When we expose someone in public then we often end up exposing ourselves in public.
A big-name pastor says something that smacks of heresy and dozens of church teachers rush to denounce him as a false prophet. A local church preacher says something that offends someone’s entrenched doctrine and he might well receive an email reprimand. Quite often, the way in which the ‘exposure’ is phrased, or the reprimand delivered, says a lot about the heart and doctrine of the self-appointed defender of the Faith. If the exposé is public then the self-exposure is equally public.
Andy Stanley of North Point mega church in the USA is once again in the spotlight for making the unfortunate claim that Christians need to ‘unhitch’ themselves from the Old Testament. What he is teaching around this theme appears highly questionable, but this article is not an exposé of this… and I will tell you why it is not. It’s because I need to check five essential boxes before even thinking of rushing to print.
This article is therefore about five preliminary questions we need to answer before offering censure and I believe that it will be helpful to all Christians and not just church leaders.
- Just how important is the perceived problem?
- What is my circle of influence?
- Do I really understand what the person is actually saying?
- Can I reasonably discern his heart attitude and motivation?
- What is my heart condition like in this matter?
Just how important is the perceived problem?
Jesus said, “Until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). Yet, when a teacher of the Law asked Him what commandment was the most important He did not hesitate to declare that love for God and others outranked all other commandments (Mark 12:28-31).
All sound Christian doctrine is important, but some teachings are more important than others. So, before calling someone out or presuming to rebuke them we need to be sure that the perceived problem is important enough to justify our actions.
All too often, the most vociferous denouncements concern relatively peripheral doctrines. Too often, such remonstrations expose the objector’s narrow grasp of the full biblical revelation – the exposer is exposed.
What is my circle of influence?
We all have a circle of people who give credence to what we say, and we often have a circle of folk whom we are obligated to warn and correct. Local church Elders have a biblical responsibility to protect their people. Paul had this to say to the Ephesian Elders when he addressed them for the last time:
“For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:27-30)
However, local church Elders, unless specifically directed by the Holy Spirit, do not have a mandate to take on perceived aberrant teachings in the wider church. Our circle of influence is also our circle of responsibility. A father’s circle consists of his close family; a local church leader’s circle is the committed membership of that church, and so on.
Unless I am in a direct accountability relationship with an internationally known teacher, then I do not believe that I have the mandate to rebuke or correct him. However, if his teaching is confusing the people within my circle of responsibility then I do have an obligation to them to help them recognise the error.
When we step outside of our circle of influence, we expose ourselves.
Do I really understand what the person is actually saying?
It always surprises and distresses me when people base their criticisms on second-hand information or out of context selections from someone’s work. If it is sufficiently important to expose the error of something said or written, then it is important enough to research what is said. Is the person actually teaching what at first he appears to be teaching? What does the fuller context of his sermon, book, or whatever, reveal concerning his specific observations? If I want to expose what Andy Stanley says about unhitching from the Old Testament then I need to understand his line of thought in the sermon or article itself and I need to have a fair idea of his general position.
When we base our exposés on second hand or uninformed opinion then we expose ourselves.
Can I reasonably discern his heart attitude and motivation?
Jesus ‘knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man’ (John 2:24-25). We, on the other hand, rarely know what motivates a person or what his heart attitude is unless we interact directly with him or her. If I criticise a particular teaching, then I might not need to interact directly with those who promote it, but if I criticise the teacher himself then I do need to interact with him. I don’t know what Andy Stanley’s motivation is in teaching what he does and I certainly cannot make judgements concerning his heart attitude. If I feel the need to cast aspersions on the man himself, then I need first to make a sincere attempt to communicate with him. I do not have the right to evaluate his intentions or motives unless I am confident that I am reading him correctly.
When we expose someone to our judgement, we expose ourselves.
What is my heart condition like in this matter?
‘Speaking the truth in love‘ (Ephesians 4:15) means speaking the truth motivated by love and doing it in a loving manner. Before exposing a false teacher or his teaching, I need to check my own heart and motivation. Am I motivated by a real love for both the object of my exposé and the people to whom I am exposing him? If my motivation is to show my own imagined theological brilliance or to promote my own sectarian bias then I had best say nothing at all. If I am secretly thrilled to be able to sock-it-to-him then I had best put a sock in it.
When we expose something or someone, then why and how we do this exposes ourselves.
So, please don’t ask me for an opinion on what Andy Stanley said because I have not yet answered the five questions I list in this article.