Salvation 2.0: Part 8.2: Wolves and Principles

grace5So where’s the line? What separates a “false teacher” from a teacher who makes mistakes?

Well, I see basically two concerns reflected in the NT —

First, there are teachers who teach things that, if believed, would destroy the faith of the listeners. They threaten damnation.

Therefore, they must be removed from the church at whatever cost. This would include those who teach a works salvation, those who in fact deny the need to be faithful to Jesus/obedient/penitent, and those who deny the basic truths of the gospel.

Second, there are teachers who threaten other kinds of harm. Some are thieves. Some are sexual predators. Some are selfish. Some teach doctrine that may not damn but which will destroy the church.

They also must be removed from the church to protect the flock. This list includes slanderers, those who rebel against the authority of the church’s leadership, those who would treat the damned as saved or the saved as damned, those who divide saved from saved, those who seek division.

Obviously, there’s a lot of potential for overlap and it’s not always necessary to decide which category someone fits in to know that they should be disciplined or removed from a position of influence.

But there is a key difference. For example, a preacher who has been unfaithful to his wife, preying on church members, must be removed from a position where he can continue his predation.  He may not be a counselor or preacher any more. Not for a while. But he may well continue to be a church member. Sin doesn’t disqualify someone from membership — if he’s trying to correct his problem. We’re all penitent sinners.

But if he foments dissent, creates division, and stirs up trouble, then the safety of the flock comes first. He may no longer attend. And while we’d certainly hope that removing him from the church brings him to repentance, that’s not the first goal. The first goal is to protect the flock from a wolf.

Just so, if the adulterer preacher continues to pursue sexual conquests in the church, he has to be removed. The flock comes first.

We’re shortly going to cover disfellowshipping church members in an effort to bring them to repentance. Thus, as we’ve already seen, Paul handed Hymenaeus “over to Satan” evidently in an effort to bring repentance. Obviously, where possible, if they can be brought to repentance, the church should seek to do so. We’ll discuss how this is done in another post shortly.

But when the false teacher is seeking to actively harm the church, he must be removed from a position where he can do damage. Sexual predators are removed from positions of trust and from authority over the people they prey on — even if they say they’ve repented. Thieves lose check writing privileges even if they’ve repented. Some people may have to be accompanied by someone who makes sure they stay away from temptation. A child molester may not be around children — and the church is under no obligation to trust him to stay away on his own.

There’s a very important lesson here, implicit in some of the very harsh language we find in the NT regarding false teachers. Repentance is not the same thing as reform. Addicts repent — very genuinely — and often go on seeking drugs. Sexual predators feel genuine remorse for their crimes, repent, seek counseling, go to therapy, and often continue to prey on others.

The fact that I’ve repented does not mean that I’m qualified for my old job. I may have repented of being a bad public speaker. That doesn’t qualify me for a career in preaching. I may have genuinely repented of being a spendthrift and terrible money manager. That doesn’t qualify me to be your CFO.

Being forgiven and being cured are not the same thing. And muddy minded elders constantly mess this up.

If the preacher has been sleeping around on his wife, gets caught, publicly confesses in tears, and is truly remorseful, he may not yet have done nearly enough to overcome what drove his behavior in the first place. And how do we know when he’s defeated his inner demons without taking enough time to let him develop new patterns of thinking and behaving that no longer results in broken marriages and lives?

In short, when someone in a leadership position in the church becomes a danger to the church, the first step is to remove him from that position and any other position in which he might pose a danger. The church comes first. The victims come first.

Elders get this backwards all the time because they work closely with the man, love him, and desperately don’t want to see him and his family hurt. And so they put the church and its children and others in harm’s way because of a messed up sense of compassion — for the wolf rather than his victims.

Remove him.

Shepherds tend their flocks. They may have compassion on the wolves that surround them, but their job is to protect their flocks, not to cure the wolves of being wolves. Flocks first. Wolves second.

(Eze 34:7-10 ESV)  “Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:  8 As I live, declares the Lord GOD, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep,  9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:  10 Thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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9 Responses to Salvation 2.0: Part 8.2: Wolves and Principles

  1. Mark says:

    A lot of this has to do with leadership. Typical leadership is homogenous and may also have a case of “group think”. This means that they all likely see the issue the same way and not from the perspective of everyone else. Now, some progressives would argue that a committee should decide the punishment so that everyone can give input from his/her different perspective. Elders will likely disagree but long personal friendships may be involved (as well as donations) potentially affecting their judgement. Ordinary people should not have to lobby others (who are higher up the pecking order) to go to the elders with a severe problem before the elders see it as such; yet, this seems to be the case more often than not. Who knows how to get a severe problem in front of the elders without being front-run?

    In an ideal world, elders are supposed to remove their personal bias and judge things independently and achieve the most benefit for the most people and not sacrifice many for one.

  2. Price says:

    Quick question…. do the “by-laws” of the organization outline the authority to remove a person from membership and prevent he/she from attending ? With all the claims of unfair bias these days, it would seem appropriate

  3. Dwight says:

    One of the problems is how we qualify a “false teacher”. Many times we lump into the false teacher category someone who believes differently than we do and thus are false teachers, even though they have made no effort to promote their belief as a teaching. It is over-reactionary.
    I have been accused of teaching something false, even though my effort was to have my own study criticized and in the end it was never answered with scripture. It basically becomes a shut down on thought. Among many coC the verbage of “change agent” has been bounced around to mark those who present a different thought, even though we would quickly fall into that category if we would consider how we want other denominations to change. Wrong is assigned even without wrong being determined. We can quickly become false accusers.

  4. Mark says:

    Dwight,
    A “false teacher” label can be assigned to anyone who just thinks differently about the meaning of a verse or word. There does not have to be a different belief. A “change agent” might be branded as such for just not wishing to fight the old battles for another generation. Sometimes little is required to be branded.

    Thinking and asking questions are considered dangerous territory.

  5. Dwight says:

    My biggest complaint I have against my brethren in the coC is that “that which we require of others we don’t require of ourselves.” We require them to change, but not us. We require them to think differently, but not us. We require them to change how they do the LS, but don’t realize we don’t do it exactly as was done in the gospels in almost every way. We critique others, but not ourselves.

  6. Monty says:

    Jay,

    So often the mainstream church looks to those on their left(progressive) as the dangerous sort. But they look to their right(those more conservative-unnecessarily) as just being misguided in their thinking even though they bind teachings not clearly expressed in scripture. For example those who would condemn others for eating in the building, using multiple cups, or having a Sunday Bible class. Would it be your opinion that we should call out those who bind where scripture hasn’t bound as false teachers? If not, what is your reasoning? Is this just a case of a brother with a weaker conscience? It would seem to me at first thought that mainstream COfC has mistakenly allowed toleration of those sects who teach for commandments the traditions of men because they share some of the main core values,(non-instrumental, Lords Supper every week, baptize for remission of sins). The sad thing is anyone to the left of the far right is lost in their opinion.

  7. Dwight says:

    Monty, An astute observation. There are plenty of lessons against the liberal and progressive coC based on the Silence of the Scripture, but not against the ultra-conservative side. Basically there is that belief they believe the same things, but the ultra-conservative takes them too far, such as making sure everyone in the congregation believes the same thing by having them sign a paper to that effect. And yet from the ultra-conservative side the conservatives are liberal and apostate.
    There is an old joke that has a man asking a woman if she would have sex with him for a thousand dollars, to which she replies yes, then he ask her if she would have sex with him for ten dollars, to which she replies, “what kind of woman do you think I am”, to which he says, “We have already established what kind of woman you are and now we are haggling price.”
    The right argues that the left can’t have a kitchen and eat in the church building and yet they have a water fountain and they will eat either in or on the church property during work day. They argue from the perspective that something must be an aid to be allowed in the silence of scripture and yet will have carpet, flowering plants, windows that never open or let the sun in, etc. It becomes an blatant exercise in hypocrisy that is separated by a set of degrees.

  8. Chris says:

    I guess every denomination has its issues. I came out of a denomination that produced the likes of Jim Jones, Jim and Tammy Faye Baker, Paul and Jan Crouch, Kenneth Hagin, A.A. Allen, Jimmy Swaggart, Benny Hinn, and unfortunately the list goes on and on. I don’t know why I stayed as long as I did, but I’m so glad God was patient with me and led me out. I love the church I attend now – University Church of Christ.

  9. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Price,

    Quick answer: It depends.

    I’ve helped a church write bylaws that lay out terms for being disfellowshipped. It’s good practice in the eyes of the law. People get notice of the rules, and if they don’t agree, they can join another church. But in a Church of Christ, well, most don’t have bylaws. Too much like a creed. And tends to freeze a movement into marble. (Sorry for the mixed metaphor, but you get the point.) I mean, does this eldership want to tie the hands of the next eldership? Each generation has different views. So it’s not an easy decision.

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