"Good" Christian People

In theological discussions, labeling the other party (who disagrees with you on some point) as a “good Christian person [people]… who is [are] a little misguided” seems to be the trend.  One wonders if this practice arises from love (as Biblically understood) or from a western mindset of political correctness.

Whether dealing with the subtle errors that arose from the 1957 publication “Questions on Doctrine,” or that mosquito bite between the shoulder blades that just won’t go away, women’s ordination, many men and women who are committed to theological correctness can be seen straightening out misunderstandings with clear Bible teaching and presentation of counsel from the writings of Ellen G. White.  However, does theological correctness alone mean faithfulness to God?  When we label a man or a woman who is teaching error as a “good” Christian person, and go no further, are we truly loving them, doing what’s best for them and the church, pointing out their error, and calling them to repentance?  Or are we simply protecting ourselves from the consequences of bearing a straight testimony, calling sin by its right name, and lovingly calling men and women to repentance in light of the soon close of probation?

Is being a “good” Christian person enough to be saved?

There’s nothing wrong with being a good Christian person, but is this enough to be saved? Does this characteristic alone exempt a brother or sister from “teaching, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16)?  What did Jesus have to say about good Christian people who did not completely surrender to His Lordship over their lives?

"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.  Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?  And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (Matthew 7:21-23).

Surely the people in this Sermon on the Mountainside prediction could be categorized as Christians.  They will refer to Jesus as “Lord,” and the repetition of this title emphasizes the weight that they put on their Christian profession.  They’re not only Christian people, but they are good Christian people, having “prophesied” in the name of Jesus, having “cast out devils” in His name, and having done “many wonderful works” in the name of Jesus.  Again, the language suggests that they place high importance not only on their good works, but on the fact that they were done in the name of Jesus.

However, all of this professing and practicing fell short of doing “the will of the Father.” This sermon that epitomizes Christ-centered, gospel-focused preaching ends with a warning from Jesus Himself. All of our outward religious profession and practice means nothing if we never actually make complete surrender of the heart and life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, to be conformed into His image by His Holy Spirit.

Therefore, when we see professed Christians, who are nice, kind, and maybe even gentle, teaching false doctrines, should we simply refer to them as “good Christian people… who may be a little misguided” and walk away?  Does this fulfill our duty to love God wholeheartedly and to love our neighbors (the false teacher themselves and all who are influenced by them) as ourselves?  Should not the love of God poured out into the heart (Rom. 5:5) compel us to warn our brothers and sisters that to teach, believe, and practice a lifestyle based on false doctrine is no small sin in the sight of a loving, holy God who has paid such a high cost to deliver the truth to us?  When we will love our brothers and sisters enough to call the to repent, to put down their false teachings, and to take up the truth and take it to the world?  If we can’t do this with those close to us in the Seventh-day Adventist church, with our in-house theological issues, how can we manifest a loving attitude of warning and rebuke to those who are held captive in spiritual Babylon?  Along with our theological correctness we need an attitude of love for our God and towards our brothers and sisters, to denounce sin, while calling men and women to live for Jesus who loved them and gave His life for them.

I’m not saying that it’s impossible to teach error with good intentions, However, I am saying that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

The New Testament Evaluation of False Prophets

Did the New Testament Apostles simply see false teachers as “good, sincere, committed Christians who may be mistaken or a little misguided?  We’ll let them speak for themselves.

"This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.  For men shall be lovers of their own selves… Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away…  Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.  Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. ...  But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived" (2 Timothy 3:1-8, 13).

It is impossible to read the New Testament honestly and not notice that false teaching and deception were not a product of intellectual weakness, but of moral corruption.

"A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh" (Luke 6:45).

If our heart is filled with the truth, how can we speak lies?  To be clear, I’m speaking in the context of theological debates that have raged on for decades now (some for centuries).  I’m talking about men and women who have access to the Holy Scriptures, the writings of Ellen G. White, and the annals of church history.  If you think I’m coming down too hard, suggesting that false teaching (in the light of accessible truth) can only come from an evil heart let’s look at the apostle Peter’s assessment of false teachers.  Try not to gasp.

"But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you…  But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous [are they], selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities. ... But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption; And shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, [as] they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time. Spots [they are] and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you; Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children: ...  These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever.  For when they speak great swelling [words] of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, [through much] wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error.  … they themselves are the servants of corruption... " (2 Peter 2:1-3, 10, 12-14, 17-19).
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Read the larger context for yourself.  These teachers bring in “damnable heresies” or false teachings that lead people away from Jesus to the fate of eternal destruction on the final day.   These teachers are full of covetousness and lust.  This doesn’t always mean sexual lust.  This broad analysis applies to those who seek to turn God’s church into an equal opportunity job-market and are seeking for position and a comfortable salary.  These false teachers also “despise government” and “are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.”  I wonder if that applies to those who openly speak out against church leaders and church government that prevents them from having their own way in matters of church policy.

The book of Jude paints a strikingly similar picture of teachers of false doctrine in the Christian church. It is easy to see that Peter did not see these people as “good” or “sincere” Christians who were a little misguided. If there was any sincerity, Peter didn’t acknowledge it, maybe because the fact that they were leading people to hell far outweighed whatever outward show of religion they had!

What would love do?

When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment in the law, He answered:

"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. [38] This is the first and great commandment.  And the second [is] like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40).

The religion of Jesus is a religion of love. However, we must constantly resist the attempts to define love according to any other standard than the Bible.  It’s interesting to examine the larger context from where Jesus pulled the second commandment.

"Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I [am] the LORD" (Lev. 19:17-18).

The command to love our neighbors as ourselves comes directly in the context to rebuke our sinning brother at all costs to ourselves.  The language suggests that allowing sin in the life of a brother to go un-rebuked is equivalent to hating that brother in our hearts.  Let that sink in.

Conclusion

We cannot count our reputation or the public opinion of our ministry so dear to ourselves as keep us from giving the straight testimony to our brothers and sisters.  To be explicitly clear, I am saying that it is a sin to teach or believe false doctrine.  It is also a sin to correct an error theologically but not to call the erring brother or sister to repent, put away the false teachings, and grow in knowledge and sharing of pure Bible truth.

I appreciate the many movements going forward to present Bible truth on matters that have been troubling and dividing the church for decades now.  These matters typically center around the authority of the Bible, God’s purpose for the last generation, the necessity of both justification and sanctification in salvation, Biblical Christology (the nature of Christ), and other soteriological matters (hamartiology [nature of sin] and anthropology [nature of man]).

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I am calling out a particular deficiency in these movements.  Often times theologically accurate presentations are given, but (at least) two sins go unrebuked, and often a call to repentance is lacking.

1) To believe and teach false doctrine is a sin that needs to be repented of if one will be saved. Often times public repentance is needed to correct the damaging influence of the false teacher.

2) It is a sin to remain silent and manifest an attitude of neutrality on issues that are clearly important to salvation and the success of the mission of God’s church.  What may seem like a loving, peace-seeking, passive attitude is often a cover for a heart steeped in the sin of self-preservation.

I am not saying that we should simply tack these appeals on to our presentations like pinning the tail on the proverbial donkey.  We should do this, while we pray to our God that He would cause the truth that we believe to touch our hearts and cause us to anguish over the multitudes of men and women who are forfeiting union with Jesus, eternal life, and accepting the condemnation of eternal death in both teaching and believing falsehoods and manifesting an attitude of religious neutrality.

God be with us as we examine ourselves in these matters.