Mailbag

The Mailbag: My “Christian” Family Member Bears Rotten Fruit

Originally published October 24, 2016

mailbag

I have a family member, *Fran, who claims to be a Christian, but follows several major false teachers, drinks, habitually lies, is very proud, boastful, and manipulative. She has been shown that these teachers are false but chooses to follow them anyway.

Should I treat her as though she were a sister in Christ by going to her and rebuking her and going through the “disciplinary” steps in hopes of reconciliation? Or should I go about it as if she weren’t a sister in Christ?  I have been praying for her and for wisdom for myself to handle this in a God honoring way.
(*Name changed)

It’s always difficult to watch a loved one choose sin over Christ and false doctrine over sound doctrine. Praying for Fran and for God’s wisdom and guidance are the first and best step.

You’ve asked about “going through the ‘disciplinary’ steps in hopes of reconciliation.” I believe what you’re referring to here is the process described in Matthew 18:15-17:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

This is the basic outline Christ has given us for disciplining sin in the local church. One thing to notice about that last step is that if the person sinning does not listen to the church, the church is to excommunicate (remove, or disfellowship) him from membership and regard him as someone who is lost and in need of the gospel. This brings us to the question of whether Fran is a member of your church or another church. A church obviously can’t excommunicate someone who isn’t a member of that church. This helps us to see that each local body is responsible for disciplining its own members.

If Fran is a member of your church, then, yes, the steps in the Matthew 18 passage should be applied. The wisest course of action, especially if you’ve never done something like this before, is to seek the counsel of your pastor or an elder as to the best way to approach Fran and handle the meeting. Set aside some one on one time to talk to Fran, and be sure you listen to her as well. Part of that one on one meeting is for you– to make sure you are correctly assessing the situation, not, for example, reacting to a rumor you heard, a misunderstanding of an incident, etc. Lovingly and humbly point her to the Scriptures she has transgressed. Pray with her if she is willing.

After that initial meeting, give her some time to consider what you’ve said and to respond to the Holy Spirit’s work in her heart. Check back in with her at a later date and find out if she has repented. If not, prayerfully gather two or three others Fran likes and respects and repeat the process. If she still doesn’t repent, take those two or three people, meet with your pastor or the appropriate elder, and seek his guidance on the next step to take.

You didn’t specify in your e-mail, but it sounded as though Fran is not a member of your church. In this case, you really don’t have any ecclesiological redress (i.e. excommunication) to back you up. What you have is a family member who appears to be a false convert because she is bearing the fruit of someone who is unsaved rather than the fruit of someone who is saved.

I would again encourage you to meet with your pastor, an elder, or a godly, older, spiritually mature woman at your church for counsel as to the best way to proceed. It might be possible to carry out the first two steps of the process simply as an act of love and concern, considering what steps you would take in your personal relationship with Fran if she refuses to repent. First Corinthians 5:9-13 is a good passage to study as you consider this situation:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

This passage is also written to the church body regarding church discipline, but we can glean from it, as well as from the Matthew 18 passage, that there is to be some noticeable degree of separation between Christians and individuals who call themselves Christians yet unrepentantly persist in sin.

As you mentioned, the whole point of lovingly confronting someone you care for about her sin is to – for the good of her own soul – point her back to Christ so that she may first be reconciled with Him through repentance and forgiveness, and then be reconciled with her church family and others. Two good Scriptures to remember and take to heart when we have no other choice but to approach a sinning sister are:

And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. Luke 6:31

For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Matthew 7:2

It can be difficult, painful, and embarrassing to hear someone tell you you’re in sin. Put yourself in that sister’s shoes. Treat her as kindly and mercifully as you would want someone to treat you. We never confront another in her sin with the motive of shaming, punishing, seeking revenge, or proving her wrong and ourselves right. That is not the gospel. It is not how Christ treats us when we sin. If she repents when you approach her, forgive and rejoice with her in the good work Christ has done in her heart.

Additional Resources:

What is Excommunication in the Bible? at Got Questions

What does the Bible say about church discipline? at Got Questions

A Church Discipline Primer at 9 Marks

In Order that You May Know at Grace to You


If you have a question about: a well known Christian author/leader, a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Uncategorized

Hurricane Ida

Just a quick heads up: In case the blog schedule is interrupted next week, it’s all Ida’s fault. :0)

This is our local news guy, Jay. I know everybody thinks Louisiana + hurricane = Katrina, but in the Baton Rouge area, Gustav and Andrew did more damage. We were without power for about a week after each of them, and at my house, we lost a rather large tree during Gustav, whereas during Katrina we got some wind and rain and the power was out for maybe 30 minutes. The good news is, Ida should die down to a Cat. 1 by the time it gets to us.

Anyway we’ll probably spend today prepping and battening down the hatches, and having a hurricane party (aka: grilling all the meat from the freezer before it spoils) next week if the power’s out. And if it is, I obviously won’t be posting anything on the blog.

I’ll check in on social media when I can. Your prayers are appreciated.

False Doctrine, False Teachers

Can a False Teacher be a Christian?

I was listening to Jon Harris’ Conversations that Matter podcast the other day, and I thought he made some excellent and salient points in his episode A Dividing Line Between Christians Against CRT (Critical Race Theory).

Now, before you roll your eyes and keep on scrolling (like I almost did) because you’ve reached your saturation point with CRT, the episode isn’t mainly about CRT. It’s about how discerning Christians handle and talk about false teachers (including those who promote CRT). Do we have to bend over backwards to avoid questioning their salvation or calling them false teachers? Is that how the apostles handled false teachers in the New Testament?

The episode reminded me of this article I wrote several years ago. Give it a read, give Jon’s episode a listen, and take a little time to order your thoughts about those who teach false doctrine.

(By the way – I would echo all of Jon’s sentiments about Todd Friel. I still listen to Wretched all the time, and I highly recommend Todd. This is one of those rare occasions when I happen to not to be in 100% agreement with him.)

Originally published December 4, 2015

I recently had the opportunity to read a fascinating and thought provoking Twitter discussion among some brothers in Christ about what constitutes a false teacher, and whether or not some false teachers might actually be genuinely regenerated Christians.

My working definition of a false teacher is someone who unrepentantly, despite biblical correction, consistently teaches, either implicitly, explicitly, or via his or her behavior, doctrine that is in direct conflict with clear cut Scripture.

It’s not a perfect definition, and I’m sure we can all think of exceptions, but that’s the general guideline I follow before referring to someone as a false teacher. But could someone who, despite correction, persists in teaching things and behaving in ways that contradict Scripture truly be a born again Christian?

Let’s take a look at what Scripture has to say:

Galatians 1:8-9

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. 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.

This passage is in reference to the Judaizers, who were preaching a false soteriology. Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, says twice, of such a teacher, “let him be accursed.” The Greek word anathema, translated “accursed,” means “devoting someone to destruction in eternal hell.”¹ Is this something the Holy Spirit would say about someone who is a Christian?

1 Timothy 4:1-3

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, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared,who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.

Verse 2 as well as the phrase “teachings of demons” would seem to indicate that at least some false teachers are not saved. I think it’s fair to say that someone who is a Christian would not be marked by the Holy Spirit as a liar, or someone whose conscience is seared, or someone whose teaching is demonic.

Also notice the false teachings mentioned in verse 3: the forbidding of marriage and the requirement to abstain from certain foods. Some would say that only deviant soteriology qualifies a person as a false teacher, but here the Holy Spirit says false teachings on marriage and food (what most would probably call secondary or even tertiary theological issues) are leading peple to “depart from the faith.” How can someone whose teachings lead people away from the faith not be considered a false teacher? Would someone who is genuinely born again knowingly teach things that lead people away from Christ?

2 Peter 2

Here, Peter gives us a twenty-two verse description of false teachers, their characteristics and their fate. He uses words like destruction, sensuality, greed, condemnation, willful, and blasphemous. Can you think of any passages of Scripture which describe believers with these sorts of words? Read 2 Peter 2 with Galatians 5:22-23, and the character and eternal destiny of believers in mind. Does it sound like Peter is talking about Christians or non-Christians?

1 John

The book of 1 John is practically a checklist for determining whether a person is saved or not. Does the teacher you’re listening to deny her sin (for example, preaching to men) and continue in it, or confess it and repent? (1:8-10) Does she keep God’s commands or walk in disobedience? (2:3-6) Does she hold to apostolic teaching (4:1-6) or leave it behind (2:19)? John draws a very clear line as to who is genuinely saved and who is not.

Jude 4, 18-19

For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ…[The apostles] said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.

The whole book of Jude deals with false teachers, and can be read and compared with what we know to be true of believers as we did with 2 Peter 2. The false teachers described in Jude do not sound like they bear the characteristics of believers.

Verse 4 seems to deal with those who teach a false soteriology (“pervert the grace of our God” and “deny our only Master…) and says they are ungodly and designated for condemnation. Christians do not fall under condemnation. Verses 18-19, however, describe people who are scoffers, have ungodly passions, cause division in the church, and are worldly (all of which can fall under the umbrella of non-soteriological false teaching). Verse 19 says such people are “devoid of the Spirit.” Notice that “Spirit” is capitalized, which indicates the Holy Spirit. All born again believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Only non-Christians can properly be described as “devoid of the Spirit.”

2 Corinthians 11:12-15

And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. 13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.

This passage describes false teachers who disguise themselves as “apostles of Christ” and “servants of righteousness.”  Verse 15 describes false teachers as servants of Satan. Their end (their eternity) will correspond to the fact that they serve Satan. Christians are defined as servants of Christ, not Satan, and they spend their eternities in Heaven, not hell.

Romans 16:17-18

I appeal to you, brothers, 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.

While this passage does not specifically use the term “false teachers” it is clear that people who cause division, create obstacles contrary to sound doctrine, and deceive the naive, “do not serve our Lord Christ.” Christians, by the Bible’s own definition, are servants of Christ, and do not willfully or habitually deceive people, cause division, or create obstacles to sound doctrine.

2 John 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.

Does the teacher you’re listening to “abide” – live in, stay in, walk in – the teaching of Christ, or does she habitually deviate from, or “go on ahead” of it? This verse describes those who do not abide in the teaching of Christ as not having God. Christians are those who abide in the teaching of Christ.

Matthew 7:15-23

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

In the first section of this passage, Jesus says we will be able to recognize false teachers by their fruits. Does the teacher you’re following bear fruit in keeping with repentance? What about the trajectory of her life and teaching? Are her teachings, hermeneutics, affiliations, and behavior getting better and more biblical over time, or is she on a downhill slide? What about the fruit of her ministry? Is she producing genuine converts who grow to spiritual maturity, correctly handle and understand God’s word, share the gospel, and disciple others? Jesus says that diseased trees that don’t bear good fruit are cut down and thrown into the fire. That’s not imagery the Bible applies to Christians.

The second section of the passage makes it clear that there will be people in hell (non-Christians by definition) who looked every bit like Christian teachers to us on earth. They will do lots of Christiany looking things “in Jesus’ name,” but only those who do “the will of my [Jesus’] Father” are known by Christ (Christians). Are teachers who knowingly twist God’s word, even on secondary and tertiary theological issues, doing the will of the Father? What about those who deliberately walk in disobedience to His word in their own behavior or by their affiliation with those who teach another gospel? Christians are characterized by obedience to Christ and submission to His word.

Acts 18:24-28

Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.

Aha! Here’s a false teacher who was a Christian! Or was he? Apollos is actually a great example of someone who was not a false teacher, yet was wrong, initially, in what he was teaching.

Look back at the Scripture reference: Acts 18. Apollos came along during the transition time between Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church, which was in its infancy. The New Testament Scriptures, as we know them, didn’t exist for Apollos to study. There were no Christian seminaries to train him in the full gospel. What Apollos knew and taught was correct, but it was incomplete due to the era and circumstances in which he lived.

So, while Apollos taught inaccurate doctrine at first, he was categorized as a believer (as evidenced by verses 27-28 in which the brothers and disciples endorsed and encouraged him, and he was considered a great help to the church). Why? Because when Priscilla and Aquila took him aside and explained things to him accurately, he readily received correction and immediately began teaching the complete gospel correctly. Receiving correction and upholding and proclaiming the truth of the gospel are hallmarks of a Christian.

These are just a few of the Scriptures that deal with false teachers and false doctrine. All of them seem to at least lean toward calling unrepentant false teachers unbelievers. So the verdict is in, right? People who teach false doctrine are unsaved. Period. Case closed.

Nope. You and I don’t get to make that pronouncement (except in cases in which the person openly denies an imperative soteriological doctrine, such as the deity of Christ, the Trinity, etc. Then, we can agree with God’s word that the person is not saved). We sit on the jury. We look at the preponderance of the evidence. In certain cases we might even believe there’s evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that a particular false teacher is an unbeliever. But, ultimately, it’s not our job to render the verdict or hand down the sentence. In this court system, that’s the job of the judge- God – the only One who can see into the person’s heart and know beyond a shadow of a doubt if he or she is saved.

Our job is to evaluate what we can see – the person’s behavior, writings, sermons, teachings, and conversation – and determine whether or not it aligns with Scripture. If it doesn’t – even if we personally believe the person is actually saved – those teachings, and the person who teaches them, have no place in our churches or personal study materials.

A large portion of the New Testament is dedicated to instructing us to stay away from false doctrine and those who teach it. Second Timothy 3:5 and Romans 16:17 say we are to “avoid such people.” First Corinthians 5:9-13, speaking about unrepentant sinners who call themselves believers, says that we are to judge those in the church, and we are “not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty…not even to eat with such a one.” Second John 10-11 goes so far as to say, “do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.”

The bottom line is, it’s up to God to say whether or not someone is saved. It’s up to us to prayerfully and biblically determine whether or not her teachings match up with Scripture – regardless of our opinion about her salvation – and, if not, remove those teachings from our churches and our study of God’s word.


1. MacArthur Study Bible, ESV translation, notes on Galatians 1:8, p. 1741.
Church

Throwback Thursday ~ You Don’t Need the Internet, You Need a Pastor

Originally published July 28, 2017

Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook Can Fill the Role Played by Churches,” declared recent headlines.

It should come as no surprise to us that Mark could reach such a conclusion. He sees people’s innate desire for community. He’s a decent guy (by the world’s standards) and wants to give something back. He sees his profession as a way to do that. It makes sense if you look at things from his perspective.

To Mark, church is merely a gathering of people for social interaction and encouragement. Like a coffee klatch. Or a support group. But the thing is, Mark isn’t a believer. His mind hasn’t been transformed by Christ to a biblical way of thinking, so it’s understandable that he doesn’t get it.

What should shock us is that, long before Mark’s thoughts on church popped up in our news feeds, people who identify as Christians were saying the same thing. Or at least acting like it.

I don’t need to join a church. I can just watch sermons online.

I’ve been hurt by a church, so I’m done with it altogether. I’ll just hang out in my Christian Facebook group instead.

I like my online friends way better than the people at the churches around here.

It seems like a lot of Christians -who should be thinking biblically – don’t get it either.

Sure, there are times of illness, tragedy, work, being out of town, and other circumstances that can temporarily prevent us from being with our church family. In those cases, social media and the internet are a godsend that can keep us connected, in a minimal way, to the body of Christ. But, in much the same way that it would be unhealthy to replace every meal with a Snickers bar simply because you don’t want to make the effort to cook, choosing a steady diet of internet “church” when there’s a spiritually healthy meal available is a sure fire way to deteriorate into a diseased, malnourished Christian.

There are lots of reasons why being a faithful, active member of a local church isn’t optional for Christians, but now it seems necessary to also explain that the internet isn’t your local church. It can’t be. There’s just too much missing: church ordinances, practicing the “one anothers”, serving in church ministries, making sacrifices for others, church discipline, ecclesiastical structure and authority, and…you know…actual face to face interaction with other humanoids. There’s far more to church than hearing a good sermon and the occasional carefully-edited chat with other Christians.

And perhaps one of the most important things that’s missing at First Church of the Interwebs is a pastor.

Not a preacher. A pastor. Your pastor.

You need a pastor – a man who labors in prayer over the sheep God has entrusted to him, who nurtures and serves those under his care, whose heart so beats with the Body that he knows whether they need encouragement, rebuke, comfort, training, or guidance, and lovingly provides it.

A blogger isn’t going to come to your house and comfort you at 3:00 a.m. when your spouse has just passed away.

A Facebook group can’t possibly grasp all the nuances of the situation with your prodigal child and provide correct biblical counsel on how to deal with it.

A sermon web site isn’t led by the Holy Spirit to choose the sermon you need to hear. You choose what you want to hear.

Even the most doctrinally sound preacher on the web can’t marry you, bury you, baptize you, or administer the Lord’s Supper to you.

Your Twitter friends won’t visit the hospital and pray with you before surgery.

Your favorite Christian podcaster can’t look you in the eye and know when something’s wrong or that you need help.

And even if they could, it’s not their place.

You see, when you have real, serious spiritual needs, reaching out to a blogger, internet pastor, or other online personality to fill those needs doesn’t work right and could even be harmful to your situation, because you’re asking us to step in where we don’t belong. To usurp the place God has reserved for the man He has called to shepherd you.

God didn’t ordain the office of blogger. He didn’t breathe out Scripture to train and encourage podcasters. And there aren’t any biblical qualifications for social media groups.

God created pastors.

God created pastors because He thought that was the best way for Christians to be cared for until Christ returns to take us home. And if God thought that was the best way, isn’t any other way we come up with going to be less than what’s best for us? Who are we to second guess the God of the universe and try to replace His plan with one of our own making?

Yes, there are wolves out there masquerading as shepherds, and it can be hard to find a doctrinally sound church and pastor. That doesn’t mean you give up and settle for something that’s not biblical. As far as it’s within your ability, you search, you pray, you make sacrifices, maybe you even pack up and move, but you find a reasonably healthy church with a pastor you can submit to, and you plug in. That’s what people did before there was an internet, you know.

Nobody on the internet can take the place of a living, breathing, boots on the ground pastor and church family, so stop trying to replace them with people you’ll likely never meet, who don’t love you as much, can’t care for you, and aren’t as invested in you as those God has ordained to fill that need in your heart and life.

You don’t need the internet. You need a pastor.

Judges Bible Study

Judges ~ Catch Up Week

Previous Lessons: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7,

I’m out of pocket this week, so you get a catch up week!

Catch up on any lessons you might be behind on, go back and do any of the homework you may not have had time for, review your memory verses, or if you’re already caught up, you could even read ahead in Judges a little. It’s your week to use as you see fit. Happy studying!