CultureWatch

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

Radical Reconstruction Or Worthless Whitewash?

Aug 26, 2020

How many folks simply seek to whitewash major issues that demand proper attention?

There are various ways one can deal with much-needed home repairs, especially when major structural damage and the like needs urgent attention. One way is to do whatever is necessary to deal with the fundamental problems and make sure the structure is once again fully stable, secure and sound.

Another way is to just do the quickest and easiest of cover-up jobs: plaster over major cracks, cover over real building faults, and so on. Simply do a whitewash, in other words. This involves superficial work when something much more substantial is required. It involves covering up or glossing over major problems.

Dodgy and unreliable tradesmen for example might do this, instead of doing the necessary, and more involved work. The whitewash may temporarily cover things over, and it may look like the problems have been solved, but of course soon enough it will become quite apparent that this was not at all helpful – it only made matters worse.

There are spiritual applications of all this of course. Since I happen to be reading through the prophetic books of the Old Testament once again, it is not surprising that many of my recent articles are on what the prophets have said. And the prophets often spoke of useless, superficial cures for deep-seated spiritual problems.

Jeremiah for example often spoke to this, such as what we read in both Jer. 6:14 and 8:11:

They have healed the wound of my people lightly,
saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
when there is no peace.

I came upon more of this in today’s reading in Ezekiel. It is clear that he too was greatly concerned about whitewashing things. Ezekiel 13 is all about the false prophets that he had to keep dealing with, and in verses 8-16 he deals with the seriousness of Israel’s sin and disobedience, and how it is simply being whitewashed by the false prophets. The verses read as follows:

Therefore thus says the Lord God: “Because you have uttered falsehood and seen lying visions, therefore behold, I am against you, declares the Lord God. My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and who give lying divinations. They shall not be in the council of my people, nor be enrolled in the register of the house of Israel, nor shall they enter the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord God. Precisely because they have misled my people, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace, and because, when the people build a wall, these prophets smear it with whitewash, say to those who smear it with whitewash that it shall fall! There will be a deluge of rain, and you, O great hailstones, will fall, and a stormy wind break out. And when the wall falls, will it not be said to you, ‘Where is the coating with which you smeared it?’ Therefore thus says the Lord God: I will make a stormy wind break out in my wrath, and there shall be a deluge of rain in my anger, and great hailstones in wrath to make a full end. And I will break down the wall that you have smeared with whitewash, and bring it down to the ground, so that its foundation will be laid bare. When it falls, you shall perish in the midst of it, and you shall know that I am the Lord. Thus will I spend my wrath upon the wall and upon those who have smeared it with whitewash, and I will say to you, The wall is no more, nor those who smeared it, the prophets of Israel who prophesied concerning Jerusalem and saw visions of peace for her, when there was no peace, declares the Lord God.”

Deep spiritual surgery was required (to switch metaphors) but the false prophets simply offered meaningless and worthless whitewashing. That would never do, and Ezekiel must call out these religious leaders and prophets who in fact care nothing for the people.

Old Testament scholar Douglas Stuart offers this commentary on the text:

The deceptive proclamations of peace (cf. Mic. 3:5, Jer. 6:14; 8:11) that such false prophets have always been noted for are like shaky, poorly built walls covered with whitewash (NKJV, “untempered mortar”). The whitewash makes the walls look good, but in fact they cannot withstand even heavy weather (vv. 10-11, 13-14). When Paul called the high priest in Jerusalem a “whitewashed wall” (Acts 23:3), he was similarly indicating that Ananias was a phony, since his command to punish Paul was inconsistent with the Law he was pledged to uphold. The false prophets were inconsistent with God’s truth. They made their living from contributions, and when they gave assurances of peace and prosperity people paid better than when they predicted gloom and distress. Thus their “whitewashed wall” would fall, and their own fall (v. 14) would be symbolized thereby as well. False reassurance (the wall) and false prophets (those who white-washed it, v. 15) would alike be destroyed by God when the reality of Jerusalem’s destruction came to pass.

Image of Preacher's Commentary, Vol. 20: Ezekiel
Preacher's Commentary, Vol. 20: Ezekiel by Array Amazon logo

The application for today’s Christian leaders and pastors and teachers could not be more obvious. Just like the false prophets of old spoke only soothing and pleasant words to tickle the ears of their listeners, and to keep the financial offerings flowing in, so too today there is the same temptation.

How many churches are packed full of people because the pastors tell them all the stuff they crave to hear, while withholding from them all the stuff they need to hear? Sadly, too many, including lots of megachurches where the offering buckets are full to overflowing because the people’s ears are routinely tickled with sweet nothings and meaningless pap.

Who does not want to hear every week about how you can have your best life now, be wealthy and successful, and get all the goodies in life you possibly can? Most folks. And who wants to regularly hear the message of Jesus about sin, repentance, coming judgment, the need to pick up your cross, deny yourself, and follow him? Not very many.

Lamar Eugene Cooper speaks to what was happening back then:

These fraudulent spokesmen gave false hope of a peace that was not to be (Ezek. 13:10). Their words were like an unstable wall. The “wall” they built would not protect the people but was something that would collapse at the slightest touch, though they had dressed it handsomely. When the stormy weather came, the wall would collapse (cf. Jesus’ lesson of the two foundations in Matt. 7:24-29). The analogy of the wall was extended to refer to Jerusalem in Ezek. 13:14. God declared his intention to bring down the wall (i.e., the city of Jerusalem). The people, their leaders, and the false prophets would be judged (vv. 15-16).

Yes, and how similar is this to so much of today’s Christianity? We do not preach and teach the full counsel of God, including the basic biblical truths that all real followers of Christ will be hated and persecuted. Instead we proclaim a false gospel which says, ‘Come to Jesus and all your problems will be solved, you will always be happy, and you can live a life of luxury and ease.’

That is a whitewash, and when the storms of life come along these shallow professors of faith will come crashing down. They will not be prepared for the real life of Christian discipleship, and will simply wilt at the first hints of opposition, affliction, hardship, or trials.

And those false shepherds who proclaim such patently false words will be judged for their fake gospel and their crass men-pleasing. You would not want to be in their shoes when they one day stand before their Lord and Judge. They need to repent – now – and start proclaiming the hard words of biblical truth, instead of a sugar-coated gospel which is nothing but a deceitful and devilish whitewash.

Let me finish with some words from the great Martyn Lloyd-Jones as found in his Studies in the Sermon on the Mount:

The false prophet very rarely tells you anything about the holiness, the righteousness, the justice and the wrath of God. He always preaches about the love of God, but those other things he does not mention. He never makes anyone tremble as he thinks of this holy and august Being with whom we all have to do. He does not say that he does not believe these things. No; that is not the difficulty. The difficulty with him is that he says nothing about them. He just does not mention them at all. He generally emphasizes one truth about God only, and that is love. He does not mention the other truths that are equally prominent in the Scriptures; and that is where the danger lies. He does not say things that are obviously wrong, but he refrains from saying things that are obviously right and true. And that is why he is a false prophet. To conceal the truth is as reprehensible and as damnable as to proclaim an utter heresy; and that is why the effect of such teaching is that of a ‘ravening wolf’. It is so pleasing, but it can lead men to destruction because it has never confronted them with the holiness and the righteousness and the justice and the wrath of God.

[1558 words]

9 Responses to Radical Reconstruction Or Worthless Whitewash?

  • It’s concerning the number of Christians self-whitewashing themselves to becoming deaf, dumb and blind!

  • Dear Bill,
    Very pertinent writings. I cannot help but wonder how many Pastors, Priests, Preachers and Clergy etc regularly read you work? I know I have forwarded material found on CultureWatch to our Pastor and have recommended you to many others.
    I’m not asking for a show of hands. I cannot help but think of a life long truism I have had …. I do not like being told how to suck eggs…. is this the problem?? Who knows but I concur, as usual, with what you have written here.
    God bless you Bill stay strong in the Lord
    Mark Bryant

  • Thanks Bill.
    I’ve had a thought for a week or so that we may discover what our idols are in our churches by what Biblical truths we can’t preach in our church.
    I was thinking about feminism in our Uniting Church discouraging us from preaching Paul’s “simple” rules for wives and husbands.
    Anyway that’s an example of helping to find out what idols are up there next to the cross in our church.
    So my ears pricked up when I read about what is not preached helping to reveal to us our heresies and false gospels. All His best to you.

  • In the Catholic Church every Pope since St. John XXIII (1958 – 1963) has fallen for this deceit too, refusing to give the flock the full truth, just a shallow politically-correct patina of the Faith. Thank you for articulating what I feel so strongly too Bill. God Bless you

  • There is a storm coming to the west a black and terrible storm we are seeing now just the first puffs of wind. The West has abandoned God but soon shall know what it is to be abandoned by God. Many whitewashed church buildings will fall and the TRUE size of Christianity shall be revealed. The true children of God shall weather the storm by relying on God. He has prepared some for this. Can the west and the western church survive pre-industrial conditions????

  • Dear Bill, Thank you for the article but I must disagree strongly with Michael’s comments. St. Pope John Paul 2 certainly did not pussy foot around when it came to preaching the fullness of the Christian faith.

    He earned the contempt of the MSM. because of his fierce defence of the unborn. George Negus of Channel 9’s 60 minutes spoke cynically of the Pope’s ”right to life ”tours because he never failed to speak out against the evil of abortion in whatever country he visited. He took the commandment”Thou shall not Kill” very seriously.

    Much of his life was spent under both Nazism and Communism and he was never afraid to expose their deceit and lies. When he became Pope he inspired his compatriots in Poland so much with the TRUTH that Solidarity was started in Poland which led subsequently to the collapse of Communism throughout Europe.

    No one could say that he did not speak out strongly against the evils of his time as Pope. It was St John Paul 2 that encouraged and supported the traditional Latin Mass for the Catholic faithful who missed it and loved it so much.He was one of the greatest Popes of modern times and it is unfair to say that he taught a shallow version of Christianity. I only wish he were alive today to speak up about today’s evil.

    He also exhorted others to ”Be not afraid” because he must have been very afraid sometimes when he had to stand up to the godless atheist communist government in Poland.

    It is a pity that he is

  • I’m not a Catholic but of all the pope’s during my lifetime JPII is only one I would have like to have met. One felt good about him. I can’t say the same about his predecessors.

Leave a Reply