In the first half of this plea for grace, I examined a number of ministries that I am convinced I would have lost many great spiritual insights if I had written off their teachings because I disagreed with some part of what they have to say. We will now explore where we as Christians should draw the line concerning whether a ministry is apostate or not.
The Crucial Doctrines
So, where should we draw the line with regard to respect and support of a ministry? It has to do with the fundamentals of the faith. Those fundamentals are:
- The Virgin Birth of Jesus
- The Divinity of Jesus
- The Atoning Death of Jesus
- The Resurrection of Jesus
- The Promise of Jesus to Return
When a Christian leader denies one or more of these fundamentals, his ministry should not be respected or supported, and it can be legitimately considered as apostate. Disagreements over other points of doctrine are important, but they should never serve to disrupt our fellowship in the Lord. Truth is important, but not all truth is equally important. So, for example, whatever the truth may be about the Millennium, it is nothing compared to THE TRUTH that Jesus is Lord.
When we as Christians disagree with doctrine being taught by some Christian leader, we need to do so in a Christ-like manner. We should avoid pejorative labels like "apostate." And we should avoid judging motives. We should simply deal with the issue of whether or not the questionable doctrine is biblical.
With regard to motives, one of my pet peeves is the way people seem compelled to sum up a doctrinal disagreement with me by saying, "I know the only reason you take that position is because it sells books." I hear that accusation over and over again. I want to emphasize that is a sinful accusation.
First, it is sinful because it is based on an evaluation of my motives, and that simply is not possible. We can judge words and actions, but we can never judge motives because we cannot know with certainty what each other's motives may be.
Second, the accusation is sinful because it attributes evil by asserting that I am guided only by monetary concerns. (I can assure you that money is not a motivator to me.)
I've never been able to understand why Christians must attribute evil motives to those they disagree with on a doctrinal point. It's as if they cannot conceive that people can honestly disagree about a biblical interpretation.
I have also become distressed in recent years by the increasingly strident tone of many Christian apologists. I'm sure this is due to the rapidly increasing apostasy in the Church and their sense of frustration in dealing with it. But this is no excuse for the attack dog mentality that seems to prevail.
A good example is the recent response to the best-selling book, The Harbinger, written by a Messianic Jew named Jonathan Cahn. I personally did not care for the book. I thought his method of scriptural interpretation was highly subjective in nature, and I thought his examples of prophetic fulfillment which he drew from the 9/11 attacks were highly strained. But I thought his overall conclusion that our nation is in rebellion against God and is therefore begging for God's destruction was right on target. So, I was thankful for the book.
But the apologetic attack dogs had a field day picking the book apart and slinging names at the author. One even called him a "false prophet"! They just couldn't seem to say anything good, despite the fact that the book's overall message was a sound one and a needed one.
Another fault of the modern day apologetic attack dogs is their tendency to attribute guilt by association. It's a good thing they were not around when the Apostle Paul delivered his sermon at Athens. They surely would have overlooked his words, while frying him for having the audacity to associate with heathen.
Outstanding Christian spokesmen like Joel Rosenberg have been viciously attacked and defamed simply because they participated in a prayer rally that was called by Governor Rick Perry of Texas. Why? Because there were people present at the rally who were considered unacceptable.
Others have been roundly condemned because they had the audacity to quote from the Bible paraphrase known as The Message. I don't endorse that paraphrase, but I don't believe for a moment that quoting from it renders a person apostate. I recently quoted favorably some words of an ancient Muslim poet. The words were beautiful and biblical, but because they were from a Muslim, I was severely condemned!
I knew that the moment I said anything positive about Oral Roberts and his ministry that the attack dogs would come growling and even, in some cases, howling. But I refuse to be intimidated by them and their rabid negativism.
I have had my Christianity questioned because I refused to condemn the Promise Keeper's Movement.
I have had my Christianity questioned because I do not despise Bible paraphrases like the Living Bible and the New Testament in Modern English by J. B. Phillips.
I have had my Christianity questioned because I do not dislike contemporary Christian music.
I have had my Christianity questioned because I refuse to denounce modern Bible translations like the New King James Version and The New American Standard Version.
I have had my Christianity questioned because I do not despise Billy Graham.
I have had my Christianity questioned because I do not hold Charismatics in disdain.
Tragically, I could extend this list indefinitely!
There are many very fine apologetic ministries existing today who are earnestly contending for the faith. We have interviewed many of their leaders on our television program. But the self-proclaimed "watchmen on the walls" who constantly spew forth hateful condemnations are really nothing more than spiritual pit bulls who are trying to build themselves up by tearing other people down.
I know the attacks will continue, but I want to make it clear that I am not going to allow my Christianity to be defined by what I hate rather than what I believe. And what I believe is that Jesus is Lord!
My conclusion? Let's look for what is biblical, let's embrace it, and let's thank God for it. Criticize what you consider to be unbiblical, but do it in love, with a desire to correct and not defame. Pray for the person you disagree with, and remember, if God can show you grace with all your warts and hang-ups, surely you can show some grace toward those you disagree with.