CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Just Who Is Being Divisive Here?

Apr 17, 2011

Imagine this scenario: You and your young family are nestled comfortably in bed for the night when you hear a disturbance downstairs. Everyone is startled awake at the sound of breaking glass. You fumble around in the dark for the nearest defensive weapon – a golf club.

You head downstairs and sure enough, you find a masked intruder in your home, obviously not there for a cup of tea. You raise your weapon and pray for the best. Fortunately, this unwelcome intruder takes fright and dashes out of your home the same way he came in.

It was a frightening moment, and of course it happens quite often. Any homeowner who seeks to protect his property and defend his family would do the same thing. Cowardice or compromise in the face of such unprovoked aggression is just not an option. Defending your loved ones against this awful attack is your highest priority and duty.

I mention this story because we have the exact equivalent taking place in the Christian church today. We have a major case of theological home invasion taking place, but the absolutely amazing thing is, many believers are claiming that it is the home-owner who is at fault here.

The Christian church is being plagued by those who seek to break into the house, ransack the place, and leave it in shambles. Yet incredibly some Christians think it is those seeking to defend and protect the church who are in fact the troublemakers and aggressors here.

Let me give you an obvious recent example of this. For two thousand years the church has basically spoken with one voice on the truths of the Bible that there are two eternal destinies for mankind; that there is a real hell; and that those who reject God and his love offering in Christ will experience eternal separation from God.

Now it is becoming quite trendy in certain parts of the church – especially the emergent church – to question, challenge and decry these very doctrines which have so consistently been affirmed by the faithful. Yet when concerned believers seek to defend the traditional teaching of Scripture in this area, it is they who are accused of being divisive, troublemakers, and unloving.

I find this mind boggling. One needs no more evidence of this than to look at my website. I have been writing a lot lately in defence of the biblical understanding of these classic doctrines. I have been defending the faith against those who are teaching there is no hell, and those who are preaching universalism or annihilationism.

Yet incredibly a number of so-called Bible-believing Christians have come to this site, not to criticise people like Rob Bell and other emergents for pushing these heterodoxies, but to criticise me! In their eyes I am the culprit; I am the one who is being divisive. I am the one who is being unloving and destroying church harmony.

But I am the home owner. I am simply grabbing the nearest golf club and am seeking to repel these home invaders. I am seeking to protect my home, my family, and my loved ones from these aggressors. I am seeking to defend orthodox Christian teaching from these neo-liberals who have chosen to pick a fight.

Yet I am slammed for being divisive as I seek to do this. My mind reels. Just who picked this fight? Just who decided that the Christian church has been wrong for 2000 years, and must be set straight by a whole new teaching? Just who is the aggressor here?

By their sort of twisted reasoning, every defender of the faith found in Scripture was a troublemaker, was divisive, was unloving, was judgmental, and was un-Christlike. The Bible is full of those who would defend truth against error. Yet in today’s theologically hazy climate, such a defence is simply not acceptable.

So let me get this straight. Was Paul being divisive and unloving when he resisted the Judaisers, or Peter for that matter? Was Jesus being divisive and unloving when he too challenged false prophets and false teachers? Was Isaiah being divisive and unloving when he confronted Israel about its idolatry? Was Elijah being divisive and unloving when he challenged the prophets of Baal? Was John being divisive and unloving when he called on the churches to repent?

Sorry, but the culprits here are not Jesus or Paul or any other defenders of biblical orthodoxy. The culprits here are those who would bring false teaching into the church, who would insist that two millennia of Christian teaching must go, and who would claim that those who hold to the biblical teaching here are an obstacle to peace and unity.

These folks are the real culprits. But this sort of thing is to be expected in the culture we live in. All around us the postmodern mindset is reigning supreme. Its dislike of truth and its insistence on relativism and uncertainty hold sway throughout the West.

And as is so often the case, the church simply latches on to and soaks up what is found in the surrounding culture. Thus the church is now permeated with relativism, heterodoxy, and theological diarrhea. The emerging church movement is a classic example of this. It simply has become a reflector of the surrounding culture, instead of a counter-cultural force as the church is always meant to be.

So let me break this to you: the next time you see me (or anyone else) standing up for traditional Christian teaching over against some new trendy theological challenge, spare us this foolishness that we are the ones who are somehow being divisive, argumentative, unloving, and harsh. We did not pick this fight, and we did not start this commotion.

But just like Moses, or Elijah, or Jeremiah, or Jesus, or Paul, and any of the great defenders of the faith throughout church history, we will always take a stand for biblical truth when we see it coming under direct, sustained, and blatant attack.

If that makes us appear to be divisive and unloving in your eyes, then can I suggest that this is really your problem, and not ours.

[1023 words]

20 Responses to Just Who Is Being Divisive Here?

  • Quite right.

    Paul was a human too, so if Bill can’t stand up for truth, Paul shouldn’t have stood up to Peter, Elijah and Jeremiah needed to lay off the So-Saith-The-Lord, and Agabus was obviously making it up, to name a few examples. I mean, who says God gives anyone authority to tell anyone off? Just ask Ananias and Sapphira.

    Alison Keen

  • Looks like I have pressed your ‘defender of the faith’ button Bill, which is a good thing, so I wont apologize.
    I should clarify that I wasn’t criticizing your challenging of the postmodern / emerging / watered down gospel, but was rather making a comment about a comment before mine which labeled Rob Bell a false teacher. My point was that although we are entitled to enter the debate / defend truth ect, I don’t think that bandying around these sorts of terms towards those who are part of the Church, and are seeking to understand Gods revelation, are particularly helpful. I am in agreement with you Bill that the truth should be defended, but I would hope that if I was in error, as I know I have been many times, the truth would be conveyed to me with love and in truth. The reason the truth has been preserved for 2000 years, in my opinion, is because it’s the truth. Defend it by all means, but there is room to love those who we believe are to be in error and to show them with grace the area we believe they are in error. That’s how we learn what is true.
    Although you are right in the many bible references you use towards the stern rebuking of what is false, there are many instances where truthful teaching with patience was what was needed.
    In the end your response should be how you see fit. Mine would probably be different, but that’s the diversity of the body.
    Brad Kirkwood

    Keep up the good work Bill.

  • Thanks Brad

    Of course this article was not directed at you specifically, but at a whole slew of believers both here and elsewhere who are seeking to argue than any sort of the defence of the faith is divisive and unloving.

    Are we to ‘speak the truth in love’? Of course we are. But we have far too many today who only like the second noun in that Pauline command, and not the first. And I don’t want to be some sole ‘defender of the faith’ as you put it. The truth is, every single person who names the name of Christ is called to perform that role. But that role is mocked, ridiculed and derided by many today – certainly by the emergents.

    As to whether or not Bell is a false teacher really depends on how we answer these three questions:
    -Is there such a thing as a false teacher/teaching?
    -Is the belief in universalism a false teaching?
    -If we answer yes to the first two questions, then is Bell guilty of false teaching?

    And I am not sure if I am with you altogether in your final thoughts. Should we be patient with those who are off somewhat, certainly in secondary issues, and want to be true to Scripture? Yes, you bet. But please show me one example in the entire Bible when some clear false teaching was being promoted in which Jesus, the prophets or the apostles advised patience, restraint, compromise and a ‘don’t rock the boat’ attitude. I am not aware of any time in Scripture when serious theological error was not swiftly and sternly acted on and renounced.

    You seem to think a stern rebuke of error (just consider Gal. 1:6-10; 3:1-5, eg.) is somehow being unloving. I do not (and I guess neither did Paul). But as is so often the case with such matters, we may perhaps just have to agree to disagree here. Thanks again for writing.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Brad,

    You make a good point – if someone is in error, grace is called for. However Ps Bell isn’t just a run of the mill believer in error – he is a leader in the church and as Paul said, ‘You know that we who presume to teach will be judged more strictly.’ Believing false doctrine is one thing, teaching it is something else. As much as you’re right that graceful, loving teaching is called for, who exactly is Rob Bell willing to learn from?

    Alison Keen

  • Thanks Alison

    I am with you. Indeed you make a very important point here which we need to keep in mind as we discuss this issue. For good or ill, Bell is hugely influential, and has zillions of followers. As a leading public figure and Christian leader making very public statements about the faith, we have every right as believers to offer an assessment of his teachings, especially if they seem to be taking us away from the clear teaching of Scripture.

    He is not just some ordinary Joe believer here. If I have a brother who is veering off course, then yes I can and should – in a loving relationship with him – slowly and patiently seek to restore him. But this I obviously cannot do with Bell. I am not even in the same country as he is, yet his books, tapes and views are circulating publically around the globe.

    I might try to write him a personal letter, but whether he would even see it is unlikely. So the slow, patient, relational correction of a wayward brother is quite appropriate for someone we know and are close to. But for a public teacher at some distance, deliberately promoting his heterodoxy, this is certainly not possible – nor perhaps even feasible.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Jesus acknowledging a prophecy says ” They hated Me without cause” and goes on to say “They will make you outcasts from the synagogue and the hour is coming ……”
    John 15. 25; 16.2.

    Bill, your intruder illustration is an interesting one. As you know if the house defender causes injury to the intruder then the intruder may have grounds to sue the house defender. Clearly some church laws and theological positions also allow a fulfillment of what Jesus predicted.

    Watched recently a documentary on the fall of Constantinople where the divided church was arguing when the Islamic armies were at the very gates. Five hundred years later we are faced with the same threat for similar reasons.

    Keep bringing the “firey darts” to the light Bill. Continue to walk in His Peace, Provision and Protection.

    Ray Robinson

  • The divisive ones are the ones bringing doctrines contrary to Scripture (Romans 16:17). See also ‘But it’s divisive!’.
    Jonathan Sarfati, US

  • Thanks Jonathan

    Yes that passage is especially pertinent here. Thanks for reminding us of it. Paul specifically says that it is false teachers who are bringing division into the churches, not those who defend biblical orthodoxy. And notice what he says about the “smooth talk” of the false teachers. Plenty of people have commented on what smooth talkers and clever wordsmiths people like Bell are!

    “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.”

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • The loving thing to do, regardless of how the other person receives it, it to preach the truth.
    Not speaking out while people live a lie and direct others on the path to hell is the most unloving thing we can do.

    Thanks for loving people enough to preach the truth no matter how uncomfortable it makes people feel Bill.

    Kylie Anderson

  • Hmm, I recall Paul excoriating “the party of the circumcision” in fairly crude terms – challenging them to “cut it all off” – and that’s scriptural!

    Sometimes there is no substitute for a sock on the jaw to get the point across.

    John Angelico

  • Your story about the burglar reminds me of a story I believe I read about on your website concerning the proposal (in the UK?) to ban those iron bars from windows on houses because of the potential hazard that they cause to burglars who break into houses. It still amazes me that in that story the government was more concerned about the rights of someone breaking the law rather than being concerned about the safety and security of residents in their homes. Our culture worldwide seeks to defend those who are systematically trying to dismantle the core beliefs of Christianity and replace it with false ideologies, and we the faithful are supposed to just sit back and allow it to happen without any attempt to defend our security in what we believe. I commend you, Bill, on your outspoken commentary on the attacks against all that is true. May God continue to be glorified despite the insanity in our culture!

    Louis Young

  • Quite so. Many thanks indeed Louis.
    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thank you so much Bill for highlighting these issues!!!
    The Bible tells us that the truth sets us free. Jesus came to declare the truth of the kingdom of God and to expose the lies of the devil (doctrine opposing God’s Word)
    We are to hold fast to that Word of Truth – Hold fast to Jesus!!
    You are doing right – good and faithful servant!!!
    Barb Hoc

  • Brad,

    Having just preached Matthew 5-7, I wonder if you may need to submit your understanding and treatment of error to Jesus teaching, “Watch out for false prophets”

    As I observe Jesus’ practice and listen to his teaching, as well as the rest of the NT, I notice that there is a clear differentiation between the treatment of a weaker brother and that of a false prophet.

    In 1 Corinthians we love a brother who has a wrong idea, it seems, not even seeking to correct him. In Galatians we stand against anyone who will undermine the gospel. The difference? One is a lamb (weaker brother) the other a wolf (false prophet).

    A shepherd who loves his sheep carries both a salve for the lambs and a stick for the wolves. This is the pastor’s calling.

    Do you really think that after the publication of a book is the time to take the quiet, “Hey bro, do you want to engage in discussion about some of these ideas?”

    Do you really think Bell is unaware that he is discarding the orthodox position. No, the words in his video make it clear that he knows what everyone else thinks and doesn’t mind, he’s going to go his own way. The time for gentle instruction with Bell is past.

    His mind is made up, the book is published, it’s being circulated in the church. To use Jesus’ metaphor, the wolf is already in among the sheep. The shepherd needs not the salve and bandages, but the stick. After he has driven off the wolf he can then go among the sheep and, with love and tenderness, bind the wounds.

    If the whole church would chase off the wolves then Bill could perhaps put his stick down and concentrate on the salve, but in our global paddock with cyber wolves on the prowl I wonder if every pastor needs both stick and salve at hand all the time.

    Michael Hutton

  • Thanks Michael

    You make some very valuable points, and very well said.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Dear Bill,

    Don’t you think that you are over reacting? Don’t you know that you should be speaking gentle words about those who have a different view of God’s word, just like Jesus did (Matt 15, Matt 23, Luk 11), and have a loving, gentle attitude to them (Mar 3:15), as well as being just as open to change within our places of worship, as Jesus showed himself to be (Matt 21:12-13,Mar 11:15-18, Luke19:45-46, John 2:15-16)?

    How are your platting skills? It seems they may be needed a bit more.

    Keep up the good work.

    Mark Bachelor

  • Thanks Mark

    Yes you are quite right. From henceforth I will only speak in the same manner as Jesus did, as in the passages you pointed out.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Quite often there is the bullying of the Biblical orthodox viewpoint by the latest ‘new bully on the block.’
    The one with a new creed, the one who dispenses with sin, hell or marriage or allows permissiveness. They will NOT tolerate the orthodox view, and claim that they are a ‘victim’ of the orthodox ‘attack’ on them.

    These are the people whose initial attack is actually against God in the first instance, and then the secondary attack on those who choose to obey Him and give an apologetic defence of their faith.

    They are in effect saying that God left something out, meant something else, requires something more, allows more sin than He said, or that there is no consequence for your sin. Sounds like the snake in Eden doesn’t it?

    The supposed ‘victimhood’ of the unorthodox view then derives sympathy from those who are ignorant of or are directly opposed to the Bible. Or from those Christians who are comfortable in their disobedient, sinful lives needing another excuse to justify their waywardness.

    These are the exact same methods employed by Muslims, homosexuals, Greens, socialists, etc.

    Call their bluff: quote Scripture back at them and just withstand the intolerant napalm they will cast your way.
    The worst they can do is what? Insult you? Call you a fundamentalist? [They will need a little Church history lesson to understand why that is seen as a compliment in your eyes!]

    We are called to FIGHT the good fight of faith. Not to concede that their ‘new gospel’ (or should that be dyspel?) is tolerated in the church or society. In effect if you do not defend (apologetically), you do not value, or you devalue what should be defended.

    Keep up the high standard, Bill.
    (And the other contributors!)

    Michael Evans

  • This is great for me and for everyone i suspect, to discuss such things. I need to clarify a point, false teachers or people suggesting there isn’t a hell and these accusations towards Bill for being a hater. I’m wondering is it a point of they think we go around telling everybody, all day, everywhere, HELL HELL HELL- HEAVEN/HELL blar blar blar.
    Of course we adjust our mannerisms to suit the situation. Sometimes i’ll agree with someone who is clearly confused just momentarily, in order to relax the situation – a type of lull them into a false sense of security, then tell them the truth.
    Daniel Kempton

  • Amen. Unity is always under the umbrella of truth, not in the heavy acid rains of error!
    Reading Psalm 119 through will not leave one with the impression that ecumenism at the cost of distinctive (and essential) truths is a good idea. I always adore those words of wisdom in Proverbs 23:23; “Buy the truth, and do not sell it.” This wisdom is justified!
    I also love the thundering cry of Ian Paisley; “Stick to the book and keep to the standards. If I take a stand I lose people – but better lose people than lose God! Better have nobody with you but God for you, than have the crowd with you and God against you!”
    Forbes Morrison

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