I never cease to be amazed by people. But one area that really concerns me is how many professed Christians willingly tie themselves to people and figures that, if they would stop and think about it, they probably don’t really want to be associated with. This is a whole lot like the attitudes of many churches (and their leaders)!
Among more conservative denominations, there is a practice that is seriously frowned on called “pulpit affiliation”. It took me some time to finally grasp what was meant (since few would actually even explain it to me), but basically – it is the practice of some congregations to let anyone speak/teach/preach in their church. The reason many conservative churches deny such “affiliation” should be pretty obvious – if they invite in someone of a different faith, who then uses that opportunity to speak/preach/teach something unscriptural or even a blatant heresy – who does it reflect upon, much less what damage could be done.
I have heard some argue that the refusal to allow ministers from other faiths to speak in your church is nothing but denominational or religious pride. I won’t deny that this hasn’t happened (particularly when the denial is not based on beliefs, doctrines, or scripturally-soundness of a speaker, but because they come from a “competing” denomination (I could imagine this happening between the association I am a pastor within (BMA) and a preacher from an ABA church (from which the BMA split in 1950).
Do I, as a church pastor, subject the congregation (flock) that the Lord has entrusted to my care and leadership to possible heresies? Yes, some of my congregation have the spiritual maturity to recognize false teachings and to “tune them out”, but others (as is the case in most congregations) lack that maturity.
But in ways possibly more damaging, what does it say about this church if I/we were to invite in known heretics? Are we not defiling the church not only by allowing them in, but to proclaim to the world “this guy (or woman) is great and trustworthy”? I believe this is one of the ideas behind Paul’s writing in Ephesians 5:11
“Take no part in the <span class="crossreference" style="font-weight: bold; vertical-align: top;" value="(B)”>unfruitful <span class="crossreference" style="font-weight: bold; vertical-align: top;" value="(C)”>works of darkness,but instead <span class="crossreference" style="font-weight: bold; vertical-align: top;" value="(D)”>expose them.”
This is the debate going on right now regarding several “Christian Leaders” who have been long-considered “conservative, solid teachers and preachers”, who – for whatever reason, begin to associate with known false teachers who practice some pretty major heresies in their own ministries. This brings about what I believe are legitimate questions. One such example is the associations between Francis Chan (author of Crazy Love, Forgotten God, both of which I have read and thoroughly enjoyed and learned a great deal from) and Mike Bickle of IHOP (International House of Prayer.… not the restaurant chain). Yet Bickle invited Chan to speak at one of his Onething Conferences. Some have berated Chan for accepting and speaking – thus tying himself and reputation to that group that many believe (I believe rightly so) is dangerous and even heretical. Others defend Chan as taking an opportunity to speak truth to those who might be otherwise not fed the truth. I fell into this latter category, until Chan “endorsed” Bickle. (I was hesitant to insert that last link, as the organization represented – Apprising Ministries isn’t without questions.)
Yes, we can learn from those who may “miss the mark” from time-to-time – after all, as sinners – we all “miss the mark”. BUT – some tend to miss the mark more often than they hit it, which brings us back to who we associate ourselves with. We have looked at church association, using pulpit affiliation as the example. But what about individual Christians?
With the growth of social media, we now have access to massive volumes of quotes, statements, blogs, and other resources. It gets quite easy to “post” links and quotes that sound good. But unfortunately, on a personal level, we do the same thing as a church inviting in a wolf to preach to the flock… Oh – how many reposts of quotes from very well-known “Prosperity Gospel” (name-it, claim it, “Jesus died to make you rich if you just have enough faith…and give to my cause) leaders. These well-meaning Christians post and repost quotes from the Joel Osteen (one of the biggest of the popular heretics), Joyce Meyer (mixed bag of Prosperity Gospel and charismatic teachings being just the beginning), and many more. Would these otherwise good “Christians” ever even think about going to a church to sit under the “teaching” of such people – I would hope and pray not – but they will gladly pass on for all to see a quote that sounds good (even a stopped clock is right twice a day!). Ladies and Gentlemen – this is exactly how cults lure in followers! They feed you just enough “truth” to make it sound good… It is much like the Genesis account of the original sin – When Satan tempted Eve – he ALMOST quoted God exactly… just adding one “little” word… you will not surely die (Genesis3:4 – compare that to Genesis 2:17).
Now – do not get me wrong – there are some good, solid Bible teachers and preachers out there that hold certain relatively “minor” differences of views (you can find that within the walls of many local churches) when it comes to the less clear areas of biblical thought. I am not referring to that (on any given day, you will find these kinds of differences within similarly educated men who pastor churches in the same denomination). I am referring those who hold major doctrinal differences (such as mode of salvation, purpose and meaning of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, reliability of scripture, the identity of Jesus Christ, or even the message of the Gospel itself!). Indeed – we get into trouble any time our spiritual heart focuses more on a person than on the Person and Power of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:12-13).
But do we really want (should we) associate ourselves with heretics and the blatant false-teachers? I invite you to again refer to Ephesians 5:11. Let us not put stumbling blocks before those who are less mature, and most certainly not before unbelievers.