by Mike Ratliff
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34 ESV)
For as long as I can remember, I have heard stressed in our churches that peace and coexistence must be sought above all. We must not do anything to offend anyone. The one and only church discipline event that I have witnessed came as a complete surprise to most of the congregation. An adulterous husband was cast out of the church because he would not repent by returning to his family. This event brought to light in my heart that there is a gray area that contains both the necessity of seeking peace and fellowship within the body of Christ and the fact that we must not allow doctrinal truths to become diluted with the poison of compromise.
The man who would not repent and return to his wife defied the godly men who confronted him with biblical truths. I am sure he never expected those deacons to physically stand in the gap in his presence telling him that he had sinned against God by doing what he had done. I remember admiring the courage of those men who would not compromise with God’s truth for the sake of peaceful coexistence in our church. The case was brought before the whole body after all other overtures to the man was exhausted. The biblical model for church discipline was used precisely. When the case came before the church, the vote to expel the man from our membership was unanimous. The actions of those brave men followed the pattern for church discipline from Jesus’ own words.
“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. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17 ESV)
Over the ensuing years, I have shared this event with several Christian friends that I worked with. I have been amazed every time by their reactions. Every one of these believers was aghast that we had done that. In varying degrees, they let it be known that their church would never do such a thing because it might offend someone. The concept of compromising the truth to eliminate the possibility of offending anyone is Humanistic to the core. It has no place in the body of Christ. I am not saying we should become uncaring and blunt in our approach to resolve non-theological differences in the body. That is a different issue from this discussion.
I read an article on a website the other day which proclaimed to be Southern Baptist and anti-Calvinistic. I found an article on that site that offended me to the core. I wanted to write a comment to let them know how wrong they were, but I didn’t because God calmed me down. The writer wrote how his church had fired one of its associate pastors because he was teaching election with full adherence to the doctrines of grace. He was using the Baptist Confession of Faith from 1689 as his model. The writer went through each of the five points of Calvinism, attacking and misrepresenting each one with total disregard for their biblical basis. He then went into a rant about Augustine and John Calvin. None of his facts was correct. Everything came from an emotional defense of “that is not how Baptists believe.” There was no scriptural exegesis at all. He shared that he confronted the fired pastor as he was leaving the church. He admonished him for teaching “heresy” that had “offended” many of his students causing confusion and doubt. The pastor meekly responded that he had nothing to repent of because he was simply preaching the truth. The writer then asked the man about his two small children. What about their salvation? The former pastor simply responded that he prayed they would be “chosen” every day. The writer then responded with an emphatic, “Incredible!”
The scripture I placed at the top of this paper is Jesus’ own words about the effect of preaching and teaching His truth. He said that he did not come to bring peace to the earth, but a sword. I have always interpreted that as speaking of what the Gospel would do when presented to groups of people. Here is the passage in context.
“So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” (Matthew 10:32-40 ESV)
The context of this passage is that believers must be loyal, obedient, and faithful to the Lord’s calling no matter who is offended by it. Those who are offended may resort to persecution in their rage, however, Jesus was telling His disciples and us that we must put God first in all things no matter the cost.
The reason I am writing this piece is to reveal my own experience with this. It happened to me this last Sunday as I taught my class. This quarter, we are studying the sovereignty of God based on a book by Ray Pritchard titled, He’s God and We’re Not. I was excited about the study. I mean, the sovereignty of God is where I live. My whole ministry is based around proclaiming His sovereignty to all believers so they will repent and turn their hearts back to Him. No matter what I am teaching, I always do so in light of God’s sovereignty. To my surprise, there are people who don’t care for that subject at all.
This last Sunday was a holiday weekend since Martin Luther King Day was Monday. My class was about half full since many of my regulars were out of town. Surprisingly, two men showed up who are not regulars. I see one of them about once every couple of months and the other about once in two years. I did not even remember the name of the second person.
I started teaching. About halfway through the lesson someone asked a question about election. I had not mentioned it all. The lesson was about the fact that God does not need us, but we desperately need Him. I geared my lesson around the necessity of God’s efficacious grace in our salvation. In response to the question, I read Ephesians 1:3-12 then related that to the purpose of God’s election and the glorious result. That started the firestorm. The two men took turns blasting everything I said. They got louder and louder. It got to the point where the one who hardly ever shows up was deliberately talking so no one could hear me. I stopped trying to explain that passage. I simply read John 6:44 then tied it back to Romans 8:29-30. Then they got louder. Three other people in the class were staring at the floor shaking their heads. People were peeking around the corner of our wall to see what was causing all of the fuss. I then moved to Romans 9. I read verses 10-24 pausing after each clear statement to give clarification. I answered all of their questions despite the clamor. By the time I got to the end of that passage, they were nearly screaming at me. When I ended by saying we do not elect God He elects us, I thought they were going to attack me.
The essence of the argument from the man who I see occasionally was that what I was teaching obliterated the need to preach the gospel and made them all to be puppets. I told him that he was not a puppet, but was clay in the hands of the potter. (Romans 9:20) I tried to explain to the class that their insistence that we must “decide for Christ” was well and good, but was impossible in light of Romans 3:10-18. God must extend His efficacious grace first so the sinner is Born Again, then he or she can repent and believe. That did it. I really thought that fellow I had not seen a couple of years was going to try to knock me down.
Fortunately, one of my regulars shouted for quiet. Then she prayed for peace then we dismissed the class. I was devastated. After church, I was walking to my car. Those two were standing in the parking lot talking. I walked up to them. They looked at me then snickered and walked away. I felt like a worm. I have been carrying the emotions from this encounter all week.
I am working on a new book entitled, Judge Not. It deals with the believer walking through each day in a non-judgmental attitude by using self-evaluation to enhance humility and mortify pride. Well, I sure felt like a failure after that fiasco. I resented their rudeness and their attitude that I did not have the authority to teach what I taught. Therefore, perhaps I am struggling a bit with pride in this case. However, God has shown me that what happened was the result of presenting His truth to people who have no desire to submit to His sovereignty. The “Free Will” bunch is in the grips of a deadly heresy. They believe salvation comes totally through decisions for Christ. The Bible clearly teaches the opposite. In fact, there is no “proof text” from the Bible that they attempt to use to counter the doctrines of grace that can stand against proper exegesis.
Neither of the two men I encountered had their Bibles with them. Neither could quote any scripture in defense of their position. They accused me of teaching what men say instead of what the Bible says. However, all of what I taught was directly from scripture. All of their points were based on cultural, philosophical and emotional points. The most belligerent one told me he had proved that what I taught was wrong and he had it all in his Bible that he had left at home. I gently told him that he didn’t want to confront me with that because I could prove each of his points wrong using proper exegesis along with Hebrew and Greek word studies. He told me that he didn’t believe in any of that. He simply read the Bible for himself and listened to no one else. I guess I found out about that didn’t I?
When I shared what happened with my wife she told me that neither of those fellows were very mature. In fact, she had discerned that the second fellow was probably not a Christian at all. Her spiritual discernment is very precise and I depend upon her insights quite a bit. After this discussion, I asked God if I should share this. He lead me to Matthew 10:32-40. I started writing this article to show how the deceived will not accept the truth if it threatens their comfort zones in any way. After I started writing, God convinced me to share my horrible Sunday with you. One very positive outcome from this experience has been an extremely heightened sense of God’s presence. It has been sweet. I have prayed for wisdom. I have prayed that God would forgive those two fellows. I have prayed for God to give me the ability to forgive them as well. I have prayed that God would open their hearts to the truth and that they will repent.
Please pray that I will not compromise with God’s truth, no matter whom it offends.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.