We’ve been talking theology here of late, and people being what they are, talk about important things like theology often leads to controversy. I’ve been involved, willingly or not, in several such controversies, and there are definite patterns, one of the more important ones being this: very often, the fight is more about the people fighting than it is about the theology they’re supposedly fighting over. This makes it very hard to find a solution, because the real problem is not even being discussed.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that the theological issue on the table will be trivial — although that often happens. In fact, this dodge works best if the issue is quite important. A weighty theological disagreement conceals unaddressed relational sins so much better than a trivial one. If the disagreement can somehow be tied to the gospel, for example, then both sides can invoke Galatians 1: 8-9 (while ignoring what Paul actually did in that instance, but that’s another post).
Now as Americans, we have the notion that everyone has a right to a voice in the discussion. Everyone should be heard; freedom of speech and the press and all that. But this is not universally true in such theological arguments, precisely because warped and sinning Christians, especially in positions of leadership, often cause division and then cover their tracks with a doctrinal difference. As much as it galls our democratic ideals, some people need to be silenced (Titus 1:10-11). They simply shouldn’t be allowed to participate in discussions of controversial issues.
People who cause division, for instance. Jesus said,
I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.
And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.
Our unity, Jesus says, is a necessary part of our gospel witness. Some people refuse to be unified, and persist in dividing the body for their own selfish ends. They will say that they’re trying to protect the gospel, but in fact their deeds are lying about Jesus and what He came to do. So if a man’s deeds lie about the gospel of grace, why in the world ought anyone to listen to what he says about the gospel?
And so the divisive, those who exhibit hatred of their brothers, and other such people simply shouldn’t be heard. A man whose life does not tell the truth about Jesus simply should not be listened to — even if he’s a pastor or a Ph.D., even if he’s a towering theologian or a great exegete, even if he’s right.
Why even if he’s right? Because “he who walks with the wise will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed.” The man may be right on paper — i.e., the propositions he would affirm are technically correct — but in a way, that only makes it worse. He is privy to the wisdom of the Word, and yet it is not profiting him, and that’s a comment on his character: “Like the legs of the lame that hang limp, so is a proverb in the mouth of fools.” You do not want bad counsel, and — trust Solomon on this — the counsel from this guy is going to have a flaw in it somewhere.
Picture yourself at the Bema Seat, answering for acting in accord with this guy’s counsel.
“But Lord, his doctrine was correct.”
“I told you not to associate with people like him.” Jesus says.
“But he was so well educated. He was right about the doctrine!”
Jesus shakes His head. “I didn’t say, ‘the companion of fools will be destroyed, unless the fools are really well educated, and right about some stuff,’ did I?”
Better just to steer clear. The ones who lack Christian character are going to be evil company no matter what their doctrinal statement says. You can’t walk in the light and walk with fools and liars at the same time.