The development of doctrine, historically, has happened in response to the challenges of error, a history of this not that. So too, our full understanding of doctrine today isn’t arrived at in a vacuum. The great controversies of church history, past church councils, reformations, and revivals don’t mean it’s sorted out and all we need to do is work on personal application. Leaders are not life coaches, they are stewards of Bible truth. 2 Tim.2:2; 4:1-5
‘This not that’ is essential in a time when too many Christians are sent into the every day world innocent as doves…period! Mt.10:16 If you are a church leader it is a major part of your job to teach truth and confront and refute error. If you are not refuting error it is axiomatic you cannot be effectively teaching the truth, because you are not practically equipping the saints to meet error.
Embracing truth necessarily requires our rejecting error, ‘this not that.’ Error that knocks at the door of our hearts, from the carnal to the high-minded religious. When Jude urges us to ‘contend for the faith,’ we all, with Jude, would rather talk about ‘our common salvation’ (Jude 3) but the truth is under attack and we must get on with the job of contending for it. It is troubling to see so many leaders placing unity and, the latest buzz word, inclusivity before faithfulness and obedience. Whatever happened to mortifying the deeds of the body? Rom.8:13
A Church of Disciples
The greatest threat to the church today is not the cults. Neither is it the error infiltrating churches across the world, although this is a greater threat than the cults. The greatest threat to the church today is the almost complete absence of discipleship and submission to one another in Christ.
We have privatised, individualised, and socialised our faith to the extent that many think what they believe is nobody else’s business, how they choose to live out what they believe is entirely up to them, and the best way to make more Christians is to have a barbecue.
We have a raft of tools at our disposal in our battle for truth: our Bibles; apologetics; sound theology; good teachers; a biblical world-view; missionary organisations; specialist ministries; testimonies; countless courses, the list goes on. However, every item on any list you care to construct is useless unless the church is prepared to be Christ in the world and say this not that (Mt 23;Jn.4:22)
Who will share Bible truth if not Bible believers? Who will explain the biblical world-view if not those who should know and live it? Who should be best placed to open to people the exciting gospel narrative if not gospel people?
We may be doubtful about this when we look at ‘my church’ and, goodness knows, we all know ‘what’s wrong with the church.’ However, the local church is God’s plan, it is the body of Christ in the world, his hands and feet in communities, it is the clearest expression of God’s purpose in creation and new birth. We urgently need a church of true disciples, faithful, obedient, confident in explaining why ‘this not that.’
Milk Not Meat
The perennial challenge for leaders is addressed in the New Testament, where Paul writes:
‘But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready…’ 1 Cor.3:1-3
The writer to the Hebrews echoes these concerns:
‘For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.’ Heb.5:12-13
Peter uses the picture of milk differently, urging believers to, ‘Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation…’ 1 Peter 2:2
Peter is not urging us to stay on the milk Paul writes about. Milk here doesn’t mean, as in the other texts, elementary teaching. Rather, this is an encouragement to crave Christian maturity as newborns crave milk, to ‘grow up into salvation…’
Leaders need to be able to address their congregations ‘as spiritual people,’ so they grow up, becoming the teachers they ought to be, ‘skilled in the word of righteousness.’ I have known over the years leaders who yearn for this maturity in their congregation. I have known leaders who have settled, and fear to test the mettle of their congregation. I have known Christians who have moved churches because they feel under-nourished on milk instead of fed on meat.
The next time someone shakes your hand and says, ‘nice sermon pastor,’ ask them what exactly they liked about it. You will soon tell the polite from the committed.
Testing the Spirits
‘Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.’ 1 John 4:1
In Matthew 23 Jesus declared seven woes on the Pharisees and teachers of the Law:
- They didn’t enter the kingdom, neither did they allow others to enter (13,14)
- They brought converts into a dead religion (15)
- They worshipped at the temple but valued its gold and decoration above its sacredness (16-22)
- They taught the law but focussed on minutiae, failing to practice the most important parts of the law, justice, mercy, and faithfulness (23,24)
- They were outwardly clean but inwardly seething with carnality (25,26)
- They put on a public show of godliness but were inwardly ungodly (27,28)
- They borrowed from the righteousness of the prophets yet had the same spirit as those who shed the blood of the prophets (29-32)
Jesus didn’t mince words when he declared, ‘You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?’ (33) He begins this discourse with this word of caution to believers. ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you – but not what they do.’
There is always a ‘this not that.’ John’s words to the early church in 1 John, ‘test the spirits,’ Jude’s urgent words of caution, ‘contend for the faith,’ John’s later warnings about the anti-Christ (1 John:2:18) all warn us to be prepared to reject the error and cling to the truth.
Equipping the Saints
In his letter to Ephesus Paul explains the purpose of leaders, ‘to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.’ Ephesians 4:12-14
I hear a lot of talk these days of apostles and prophets, people seem endlessly fond of titles. There is great emphasis on gifts, people demonstrating their bona fides I suppose. What I don’t hear so much of is the warning voice of the watchman. The gift of discernment seems to have fallen out of fashion today. What I see too little of is concern for the saints being ‘tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.’
The threats to the saints are systemic, doctrinal, served up by human cunning, craftiness and deceit, and I can testify these abound in our world today as much as they did in Paul’s day. We should be as concerned about these things as was Paul, equipping the saints for the work of ministering doctrinal truth. In his final letter from a Roman prison, Paul wrote to Timothy:
‘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.’ 2 Tim.4:1-4
Earlier in the same letter Paul writes:
‘You then my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.’ 2 Tim.2:1,2
I have heard some complaining because we don’t love each other enough as a church. If this is the case I believe it is because our love for the Lord has grown cold, and this because we have abandoned our love for his Word. We have forgotten, so many of us, to be jealous for the word of God, for his truth.
Are you one of the faithful men of our day to whom the message of truth has been entrusted? If so, you are responsible for protecting the saints from false teachers, myths, error, man’s craftiness, and the world’s sinfulness by equipping them to protect themselves. The call is to bring the saints to full maturity, ‘to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.’ Only in this way can the church be united in, ‘the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.’
Reachout Trust is an aid to that work of equipping, and stands with every church, every leader whose aim and purpose is biblical faithfulness to this call: Meat not milk, mature not infants, this not that.