From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 10 – How we can develop ‘the love of the truth’ and the character quality , and habit, of truthfulness?
In spite of all that, the mishandling of God’s Word, and even outright dishonesty while preaching and teaching, are far more common than most of us would ever imagine. I can think of a particular leader, some years ago, who gave a series of talks on the subject of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He was a ‘cessationist’. That is he believed that the gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased in the first century AD and are no longer in operation.
The Bible never says any of that. Nor does it even hint at it, to the slightest extent. In short, there is no biblical basis for saying it. It is a teaching which is based solely on what men have said, i.e. church tradition. So, this leader made a series of assertions, for which he had absolutely no biblical mandate. He could not point to even one verse or passage which expressly supported his position. That is because there aren’t any. Nevertheless, that fact did not prevent him from setting out many quite irrelevant passages and speaking of them as if they supported what he was saying.
I could see that those verses did not prove his point, or even support it. Many of them did not even relate to this issue at all. They had other meanings and were therefore being misused. He wanted people to think that those passages supported his theological stance, but they manifestly didn’t. I can see two main possibilities. At worst, he was being intentionally misleading. At ‘best’ he was being sloppy and careless with God’s Word and was bandying it about without a proper sense of reverence for what he was handling.
I actually questioned him twice during the talk, because the meeting was a kind of seminar, where that was possible. However, he dodged both my questions, either because he could not, or would not, answer them. Yet, he did not withdraw or modify any of his claims. I was told by another person later that someone else had also questioned him in an earlier seminar and that he had, likewise, given them no straight answers. He had sought instead just to fob off the questioner and to avoid answering them, rather than be put under pressure, or have his errors, or his ignorance, exposed.
What then should that leader have done? Firstly, he ought not to have claimed that God’s Word supported his stance when it doesn’t. That is he should not have twisted the meaning of verses that he was quoting from, to make them appear to be saying that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were only for a minority of people and, at any rate, only for the first century.
Secondly, on being questioned, he should have given honest, clear, straight-forward answers, even if that caused an upset or made himself look foolish or under-prepared. For example, he should have said: “I don’t really have any answers to that question, because. I don’t fully understand the subject.”
Or he could have said: “I haven’t really studied the Bible for myself on this point. I have merely read what some other men have said and am stating their conclusions, without really knowing how, or why, they arrived at them. Indeed, I actually just downloaded most of this sermon from the internet.”
He could even have said: “What I am saying is the traditional stance of my denomination. I don’t really know why, or how, to justify any of it from the Bible. It’s just what I have always heard other men say and therefore I’m passing it on.”
Needless to say, he didn’t make any of those candid statements. Neither have I ever heard any other preacher say anything similarly honest. But they should, if it describes their actual position, which it frequently does. Men don’t want to look foolish or to be diminished in the eyes of others. But isn’t it far better to be thought to lack competence but to be honest, than to be thought competent but to lack honesty? I would say so. More to the point, it doesn’t matter even if the audience does think you lack knowledge. What matters, above all, is that you are honest in your handling of God’s Word.
Your fear of God needs to outweigh, and therefore displace, any fear that you may feel about your audience or concern for your reputation. Moreover, if any leader is willing to be completely open and honest, and to handle God’s Word with the utmost care and reverence, then God would respond by increasing their knowledge anyway. It is precisely to such people, who “tremble at [His] Word”, that God looks, and to whom He will give revelation and insights.