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What Pastors Do That Make Their Members Cringe

When pastors publicly identify preachers they consider heretics, many in the pew cringe.

A friend who has suffered in this life more than almost anyone I know told me last night of a book by one of these questionable media preachers that is ministering to her. This friend buys and gives away Jesus Calling, a book that has sold in the millions while irking a lot of people for what is actually good reason. And yet, I know a lot of people who have absolutely no use for that book.

(I’m trying to give an example here; please do not ask for my assessment of Jesus Calling.)

“Let him alone,” said our Lord to His disciples about the lone-ranger preacher. “For he who is not against us is on our side” (Mark 9:40).

We are reminded of the parable of the tares from Matthew 13. “Lord,” said the farm-workers, “shall we go into the fields and uproot the tares?” “No,” said the owner. “Lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the (good) wheat with them.”

The principle is perhaps best stated something like this: “Sometimes you should name names and sometimes you shouldn’t. Know your Bible, ask the Lord and obey the law of love.”

When I have said pastors should be cautious in identifying by name heretics from the pulpit, many have disagreed strongly.

Didn’t John call out Diotrephes in III John? Didn’t Paul issue a caution about Demas and others? Didn’t he say, “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm”?

Yes. But mostly, the apostles did not “call them out by name.”

In the Corinthian church, Paul was perplexed by certain “super apostles” who were sucking all the air out of the room. They were the “stars” of their day, they had gifts and egos and resumes (and probably coiffures and best sellers and lived in gated mansions!) that outshone Paul’s measly style, unheralded gifts and questionable accomplishments. (I say that tongue in cheek. Who in the history of the Christian church rivals this apostle in gifts and accomplishments?! In a newspaper column just this week, a writer called the Apostle Paul one of the most influential people to ever walk this planet.)

Paul hated what these people were doing. He called them “false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13).

That was enough. Those “in the know” required no further identification of the culprits. Besides, Paul was not there. His knowledge of these glamor boys was based on reports from friends. He would not sit as their judge, because he did not possess enough information. Nor did the situation require it. Addressing the situation should be sufficient.

History has not told us the rest of the story, although that will be one of the questions Paul will be addressing in his recollections some day in glory. (I hope the Father has in mind classes on this and ten thousand other subjects to tell His children “the rest of the stories.” I can’t wait.)

Please note that I did not say a pastor should never “call out” the wrong-headed preachers. Only that he should exercise care. He risks wounding the heart of the weak brother or sister who has found spiritual comfort in that one’s ministry. Therefore, pastors who decide to name names of offending preachers should know what they are talking about (that is, they’re not just quoting something they read from another preacher somewhere), should know their Bibles sufficiently to be certain of the Truth, and should obey the Law of Love as the Holy Spirit leads.

It’s not the worst thing in the world for the pew-dwellers to cringe at something the pastor says. But that should motivate him to be sure of his footing before he takes such a stand.

Our Lord said we shall give account of every idle word (Matthew 12:36). How much more will preachers account to Him for every sharp, harsh word, even when spoken in love with good intent.

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Joe McKeever has been a preacher for nearly 60 years, a pastor for 42 years, and a cartoonist/writer for Christian publications all his adult life. He lives in Ridgeland, Mississippi.