Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Shepherds, Wolves, and the Internet

 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works. II John 1:10-11
What the ESV translates as "take part in" is the Greek work koineneo. It means to be in communion with someone. We are not to allow a heretical false teacher into our churches or into homes. We are not to greet them. We are not show them hospitality. They are to be rejected. We are not to support them in any way. If we do support them we participate in their wicked deeds by helping them to spread their deceit.

As I studied this passage, I reflected on how to apply these verses in our internet age. Last week I linked to a book written by a man promoting the heresy that homosexuality is fine for Christians. I then went to Pastor Doug Wilson's blog and found that he mentioned the book, but refused to link to it. That made me stop and think. The Bayly Brothers refuse to link to Rachel Held Evans because she a teacher of lies. They will interact with her, but will not lead their sheep to the wolf. Should we link to blogs and books of heretics and liars? Is that a violation of John's command? Then we get Glenn Beck, a man who denies most of what John teaches in his epistles, speaking at Liberty, a conservative Christian university. How much did Glenn Beck get to speak at Liberty? Will his fee be used to promote the heresy of Mormonism? A while back T.D. Jakes, a denier of the Trinity, was invited to be on the Elephant Room. John would not approve of either of these arrangements. 

I have not sorted this all out, but I did come to a couple of conclusions based on reading John's command in II John 1:10-11.

First, we must determine what is heresy and what is not. Sometimes this is easy. A Mormon is not a Christian, no matter how popular. Sometimes this is not so easy. Does a denial of the infallibility of the Scriptures make you a heretic? Is a semi-pelagian a heretic? The reason this is hard is because false shepherds thrive in ambiguity. They love blurred lines.They do not see themselves as false shepherds. They will do everything they can to fight the label. But faithful pastors must work hard to know when a teacher has crossed a line in either doctrine or practice. Some would argue that the Creeds (Apostles' and Nicene) are sufficient to determine heresy. But this facile. A man who teaches that homosexuality is fine for Christians can hold to the Creeds.  A man can hold to the Creeds and believe the Holy Spirit is a woman or that unbelievers don't go to Hell. The Roman Catholic, Anglican, and many Presbyterian churches are good examples of how heresy can take root even when the Creeds are believed and recited. Men can claim the Creeds and still be heretics. Creeds can help us define the broad contours of orthodoxy, but they are not sufficient because men have hearts that want to claim orthodoxy and still cling to their idols. 

Second, we must determine if someone is a wayward sheep or a false shepherd. Sheep need to be warned and protected. False shepherds (wolves) need to be driven away or shot. A failure to make this distinction has often led to wolves getting away easy and sheep being beaten to death. I admit this line is blurry when anyone can get their name in lights because of the internet. In our age it does not take long for a wayward sheep to become a false shepherd. Still, pastors need to distinguish between the two groups.Who counts as a teacher is another question we must ask. I am an ordained minister in the CREC who went through examinations and was approved by a group of pastors and by my presbytery. That does not automatically make me orthodox, but it does make me an official teacher in the CREC. But what about someone who got their pastoral license for $25 online? Or what about the man whose only qualification to teach is that he has email address and therefore he can have a blog? There are many who blog, do pod-casts, speak, and write who are not official teachers. They would even claim they are not teachers. Does that mean that we can ignore them because they aren't official or ordained? This is folly and cowardice. Someone does not have to be an "official" teacher to fall under John's condemnation.

Third, true shepherds need to do everything we can to not expose our sheep to wolves. As shepherds we need to understand the lies the false teachers peddle and openly rebuke those lies while also making sure that our sheep are not being driven to their teeth. It is hard to imagine John encouraging the congregation to read all the books the false teachers had written and deciding for themselves what was true or not. Or sending his congregation to a blog where lies masquerade as truths. Or paying false teachers money so they could be at a conference. This is not easy in our Internet age, but as true shepherds we need to make sure we are not inadvertently promoting the wolves.  

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Let the saints be joyful in glory, let them sing aloud on their beds, let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations, and punishments on the peoples; to bind the kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron. Psalm 149:5-8