There has never been a time when Gods people met a superior enemy who could overpower them as long as they faithfully walked with God. Even to the Roman ruler, Pontius Pilate, Jesus said, "You could have no power at all against me except it were given you from above." (John 19:11). During the next couple of centuries the powerful Roman Empire tried many times to stamp out the "ekklesia" of God. But that was the very time in which it grew the fastest. In step with God the army of the Lord does not encounter an enemy who is stronger because there is none.
But from the inside things can be done that could not be done any other way. It was Judas, one of the twelve apostles, who betrayed Jesus and delivered Him into the hands of His murderers. The rulers of God's own temple were the men who stirred up the people to demand the crucifixion of God's own Son. It was Diotrephes, a leader, who opposed the apostles and cast brethren out of the congregation.
The Bible tells us about many of God's servants who had weaknesses who did some wrong things, but they were not enemies of the Lord. But others were. Judas, for example, is seen as a traitor and the scripture says that he "went to his own place." (Acts 1:25). Peter sat by the enemy fire while Jesus was being abused and while there, denied the Lord three times. But he ended up as an outstanding apostle, serving God even unto death.
The Pharisees and scribes were in the camp of the devil. (John 8:42-44). But one of them, Saul of Tarsus, who was a vicious enemy of the Christians, later became the most prominent apostle of the New Testament. Diotrephes' mistreatment of the brethren would be "remembered." (3 John 10-11). But "doubting Thomas," known for his refusal to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead until he could see and feel the scars for himself, is always listed among the names of the faithful apostles.
What is the difference between a servant of God who does some wrong things but still belongs to God, and a servant who does some wrong things and is a traitor who betrays the cause of Christ? How is that determination made?
For about a hundred years now, among churches of Christ, the primary focus has been shifting more and more toward making this determination. The main responsibility has come to be seen as the obligation to distinguish between the true people of God and apostates, between "loyal brethren" and those who are "enemies of the faith?" But have we been following the guidelines God follows in making that determination? Is it even our responsibility to make that determination at all?
Those who appoint themselves as "purgers" of God's "field" usually confuse that with "contending for the faith," but they are not the same thing. They also confuse a lot of other fundamental things about what God's way is and this causes them to end up sabotaging the very cause they profess to defend. Suppose for example, that today's "purgers" were considering the cases of Peter and Diotrephes. What would their ruling be? Would the brother who had openly denied the Lord three times be rejected and the brother with the domineering attitude, who disfellowships everybody he can, be accepted? In the Bible it is the reverse. Paul instructed the Christians to warn a factious man twice and then, if he continues to be that way, avoid him totally because he is condemned and hopeless (Titus 3:10). But today wouldn't Diotrephes be honored as a "staunch defender of the faith?" Such men who "Lord it over God's heritage" today are indeed especially honored and praised for their "courageous stand."
Would the divisions at Corinth be seen by these men as a matter of some "loyal brethren standing up for the truth"? And a very sobering question is this: Would the merciless legalism of the Pharisees be seen as "good old fashioned conservatism", while the kindness, tolerance, and forbearance Paul taught be seen as unacceptable "liberalism and compromise"?
If today's "purgers" had been there in the first century, would they have thought it necessary to "expose" Jesus Himself as a decadent liberal because they heard Him tell a woman taken in adultery, "Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more"?
Drawing these lines and, in fact, misplacing them, is not just a harmless little misjudgment. It is actually mutiny against the cause of Christ. It represents an attitude, which produces sabotage from the inside, and destroys the people of God in ways that no external enemies could ever do.
Have you ever wondered why the apostles taught the people to be patient, kind, and tolerant with the brother who is mistaken on some things, but to quickly separate entirely from the brother who is divisive, or "factious?" Both the mistaught brother and the factious man can do harm to the cause of Christ. But the difference is that the mistaught brother does not strike a vulnerable spot while the dictatorial, ugly spirited, Pharisee-type man does strike the vulnerable spot where the whole work can be destroyed from the inside.
This is not to say that we do not need to distinguish between truth and error, between right and wrong. It is right to contend for the faith, to preach the Word, and stand fast in the truth. But that is not what tare pulling" is. Concerning that Jesus said, "Nay, lest while ye root up the tares ye root up also the wheat with them." (Mat. 13:29). Obviously contending for the faith is not the same thing as tare pulling, since one is commanded and the other is forbidden. One is necessary and beneficial while the other is very destructive. But how is this the case? Think about it.
We might be deceived and believe an untruth but still be committed to God. We might come to a weak time and do a very wrong thing and yet be devoted to serving God. Peter did exactly that. This does not necessarily make one a "tare" or an "apostate." But when men can deceive us in such a way that our whole basic attitude is corrupted and our commitment is misdirected, then we may indeed be alienated from God and an enemy of the Lord.
This kind of attitude change goes way beyond a simple mistake in one or more doctrinal points. This is basic. It goes to what our aims and goals are. It reshapes our focus. In essence it reverses what happened in the new birth, in that our focus was redirected away from things of the flesh over to the things of the Spirit and of God. But now this is reversed back again so that such things as pride, personal ego, and self - exaltation become our focus and highest priority. No wonder then, to such a person the fact that the sin of division feeds upon what he is doing means nothing. The fact that a lot of "wheat" is also destroyed during his "tare pulling" operation does not disturb him enough to even slow him down at all. The defeat of goodness and truth cannot be achieved by any external enemy. But when the servants themselves can be corrupted in their basic attitude, they can bring about from within what external enemies cannot do.
In the name of "defending the faith" many brethren have set as their main goal the "exposing of apostates," the expulsion of "erring brethren." They have been able to sell that idea generally all across the brotherhood and to convince the people and the leaders that this is our main responsibility as Christians. This is a distinct switch from the assignment God has given His people, that of taking the Gospel to the whole world. But what these brethren have really exposed is the fact that they have within them a critical and uncharitable heart which is very much out of step with the "honest and good heart" of the Bible.
God's word commands us to mark those who cause divisions and offenses and "avoid them." The reason given is, "For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ but their own belly. And with good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple." (Rom. 16: 17-18). That's another way of saying they are not serving the cause of Christ but rather are saboteurs of it. However, this brotherhood has tended to embrace such men. Their teachings and publications have saturated the churches of Christ. Their tare pulling activities have become role models for many young preachers. Their corrupted attitude has become the collective attitude of the church which still bears the Lord's name. Today it is known, not for the fruits of the Spirit but for its unkind and merciless judgments and for its division.
The way of God has again been betrayed and is being destroyed from the inside. No external enemy could do this. But what we have is an internal corrupting of basic attitudes, participated in by far too many of its own leaders.
"Preach the word" is our assignment. The Lord commanded that we "leave the tares to the angels at the end of the world." This has been reversed at both ends. Because of the corrupted attitude "the word" is not being preached; and human opinion and judgments are being preached. A good many things, clearly stated in the Bible, are not even allowed to be spoken in many churches of Christ today.
I, for one, believe it is possible for the individual Christian who cares, to put both ends of this divine instruction back into place, at least for himself. One can preach the word, exactly as it is written, and at the same time one can abstain from pronouncing judgment upon the mistaken ones he is trying to help. I also believe that those who choose to do so will once again find that strength that comes from walking with God which cannot be defeated from without.