Church Wolves Will Come

The downfall of pastors both great and small should sadden us. But such events should not surprise us. In Matthew 7:15, Jesus tells his disciples, his church, to “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” In other words, false teachers will come. Pastors will fall. The church should prepare for the arrival of wolves.

Why no Guards?

The prevailing sentiment of God’s people makes no allowance for the possibility of such false teachers. The local congregation sees no need to guard the pulpit or its ministry apparatus for it assumes that only qualified, sincere, and devoted candidates will express a desire to pastor or lead a class. The local church assumes the very inclination towards the pastorate, mission field, or Sunday school room is the greatest prove of the person’s qualifications for the said ministry. When a question or two does arise that challenges the persons fitness, the majority of the congregation falls back upon this or that positive experience that they shared with the pastoral or missional candidate. The members remark that he was pleasant a conversationalist at lunch the other day or that she passionately cared for the kids in nursery the other night. Moreover, they assume that if the soon-to-be installed leader were truly of the devil, he would tell us about his love of money, or she would list teaching heresy as one of her hobbies on her social media profile. Since he’s nice, he must be qualified to lead the youth group. Since she’s nice, we really should support her trip to Nepal. No thought is given to the possibility that that the nice face could just be a mask hiding the soul of a wolf.

Beware the Wolf

According to Jesus, we should entertain such a possibility. Instead of blindly trusting every person with a Bible, our savior longs for us to test the spirits. In other words, we should examine the fruit of those who aspire to church and ecclesiastical leadership. Jesus notes in Matthew 7:18, “A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.” When a prospective leader arrives at the church, the church should pat down the person’s character to see what fruit he or she has produced. Anyone can say “Lord, Lord,” talk passionately for a few minutes, or make a charming impression at a church social. But a man called by God to serve as an elder will bear fruit well beyond the controlled interactions tied to his professional ministry. He will consistently affirm others with his words, demonstrate a love for his family, a compassion for his enemies, a contentment with his income, and sexual purity. The man who spews out hate, hungers for money, and focuses inordinate amount of his attention upon sexual topics should not be advance into the pulpit even if he seems sincere, passionate, and gifted. In other words, the man who justifies his moral failings through appeals to his ability (an ability he may truly possess) is unquestionably wolf. To borrow the words of Paul, a faithful teacher must be above reproach (Titus 1; 1 Timothy 3). There is no room for equivocation. A good teacher will not preach truth on Sunday and then lie on Monday. A godly leader will produce good fruit.

What A Wolf Does

Once the church grants the wolf unfiltered access to the sheep, the false teacher will feast on the lives, relationships, and finances of the sheep, leaving a path littered with the bloody fruit of sin. The wolf may not stop feasting until he has eaten that local church into extinction. The damage one wolf or a wolf pack can do stretches the limits of our imagination. If a wolf cannot be removed quickly, the sheep should flee.

What God Does

Though wolves remain a very real threat, no wolf will overthrow the Church. Local outposts may fall into disrepair when their pulpits are left unguarded, but the church militant will forever survive. Moreover, justice will come. Someday soon, the false trees will be cut down and cast into hell (Matt 7:19). The good shepherd will also attend to his wounded sheep, restoring them to health. God will always show himself faithful even during a wolf attack.

Though God will stand by his church, wisdom demands that local churches should exam a potential church leader’s spiritual fruit long before giving him the keys to the pulpit or the ministry framework. Not every wolf has to run rampant among the sheep if we will but stand guard. Will you?

Marks of A Good Pastor (Part 4: Don’t Babble)

mark-4The faithful pastor should do good and should be defined by his actions. But he should also be defined by what he doesn’t do…by his inaction.

The faithful pastor should remind his congregation of the gospel, he should charge his congregation to avoid quarrelsome words, and he should seek to be an approved worker who rightly handles the word of truth. But then he must avoid something. He must avoid babble. Paul says it this way in 2 Timothy 2:16-18

But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.

Avoid nonsense that is irreverent, worldly, and easily accessible. Paul warns Timothy to stay away from goofy things that do not edify. He avoids easy things that appeal to his audience’s natural disposition. He avoids filling his sermon with goofy videos. He also does not fill his sermon with nice but meaningless stories that make people feel good. He does not welcome people into his church by having the praise team play Beyoncé or Beatle songs. No, he avoids the profane things of the world. He clings to the Scriptures and the Scriptures alone. Hebrews 2:12 says:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

If you want to reach people, if you want to help people overcome sin, and if you want to direct people to joy, bring the Word of God to bear on their lives. Expose the people in your church to the Word of God. Avoid the babble of the world. The men in women in our church have ready access to the world’s ideas via the radio, social media, and Netflix. They do not need their pastor to expose them again to meaningless words.

The faithful pastor most avoid silly conversations devoted to discovering where Cain and Able got their wives. He must avoid the temptation to talk about blood moons, eclipse, and the exact return of Christ. Our Savior already told us in Matthew 24:36: “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”

And he most avoid the temptation to embrace popular-culture psychology. For years people have championed the stages of grief: grief, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Today, most psychologist have abandoned the stages of grief, viewing them to be too rigid and inaccurate. Greif expert Megan Devine who has authored a book on the subject wrote on the following words in her Huffington Post Blog:

“The truth is, grief is as individual as love: every life, every path, is unique. There is no predictable pattern, and no linear progression. Despite what many “experts” say, there are no stages of grief.”

Pastors will be tempted to embrace the babble of the world. Popular philosophy, popular music, and popular humor will appeal to the pastor’s worldly appetites. His congregation may even welcome babble into the service. But the pastor must avoid his inclination to abandon truth for babble.

If the pastor embraces babble, the church will be undone. Paul says it will go into more and more ungodliness. The pastor who preaches funny sermons that lack Scriptural power, the pastor who focus on meaningless trivialities, and the pastor who embrace babble undermine the very health of the church. They destroy the church. Their talk will spread like gangrene. It appears as a small and barely noticeable sore. But then it grows and grows and until every inch of the body is covered in sores and the body dies.

Hymenaeus and Philetus did this very thing. They embraced babble and ended the day denying the resurrection. They ended up denying the very essence of the faith.

Brothers and sisters do not tolerate babble. Do not encourage your pastor to entertain you at the expense of the gospel. Encourage you pastor to avoid babble and to cling to the Truth.

Is this true of your pastor or is he a babbler?

Marks of a Good Pastor (Part 2: Charges You Not To Quarrel)

marks-of-a-good-pastor-2A good pastor is a man with regularly reminds his members of the gospel. He keeps the truth that God reigns, that man is sinful, that Jesus saves, and that we must repent in front of his congregation. He will not let them forget the gospel. (Click here to read more about the first mark)!

But for the faithful pastor to make much of the gospel. He must also downplay something else. He must neglect worldly philosophies and ideas. After telling Timothy to remind his hearers of the gospel, Paul instructs Timothy to “charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does not good, but only ruins its hearers.”

Not The Red Letter Pastor

Now some hear these words and rejoice. Paul’s words appear to be an “Aha” passage of Scripture for them. These red letter Christians are tired of pastors who talk about sexual ethics, divorce, abortion, and homosexuality. They are tired of discussing church polity, baptism, and sanctification. They just want Jesus. They want the Jesus of the Bible and can happily jettison all those unessential things mentioned above. They want  additional stuff of doctrine to be pushed aside so that they can delight in the goodness of Jesus. “He’s all we need,” is their chant.”

Paul seems to be agreeing with the red letter folks at first glance. He appears to be saying that all our discussions about marriage, reformed doctrine, and church polity do no good. Away with controversy. All we need is Jesus.

But Paul is not siding with the anti-doctrine crowd. If we place the verse back into the context of 2 Timothy, we see that Paul thinks all of the Bible is important. He tells Timothy to guard the good deposit and to entrust what he has learned from Paul to faithful men (1:14; 2:2). And in chapter 3:14-15 and again in chapter 4:1-4, Paul champions the full gospel. Four 1:1-4 states:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

Timothy is supposed to preach the Word. He does should not just focus on the red letters. No he gets to Jesus through the preaching of the Word.

When we step back from the gospel and seek to find the “true” Jesus, we find only confusion. The heretic Bryan McClaren correctly noted that at least seven Jesus exists in Christendom today. We have everything from the Conservative Protestant Jesus to the Liberation Jesus. We do not get the “true” Jesus when we abandon the larger message of the Bible. We do not get unity, peace, and harmony. When we mistakenly seek just Jesus, we find confusion, dismay, and disunity.

Jesus is the Word become flesh. John 1:14 states, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus is the Word become flesh. And he is not just the red letter words in the flesh. He is everything. Every word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, chapter and book points to Jesus. When Jesus was walking with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, he did not champion Jesus only movement. He did the opposite. Like 24:27 says,

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Jesus revealed himself through Moses and the Prophets. The story of creation, the Red Sea, and of David where not useless words that lead to ruin. These narratives and the words of all the prophets all pointed to Christ. They were all essential. They were all needed. If the God of the universe, our savior, and our Lord prizes all of the Bible, we do not have the freedom to ignore any part of the Bible. Martyn Lloyd-Jones   prophetically warned in 1981:

 So to refuse to consider doctrine is not only to refuse to believe in the Bible as the Word of God, it is insulting to God Himself. If God has chosen to use such terms as righteousness, justification, sanctification, redemption, atonement, reconciliation, propitiation, then it is our duty to face those terms and to consider their meaning; it is dishonoring to God not to do so.

We must read, study and value all of Scripture if we hope to find, worship, and follow the true Jesus.

Pastor Avoid The World’s Ideas

When Paul tell us to avoid quarrelsome words, he is addressing the words of the World. He is teaching us that we most avoid being entangled in the arguments of this world. We must not welcome the world’s opinions into the church. We must not derive our sexual ethic, or our parenting strategies, or our view of senior adults from our popular culture, from social media, or even from the academy. We must not ask the world for help when seeking to live and master all the intricacies of life. In Colossians 2:8-9, Paul expands on this topic writing,

 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits[a] of the world, and not according to Christ.” For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.

To go to the world, to appeal to the academy, and to submit to popular opinion is to be taken captive by the world. And the world is not in harmony with Christ. Human tradition, common sense, academic wisdom, and natural inclinations will not lead us to joy and happiness and fulfillment. Those things are found in Christ. All of the deity, all of the goodness, and all of the power that we need to survive and excel through life are found in Christ. Hence Paul tells us that worldly quarrels do no good.

When the World calls to us and says it has a better way forward for the tired parents in the room, for those overcome by alcohol, for those struggling with depression, and for those struggling with sexual sin, we must ignore the world’s cries. We must be like Odysseus and tie ourselves to the mast of God’s Word. We must not listen to the smooth sounding and beautiful calls of the siren. If we listen to them and embraces the world’s ideas in our church, we are crash into the rocks of life and our lives and churches will be shattered. We will experience ruin.

Time and again this has been proven true. The world has championed cohabitation and has labeled marriage old fashion. Yet, those who cohabitate before marriage are worse suited for marriage. They are 33% more likely to get divorced than those who do cohabitate. Moreover, the average relationship lasts twenty-two months. And 1 of every 5 women who cohabited will become pregnant. Cohabitation does not lead to lasting relationships but to unstable homes and single parenthood.Similarly, those who embrace the LGBT lifestyle are more likely abused by their girlfriend or boyfriend and are three times more likely to consider and to attempt suicide than those who do not embrace their lifestyle (CDC).And those who have an abortion do not find liberation and a fuller life. Most who lose their baby this way find despair and broken. Those who have an abortion are 25 times more likely to abuse alcohol, 23 times more likely to use marijuana, and 15 times more likely to consider suicide than women who have not had an abortion.

The church must not embrace the world’s view of sexuality or identity, or success. The church must stand for truth. If she get caught up int he world’s debates about marriage, sexuality, and life, she will lead her people to ruin. However, The church should be quick to offer hope and support to those who experience the hardship associated with the above decisions. We have the truth and comfort that the hurting are seeking. To hide God’s love and comfort from those who need it most is intolerably cruel. But the she must never abandon truth. She must never look to the world for wisdom, affirming the world’s destructive ideas to be good. The faithful pastor must do the same. He must warn his people to flee the harmful teachings of the world. Puritan Richard Baxter rightfully noted,

Friendship must be cemented by piety. A wicked man cannot be a true friend; and if you befriend their wickedness, you show that you are wicked yourselves.

The pastor who deserves your respect, your support, and your affirmation is the man who points you back to the gospel and who charges you not to quarrel over divisive words. Pray for your pastor to be such a man. And if you pastor fails to preach or to warn, speak to him and encourage him to once again befriend the gospel and sound teaching. Is your pastor calling you to remember the gospel and to avoid quarrelsome words?