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Defend the Flock




In Acts 20:29, Paul warns the Ephesian elders that savage wolves will come and devour the flock. In his last words to the Ephesian elders, Paul tells them that wicked men will come in and lead disciples astray. In his first letter to Timothy, the first exhortation is that Timothy is to charge certain men to teach no other doctrine. Among Paul's primary concerns is the defense of Biblical truth. In our previous article and podcast series, we've looked at Text-Driven Soul-Winning (bringing people into the flock) and Text-Driven Discipleship (shepherding of the sheep). In our new series "Threats to the Church," we will address defending those sheep. In each article and podcast episode, a vital truth of Scripture will be defended, or a destructive error will be exposed. To begin this series, this article intends to explain what it means to defend the flock.


No Safe Falsehoods

If you've ever had a loved one suffer from a less lethal cancer, you've probably heard someone say, "That's the good kind of cancer." Not to mention the emotional damage done to the sufferer by the statement, the concept is incoherent. Cancer, by definition, cannot be good. Cancer is destructive. We can identify the treatability of each cancer, but we cannot say that any is "good."


The same is true of falsehood. Many justify falsehood by referring to it as "secondary" or "tertiary." Ultimately, what's being said is, "That's the good kind of falsehood." Those who hold to such a concept fail to recognize that every falsehood destroys. Every falsehood harms. Every falsehood is cancerous to the flock.


There are no acceptable or safe falsehoods. Psalm 119:160 says that the entirety of God's word is true, and every righteous judgment of God endures forever. In the context of the law of God, the Psalmist elevates the importance of the minute details of the Tabernacle to be on par with the Ten Commandments. An error in the details of the Tabernacle would be destructive, just like disobedience to the Ten Commandments would be destructive. To move that to modern doctrinal categories, errors of eschatology and errors of Christology are both destructive. We know this to be true because Paul's harsh command in 2 Thessalonians 3:14 to separate from those who deny what he wrote was in the context of eschatology. Whether one denies the reality of the millennial kingdom in Revelation 20 or denies the full divinity of Christ, both lead to destruction. There are no safe falsehoods.


The reason defending the flock must begin with this understanding is to remove our personal subjectivity. When we approach Scripture, we often find certain things more interesting and place upon them a greater degree of importance. Our personal whims and feelings determine if we'll treat a falsehood as "safe" or not. As addressed in a previous article on the inerrancy of Scripture (https://www.textdriven.org/post/what-is-the-bible-the-inerrancy-of-scripture), there are no parts of Scripture that err and deny the truth of Scripture anywhere is to deny it everywhere. Our starting point in defending the flock is never "How do I feel about this belief?" nor the far worse and more prevalent starting point, "Is this worth dealing with?" Our starting point in defending the flock is, "Does this deny what Scripture says?" If the answer is yes, we must defend the flock from it.

 

The Destruction Spectrum

Knowing that all falsehoods are destructive, we can determine how each is destructive. While it would be foolish to say diabetes isn't dangerous because people driving 150 mph is dangerous, it would also be foolish to say these two are dangerous in the same way. The latter is immediately destructive, whereas the former is long-term destructive. We can also put many other things on the spectrum between immediately destructive and long-term destructive.


Falsehoods can be similarly put on this spectrum. On one end of the spectrum, some falsehoods will immediately destroy a church. Early in Christian history, a crisis arose where certain men taught that Jesus was not God but a created being. This falsehood was quickly destructive. The churches that held to this belief immediately lost the gospel message. Any falsehood that denies the basic tenets of the gospel message is always quickly destructive. Yet, those aren't the only falsehoods that are quickly destructive. False beliefs about baptism are also quickly destructive, as they change the nature of a church. Societies that adopt pedobaptism cease to be churches because their membership includes those who have not professed belief in Christ. These falsehoods, upon being accepted, are instantaneously destructive. To defend the flock is to treat these kinds of threats with the quickness it warrants. Paul's example of handling these kinds of threats is found in 1 Timothy 1:20, where he handed over Hymenaeus and Alexander to Satan because they had shipwrecked their faith.


On the other end of the spectrum, some falsehoods are destructive in the long term. These falsehoods typically appear small, but the entailment of the falsehood leads to more error. For example, an early, unformed belief that deacons have spiritual authority in a church in the short term won't often lead to the immediate destruction of a church, but multiple generations of the belief will lead a church to a place where the church is upside down. On the other end of the spectrum, those people are sprinting away from the truth, while on this end of the spectrum, people are wandering away from the truth. James's command in James 5:19-20 is to turn them back, and in doing so, you're saving them from destruction. Turning someone back is often a process of teaching and discipleship coupled with great patience and care. To defend the flock from these kinds of errors, start the process of graciously turning someone back from the falsehood.


Between these two poles would be falsehoods that are quickly destructive but not immediately destructive. The falsehoods that fall in the middle of the spectrum tend to engulf people's personalities. The person who believes the falsehood cannot stop talking about it. The actual belief could be more on the long-term destructive end of the spectrum, but the ardency of the person who holds to the belief increases the speed of the destruction. In 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15, Paul prescribes the manner to deal with these falsehoods. It may be necessary for this person to be separated from the rest of the flock, but Paul is clear that they are to be admonished like a brother, not treated like an enemy. To defend the flock from these kinds of errors, admonish the brother and separate him from the rest of the sheep.


Conclusion

The vast variety of falsehoods precludes any more precision than what was given. The two-fold approach of determining if the belief is false according to Scripture and then determining how quickly it is destructive and matching the speed of defense to that will defend the flock from immediate and long-term danger. To be clear, there is never an option to ignore falsehood. Great wisdom is necessary in properly placing the speed of destruction for each falsehood, but only foolish cowards will choose to ignore the falsehood.





Written by Klayton Carson


The "Threats to the Church" series is also on the Text-Driven Podcast. You can listen to the Text-Driven Podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or at www.textdriven.org/podcasts. New episodes are released every Monday, just in time for your morning commute.


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