After Paul concluded his third missionary campaign, he finally arrived at Jerusalem. When certain Jews saw the apostle in the temple, they stirred up the crowds and seized him.
Paul was accused of being a false teacher and of desecrating the temple. Allegedly, he brought Greeks into the sacred precincts. The basis of the charge was this. Earlier, Paul had been seen in the city with Trophimus, the Ephesian.
Consequently, with an incredible leap of logic, “they supposed that Paul had brought [this Gentile] into the temple” (cf. Acts 21:27-29).
This debacle resulted in the great apostle being taken into protective custody. Eventually, he was imprisoned unjustly for more than four years (cf. 24:27; 28:30). What a travesty!
When men and women foster a lynch-mob mentality, truth and evidence don’t matter anymore. The coveted result becomes paramount.
As we reflect on this divine narrative, let’s remind ourselves of the disposition that at times tragically consumes many Christians.
Is There a Problem?
There is no question but that many churches today are in the throes of apostasy. There are those who clamor for a fellowship that is broader than allowed by the New Testament.
Some are inclining toward the charismatic practices of neo-pentecostalism. Others are campaigning to modernize and expand the role for women. Ultimately, their goal is to install female preaching ministries.
Still others contend that pious unimmersed believers are Christians. And it is argued that there’s no biblical pattern regulating Christian worship.
These are not isolated pockets of doctrinal aberration. They represent widespread departures from the faith, with an accelerating momentum.
It definitely is time for the people of God, who still respect the old paths to be concerned. We need voices of reasoned moderation who will address these issues with calmness and compassion.
And while militant leaders within this digression need to be reproved sharply (Tit. 1:13), there are others who are caught up in the movement who might be reclaimed if approached properly. Spiritual people must work toward this end (Gal. 6:1).
The Climate of Fear and Suspicion
In times like these, when long-cherished, biblical positions are being assaulted, it’s easy for a climate of fear or panic to develop. Sometimes sincere folks with good intentions can over-react and become suspicious of almost everyone.
In their zeal, they respond harshly and irresponsibly. In the final analysis, they end up being more of a hindrance to the cause of truth rather than a help.
This is where older, more seasoned saints should try to help well-meaning reactionaries bring a sense of balance to their attempts at stemming the tide of digression, although age is no guarantor of wisdom.
The Rise of the Heretic Hunter
Unfortunately, during periods of doctrinal confusion, a peculiar sort of antagonist is prone to appear. There is that type of brother who can be described only as a professional heretic hunter.
Frequently he is looking for a name and a following. But not always. Sometimes he simply has allowed the conflict to overrule better judgment. The effect is the same.
Sometimes he capitalizes upon the brotherhood’s fears by becoming, at least in his own mind, the savior of the church. He rushes forward to ferret out every unsound person he can locate.
The heresy could be anything from citing a scripture reference from a modern translation to having attended a lecture program on which another speaker of questionable soundness has appeared.
It is a very dangerous thing to become obsessed with rooting out and exposing false teachers.
There is, of course, a legitimate place for protecting the church from those who would compromise the faith with dangerous doctrines. However, when a brother virtually makes a career of this sort of activity, he almost invariably becomes fanatical.
He is ever searching for new victims with which to fuel his reputation. When church bulletins and journals are devoted almost exclusively to exposing others, it is unhealthy.
The Domino Effect
The sort of radical disposition that is described above is reflected in a variety of manifestations, not the least of which is what might be styled the “chain-reaction” phenomenon.
It operates something like this. A brother conducts a gospel meeting for a church. He faithfully preaches the truth. The host church, however, is known to have used other men of questionable soundness in the past. Hereafter, the brother will be labeled as “an associate of liberals.”
Here is another case. The editor of a respected journal publishes an excellent article by a brother who, in the opinion of some, is supposed to entertain a questionable view on a certain topic. Immediately, reactionaries attack the editor, charging him with promoting a false teacher.
With radicals, there is no room for individual judgment. Everyone must march to their drummer or he is out of step.
Some while back, a preacher announced that he has a list of several hundred other preachers worthy of disfellowship. He also implied that anyone who continues to associate with those on his blacklist also ought to be marked.
I suppose this self-deputized vigilante will now have to compile a new list, castigating those who do not disfellowship everyone on his initial hit list. This, of course, could lead to even further lists.
Where does it end? Can we not see that this sort of disposition harms the cause of Christ?
The Need for Balance
It is unquestionably true that fellowship should be withheld from proven false teachers in the church. Those who place no restrictions upon brethren who flagrantly advocate serious error have no respect for New Testament instruction.
On the other hand, it is extreme radicalism to suggest that if others don’t disfellowship every person on another’s “contract,” then he must be censured.
There are those in this radical fringe whom I would not recommend, nor invite for a lecture program. That doesn’t mean, though, that I am ready to disfellowship every soul who may associate with them in some manner. Not all people have the same judgment regarding the danger of certain teachers and the time for warnings.
Those who are in positions of influence must help to restore some sense of balance and sanity to the mainstream brotherhood. Christians who are irresponsible in the way they deal with others must be called to accountability. We must not be intimidated by them, and we will not tolerate this tooth-and-claw attitude in the name of soundness.
It is time for a return to an era of fidelity that is seasoned with common sense and brotherly love. May God bless us to this end.