One of the biggest challenges we face as Christians these days is this: Which issues of our faith can we have respectful disagreements on and which should cause a break in fellowship? This is an issue that I think begs a lot of prayer and thought.
There certainly is Biblical precedent and teaching to break fellowship with professing Christians. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul tells the church to expel the man steeped in sexual immorality and to not tolerate that sin within the church. The same Paul publicly confronted Peter in Antioch because he “stood condemned” over Peter’s hypocrisy regarding his behavior around Jews as opposed to Gentiles.
Jesus Himself publicly chastised the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, telling people to do what they teach but not what they do. And the writings of Peter, John and Jude warn us to be watchful over professing Christians who seek to divide the church with teachings of heresy.
The whole issue of should Christians judge one another is an important one that must be approached with humility. The verse many quote to support their claim that Christians should never judge one another is Matthew 7:1:
“Judge not, that you be not judged.”
But as we all should know, taking one verse of scripture out of context and building an entire theology around it is very dangerous. So what does Jesus go on to say immediately after? Matthew 7:2-5:
“For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
Jesus is not telling believers we shouldn’t judge other believers—he is telling us to be very careful how to judge other professing believers. We do it to help them, never with pride just to show how much holier we are. We are not to judge the heart of a professing believer—but we are to judge the fruit and behaviors of their lives, challenging them when we see those behaviors contradicting the scriptures.
It is abundantly clear in the scriptures that believers are to confront other believers when we see beliefs or behaviors that contradict what the Christian life is supposed to look like. But we must always do it under the following conditions:
First, with a heart to help, not condemn the professing believer. Our motive must be love, not self-righteousness.
Second, it must be done with humility, recognizing all of us fall short of the glory of God.
And third, if we confront a believer in their sin we must make sure we do not suffer from the same sin—that we have either conquered that sin by grace or that we acknowledge we struggle with the same sin. To do otherwise is to brand ourselves a hypocrite.
So as Christians we must always act in humility, understanding our own sins, and have the goal of helping another who is sinning, not condemning them so we feel superior.
But just how do we discern when a professing believer is in error and needs correction? What is the criteria we should use to determine if a professing believer is falling into apostasy and should be avoided or censured? I confess to you that I do not have the perfect answer. But I would like to point out a faulty criteria used by many that is leading to all sorts of problems as we discern who to accept and who to censure.
Many ministries have the stated public policy that if a speaker or presenter wants to be brought in that they must agree with “The Apostles’ Creed.” Now understand this “creed” is not in the Bible per se, but it does summarize some of the foundational beliefs of the Christian faith. Here it is:
1. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:
2. And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:
3. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:
4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:
5. The third day he rose again from the dead:
6. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:
7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:
8. I believe in the Holy Ghost:
9. I believe in the holy catholic (universal) church: the communion of saints:
10. The forgiveness of sins:
1l. The resurrection of the body:
12. And the life everlasting. Amen.
These are certainly fundamental beliefs of our Christian faith—but these beliefs alone do not guarantee us eternal life with God. After all, there is not one of these facts laid out in the Apostles’ Creed that Satan does not know is fact.
Satan knows God exists; he knows Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died for the sins of the world. He knows Jesus was raised from the dead and will one day judge all men.
See, knowing or believing these things alone is not what the Christian life is all about. The Christian life is about acknowledging and submitting to Jesus Christ as Lord of all things, including our lives—and that is where Satan falls short and will be condemned. And where many professing Christians will sadly hear the words “Away from me you evildoers, I never knew you” that will be spoken by Jesus Christ at the Day of Judgment.
A person can agree with the facts of The Apostles’ Creed and yet not have saving grace through Jesus Christ. It is not important that we simply believe Jesus exists—we must have unwavering faith in His nature and everlasting truth as expressed in the Word of God.
Jesus said He is the way, the truth and the life. He is not ignorant about anything and cannot lie as some have recently suggested. But there is a growing segment of progressive Christianity that is being blinded by the enemy to the complete truth of Jesus Christ. They are modern day Gnostics who believe the truth of the scriptures is insufficient and that God must be experienced on a mystical level to be completely understood. This is a clever deception of Satan and is leading many astray. Satan is blinding them to the pure, simple truth of God manifested in His eternal Word. They are the people Jesus talked about in Matthew 13:13-15 when He said:
“This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.” For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’”
Biblical Christianity is not about facts. It is not about feelings. It is about truth. Satan accepts everything in the Apostles’ Creed as facts—but he refuses to accept the truth about Jesus Christ. And to assume someone is a committed believer just because he agrees with the facts stated in The Apostles’ Creed is to in essence say Satan is a believer.
I don’t have the perfect solution to the dilemmas we face. When do we break fellowship? Which teachings of the Bible are not open to interpretation and disagreement? But this much I do know: The cancer of progressive Christianity is growing and many, particularly our young, are succumbing to its seduction. God is continually being framed as a God who is unique to each person—and that we can choose our own version of morality and stay safe in the saving grace that Jesus offers through Him. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
One more thing we are taught in the Bible. While we are to judge the fruits and beliefs of professing believers, we are never to judge their hearts. God and God alone knows, and is qualified, to judge the heart of every man. Having said that, have you noticed just how many times progressive Christians will state “Well I know his heart” when they are confronted with the deception taught by people like Rob Bell and others?
So we as fundamentalists are chastised for being judgmental but the progressives themselves are the ones who presume to sit in the judgment throne of God, claiming to know the heart of people like Rob Bell, Oprah Winfrey or Michael Gungor.
The issue on when to publicly rebuke a professing believer—or when to break fellowship with them—is a difficult one. And we should always stand on the side of caution, hoping to persuade rather than condemn others. But the trend these days is just to accept people at their word that they are committed believers without ever looking at their fruit and testing their beliefs and actions against the Word of God. This is dangerous and harmful to people who are being seduced by Satan into a false sense of “Christianity”.
We face incredible uncertainty in this world in the days ahead. A great falling away from the faith; the rise of Islam and Chrislam, and blatant humanism being shoved down the throats of our children. Add to all this, a growing illiteracy and lack of understanding of the Word of God within the church and you have a recipe for disaster.
The Path to eternal life is narrow and few find it—Jesus’ words, not mine. Do we love one another enough to challenge each other when we see someone straying from that narrow path? Or have we become so lukewarm in our faith and politically correct that we will let them fall into the eternal abyss?
One of the most loving things we can do is to confront a professing believer in truth and love when we see them straying from the teachings of the Word of God. But one of the most hateful things we can do is just turn a blind eye to their error, accepting them because we claim to “know their heart”.
In Matthew 15:18 Jesus said what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart. So what we believe, what we say and what we do is a direct effect of what is in our heart. Let’s think about that the next time we discount the words of a false teacher by claiming we “know his heart”.