Wednesday, 30 April 2014

RULES OF ENGAGEMENT AGAINST FALSE TEACHERS

Those who minister in the Church of England and who wish to be faithful to its historic theological formularies, rooted as they are in the Holy Scriptures, cannot avoid running up against licensed false teachers. Here are some suggested rules of hopefully godly engagement:
  • We must disagree with false teachers on the basis of what the Bible says. One should not argue with them on the utilitarian basis that their views could result in other people doing evil actions. In our calling to uphold God's truth, the Apostle Paul's perspective should be determinative: 'Let God be true, but every man a liar' (Romans 3v4 - KJV).
  • We must not impute views to false teachers that are not evident from their own statements. We should avoid theological smearing. They will accuse us of negative opinions that we do not hold, so for our own integrity and credibility we must not resort to their tactics.
  • We should not treat some false teachers more nicely than others. We should not be swayed by personal considerations of like and dislike in contending for the truth of the biblical gospel. Again, the Apostle Paul is our role model: 'We speak not to please men, but to please God who tests our hearts' (1 Thessalonians 2v4b - RSV).
  • We should not entertain naive hopes that false teachers will be converted by our arguments. Paul was not naive in his attitude to false teachers. He recognised that the false teachers he was up against had made their own spiritual and moral choices, describing two known to him in 2 Timothy as having 'swerved from the truth' (2 Timothy 2v18 - RSV).  The injunction in Jude to 'convince some, who doubt: save some, by snatching them out of the fire' (v22&23b) surely refers to the victims of false teaching because in his letter Jude, like Paul, faces up to the spiritual reality about false teachers. Like their Old Testament antecedents, they have made a deliberate choice to lead others to disobey God - 'Woe to them! For they walk in the way of Cain and abandon themselves to Balaam's error, and perish in Korah's rebellion' (v11). The point of arguing against false teachers is for the benefit of those in local churches whom they are leading astray with their spiritual and moral poison.
  • One should remember that one is just as much a hell-deserving sinner as the false teacher. One should see oneself as totally dependent on God's grace in the Lord Jesus Christ for one's own submission to the authority of God's Word written. Again Paul's attitude is exemplary: 'I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost (of sinners), Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life' (1 Timothy 1v16).
  • We should not use descriptive terms about a false teacher in front of a friendly audience that we are not prepared to stand by if flak flies afterwards. The language we use about false teachers must be prayerfully thought through. That is surely one entailment of obedience to the principle of Paul's pastoral command to Timothy to 'charge them (church members) to avoid disputing about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers' (2 Timothy 2v14).
At a Reform Conference several years ago, the Revd David Holloway, vicar of  Jesmond Parish Church in Newcastle, very helpfully reminded delegates that the mark of a false teacher is...false teaching.

12 comments:

  1. Maybe you have, but I have yet to meet a false teacher who has humbly accepted the facts laid before them. The devotees of the false teacher are difficult to sway. I know of many who like myself were partially in their power but not fully convinced of their views because these appeared to be in conflict with the written Word. We must make sound teaching freely available to all and hope that the tares don't choke the wheat as it takes root. Preach the Gospel and pray it lands on fertile ground!

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  2. Excellent and helpful piece. For example, pointing out the naivety of hoping that false teachers will be persuaded by us and that arguing against false teaching is rather intended for the protection of the flock, is something that may need to be noted. As is the need to not jump to conclusions about false teachers without evidence and watch the language we use etc... We are indeed all hell-deserving sinners needing to depend on God's grace..

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  3. Julian, for the sake of clarity, please you could state whether you regard egalitarian beliefs regarding ministry (ie support for women clergy and bishops) as a false teaching.

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  4. No I do not regard a person who supports women's ordination but is biblically orthodox on the Trinity and the Atonement as a false teacher. But this issue is causing problems and relational difficulties between Anglican evangelicals who believe women's ordination is contrary to Scripture and those who are in favour of it because support for women's ordination is now effectively becoming a functional requisite in appointments. So I regard support for women's ordination as a problem-causing theological error but one that does not turn the person who holds it immediately into a false teacher in the New Testament sense.

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    1. Thanks Julian, I'm pleased you feel that way. I agree that, Biblically, the term "false teacher" refers to someone in major error on a central doctrine of the faith. It is not appropriate to use it for disagreements over gender roles etc.

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    2. Julian - you contrast 'Anglican evangelicals who believe women's ordination is contrary to Scripture and those who are in favour of it because support for women's ordination is now effectively becoming a functional requisite in appointments'. For the record it needs to be stated that there are many Anglican evangelicals (the majority I'm quite sure) who support women's ordination, not for self-serving careerist reasons as you suggest, but because our reading of Holy Scripture draws a different conclusion to yours!

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    3. Hi Historian, isn't that just a statement of the obvious? Bishop Spong's reading of scripture draws a different conclusion to mine. Arius' and Pelagius' reading of scripture drew a different conclusion to that of the rest of the church.

      Re "the majority I'm quite sure" - really, what makes you so sure? Most of the comments that I read (or that I hear when in England or via relatives there) in favour of women's ordination appear to come from liberals who label themselves evangelical, or those who go to a church that once had evangelical fervour but now just carries on the label. I don't doubt there are some genuine evangelicals in your category but their numbers appear to be small and declining.

      And why would you think that numbers matter anyway?

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    4. Hi Michael
      Since you say you don't live in England I guess it must be difficult for you to have a clear handle on evangelicalism here. My point about numbers (a tangential point admittedly) is that you can't extrapolate from blogs like this one as to the real state of evangelicalism in the Church of England. Those of Julian's persuasion are a small (but vocal) minority. Anglican evangelicalism as a whole has been blessed by the ministry of godly men and women together for the last twenty years and has flourished accordingly. But perhaps it's just easier to brand us as 'liberals who label themselves as evangelicals' and assume the ostrich position?

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    5. “Since you say you don't live in England I guess it must be difficult for you to have a clear handle on evangelicalism here.”

      Why would “living in England” have anything to do with it? I doubt that anybody (including you) has a “clear handle on evangelicalism here”. We each have close contact with particular groups, indirect knowledge of others, and none at all of some. But this issue arose because you made an unsupported assertion about what the majority of evangelicals in the Church of England believe.

      “My point about numbers (a tangential point admittedly) is that you can't extrapolate from blogs like this one as to the real state of evangelicalism in the Church of England.”

      Since no-one has suggested that, why bother saying it?

      “Those of Julian's persuasion are a small (but vocal) minority.”

      Here we go again – more unsupported assertion. And once again, you return to your pet theme of numbers.

      “Anglican evangelicalism as a whole has been blessed by the ministry of godly men and women together for the last twenty years and has flourished accordingly.”

      In some cases that is true.

      “But perhaps it's just easier to brand us as 'liberals who label themselves as evangelicals' and assume the ostrich position?”

      No, that description well fitted the people I am referring to. Are you saying that you are one of them?

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  5. Should a layperson attend a church with an ordained woman in charge? Would they be exposing themselves to error which it is not their place to resist or false teaching which it is their duty to flee? This is a serious enquiry not a trick question!

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    1. If I move to a new area, my Christian duty is to make sure I join a Bible-teaching church under male pastoral leadership - as the Bible teaches.

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  6. Thank you very much.

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