Wednesday, April 26, 2006
The Tare Police
There is something disturbing that I’ve noticed more and more in the church in America. I hear it in person or on TV, I read it on internet blogs and websites, and I see articles on it in magazines.
More and more, Christians are declaring that other Christians are unsaved or unregenerate.
Some Calvinists think that Arminians aren’t saved. Some Arminians think that Calvinists aren’t saved. Some non-Charismatics think Charismatics aren’t saved and some Charismatics think non-Charismatics aren’t saved. Some fundamentalists think Reformed folks are unsaved, and some Reformed folks think fundamentalists are unsaved. Some think Emergent church folks are unsaved, and some think New Perspective folks are unsaved. Some think Southern Baptists are mostly unregenerate, and some think the Methodists are all unsaved liberals.
Need I go on to the Protestants and Catholics, the Covenant Theology guys, The Dispensationalists, the New Covenant Theology guys, the Auburn Theology guys, the Open Theism guys, or those who commit some horrible public sin?
And some will say that those who think they have all the truth and that everybody else is suspect in their salvation are the unsaved ones, because they don’t accept everybody.
Now if you are not even aware of these various distinctions and you just love everybody, God bless you. But some will think you are thereby just plain undiscerning and so you couldn’t be saved.
O.K., I know all this sounds a little sarcastic.
And I know that discernment is good. I know that being Bereans who read and study our Bibles is good. And seeking to have accurate doctrine is good. And admonishing and correcting one another is good. And desiring the truth is good. And opposing error is good.
And I know that there will be tares among the wheat, wolves among the sheep. But in the parable of the wheat and the tares, the servants ask the owner if they should separate the tares and gather them up. His answer?
"No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, 'First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.'" -Matthew 13:29,30
What is Jesus getting at here? Why shouldn’t we search out the tares and pull the little rascals out?
Well, you probably know that tares were a plant that looked like wheat. In fact it looked so much like wheat that you couldn’t be sure which was which until the very end of its maturity. You might think you saw a tare, but then you couldn’t be too sure. Or you might think you saw wheat, but then it turned out to be a tare in the end.
Notice some things here that Jesus thinks are important:
1. It’s the Enemy that sows the seeds of the tares.
The Bible calls false teaching "doctrines of demons", but they can be very subtle. And sometimes real sheep, real wheat, can pass on bad teaching that they learned from other sheep passing on bad teaching. So there is definitely some evil going on with this tare thing, but that doesn’t mean it’s always detectable who the tares are.
2. If you attempt to tear up the tares, the wheat may be harmed.
Look at the care that Jesus has for His children. He would rather have the tares growing up in the visible church, than to cause harm to His brethren.
Don’t let that slide by. If you think you hate bad doctrine, God hates it worse. If you think you love truth, Jesus is the Truth. Yet He would prefer that hypocrites, unbelievers, unregenerate be left hiding in the church, than to do anything that would cause spiritual harm to His people.
This brings to my mind two verses:
1. Matthew 16:18, Jesus said, …"I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it." We don't have to worry that God's plan will fail because we don't identify every tare that comes along.
2. Rom. 8:28, God causes all things to work together for good to those who love him, and are the called according to His purpose. This includes working together for good the presence of tares among the wheat. It's not that it's good...but God will work it for good.
So how shall we deal with the tares?
Didn’t Paul the Apostle and others declare some people unsaved? Didn’t they rout out the false teachers and declare curses of anathema on them?
Yes. But they also did miracles, healed the sick, raised the dead, and did other authenticating signs of their apostleship. The apostles at times had insights into the human heart that can only be seen as a spiritual gift. But this is not promised to all of us. When Peter tells a local prophet that he is in the gall of bitterness, referring to his lost state, or when Paul or Jude identify a false teacher as one destined for the lake of fire, they are exercising a gift of direct revelation from God. We can’t presume to have the same gift.
We may have an opinion that we keep to ourselves. We may even exercise church discipline on a church member who is unrepentant of some public ongoing sin, and "treat him as if he were an unbeliever", but even then we can’t declare him to be an unbeliever.
Let’s love the people Jesus loves, so much that we are unwilling to hurt them by trying to sort out the sheep and the goats. Let’s love the brethren so much that even in our correction, we give the benefit of the doubt.
We will make mistakes. But we need to err in the direction of love and acceptance for even the weak or misguided sheep. And we need to err in the direction of encouraging the sheep that we may even privately think are not sheep. And if they prove to be sheep after all, we will have done a great service to the Kingdom of God. And if they prove in the end to not be sheep, we will have honored our Lord who said not to tear up the tares. Leave that to the harvesters at the end of the age.
And finally, we may have encouraged or admonished or corrected one who was not yet a sheep. But through God’s grace, our love and encouragement and teaching, one day they truly believed on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let’s not be tare police. Let’s not let the failings of church folks steal our fruit of the Spirit. Our love, or joy, or peace, or patience, or kindness, or goodness, or meekness, or faithfulness or self-control.
Listen to "Grace For Life" Radio Program.