Doctrine Divides – and Rightly So
There are some hills worth dying on. Others, not so much. There are some issues in Scripture, primary issues, on which we that we cannot be wrong. Other issues, tertiary issues are things that we can lovingly disagree on and still have fellowship with one another. When you see a believer, who is in serious error, someone who is wrong on a critical doctrinal point – the most loving thing you can do is to tell him that he is wrong. How hateful it is to know that someone is wrong on a critical issue – an issue that could affect whether or not this person or others in his influence has eternal life – and NOT warn him.
Primary doctrinal issues are issues pertaining to Theology proper (the doctrine of God), Christology (the doctrine of Christ), Pneumatology (doctrine of the Holy Spirit), Bibliology (the doctrine of the Word of God), and Soteriology (doctrine of Salvation.)
Tertiary issues or the secondary issues that we can lovingly disagree on will include issues pertaining to church government, Eschatology (doctrine of the End Times). Even certain sublevels of Soteriology can be a tertiary issue – the great debate between Calvinism and Arminianism. Other tertiary issues would include whether baptism is by sprinkling or immersion, how the worship service is conducted, etc.
Dr. Albert Mohler in A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity, distinguishes the hierarchy of doctrinal divides into three categories:
- First Order Doctrines – these are the core issues of Christianity. If someone disagrees with these core tenants, they prove themselves to be outside the faith and are promoting heresy. For example, the Deity of Christ.
- Second Order Doctrines – these are issues that Christians may disagree, but they create severe boundaries between believers. It is of these issues that we formulate various denominations. Continuationism vs Cessationism, for example.
- The Third Order Doctrines – these are issues that Christians may disagree on, yet still may be able to worship in the same church together and have fellowship with one another. Calvinism vs Arminianism, for example.
A Loving Rebuke
Our culture dictates to us that it is unloving to judge others and that tolerance for all things is how we show love for one another. However, the Bible says just the opposite. When we judge something or someone rightly, that is, according to Scripture, it is one of the most loving things we can do for someone. It is urgent that we warn of the danger they are in when they are in grievous error. If judging others was wrong – then God would be in error. The Bible is clear that God is a judge, and that Christ will judge all mankind based on their faith.
“God is a just judge, and God is angry with the wicked every day.” Psalm 7:11
“He shall judge the world in righteousness, and he shall administer judgments for the people in uprightness.” Psalm 9:8
“I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness. And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.” John 12:46–48
Our judgments are not to be made from our opinions but based on the Scripture. We must appeal to a source higher than ourselves – the very inerrant, Word of God. Scripture is the only sufficient source we have of truth, it is the only measure by which we can judge ourselves and the actions of others.
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me remove the speck from your eye”; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:1–5
Here in Matthew, we can see that Christ is warning others about making a wrong judgment. Any and all judgment should be free from hypocrisy. This statement is also a judgmental statement in and of itself. In verse 5, Christ tells us that “then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” This is directions for how to judge rightly. We must make sure that we judge ourselves first, before we make judgments about others. Just a few verses down we have more directions on how to judge rightly, especially regarding having discernment with false teaching. This is critical – because false teaching will lead other people astray.
“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.” Matthew 7:15-20
Our goal is to bring others to Christ, not to put people down. We must share the truth of God’s word with them so that they may repent and grow closer to Christ. All judgment is supposed to point people to the Gospel, not to humiliation. We cry out “Repent!” out of love and urgency. The church itself is built upon Christ as our foundation and the sole authority of His Word. This means that the Bible needs to dictate every aspect of our life – and when we err, we should call one another out.
“Having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone,” Ephesians 2:20
“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.’” John 17:20-26
Sin, when left unchecked, will grow and fester. Sin only causes pain and destruction. This is why our lives need to be marked with continual repentance in our journey of sanctification. It is out of our love for one another that we will lovingly rebuke our brother or sister when in error.
“Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today’, so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Matthew 3:12-13
“My brethren, if nay among you strays form the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul form death and will cover a multitude of sins.” James 5:19-20
The Greek word often translated “rebuke” is “elegcho.” It means “to reprimand and convict by exposing, sometimes publicly, a wrong” We are commanded to rebuke our brothers and sisters when they are in error. Another word for this is to “reprove”. We are commanded to call out sin in love, even when it is socially unacceptable to do so. In order to love each other fully, we must have the courage to tell the truth in love about what God considers sin. He does not take sin lightly, nor should we. Any time in Jesus’s ministry that he rebuked, he was calling on God's authority. Jesus rebuked the winds and they stopped, He rebuked the demons and they fled, He rebuked a fever and it left. So it is when we rebuke: we call upon the authority of God's Word to show them what God has called sinful, and plead that they stop and repent. At that moment we are urging them to let go of their hugging on to their sin and turn around and cling to Christ.
“Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning.” 1 Timothy 5:20
“Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them,” Ephesians 5:11
“So that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him.” 2 Corinthians 2:7-8
All rebuking is urging people to see what their sin is before God, and pleading with them to repent. If they repent we gladly extend it and show them in scripture that God too is quick and willing to forgive. Rebuking isn’t about hatred, animosity, or belittling. Rebuking is an act of grace. Rebuking is a form of encouraging and building up. It must be done with the right motives. The goal is not to heap on shame and guilt or to tear down. The goal is to restore them, to increase their delight in Go0d.
“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” Romans 12:1
“Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” Ephesians 4:1
“Better is an open rebuke than love that is concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” Proverbs 27:5-6
How we rebuke someone will vary from situation to situation. If a dear friend, a fellow church member sins, then I would go to her privately. Following the procedure marked out for us in Matthew 18. If after private rebuking and she is still refusing to repent, then I would go to her with two others. We would implore her to repent. If she still refuses, then the pastor would get involved – and it may be an issue that warrants church discipline. If it is a public figure, and their sin is public – then the rebuking needs to be public too. This also extends then to the public figure’s followers. Urging them to not fall into the same trap and to repent if they need to.
“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” Acts 20:29–30
John MacArthur has preached solidly from the pulpit for over 50 years. He has not shied away from topics that are deemed by our culture to be controversial. He preaches the Bible from cover to cover, boldly proclaiming the truth of God's Word – whether it is His promises for us or His condemning of sins. He has made it very clear in numerous of his sermons that he believed that Beth Moore was in sin.
Beth Moore has been called out several times by people who love her and want her to repent. She teaches erroneous doctrine and is further leading others astray by her continual unrepentant actions. Since she is such a public figure, with a public sin, it needed to be addressed publicly. It breaks my heart that she has fallen into error. Years ago, I enjoyed her teaching style and benefitted from several of her books. But the more that time has gone on, the more she has strayed into false teaching. Some of these include:
- Partnering with and endorsing Word of Faith teachers who twist scripture. People like Joel Osteen, Christine Cain, and Joyce Meyer
- She claims to hear the audible voice of God – this only happened a couple of times in Scripture, and the men to whom God spoke thought they were about to die. It terrified them because of how otherly and absolutely HOLY God is. Scripture is a closed canon (Revelation 22:19). She makes this claim to validate her teachings.
- She claims to have received direct knowledge and revelation from God. She claims that He speaks and tells her to write it down.
- She claims that other churches that promote a false gospel (like Roman Catholicism) are still a part of the true Church
- She is preaching. (more on this below) She goes to the pulpit in churches with an open Bible and preaches the Word to the entire congregation – which at times can be to several thousand. She is frequently invited to preach at churches for Sunday morning service.
- She twists Scripture to fit her lesson. We cannot make Scripture mean whatever we want it to mean. We must follow the hermeneutical principals. The Bible was composed of men who were writing at a specific time in history and written to a specific group of people. As such, we look to see to whom it was being written, when, and in what literary style. With this, we employ the “literal, grammatical, and historical” method of interpretation. Beth Moore frequently uses an allegorical interpretation. This is over-spiritualizing the text in order to make it say something that the author had originally intended. We are not called to be mystics and “read the tea leaves” while we peruse scripture. God is clear in His Word.
- Lectio Divina: this is a heretical method of biblical interpretation that was used by Catholic mystics. It involves “emptying the brain” in order to hear God speak. This is very similar to Contemplative Prayer, which she also endorses. There is nowhere in scripture where it tells us to empty our minds. Quite the opposite, we are to guard our minds and keep them alert and vigilant.
- She repeatedly claims that God gives her visions. Again, the canon is closed. If God were to give someone a vision today, it would be as equally authoritative as the Bible and would be viewed as an addition to Scripture – which is forbidden according to Revelation.
- She repeatedly advocates the use of “binding prayers” which is not found in Scripture at all.
Some people have voiced their concern that John MacArthur sounded too harsh. I disagree. He is a very matter-of-fact person, and he speaks humbly and very plainly. He has called out her sin in previous sermons. Her sin is a public one – for it is done before a very large audience, and is in print and video. It requires a public rebuke. Just because you would have said it in a “more gentle” tone doesn’t necessarily make John MacArthur's tone unduly harsh. He spoke out of grave concern for the church. Paul’s tone was much harsher in Titus 1:9-13. People who disagreed with John MacArthur are either in support of Beth Moore for what she teaches, or they disagree with speaking against false teachers.
To hear more about doctrine listen to this podcast on What Is Heresy: