation. It is not hard to see why the Puritans were so serious.

“But it was not Sibbes and Baxter and Boston and Edwards and Spurgeon who caused me to change my goal. It was the apostle Paul. He wrote to Timothy, ‘Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers’ (1 Tim. 4:16). The ‘hearers’ Paul has in mind are not people outside the church (as verse 12 [NASB] shows, ‘Show yourself an example of those who believe’).”6

When it comes to the handling of false teachers, the apostle John writes:

[9] Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. [10] If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, [11] for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works. (2 John 1:9-11 ESV)”

The question is, as a pastor, do you adhere to this passage? Do you entertain false teaching among your people? Do you allow these wolves to penetrate your household? If you do, then you are disobedient to the Word of God! It is important to note that not all people that claim to be Christians indeed are Christians! The pastor has to be a reliable carrier of the truth. If the preacher is not reliable then he is not fulfilling the Biblical pattern of preaching, and he is a deceiver of the sheep! Like Osteen, the pastor simply may not dilute the gospel of Jesus Christ!

A pastor that does not defend the minds of his people against the onslaught of false teachers, simply does not love his people. A preacher that preaches a gospel adapted to be more acceptable to the masses, firstly, does not love God enough to represent Him accurately and, secondly, do not have love for the lost to preach the message of salvation truthfully!

As an example how a preacher should treat the gospel in public, you can watch how John MacArthur does it, in contradistinction to Joel Osteen.

Like the Calvinist Gadfly once wrote:

"What you win [people] with is what you win them to."

1. Challies, Tim, the DISCIPLINE of SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT, Crossway, Wheaton, IL, 2007, p96,97.
2. Packer, J.I., “Introduction,’ in THE DEATH OF DEATH in the Death of Christ by John Owen, The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1959, reprint 2002, p2.
3. MacArthur, John, Hard To Believe: The High Cost and Infinite Value of Following Jesus, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN, 2003, p19.
4. Ibid., p20.
5. Brown, Harold O.J., Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, 1988, p4.
6. Piper, John, Brothers, We are not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry, Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, TN, 2002, p106.

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