The Last First Thing

I have recently distanced myself from a local church, after working side by side with its pastor for fifteen years.  I was a fellow elder with men I have known and respected (and still do) for thirty years.  For over forty years I have been silent about the things I will present here, though they have been dear to my heart.  I still love these men, but I wish God would open their eyes to what His Word says simply and clearly.

Having taught Adult Sunday School for many years, I recently embarked on the teaching of the book of Acts.  By the sixth week my colleagues asked me to “teach the book of Acts without the dispensational perspective.”  When I told them I would be unable to teach anything less than what the Bible clearly says, they told me that I would not be allowed to teach further, as my teaching was dangerous, divisive, and would create confusion in the church.  In the end, I was told by the pastor and elders, “We don’t want to hear it.”  Interestingly, the last lesson I taught included the passages where Peter tells the Jewish leaders that the disciples must obey God rather than men.  The next lesson I would have taught included the passage at the the end of Stephen’s discourse, where his listeners “stopped their ears and ran upon him with one accord…” (Acts 7:57)

We (my wife Carol and I) chose to withdraw from the church for the sake of peace in the Body.  Since the door had been closed firmly on the further use of my spiritual gift, there was no point in continuing.  Now, often these kinds of situations become very nasty.  However, the pastor and elders and I, by God’s mercy, parted ways humbly and without rancor.  We continue to attend worship services there from time to time — but largely as visitors.

Why do I reveal all of this?  I think there is an important lesson to be learned, dear reader.  It’s about something I’ve mentioned several times on this blog already, but I want to drive the point home with this example.  I taught six lessons from a dispensational perspective, with at least two elders present during every session.  The pastor attended about half of the sessions, and became “uncomfortable” with what I was teaching.  He and I met privately so that he could voice his concerns.  He raised several reasons why he felt I should cease teaching from a dispensational point of view (that differed from his dispensational viewpoint):

  • This teaching made him uncomfortable (for reasons I’ll reveal shortly)
  • He had done research on this form of dispensationalism (which supported his point of view)
  • He had called Charles Ryrie (!) to ask what he thought of this teaching, and Dr. Ryrie replied that he thought it was dangerous
  • He had called a former classmate, now the head of the School of Theology at an eastern Bible university, who said he hadn’t encountered it for twenty years and thought it was dead
  • There were many theologians who were smarter and more learned than me (and him) who rejected this teaching
  • My “presuppositions” were flawed (but he never got around to specifying what they were)

In brief, my teaching was in error because it was uncomfortable, unorthodox, dangerous, obscure, unsophisticated, and ill-founded in the opinion of men.  He tried to bring all the weight of men that he could muster, including name-dropping — and it was a whopper of a name to drop, too!  I was presented with the same reasoning (and lack thereof) when I met with the entire Elder Council.

Have you seen through these arguments yet?  Not once did the pastor or any of the elders demonstrate from the Scriptures themselves where I had erred.  In fact, through six weeks of class most of them had nodded in agreement as I proceeded verse by verse through the first five chapters of Acts.  Can you see how sharply this contrasts with those noble Berean believers of old?

I will not pretend to know what was in their hearts and minds, but that is beside the point for you, dear reader.  I present this illustration as an admonition to know and consult the Scriptures in all things first.  Then you are in a position to judge whether or not the words of men truly represent God.  It should be obvious from this example that my dear friends have become engrossed in obeying men rather than God.  Reader, if the Bible says something clearly, but your church says something different… obey God and not men.

A closing thought for my former fellow colleagues in Christ, should you be reading this.  I’m saddened if these words prick your heart and cause you pain.  For as long as I have known you, I have quietly urged you to consider these things.  I love you, and I wish something better for you (as I always have).  I’m just being more straightforward about it these days.  I believe that the modern world-wide evangelical movement is confused, and lies under a pall of errant human confusion — and you are caught in it.  It’s possible that the flawed presuppositions and the confused theology are yours, not mine.  It’s possible that you are discomfited because the Holy Spirit is challenging your theological sacred cows, wanting to replace them with what the Word of God really says.  It’s possible that you will stumble over the truth here, but pick yourself up and run in the opposite direction because of your life-long investment in a lesser theology than God intended for you.  I hope that is not the case.  If you are reading this, it’s also possible that you’ll return to read more.  Do you dare?  Do you dare not?

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