Thursday, February 2, 2012

Labels and the Downfall of the Evangelical Church

One of the problems we are running into today in evangelicalism (including also the younger evangelicals/emergings) is their overdependence upon labels to identify Christian leaders. Let me give you an example.

Mormonism – teaches that there are many gods and that we may become lesser gods.

Kenneth Copeland – teaches that there are many gods and that we are little gods

Now, many evangelicals will identify the former as heretical, but they do not do so based upon the teaching, but rather based upon the fact that Mormonism is identified as a cult. Hence, Mormonism is bad, along with its teaching, because we have identified Mormonism through a label.
Kenneth Copeland, however, is deemed by many evangelicals as a Christian. Hence, even if what he has said concerning the plurality of gods and people being little gods is bad, we should still give him the slack of being imperfect and growing in Christ, since, after all, he is a Christian.

Do you see what has happened there? We have identified one's relationship to true Christianity through labeling one as a “Christian” first and then concluded that this person should not be disciplined and pronounced a heretic upon his lack of repentance, and we have identified the other as “non-Christian” first and then concluded that we should separate from that group. In both cases, labeling has taken place first in order to evaluate one’s teaching.

Now, I realize most today would label Kenneth Copeland as heretical, largely thanks to Hank Hanegraaf’s efforts to destroy the teachings of the Word-Faith Movement in the nineties, but there were many evangelicals who were, and still are, very upset with Hank, calling him a heretic hunter and whatnot, for calling out Copeland. In fact, it is always the Christian teacher who does not bow to labels who will be attacked as the destructive element within the church, since he is viewed as attacking another Christian in good standing. Yet, these same people would support Hank in his calling out of Mormonism. Why? Because their evaluation of a Christian or Christian ministry is based upon a label rather than on the beliefs held.

But how do certain people get these grand labels of immunity when other groups, like Mormons, get no love? I think it has to do with one thing and one thing only: Person or Group X has said things that resonate with Evangelical/Emerging Y, and hence, their ears have been tickled enough by what is said (whether it is right or wrong doctrine) that they include Group or Person X into the fold. At that point, anyone who would question their Christian stance is questioning another Christian in good standing, and hence, is just being judgmental, arrogant, lifting himself up against another Christian, unloving, ungraceful, etc. Where, if at the same time, he does the same thing against Person or Group Z, which has not been labeled “Christian,” he is a champion of the faith, contending for the gospel.

What we have done by labeling one person as accepted, and therefore, even his teaching that may be off as acceptable, even if not held to be true, is become partial toward certain people and groups. We are playing favorites. We are using faulty weights for our friends, and judging in favor of them against the stranger and the alien. We are letting things that murder the souls of others go because we have an invested interest to protect the reputation of the group or person we consider “Christian,” largely because we like that group or person, as opposed to the other groups or persons we don’t care for.

We love labels because they allow us to reject and accept people on our own terms rather than based on God’s. Once we label someone as a good Christian teacher, he cannot be otherwise. He may compromise, but hey, he’s a good Christian teacher, so nobody’s perfect. He may teach some things that are destructive theologically and immoral, but hey, he’s so and so, that good Christian teacher. God uses vessels of clay, doesn’t He?

But let me ask you this. Why don’t you walk into a Mormon church and let your children be taught by them? Why not start attending the next Kingdom Hall meeting with your kids? After all, God can use the little truth to change lives, can’t He? Obviously, no evangelical in his or her right mind would place his or her children in such harm’s way, spiritually speaking. Yet, if the individual or church they like teaches things that are harmful, they give that individual or church the benefit of the doubt, since God doesn’t need perfect theology to perfect His people (not sure where that one might be in the Bible, since the Bible is perfect teaching, is it not?).

Now, this has been happening within evangelicalism for a long time. It’s just rearing its ridiculous head once again with the issues surrounding the Elephant Room (both 1 and 2). These guys are labeled “in house,” and therefore, to criticize anything they have done to the point of calling for their discipline, is to be judging the work of good Christian leaders, and really to be against a ministry of God. I could have swore that the ministry of God to which we have been called was to “preach the word; be ready in season [and] out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but [wanting] to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”

Isn’t that the good Christian ministry? Paul doesn’t say, “but only if you don’t consider these people Christians and in good standing in the first place.” He’s talking about what you do with Christians. This, of course, is consistent throughout. Paul opposes Peter to his face and then lets everyone know that he did based upon the principle that the higher the visibility of the individual within the church, the more public one’s rebuke should be (1 Tim 5:20). Even the Apostle Peter is not immune to criticism and public rebuke, and if anyone has a “good Christian” label on him, it should be Christ’s number one apostle. Yet, Paul has just told us that even if one of the apostles, even himself, or even an angel from heaven (talk about having a good label) preaches a different gospel, that being is to be eternally cursed. The apostle John tells us that those who do not receive the Holy Spirit’s teaching from the apostles are not Christians, period, regardless of their standing in the Christian community (and many of them had great prestige among them).

Hence, in contrast to labeling first and then drawing a conclusion of what to make of someone’s teaching, compromise toward a teaching, or Christian stance in general, we are to evaluate the teaching, the compromise toward a teaching, and the claim to be a good Christian in standing by the Word of God and the orthodox interpretation thereof. To consider the person immune because we like him (apparently more than we love Christ by obeying His commandment to impartially discipline) is an evil that now, John tells us, is our own, since we have now supported and given aid to destructive teachings and stances. Perhaps, then, the theology and Christian claims that we make ourselves need to be evaluated first, so that we can then take the speck out of another’s eye; but have no illusions, the love of Christ seeks to take the speck out, and there is nothing more Christian than having Christ’s love.

What the Church always needs to understand is that Satan is a boomerang deceiver. He puts out more obvious heresy. It's usually rejected by the church, and then he swings around and introduces it in more acceptable ways, through more acceptable people. Look at how much the early church rejected gnosticism, and yet it swung back around in more acceptable forms in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox view of nature, which then has implications upon the gospel itself. Look at how it has swung back around again in the form of pop-psychology, which has largely been a more acceptable form of it in evangelicalism. Heresy is like the cold. It comes back, and when it does, it has adapted as a more acceptable mutation to the body. To not be on guard against heresy is like a man who gets angry with his immune system for stirring up trouble in the body as it attempts to fight a virus. Is it absurd? Of course it is. But what is even more absurd is labeling the virus as a vital part of the body that should not be attacked. Yet, that is the absurdity of defining by label rather than by truth.


  1. Another perspective: I can like some teachings from a fellow Christian and totally disavow other teachings of his/her.

    Eg., Roger Nicole. I like his inerrancy. Dislike his egalitarianism.

    Eg., Billy Graham. Like his heart for evangelism. Dislike his occasional lack of discernment.

    Eg. Nick Norelli. Listened to his 15 minute audio about TD Jakes. B- good. Dislike his pentecostal arminianism.

    Eg. Bill Hybels. Like his heart for the lost. Dislike his egalitarianism.

    Thing is, there's a lot of contention among and between Christians, and sometimes the Unbelievers see this and discern that the Christian community lacks love for one another.

  2. The problem is the issue to which we're referring. There is heterodoxy and heresy. Heresy is of a damnable nature. Heterodoxy can be of a damnable nature if it evidences rebellion toward Christ, but it may just evidence confusion too. Heresy, however, once rebuked, is only a sign of damnation, as no one born of God and has the Holy Spirit of God remains in heresy.

    We can also like many things in Hinduism, Islam, Mormonism, Atheism, etc.; but whether a person is a heretic or heterodox is based upon the whole counsel of God, not individual parts of it. If based upon individual parts that we like, we can justify calling the entire world "Christian." When we bring in the whole, we then begin to understand that narrow is the road and few are they who find it.