Monday, January 11, 2016

The Low Bar of Relativity

God's Word warns us that in the last days people will gravitate towards false teachers....

2Ti 4:3-4, "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, [4] and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths."

The original Greek word in this verse that is translated as "endure" is "anechomai" which means "to hold oneself up against, that is, (figuratively) put up with: - bear with endure, forbear, suffer." The idea here is to expose oneself to something that can be uncomfortable... Exposing or submission to voluntarily, where there is a choice to stay or depart.

There will be this turning away from listening to the truth, not because they were fooled or deceived but because they have their personal preference of what they want to hear and will then search around to look for people who are saying things that align with what they have already decided to be true.

It is important to note that they will "wander off" into myths. They're not going to sprint, jog, or make a bee-line toward myths and heresies.  It is a casually paced, meandering path that is taken.  Each step on this journey is usually as a result of an avoidance of discomfort or pain associated with being confronted with the truth.

COMPARING TO THE EXTREME. Each move they make is a step away from the truth.  They may compare this new fellowship or group against an extreme example of error and conclude that because THIS group is "better" (relatively speaking) than THAT other group then THIS group must be good.

The problem with this approach is that instead of pursuing excellence they're looking for anything that is above the low bar of extreme mediocrity.

So, how does one know if they are "pursuing truth" or "wandering off into myths"?  The following may be a helpful grid of discernment....

INTENT OF THE CONTENT. Is the primary characteristic of the teaching the reading, interpretation, and application of Scripture?  Is there a more than trivial percentage of time spent on personal anecdotes and illustrations? Is the intent of the message to help the hearer understand the verse being studied? Is Scripture used merely as a launching point for a self-help seminar-like pep talk?  Are the Scripture verses that are quoted used properly and in context?

CONVICTION. All believers are in the process of being sanctified. We have work to do in growing in Christ-likeness. Do the sermons reveal those areas where you are falling short and need to work on? Does the uneasiness of conviction linger with you beyond the parking lot of the gathering place?

ENCOURAGEMENT. Do the messages offer encouragement where it is appropriate?  The unbelieving world will not encourage believers to pursue Christ... believers will only receive encouragement from other believers. Solid teaching points out what "abiding in Christ" looks like. It compares and contrasts our thoughts, words, and actions with what God's Word says. Teachings that promote the idea of "perpetual victimhood" offer no encouragement, no way to measure growth, and keep the hearer continually dependent on the teacher.

HONESTY. Are the words of the teacher (that they don't attribute to others) the teacher's own words? Is he or she extracting the truth from God's Word as a result of time spent studying or time spent cutting and pasting from a Commentary? or lifting teaching points from someone else's sermon? Plagiarism is a big problem in Evangelical churches. If you hear something quotable in a message, jot it down and later google that quote. You may be surprised to learn that it came from a place like

A teacher's personal opinion backed by an explanation can be helpful in understanding one position among multiple possible and correct positions.  Does the teacher separate Scriptural truth from their opinion?  Does the teacher simply present some possible correct positions but not provide any guidance?

DILIGENCE. Does the teacher quote extensively from non-Biblical sources? Even properly attributed quotes taken from Commentaries and from leaders in church history may reveal a lack of diligence in the teacher's preparation. It is important to show the historical traditions of Christian thought but it shouldn't be at the expense of the hard work of digging into the Scriptures themselves.

INTEGRITY. Does the teacher say and do things outside of the teaching time consistent with what they teach? Are their lives a model of what is being taught? For example: A teacher who engages in coarse language privately but edifying speech when teaching does not believe the things that they are teaching. A teacher or leader who speaks disparagingly of the congregation in private reveals a heart that is not qualified to lead.

FALSE TEACHERS.  There is only one perfect teacher of Scripture, that is Jesus. All others will fall short. There will be difficult theological concepts where a teacher may speak in error. A follow-up with them for clarification, correction, and confirmation is definitely appropriate. But if the teacher is repeatedly in error on doctrines that traditionally have only one correct interpretation, then that indicates a problem. Even Satan, the father of lies, will speak truth on occasion, and will quote Scripture... but always out of context and for his own purposes not God's purposes.

A false teacher is not identified by the truthful things they teach but by the false ones.

The danger of wandering off into myths grows the closer we get to the Lord's return. Those who truly desire to grow as disciples and draw closer to Christ must regularly examine their hearts as to their motivations when leaving and/or joining a fellowship.