Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority.
An ambassador for Christ should deliver the word of God with authority. The impression should be given that what is being communicated in scripture1 is ultimately God’s perspective, and that God seriously means what He says. An alternative is to speak in a way that tickles postmodern ears: “Well, this is my perspective.”
Yes, as Christians we rightfully believe that, having been given the Holy Spirit, God’s perspective has, in important ways, become our perspective. In other words, God has given us His word that we might share His perspective on reality. But if we continue to qualify our statements concerning Biblical truth as coming from “our perspective,” we are doing our audience a disfavor and are probably dishonoring the authoritative nature of God’s word. To our postmodern audience, this gives the impression that what we are saying is relative to our own minds and life-experiences. In other words, what we are communicating isn’t a clarion call heralded from the heavens, but a personal perspective that bears no authority.
Secondly, this is the type of impression that seems to imply that increased mutual “understanding,” “tolerance,” and “acceptance” is a higher goal than urgent persuasion, repentance, and conversion. “Now is the day of salvation!” (2 Corinthians 6:2) What better communicates the urgency of salvation: authoritative communication of God’s word which (at least implicitly) calls for a response of repentance? Or offering our own personal perspective on things?2
2 Timothy 2:23-26:
Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting His opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
I love Paul’s balance in this passage. In some ways, I feel like this is impossible, yet in other ways, I am encouraged by what seems realistic. What seems impossible is the tightrope we must walk of a Christ-like, perfect integration of love for people and passion for God’s truth. What is refreshingly realistic is Paul’s expectation that Christians continue to teach and correct, and that by using such an approach we will bring “evil” from our “opponents” which we must “endure.”
- We are not to be involved in “foolish, ignorant controversies” which distract us from focusing on things of primary importance. We should focus on the most important things: the nature of God and salvation.
- We are not to be given over to quarrelling. We should give people some breathing room, and not feel inclined to repudiate every false thing they say. This is especially the case in private one-on-one settings, where we have more of a context for patience.3
- We are to teach. This is different than simply “sharing our perspective.” We are to teach God’s perspective on things from His word. Christians have something to teach the world from God’s word, and no matter how arrogant this seems to the postmodern culture, it is the ministry we have been given.
- We are to patiently endure their evil response. Paul simply assumes “evil” in response to “teach[ing].” Paul goes on to write,
“preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:2)
The sort of patience Paul calls for comes from having corrected, taught and reproved. You don’t need that kind of patience if you’re simply sharing your “evangelical, personal perspective,” because you won’t get the same sort of response.
- We are to be kind to everyone and correct them with gentleness. We are to make it as easy as possible for them to see that we want the best for them. Mingled with our correction should be recognizable tenderness. The challenge is to do this even with people (influenced by postmodernism) that interpret correction itself as unkind. We should give no person a real basis for, before God’s judgment throne, characterizing us as having been unkind. In one-on-one settings with strangers this might be as simple as giving another person a fair listen, shaking their hand and extending a warm greeting to them. In personal relationships kindness can be expressed by grieving with another person over their loss, doing small favors, or taking the time to be slow and careful in speech.
- We have theological opponents, and these are the people we are to correct. People who reject Jesus Christ for who He is and what He has freely promised are “enemies of God” (Romans 11:28). Jesus said that loving enemies was more radical than loving friends. Mormons may be our friends as neighbors and citizens and fellow parents, but they are not friends in Christ (cf. 3 John 1:15). If a Mormon feels as though he is no longer our theological enemy, then we have removed ourselves from the context in which Jesus wants His radical love to shine.
- The aim is the repentance of our opponent. This goes far beyond what seems to be the chief focus of contemporary interfaith, public dialog: “tolerance,” “acceptance,” and “mutual understanding.” Our aim is that the other person would be convicted and sorrowful over their idolatry and unbelief, and turn to the God of the Bible. We want Mormons to be like the Thessalonian Christians. Paul said of them:
“[W]e know, brothers loved by God, that He has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction… For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thessalonians 1:4-5,9-10)4
- We are to view these opponents as in the “snare of the devil.” This should give us a sense of urgency, encourage us to pray for them, and cause us to be serious about the high stakes of their spiritual condition. Mormons who are not willing to embrace the Biblical portrait of Jesus Christ and clearly repudiate traditional Mormon doctrine on God have not yet been born again5. If they do not repent, they will go to hell with Satan and his angels. They are “following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). Their works do not flow from the joy of having been freely accepted and justified by faith before a holy God. Like Paul testified of the zeal of the Jews, we can likewise testify of the zeal Mormons have for their church and for a significant kind of moral purity. But this does not lessen the tragedy of their condition, it rather intensifies it.
“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:1-4)
2 Corinthians 4:1-2:
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.
Paul assumes that we are going to be tempted to “lose heart” and “practice cunning and tamper with God’s word” as we give an “open statement of the truth.” But since we have this ministry “by the mercy of God,” and since God can shine a light in their hearts that causes conversion (vs. 3-6), we should stick to directly speaking to the conscience of the Mormon. We do this reminding ourselves that we are “in the sight of God,” because in the sight of man we are tempted to please man. It is mercy that we Christians even have the opportunity to be about the ministry of the gospel. Why then would we ever tamper with God’s precious word?
1. Titus is specifically being told to use his leadership position to declare the apostolic admonition of Paul. Positions of leadership within the Christian church are themselves subordinate to the authority of the word of God, and in 2 Peter 3:16, Peter identifies Paul’s letters as scripture.
2. This is why I believe that public dialog with false teachers should probably take the form of civil but passionate debate.
“[I]n a private dialog, if something I say is misunderstood, I can probe the level of understanding, and correct the misunderstanding, by further discussion with my friend. But if I say something in a public setting that is misunderstood…, then that misunderstanding is cast into the open and spreads like leaves in the wind. I cannot go back to each person who heard those remarks to assess the nature of their misunderstanding or to make clarifications… [P]rivate civility and public civility are not the same thing. I can challenge my wife (or a close friend) about an issue in private, with kindness and respect, in a way I would not do in a public setting. Regardless of how kind and polite I was being, I would not choose a busy restaurant or the lobby at church to tell my friend that he has a problem with body odor. I would not announce in a microphone that his zipper is down. In other words, it’s not appropriate to hold a friend accountable in public in the same way I would approach him in private. So [a public dialog with such a person] is not really a valid model of a civil discourse between real friends. Simply for the reason that it is public, there’s no way it can model the depth of confrontation true friends sometimes have.”
His comments seem appropriate for those who are not able or willing to engage in civil, public debate with someone. Such persons should keep their evangelistic relationships in a private, personal setting. Taking them public would be inappropriate, since, not willing or able to publicly debate or forthrightly correct, one is not able to hold the other publicly accountable for what is said.
4. We cannot be content or optimistic over Mormon neo-orthodoxy which lacks remorse over traditional Mormon idolatry and heresy. If Mormon neo-orthodox persons, who at least in their language seem to have adopted new doctrines, were truly cause for optimism, they would weep and cringe over the sorts of past statements LDS leaders made concerning God and grace and personal worthiness. As it is, they seem to have no shame over them.