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Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. -- Roman 16: 17 (KJV)
He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. - Titus 1: 9 (ESV)
As always it seems, there is much confusion in the body of Christ regarding what our responsibilities are when dealing with false teaching. There really should not be, as the Bible is replete with instruction but the hard, cold reality is that we like our false teachers. We like their style and wordsmanship. We like their excess. We like how their messages seem to scratch us right where we itch. Who wouldn't like Joseph Prince and his false gospel of not caring about sin? Who wouldn't like Joel Osteen's million dollar smile and Gospel that says you can have everything your greedy little heart desires. Who wouldn't like the oohs and ahhs of the false signs and lying wonders network such as Bethel Church and IHOP? Who wouldn't like the word faith beliefs that we are little gods and Rick Warren's heresy that God has planned a magnificent purpose for you before the foundations of the world? The list goes on and on but the point is made. The reason why Osteen can pack 50,000 people into an arena each week is not the blessing of God but rather His judgment upon a world that does not want Him but in His name will pursue everything their wicked hearts desire.
Yet it seems whenever something comes to light regarding one of these false teachers there are the defenders who spring into action to prop up their heroes and twist the Bible in order to do so. I received a message today that is all too familiar, suggesting that I should reach out the false teachers, discuss the issues I have with them, and pray for their restoration if they have fallen, such as we saw with Perry Noble this week. They usually try to leverage the Matthew 18 verses about resolving problems between each other:
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. -- Matthew 18: 15 (ESV)
This is the start of that series of verses. The foundation is simple and has two predicates that must be met in order to apply it. First it must be my brother. Secondly, he must sin against me personally. False teachers do not sin against me personally. Their sins are against God and the body of Christ as a whole. I have had local pastors who have sinned against me personally and I have tried to resolve those issues according to these Matthew verses. Perry Noble's personal indiscretions with alcohol are not sins against me. Joel Osteen mangling the Bible to preach self-help is not a sin against me. Joseph Prince leading untold thousands to hell by never addressing their need to repent is not a sin against me. Rick Warren destroying the biblical design of the church is not a sin against me.
Secondly however, and more to the point, these are not my brothers beloved. They are not your brothers either. The wolf is not a brother to the sheep. There is only one thing a wolf seeks to do to sheep and that is slaughter them. Maybe not intentionally when it comes to false teachers but that will be of little comfort for the people who will stand before Christ and hear, "I never knew you!" Everyone feels badly for Perry Noble because we have a collective humanity. We know the damage alcohol abuse can inflict upon people and their families. We should pray that Perry recover as a person, not as a minister. I say that because as a minister he was a wolf. He is not my brother. He was slaughtering my brothers and sisters. This is someone who recently tried to rewrite the Ten Commandments! To make them more palatable for unbelievers! This is someone who referred to those in his church who wanted to go deeper in the Word as "jackasses"; during a sermon! This is not my brother beloved. This is not your brother. He used worship time to have his band play "Highway to Hell" and Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball." Jesus made it very clear who we are to consider our brother:
While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." -- Matthew 12: 46-50 (ESV)
One cannot objectively look at the ministry of Perry Noble and think he was doing to will of the Father. The Father would never say, "Try Jesus out for 90 days" as Noble did in his "tithing challenge." He would never demean the sheep, refer to them in a derogatory manner, or lead them down the broad path that leads only to destruction. These things are not caught up in some shades of grey. They are black and white beloved. They are easy to discern if we are willing to see and hear the truth.
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. -- Matthew 7: 15-20 (ESV)
Ironically, Christians often misuse these verses by applying them to everyday situations and people. They are meant in context to be applied to false teachers and prophets. The secondary misuse is to apply carnal success to fruits. So someone like Noble, who grew a church from 8 people to 30,000, is viewed as having "fruit" when nothing could be further from the truth. God does not use carnal metrics to measure eternal success. This is one of the lies sold by the Purpose Driven Church movement. If you pastor a church with 200 people who are going to heaven and someone else has 50,000 with 90% going to hell, who is doing the will of the Lord? Who has the real fruit? The Gospel of Mark has a short story that sums this up nicely:
On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And his disciples heard it. -- Mark 11: 12-14 (ESV)
I remember when I first read this after being saved, I did not get it. The key is that the fig tree was "in leaf." This is the sign that there is indeed fruit and then when Jesus comes to it, there is none. It is the illusion of fruit that Caused Jesus to curse the tree. Likewise, as pastors there is real fruit and then there is the appearance of it. Perry Noble had plenty of leaves but no fruit. The verses from Matthew 7 are clear. There is no middle ground. A good tree cannot call its sheep jackasses. A good tree cannot attempt to rewrite the Ten Commandments. A good tree would not have distasteful secular songs during corporate worship. Only a diseased tree can. Only a tree that is all leaves and no fruit. They come to us in sheep's clothing beloved. By the way, we are speaking about a track record of false doctrine. Anyone can say something wrong. Anyone can have a hole in their theology. That is not what we are speaking about. If one of these instances were all that was on the record of Perry Noble, then we are not having this conversation. These are not the outliers. This was his ministry. He is one in a long line of young gun pastors who were sold on the Purpose Driven Church model that allows him to do whatever he wants and consider doctrine secondary. He is on record as publicly praising Rick Warren and the Purpose Driven Church. Try to seem cool and relevant. Mix the church with the world. Entertain instead of exhort. Do pre-fabricated altar calls with 3 sentence "sinners' prayers" and then add them to you're the pretty leaves covering up the fact that you actually have no doctrinal fruit to speak of. Let us never lose sight of this fact beloved:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. -- Romans 1: 16 (ESV)
ONLY the Gospel has the power to save anyone. Not our preaching style. Not our snazzy theatrics and snappy light shows. Not our marketing schemes and humanistic logic. Not even our deepest sincerity. If we are not preaching the Gospel, no one gets saved. Can someone come to the Lord without church? Absolutely but someone, somewhere preached the Gospel to them. Not singing Wrecking Ball to them. So do we pray for Perry Noble? As a fellow human being we ought to pray that he is able to face the demons he is struggling with. We also should pray that he comes to penitent faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his sins, especially those he has committed against the body of Christ. Christians in these scenarios often pray for restoration of ministry because we want him to get back to scratching our itching ears. That is something we should not be praying for because a diseased tree cannot bear good fruit. It always amazes me that people who consider themselves Christians are more concerned about the lone wolf than the sheep in the sheep pen. I chose two key verses for today that speak directly to our responsibilities regarding those who would bring in destructive heresies into the body of Christ. First we have a verse from Romans that speaks to the responsibility we all have as brothers and sisters. The second verse from Titus is a specific charge to those who are in church leadership.