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Paul Proctor on Heretics and Hypocrites

I am not entirely sure who this Paul Proctor fellow is (despite a few emails back and forth between us), but he sends me notifications when he has posted a new column to News with Views, and he always has interestings things to say. His most recent column takes on an issue I have addressed within the forums but never in an article. And now I do not have to, as I can just point people to this article. I would like to provide a bit of commentary on it.

Proctor begins by saying, “Every now and then I get a terse email from someone who has taken exception to my candid comments on Rick Warren, asking questions like: ‘Have you ever spoken with him personally about your objections and concerns and tried to work through your differences privately as scripture teaches, rather than attack him publicly as you do?’” This is a question I have often faced. Read through any of the topics on this site that discuss Rick Warren, Brian McLaren or any other Christian figure whose teachings I have questioned or critiqued and you are likely to find similar questions. The question is generally accompanied by a reference to the verses in Matthew 18 where Jesus says, “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.”

Proctor indicates his belief that “this is probably one of the more misunderstood and misapplied scriptures quoted today, especially among those who ingest Church Growth Carcinogens and Purpose Driven Lies.” Never mind only those who ingest carcinogens and lies - I believe many and perhaps even most believers misunderstand this passage. It is similar to Jesus’ warning about “judge not lest ye be judged” in that Christians take a principle and apply it to a situation it was never meant to address. Just like “judge not” does not mean “never judge,” so Matthew 18 does not say that we are never to publically expose a bad teacher.

“Because we have been inappropriately taught that unity and relationships are the most important things for Christians to pursue and protect in the church, these verses are often touted as the principal directive we should follow when addressing false teachers, which frankly, couldn’t be any further from the truth and only ends up protecting, sustaining and empowering them, which is probably why they teach it.” I agree entirely with this statement. Today’s church places too great an emphasis on unity. But perhaps that is stating it improperly. Unity is clearly of great importance to God, and hence ought to be of great importance to us. However, unity must never be at the expense of unbiblical doctrine. Truth trumps unity. Hence when a teacher is spreading false doctrine, unity does not negate the necessity of addressing poor theology.

“There is absolutely no biblical record of Jesus or any of His disciples ever taking a heretic off to the side for coffee and donuts after they led someone astray distorting the Word of God. They didn’t shake hands, exchange hugs, kisses and phone numbers or set up appointments on their PDAs to dialog their doctrinal differences over lunch in the quiet corner of a favorite restaurant at a more convenient time.” Though seething with sarcasm, Proctor is quite right that there is no record of Jesus or His disciples dealing softly with those who were leading others astray and introducing errant doctrine into the church. Neither did they feel the need to find common theological ground before addressing the important issues. Jesus and the disciples were unafraid to address bad teaching the moment they saw it. “Jesus dealt with heretics harshly, publicly and immediately, as did Paul and the other disciples. And, keep in mind; we’re talking New Testament here friends. In the Old Testament, false prophets were simply taken out and stoned to death for their lies. That’s how serious God is about His Word being rightly divided and properly proclaimed.” These are certainly harsh words, but they are grounded in Scripture. God considers proper teaching to be of the hightest importance - higher even than the thoughts and desires of the heart, which is to say that even bad teaching done for good motives must be addressed and addressed swiftly and harshly if necessary.

Proctor goes on to show, correctly, that in Matthew 18 Jesus was not addressing poor theology, but rather was addressing personal offenses. “If your brother sins against you…” This refers to an “offense, grievance and/or misunderstanding between two people – something that has broken their fellowship and has little or nothing to do with anyone else. Personal and private matters of wrongdoing should always be dealt with personally and privately first, so as not to unduly disrupt the unity of the body. That is indeed, biblical.” Public offenses, on the other hand, are to be dealt with publically. That is why Paul, in his epistles, was not afraid to name names where necessary, even exhorting individuals to stop fighting. Public matters needed to be dealt with in a public fashion, even if hurt or humiliated those who were involved in the conflict. When a teacher brings false teaching before his local church or before the wider church body, this calls for public response. When Peter “challenged Him about His own up and coming crucifixion, Jesus didn’t put His hand gently on Peter’s shoulder and effeminately whisper: ‘My friend, you just don’t understand.’ No, He lashed back at him with power and authority in front of ALL the disciples saying, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.’” Why did Jesus do this? Did Jesus contradict His own teaching by rebuking Peter in this manner? He certainly did not, “because, Peter was publicly contradicting God’s Word and Divine plan, which is the equivalent of proclaiming Jesus to be a lunatic or a liar.”

The Scriptures plainly teach that Truth is of utmost importance to God. We cannot stand idly by while others pervert the Gospel. I do not suggest that we approach anyone whose teaching is unbiblical and seek to publically humiliate him. If possible I think it is wonderful to approach the person privately and address your concerns one-on-one. However, that does not preclude the necessity of warning the church about teaching that goes against the Word of God. A public offense, such as writing a book filled with poor theology, demands a public response. And as we learn from the Scripture, a private offense requires a private response, done in humility and following the directives of Matthew 18.