By Jonathan David Faulkner
Historically I would not want to be an enemy of the church. No matter what era you are thinking of, I would not want to be an enemy of the “status quo” in the church. It is truly disheartening to think about, the amount of brutality, incendiary language, and, in extreme cases, killing, at the hands of the church throughout the ages for being either an enemy outside of the church or within it. Even in the formation of American Christendom there were (and still are) groups that you did not want to be considered an enemy of. Fundamentalism and its hyper-extreme reconstructionism serve as just one example, but there are many others. It is not enough to simply eat our own. We have to mutilate them until they are beyond recognition and then take every single opportunity to attack them once we have thoroughly chased them from the church. This stems from a human failure to separate the person from the false teaching or secular lifestyle. We de-humanize people based on whether or not they hold to what we believe. Ironically both the current secular fighting groups, the alt-right and extreme-left, have adopted this very strategy in their secular movements in a war that is currently playing out at the highest level of our countries leadership. As a target of words by one fundamentalist and a hate group, I can tell you how it feels to be eaten alive by people claiming to be our own. I have stood toe to toe with Feuerstien and his supporters, as well as the people of Westboro Baptist Church. It is brutal. Yet, we do it. If we are good at anything, it is chasing off false teachers.
The problem is, we often crucify the false teacher, but then we forget to focus on doing away with the teaching itself. We think, “Well, if we get rid of the person teaching it, we will get rid of the teaching.” History has proven it does not work that way. It took almost a thousand years, but some of Arias teachings found their way into the church in the form of very early Theological Liberalism. We fought off the Gnostics, only to have American Baptists traditions adopt a Gnostic Dualism nearly Manichean in its pursuit. (Note: Dualism had been a part of Christianity since Augustine, but the above example is considered an extreme application). The Southern Baptists chased out the liberals because they were upsetting the church and causing arguments, and now they cannot stop fighting, as evidenced by the recent strikes at Russell Moore. Frankly, Holy Scriptures give us an answer for how to deal with false teachings: we are to avoid them at all cost. Given the now idolatrous state of American Christendom steeped in both major and minor forms of constitutionalism and draped in the American flag (note: I am not against the American Flag, just what appears to be worship of the flag) and embracing of the false “health and wealth gospel.” We have not done a good job of putting away the false teachings that so often confront us.
We have however done an incredible job of getting rid of, alienating, destroying the lives of,and all-around dehumanizing those who perpetuate those false doctrines. Do not hear me wrong. This is not a new problem for the Church. It goes back to the first Ecumenical Councils. However, at least then we have letters from people like Ambrose encouraging and exhorting Arias to repent of his sub-trinitarian heresy. Ignatius was almost burned at the stake, though what he was teaching was closer to reformed Orthodoxy rather than heresy. Servatus was burned at the stake, even though Calvin urged him to recant and prayed for and with him that he would. Gilbert Tennant questioned Charles Chauncy’s salvation on multiple occasions (something not even the great Jonathan Edwards, for all his attacks on Chauncy’s arguments, would not have considered). John Piper cheered and celebrated the downfall of Mars Hill’s Rob Bell, and John MacCarthur continued attacks against him long after the fight was over. (See the introduction to John MacCarthur’s “Truth Wars” for one such strike).
This last one is the reason for the writing of this article. Especially since Relevant released an article defending Bell against the continued onslaught by Christians of all evangelical stripes. To me, it really does not matter if Bell was making direct judgments that were in error/heretical, or simply asking questions. That does not matter at this point, though if he was merely asking questions, as the Relevant article articulated, then the attacks against him were uncalled for and unfounded. What does matter is the way that we, as a body, as one body, have treated Bell as the Body of Christ has been utterly embarrassing and totally unworthy of the name of Christ. If one is complicit, we are all complicit. We are the Body, and we should be, merely by name, better than the attacks the world uses to destroys others.
See, scripture not only tells us what to do with the Heresy, to flee from it, it also tells us what to do with the false teacher or one who sins against us or the Church. There are two very obvious passages in scripture that come to mind right away, Matthew 18:15-20 and Titus 3:10-11. The first is for direct church discipline, and I have seen it work very well and save the church body a lot of pain and the other deals directly with leaders. The book of 2 Corinthians deals with bringing someone back into fellowship who has repented. Philemon deals with forgiving one who has wronged us. Even in 1st Timothy 1, the second harshest chapter in the New Testament (second only to the book of Galatians) Paul has a stated purpose for putting two teachers out of the church: “That they may learn not to blaspheme.”
If you stopped and read the above passages you may have noticed that the advice was not: “Take them out behind the woodshed and beat them thoroughly with an ESV Study Bible” or “Tear them down, remove them from ministry, chase them out of the church.” It was ultimately, taken within the context of scripture, to seek first and foremost the total restoration of the brother while fleeing the false teaching. The “putting out” of Hymaneus and Alexander at Ephesus was likely at the end of this process, if what the false teachers at Ephesus were doing what historians think they were doing then an answer to their refusal to listen was that they exist outside the comfort and protection of the church body that they might repent of their blasphemous teachings and then, maybe, be restored to the congregation.
One must assume, through studying Jesus’ teachings, that Jesus’ motivation in his harsh words to the Pharisee’s was ultimately their restoration. Yes, Paul and Jesus show us that sometimes hard truth is necessary in confronting a brother. Sometimes we must be stern and use tough love. However, tough love must come from a place of compassionate hope and a sorrowful love that longs for the restoration of the Saints in question to the corporate body of the Saints. The goal has to be the reconciliation of the teachers, Pharisee’s included, to the Body, and ultimately to God.
The worst part is, I was just as angry and bitter towards Rob Bell. I treated Bell terribly through my ministry and through my words. I have been ruthless to the pastor that spiritually and emotionally abused me. As much as I tried last year to be gracious to Westboro members in person, and even cheered when I saw the video of Decyfer Down’s lead singer playing Westboro for the protesters. Even after I had promised to stop blasting them on my websites and banned 10:31 writers from taking shots at Westboro. I am just as guilty and complicit in this as the next person, but as I have gotten older, as God has worked hard to do the healing work required in my own life, as I have studied Scripture and been drawn to a ministry of reconciliation and revitalization, I have found that God has a whole different plan for these things than I do. I want to respond in anger and hatred towards those who hurt me, hurt the church, teach false doctrines, towards the reconstructionist and fundamentalists and legalists and whoever else is violating the gospel message. However I have become unshakably and unchangeably aware of the fact that these people who hold these viewpoints are still humans in need of the same grace and love I have been given in my fallen state both by God and by those whom have been part of my healing and growing.
This attitude should not simply be limited to those inside the Church, but it is definitely one place is should be practiced. Seeking the reconciliation of one who has fallen and the restoration of them to the body, or evaluating if my attitude towards that person is wrong, should be the first thing I desire for that person. Since I could be the one that is wrong or since God loves that person so much more than I do and that should spur me to deeper love those whom I disagree with and whom may disagree with me. Instead of crucifying Rob Bell, maybe I too should have asked the questions then that I have been asking for the last few years. If Relevant’s article was right, then Bell just wanted what I have found, but the attacks may have pushed him farther from the truth of the gospel rather than drawing him closer and the positions he holds now, some of which are truly anti-scriptural and openly heretical, could very well be our fault. Instead of drawing him towards Christ, we may have driven him away.
From my end, I never want to be a part of driving someone from the gospel again, and I pray that you, oh reader, would start to do that same. Rupertus Meldenius writes in the 1627 pamphlet on Unity: “In the essentials unity, in the non-essentials liberty and in all things charity.” If we do not show love and grace to one another when we are in error or even and seek to biblically resolve the situation with the intention of renewal and restoration, we will drive away the ones who most need grace at that point.
So, let us continue to flee from false teachings and seek to restore the false teachers, instead of vice-versa, so that God would be glorified in our land and in every life restored to Him.
Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston.