We all understand the importance of roadside warnings while driving. Our safety often depends on the signs that line our streets and highways—especially the ones posted to inform us of potential dangers that lie ahead. Yet in the realm of pastoral ministry, there is widespread reluctance to post warnings for those traveling the narrow road to eternal life.
Tragically, the absence of those vital warnings has left the church ignorant of theological threats and susceptible to doctrinal calamity. Scripture is explicit about the dangers of false teaching; the Lord’s faithful servants must be, as well. The apostle Paul exemplified that approach in his first letter to his young pastoral apprentice, Timothy.
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. . . . In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. (1 Timothy 4:1–3, 6, emphasis added)
A servant of Christ must teach people to be discerning by encouraging them to think biblically. Identifying error is an essential aspect of pastoral ministry. When Paul met with the Ephesian elders he said,
I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:29–32)
Paul made the Ephesians aware of error and pointed them to the positive solution of the Word. The truth supplies the foundation from which we can deal with error properly.
By being firmly grounded in Scripture, Christians avoid being “children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14) First John 2:14 makes the connection between being strong in God’s Word and overcoming satanic error: “The word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” That’s the only way to fight and win against those who disguise themselves as angels of light and ministers of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:14–15).
The church’s failure to be discerning in this generation has allowed it to be infiltrated by all kinds of error. It is confused, weak, and in some cases apostate. Limp theology, convictionless preaching, and an overemphasis on tolerance have replaced strong doctrine, clear exposition of Scripture, and unambiguous stands for biblical principles. That kind of spineless preaching has produced a tragic legacy. In recent decades charismatic confusion, unbiblical psychology, mystical influences, success–oriented philosophy, prosperity theology, seeker-friendly approaches, and musings from postmodern quarters have flooded the church.
The church must draw the lines between error and truth and build up its people in the Word of God. God holds pastors accountable to warn their people of spiritual danger. The Lord told the prophet Ezekiel,
Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman to the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from My mouth, warn them from Me. When I say to the wicked, “You will surely die,” and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. (Ezekiel 3:17–18)
If spiritual leaders fail to warn people of error and heresy, they will have to answer to God (Hebrews 13:17). Although the church today seems to embrace every kind of wrongheaded thinking, the man of God must develop convictions based upon sound theology and continually warn his people of unbiblical teachings. He is committed to protecting the flock, not petting the sheep or pandering to them.
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