Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Believers Biblical Call to Judge

In his Critical Issues Commentary, author Bob Dewaay meticulously reveals that Scripture provides straightforward, objective guidelines concerning making judgments and that both the commands to judge and the commands not to judge are understandable - and they are to be obeyed.

The essay is long and detailed, but I wanted to bring over several of the paragraphs that have often come up during discussions within Christian circles regarding the recognition of sound, Biblical doctrine vs. the man-made doctrines often added by men.

One of the most misued verses in the Bible has to be Matthew 7 - the "do not judge" verse. It is unfortunately, often used by certain groups who wish to carry on their lawlessness and sin while claiming to be Christian believers. It is not my place to judge whether or not they truly are Christian believers, but as we go through parts of Dewaay's essay, we will see that we are called to judge and discern their false doctrine.

Do Not Judge - Matthew 7
The following teaching from the Sermon on the Mount warns us not to judge:

Do not judge lest you be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, "Let me take the speck out of your eye," and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)

Before we interpret those verses we must look at the sermon in Matthew that preceded it. The Sermon on the Mount concerns motives and sin. For example, the hypocrite prays to be "seen of men" (Matthew 6:5). Jesus' sermon contains warnings against anger (Matthew 5:22), lust (Matthew 5:28), a command to love one's enemies (Matthew 5:44) and a warning against loving money (Matthew 6:24). Jesus addresses many sin issues in a manner that would show everyone their sinfulness and need for the Gospel. Jesus said, "For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:20). This statement would have shocked Jesus' hearers because the scribes and Pharisees were fastidious in keeping the law of external rules. A righteousness greater than theirs could only be the imputed righteousness of Christ that changes the heart. Without Christ's righteousness we cannot enter the kingdom.

Given this context, what is the meaning of Matthew 7:1-5? The answer is that we are warned against judging how righteous others are in comparison to ourselves. This passage is a warning against self righteousness. As sinners, we tend to minimize or rationalize our own transgressions and magnify what we see wrong in others. Jesus warns about this because self-righteousness like that of the hypocritical Pharisees will keep a person out of the kingdom of God. It is the poor in spirit and the persecuted who will "inherit the kingdom of God" (Matthew 5:3, 10). These humbled people know they need a savior.

So does Matthew 7:1-5 teach that Christians should accept all teachers and teachings without discrimination? No. This passage concerns peoples' motivations and the degree of their internal righteousness. These matters we are not to judge. Other passages, which we will examine later, are concerned with judging the content of a person's teaching. Before we study those texts, let us examine other passages that are used to suggest that false teachers should not be corrected publicly.

I encourage you to read the entire essay. However, I am skipping down to where the author discusses knowing them "by their fruits."

You Will Know Them by Their Fruits - Matthew 7

Jesus' teaching that, "You will know them by their fruits," is well known and often repeated. What is amazing, however, is that most of the time people come to conclusions about what this means that have nothing to do with the issues Jesus raises in Matthew 7. They often think of "fruits" as being character qualities, popularity, or the ability to do supernatural signs. I will discuss each of these ideas and then show what Jesus did mean.

Let us examine the passage. In Matthew 7 Jesus warned about false prophets:

Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. (Matthew 7:15-17)

First, personality traits are not fruits. On the outside, false prophets look like sheep. They are often very nice people who are kind, endearing, disarming, affable, winsome, and possess many other wonderful qualities. The false idea that these qualities are what Jesus means by "fruits" causes many people to be misled by false prophets. What they fail to realize is that the Dalai Lama has such qualities and he is hardly a Christian. Having a charming exterior is often the "sheep's clothing."

The number of one's followers is not fruit. Many assume that popularity is a sign of good fruit. But the context shows something entirely different: "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it" (Matthew 7:13, 14). The false religious leaders of Israel had more followers than Jesus did. This can hardly be what Jesus meant by "fruit."

And signs and wonders are not fruits. Again we must consult the context:

So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.' (Matthew 7:20-23)
People who call Jesus "Lord," come in His name, and do works of power are false prophets if they refused to abide within God-given boundaries. This is an important concept. This is lawlessness.

The boundaries are those that God's ordained spokespersons set. For us, they are the

teachings of Christ and His apostles (See Hebrews 1:1, 2; 2:3, 4). Jesus was the prophet that Moses predicted and to whom we must listen (Deuteronomy 18:15; Mark 9:2-7; John 5:46, 47; et. al.). The book of Hebrews contains this warning: "Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?" (Hebrews 10:18, 19). Lawlessness disregards the terms of the covenant. Jesus has revealed the terms and boundaries of legal belief and practice under the new covenant, like Moses did under the old. John warned about this in his second epistle: "Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son" (2John 1:9).

Understood in this way, false prophets are those who teach and practice lawlessness. They do not abide within the once-for-all determined boundaries of New Testament teaching. We can see this as we continue in our Matthew 7 passage:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock. And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act upon them, will be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and it fell, and great was its fall. (Matthew 7:24-27)

The lawless ones do not abide by the teachings of Christ. They are the false prophets. The fruits by which they are known are their teachings, not their personalities, the number of their followers, or their miracles.

To underscore how important judging teaching is, we will examine Paul's address to the elders in Jerusalem. We will see that guarding the flock is a key duty of pastors and elders.

I would just add that guarding the flock is not only a key duty of pastors and elders, but also of the Biblically informed flock members. The author is probably a pastor or elder and many times it is a correct assumption that "babes in Christ," meaning, those who are new to the faith and have not had spirit-led experienced study of the Bible, should not be judging teaching. They do not yet have the knowledge to discern properly. Studying the Scriptures diligently and using hermenuetics, Scripture interprets Scripture and exegesis of the text are all vitally important in order to discern correctly. Those who perhaps are weaker in this area might need further study with proven Biblically sound leaders before they should attempt judging the teaching of others. Paul and Timothy are good examples of this idea.

Recognizing the "fruits of their teachings" as the cause for concern for false teachings is the key to understanding exegesis of the Scriptures rather than the esogesis tendencies of those involved in heresy and apostasy. This leads us directly into the next section of the essay that discusses church leaders and wolves.

Church Leaders and Wolves
Paul's address to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20 instructs about the duty of Christian leaders to proclaim the truth and to guard the flock against wolves. First Paul recalled his previous practice in Ephesus:

How I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:20, 21)
Preaching that people should repent and believe is an important theme in Luke/Acts (Luke 24:47; Acts 2:38; Acts 17:30, 31; Acts 26:17-20; et al). Paul's preaching resulted in the formation of a church in Ephesus. Elders were appointed, and these were addressed by Paul as he headed to Jerusalem. What he said to them reveals what is truly important for all churches.

And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will see my face no more. Therefore I testify to you this day, that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. (Acts 20:27)
Notice, first of all, that the phrase "preaching the kingdom" is synonymously parallel with his description of his preaching in verse 21, "repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ." The message of the kingdom was not some message like the social gospel as some claim today, but the gospel of the kingdom is repentance and faith (see Mark 1:14, 15). These are the terms of entrance into the kingdom.

Secondly, notice that Paul claimed innocence from bloodguiltiness. This means that had he not proclaimed both the terms of entrance into the kingdom, and the whole of what God has revealed of His purposes, Paul would have imperiled their souls, failed his sacred mission, and brought guilt upon himself for failing to warn them of coming judgment (see Ezekiel 33:6). These same responsibilities apply to pastors and other church leaders today. This is so very important because the flock must be equipped to withstand the onslaught of the inevitable wolves who will arise.

These wolves are the subject of Paul's warning to the church leaders:

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. (Acts 20:28-30)
It is important to see that the wolves come from two sources: outside and inside the church. Wolves are always inimical to the well-being of sheep. It is the responsibility of shepherds to make sure the sheep are safe from the wolves. To do this, the wolves must be identified. The way they are identified is through their teachings. Paul described the practice of the wolves: "speaking perverse things." The word "perverse" means "twisted" or "distorted." Their teachings are a distortion of the authoritative teachings of Christ and His apostles. Anyone is a wolf who purposely gives distorted teaching and refuses to repent when shown his error from the Scriptures. The elders must guard the flock against such people.

Notice what happens through the teachings of the wolves: they "draw away the disciples after them." False teachers and prophets have a message that comes from themselves, not from the whole counsel of God. The reason these wolves draw disciples away after themselves is that they are the only source of this teaching. If the church is proclaiming the true terms of the covenant and the whole counsel of God, whatever "perverse" doctrine is being promoted by wolves will not be heard from the faithful pastors and elders. Perverse doctrine cannot be found through valid implications from authoritative Scripture. Therefore, if the wolves succeed in giving some of the sheep an appetite for what they are offering, the sheep will have to follow the wolves to get that appetite fed. Since this is not from God, they are being drawn away from the true sheepfold and into spiritual peril and perhaps damnation.

This is a very serious situation. In John 10 Jesus uses a sheepfold analogy to show that robbers do not go through the true door: "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber" (John 10:1). Jesus is the door of the sheep (John 10:7). Jesus has ascended bodily into heaven. His teachings as given in the New Testament delineate the boundaries of the sheepfold. The elders of the church are responsible to uphold the true words of Christ and His apostles. They are responsible to identify those robbers who will not abide in the teachings of Christ. False teachers refuse to do this job: "He who is a hireling, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, beholds the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep, and flees, and the wolf snatches them, and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling, and is not concerned about the sheep" (John 10:12, 13). Jesus is the true Shepherd, and the under-shepherds (the term "pastor" is from the word "shepherd") are to feed the sheep the pure words of God and guard them from perverted words. Those who refuse to do so are hirelings.

Interestingly, during my Psalm 23 Bible study, we discussed the difference between the true shepherds of sheep and someone who is just a "hireling." It is a fact that the true shepherds and true under-shepherds are more likely to be entirely attentive and concerned about the sheep of the fold. As the essay states, "guarding the sheep of the fold of Christ from perverted words" is similar to guarding the sheep from a wolf who would snatch them up or scatter them away. This demonstrates how imperative it is to abide in the teachings of Christ and not let false teachers carry you away from the truth!

Paul's Warning Comes True

Timothy became a key church leader in Ephesus where Paul had warned the elders about wolves. Paul's warning came true. We learn from the epistles to Timothy that false teachers did arise, some of them likely were elders themselves. This provides the background for Paul's admonitions in Timothy about correcting error, upholding the standard of sound doctrine, and the qualifications of true elders.

Paul specified to Timothy who the false teachers were by name:

This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered over to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme. (1Timothy 1:18-20)

The reason false teachers are dealt with publicly is that their teaching is public. One does not need two or three witnesses or a private meeting to determine if a public teaching is Biblical or not. Everyone who heard them knows what they believe and teach. At issue is whether the teaching is Biblical. False teaching damages the church, and it cannot be tolerated. In the Greek, it says they made shipwreck "in regard to the faith." The definite article indicates that it was the content of their teaching that was wrong. It was not in accordance with "the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3).

Paul, after giving instructions about the qualifications of elders, reminds Timothy of the key role of the church: "but in case I am delayed, I write so that you may know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth" (1Timothy 3:15). Elders and pastors who disregard sound doctrine cannot be tolerated. When they teach false doctrine, their conduct is unacceptable. They are responsible to make sure the church is the "pillar and support of the truth."

Paul predicts that in the later times people will give heed to "deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons" (1Timothy 4:1). Paul urges Timothy to instruct the church about this important matter of warning against false teachings and promoting the truth: "In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following" (1Timothy 4:6). Today many despise the very term doctrine and accuse those of being wrongly motivated who think it is important to correct false doctrine and espouse true doctrine. This is not at all what Paul told Timothy: "Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things; for as you do this you will insure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you" (1Timothy 4:16). Teachings have consequences--eternal consequences. If false teaching is allowed into the church, peoples' salvation is in jeopardy.

The duty of elders and pastors to protect the flock from false teaching, and to nourish the flock with sound teaching always has been foremost. But in the last days, the battle intensifies. We are living in an age of delusion and apostasy. So now, more than ever, we must confront false teaching and not allow it into the church. Paul made this admonition and prediction:

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. (2Timothy 4:1-4)

If people do not want to hear sound doctrine because of end time delusion, preach sound doctrine to them! The ability and willingness to do so is a requirement for elders: "[H]olding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict" (Titus 1:9).

The duties of pastors and elders are very clear in Acts 20 and the Pastoral Epistles. They are to teach true doctrine, correct false doctrine, and protect the flock from the wolves. Sadly, those who do so today are often accused of being divisive or sinning because they have "judged" when Jesus told us not to judge. This is a category error. We are not to judge motives or relative degrees of righteousness, but we must judge public teaching.

(bold and italics mine)

False doctrine abounds today, and the people who are most vulnerable are those who have not studied the Bible well enough to be able to discern truth from error. As is true with anything in life, people can be sincere in their beliefs, but also can be sincerely wrong. One fact that can help us determine truth from error is knowing and recognizing the traditional, objective criteria of Scripture rather than the new-age, progressive interpretations that are currently going on today. We can and should judge what is true or false, sinful or righteous, based on what has been revealed in Scripture! (1Corinthians 14:29; 1Thessalonians 5:21).

At the essay site, there are several paragraphs that discuss what we can and cannot judge. The section ends with this admonition:

Ask yourself when you make a judgment, "can I know this with certainty"? If the answer is no, we cannot judge. If the answer is yes and the issue concerns Biblical doctrine or sin, we not only may judge; we must judge. Publicly proclaimed teaching falls into this category.

Today the teachings of the wolves come by way of the TV, radio, internet, books, seminars and any other media that is available. No pastor could discuss each of these specific heresies with their authors, nor is it required. What is required is that pastors and elders refute the heresies with sound doctrine, and warn the flock about their pernicious influence. The sad truth is that very few elders or pastors are willing to do this. Many take it as a badge of honor that they correct no one, and glibly allow the wolves to devour the flock under the guise of humility and unity. If we refuse to judge false teaching, we have neglected our God-given responsibilities.

When and When Not to Judge

The following is the result of a range of meaning study I did on the Greek word krino_ and its derivatives. I started by finding every verse in the New Testament where these Greek words appeared. I then removed every instance that concerned God's action of judging because our concern is when humans are to judge or not judge. I then examined each passage in context to determine the meaning. In some cases I had to consult scholarly sources if the Biblical author's meaning was not readily apparent. I then made categories for the various meanings that I found and placed each verse in the correct category, based on the Greek word that was translated. Then I further sorted the categories by "do"; "do not" and then tangential categories that did not fit the do or do not schema. The following is the result. You can look up the verses yourself to determine if you think I correctly categorized them. The most interesting result to me is that the largest category contained passages about discerning.
-- Bob DeWaay

Do make a correct determination based on facts and/or Scripture(discern):
Luke 7:43, Luke 12:57, John 7:22-24, John 7:51, John 8:15, 16, Acts 4:19, Acts 15:19, Acts 16:15, Acts 23:26, 1Corinthians 2:2, 1Corinthians 5:3, 1Corinthians 5:12, 13, 1Corinthians 7:37, 1Corinthians 10:15, 1Corinthians 11:13, 1Corinthians 11:31, 32, 2Corinthians 5:14

[Note: You can read the rest at the site.]

Hat tip: Critical Issues Commentary Ministry

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