By Larry Ray Hafley
The chart on the next page introduces our theme. Our purpose in this article is expressed in these words, “But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off occasion from them which desire occasion” (2 Cor. 11:12). Shadowy shoals of shame will shipwreck faith; unrevealed reefs will wreck redemption’s ark of safety. It is imperative, therefore, that we understand the nature, method and character of the evil “which doth so easily beset us.” We must “cut off ” opportunities to them who seek “occasion” against the truth.
Lincoln asked his cabinet, “If you call a sheep’s tail a leg, how many legs does a sheep have?” “Five,” they replied. “No,” said the president, “calling a sheep’s tail a leg does not make it a leg. A sheep has four legs.”
Calling a wolf a sheep does not make him a sheep. “Beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matt. 7:15). Outer clothing does not change the inner being. From among the eldership, from within the church, “shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 28:29,30). “But there were false prophets also among the people (God’s people in the Old Testament), even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies” (2 Pet. 2:1).
Paul knew the problem by personal experience. “And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage” (Gal. 2:4). Secret, sinister subterfuge was employed. These men were not obvious in appearance; their demeanor did not declare them to be what they really were. “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. (Ask yourself how an apostle of Christ would appear, how he would present himself.) And no marvel (this should not be amazing to you); for Satan himself is trans-formed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:13-15).
Our Lord was confronted by the same deceit. “And they watched him, and sent forth spies, which should feign themselves just men, that they might take hold of his words, that so they might deliver him unto the power and authority of the governor” (Lk. 20:20). “This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him” (Jn. 8:6).
We all know the things described above are true. We, too, may have had experience with such wolves in sheep’s clothing. We learned it, though, too late. After the damage was done, we saw their true nature. Success against a wolf can be attained only when we expose him before he deals out death and destruction. This is one of the goals of this series of articles. Examine the teeth of those who bleat out complaints and criticism against the church of the Lord.
Merely “Raising Concerns”
The wolf in sheep’s clothing will profess his love for the truth. He will resent your questioning of his soundness. He will tell you that he is “merely raising some concerns that have troubled me for a long time.” He will assure you that his intentions are pure, that he only has “the best interest of the church at heart.” He will speak of our “misguided emphasis,” saying that our preaching is “out of focus,” and that he seeks to find ways that may “fine tune” our “approach.” He will speak of “our archaic, out-dated methods.” He will praise, subtly, “some of the things” he has seen that “have worked” in “other churches” (by “other churches,” he means liberals and the denominations).
The critic, the sheep, the wolf (they are all one and the same), will cite some examples of some things that have “troubled” him. He will bring up an extreme situation, a radical case. He will wrest it out of context if he has to, in order to make a favorable impression. You are expected to nod and support him, and, of course, you will, for you are certainly not in favor of “driving people away.”
What he says will be portrayed as being “typical of us.” For example: (1) “You know, we have carried our opposition to gymnasiums and kitchens a little too far. Why, I heard of a church that had a member who was a diabetic. The diabetic had to eat at certain times. Since the church had a business meeting immediately following morning services, the brother with diabetes brought a sack lunch which he planned to eat so he could attend the business meeting. Did you know that those brethren wouldn’t even let the poor man eat his lunch because that would be a sin! That’s a little `far out,’ don’t you think?” Well, of course, you think it is “far out.”
Here, though, is what the wolf will never tell you. He will say that he opposes gymnasiums “and such, just like you do,” but what he will not tell you is that he seeks to restrict preaching against such things. He does not want liberalism to be specifically denounced. In a few years, unknown to the wolf himself, he will “see nothing wrong with such things,” but the evolution of his digression has not yet reached that point. “Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13). Presently, though, he is sending out signals, feelers, antennae which he hopes will attract you to his course.
(2) The pseudo-sheep does not want to hear preaching against immodest dress. He is not immoral himself, and his reputation for clean living may be beyond reproach, but his appetites and social position are leading him toward beer, beaches and bikinis. He is “uncomfortable,” he will tell you, “with our strident, judgmental condemnation” of wearing shorts and swim suits. Then he tells you “of this case I heard about. Did you know,” he says, “that there is a preacher who said that if Christians have a private swimming pool on their property that they are guilty of sin?” Again, he has taken an extreme case in order to win your sympathy. You are supposed to think, “You know, maybe our preacher is a little too hard in preaching against such things. Why, it is crazy to think that a Christian cannot own his own swimming pool.” You are hooked. You have enlisted. You “bought in.” You do not realize that it is a “package deal,” that there is more you will have to swallow, but you will be brought along and reeled in slowly. By the time you sense that there is something wrong, you will have swallowed so much and your mouth will be so full that you cannot spit it out. That is the way it works, folks (Eph. 4:14).
Critics will speak of “our traditions.” The implication is this. Baptists have their traditions. Methodists and Catholics have theirs, and “the Church of Christ” has theirs. There is a silent linking of the Lord’s church to denominationalism. And just what are some “of our traditions”? Well, there is the “oversimplified five step mentality” concerning “the plan of salvation.” The old “five finger exercise” (hold up your hand, extend your fingers and smirk): “hear, believe, repent, confess and be baptized.” “We have made that,” you will be told, “into a magic formula that is supposed to `guarantee’ salvation. We should really be telling people about `the doing and dying of Jesus’ so they won’t think that we believe that one can earn his salvation by following some precise formula that can be `ticked off’ on our fingers.” (We will have more to say about this in future articles in this series. Meanwhile, see the author’s series, “The Preaching of the Cross” [May & July, 1992], Guardian of Truth).
When you hear someone speak derogatorily of “the plan of salvation” and poke fun at the “famous five finger formula,” you may want to lift the fleece and check for dark hair beneath it. In time, given enough time, if these men pursue their present course, they will abandon their present belief that baptism is essential for salvation. Mark it down. The heavenly highway of holiness is strewn with the bleached bones of those who began by “merely voicing some concerns about some of `our’ trite traditions in the Church of Christ.”
The critic will revile “our traditional invitation song.” He will scoff at “our view that `three songs and a prayer’ somehow constitute worship.” He will refer to singing, prayer, teaching, giving and the Lord’s supper as our “traditional ritual of worship.” He will snidely, sarcastically denigrate it as he does so. He will refer to elders as “chairmen of the bored” and to a gospel preacher as an “attorney general in the Church of Christ.” He will decry the subjugation of “our women” as “second-class citizens” and express the “hope that we surely can find some useful ways to use the many talents of our fine, godly sisters,” and of how “our traditions” have unfairly excluded them from participation in business meetings. Scriptures are not cited, discussed and applied. You are supposed to hear of “these abuses in the Church of Christ “and reflect on ways to “overcome” them.
Meanwhile, “what do you think of our preacher? Do you think he has a proper grasp and insight into these problem areas? Now, don’t get me wrong; I like him, and he can really preach the Bible, but he’s from `the old school’ of `do this’ and `do that’ or else you will go to hell with everyone else. What about our elders? Do you think they know what is going on? Are they aware of the real needs of this church. We can talk some more later.”
Later, you will be invited to his den, to his lair. It will look and smell like a sheepfold. There you will meet others who “feel as we do” about some of the “concerns we talked about the other day.” It will be informal. There will be snacks, maybe even a meal. You will be given some “potentially explosive” reading material that you are to “keep to yourself for the time being.” It contains some things that others, who are less informed, would not under-stand. Perhaps some of it is a little radical, but there are some things that relate to our present concerns about “the direction this church is going.”
Make a note of this. Complainers in the church constantly and contemptuously will criticize “our traditions,” but they will rarely, if ever, speak against the “doctrines and traditions of men” perpetuated by denominationalism and liberalism (in fact, to refer to specific denominations and to “liberalism” is to “slur” people and “drive them away”). You will hear them speak against “our traditions,” but you will not hear them outline, define, discuss, reprove and rebuke “Easter” and “Christmas.” In fact, they openly resent sermons “against Christmas that offend our neighbors.” It is proper to speak against “our traditions” (no matter how steeped in Scripture they may be), but you dare not preach a sermon in the spring of the year that teaches the truth about “the Lenten season” and “Easter.” It is alright to criticize “our three songs and a prayer,” but you do not dare to preach the truth about the traditions of men that render worship void and vain (Matt. 15:8,9)!
Listen carefully, brethren, to the bleating that you are hearing and reading. Do you recognize any of the sounds and signals cited above? “And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to (you) for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written” (1 Cor. 4:6).
1. Appear Devout – 2 Cor. 11:13-15, 26
2. Profess Love of Truth – Titus 1:16
3. Merely “Raising Concerns” – 2 Pet. 2:1
4. Want Only to Correct “Misguided
Emphasis” Preaching is “Out of Focus”
Want to “Fine Tune” our Approach
5. Speak of “Our” Out-dated Methods
6. Praise for Error’s Approach, Appeal
7. Stresses a “Far Out,” Legitimate Gripe as
Being “Typical” (Ex. Sinful to have Swim Pool)
8. Critical of “Our Traditions,” But Not of
Denominational Error (Ex. “5 Step Salvation,”
Invitation Song, But Nothing Against Easter, Xmas)
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 1, p. 6-8
January 6, 1994