And no really satisfying answers.
But that won’t stop me from wrestling with the questions and it shouldn’t stop you either.
You saw an example of one of those Hard Questions in yesterday’s post.
A bit of back story so to speak.
Every one of the writers of the New Testament had very strong warnings and exhortations about false teachings and false teachers, even naming names.
Not the most PC approach and something you don’t see much of in today’s pulpits.
Every book of the New Testament (except Philemon) has these warnings. And I can give Philemon a pass since Paul wrote so many other warnings in so many other books/letters it’s abundantly clear what he thought about the issue.
So here are the hard questions:
What constitues false teaching? (Or false doctrine–same thing)
What is the standard against which such things are measured?
Given that forgiveness and restoration… reconciliation… are such fundamental principles of Christianity, I will presume it “safe” to follow someone who renounces false doctrine. But what do you do with someone who starts off OK but strays later in life?
Most everyone on the planet agrees that slavery is not the best practice mankind has ever developed.
What do you do with Jonathan Edwards then? One of the most noted Puritan writers and theologians was a slave owner.
John Newton is an easier example because he gave up his slaving business and went on to famously pen “Amazing Grace.”
What about Horatio G. Spafford? Solid Presbyterian. Wrote “It is Well with My Soul” after a life of tragedy such that he was referred to as a modern day Job. Yet he eventually started a cult and was essentially hounded out of US to set up the American Colony in Jerusalem.
And the Father of the Reformation, Martin Luther, is well known to have been hugely anti-Semitic in his later years.
How do you deal with the realities of life like this?
After all, we are all heretics, right? (see the About page
Where do you draw the line? How do you defend the Truth appropriately, while also showing compassion?
Jesus walked this out spectacularly.
In case you missed it, I’m not Jesus.
This is a work in progress for me. Figuring it out. Here are the basics as I currently see them:
There are teachings that CS Lewis referred to as the “essential minima”, that is, the minimal standard of beliefs to be rightfully called a Christian. My favorite shorthand for them all is the Apostle’s Creed.
So someone denying the Trinity, or Jesus’ humanity or divinity or the Resurrection…those are “relatively” easy lines to draw.
And I think that it is proper to acknowledge that we are all a mixed bag especially when it comes to theological teachings. We all do the best we have with the resources available at the time…resources including our understanding of Scripture.
So I can sing and appreciate Spafford’s hymn and life without endorsing his errant beliefs. This is made significantly easier since he’s been dead so long. He’s not still around preaching bad stuff.
The same is true with Luther. Protestants all over the world all agree he had a legit bone to pick with the Roman Catholic establishment back in the day. Catholics too agreed at least to some extent or there would not have been a counter-reformation and all that. see history.
But we all also agree that anti-Semitism is a really bad thing. Do we repudiate the 95 Theses? Do we stop singing A Might Fortress simply because Luther penned them both? As far as I know, Luther never recanted or repented from that anti-semitism. (I’d love to be shown wrong though!)
It can get a bit more challenging when folks are still around pushing their bad doctrines. Do we support them? That’s also a comparatively easy “No.”
The measure is found, in my VERY humble opinion, in church history. They hammered out huge swaths of what is considered heresy (the worst form of false teaching or bad doctrine) so we only need learn what those were and what their modern reboots tend to look like.
And yes, that is a rabbit trail I’ll be hunting sometime down the road.
For me, the most serious errors are those that will keep someone out of a relationship with Jesus and thereby forfeit their opportunity for heaven. For example, Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Loads of folks have major issue with that kind of exclusivity. I get it. Doesn’t seem fair. But I’m not the One Who made the rules. Take it up with Him.
But there are teachings that are less…eternal? Going back to the creed, we can note that baptism is an essential teaching. Jesus commands it. But is it false teaching to promote sprinkling over immersion or vice versa?
Anyway, you get the idea here. Understanding Scripture…or at least working to be as well-read in it as possible…is challenging by itself. Add to it the inherent dangers of misunderstanding and misapplying the principle therein. (The Spanish Inquisition comes to mind, whether it’s expected or not.)
Hey, my purpose here really isn’t about spoon-feeding anyone *my* answers, but about stirring the pot so folks are challenged to wrestle with the Hard Questions themselves. Repeatedly. Because our understanding of the Word should be maturing and growing over time and we need to keep bringing our thinking and understanding back into the harsh light of The Truth on a frequent basis.
And now you know why short and to the point is going to be a challenge for me. (see yesterday’s post)