One of the most difficult realities in coming to the truth is the thought of leaving someone behind in error. This becomes extremely difficult when that someone is very close to you, like parents, siblings, or good friends. I’m not referring to people who are not Christians. I’m referring to people you believe to have been genuinely converted and who are godly, yet remain part of a church steeped in false teaching. This was the case with Leython Williams who came to truth having grown up in Oneness Pentecostalism. You can listen to his account in podcasts I did with him.
Have you ever had mixed emotions when embracing truth? You’re excited on one hand, because of God’s graciousness in bringing you to a better understanding of Him and His Word. But on the other hand, you’re troubled because family members and friends are still either being strung along by some prosperity preacher or deceived by a cleverly cloaked Oneness pastor.
If you’re anything like me, when you came to a better understanding of Scripture the first thing you did was run straight to those you love, and with overflowing with exuberance you told them of your new found truth. Maybe not in the most coherent fashion — but you told them — longing for them to see truth as you did and come along with you at that very moment. Unfortunately it does not always happen that way. As a matter of fact in more cases than not, they remain where they are and sometimes go even deeper (in your estimation) in the error.
“The first thing you did was run straight to those you love”
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about loved ones still in error. My thoughts have been driven by spending time in the Pastorals and by the recent conversations I had with my brother Leython; just a short time ago came out of Oneness Pentecostalism. What’s a brother or sister to do who loves their family members and friends and who desires to see them waking in truth (2 John 4)?
I have some suggestions, not hard fast rules of engagement. These are simply some ways I have attempted to flesh out 2 Tim. 2:24-26. I realize I am not exhausting the subject. This is The Front Porch, so let’s talk about it. I’ll run down some of my thoughts and you can do the same in the comments below.
Commit to The Long Haul
Helping someone come away from a false teaching Church could take a very long time, I’m talking years. Many reasons drive our impatience with loves ones in error. I sense that our hurriedness is often what causes loved ones to turn a deaf ear to our words. Helping someone out of error requires a marathon mentality.
Some come out quickly, most do not. God in His sovereignty and in His own time brought you to truth. If He wills, He will do the same for your loved one, on His timetable, not yours. This is where gospel singer Dottie Peoples is helpful, “He’s an on time God, yes He is”!
Be Mindful of Their Particular Situation
Dealing with folks who are members of places of error is not cookie cutter or a one-size-fits-all business. Each case has to be prayerfully examined and pursued according to its peculiar circumstance.
For example, your family member or friend could be a part of good church gone bad. This might have occurred either by leadership changing its position or a change in leadership itself. Their long time pastor might have gone to some conference, read some book, or is succumbing to the influence of long-time colleagues who have gone off the rails. Perhaps your loved one’s pastor died or resigned and since the new guy came things have changed. This happens often in the kind of Black Baptist churches I grew up in, simply because of the autonomous nature of the church.
You must remember, your family member or friend loves their church and has lifetime relationships with some of the families. They have invested a lot of time and resources in their church community. They serve their church faithfully and give to it consistently. Leaving it would mean a serious tear in their own hearts and in many relationships they have had for a long time. Leython faced this dilemma. What I’m calling for is nothing short of gentleness. If you rush right in with little to no regard for their situation you will likely not help them out; you will likely find yourself with one less relationship.
Talk to Them, Don’t Teach Them
You ever met someone who makes you feel like they’re always teaching you something? It’s impossible to sit down and have a simple conversation with them. They’re the teacher and you’re the pupil. It can be a very exhausting experience.
Please don’t make your loved one sense that every time you come around there’s going to be a Bible study, hand outs, and all. Just simply talk to them. You’re a Christian and they’re a Christian, so talk. It might be time for you to develop the ability of talking to people about Christ without always lecturing them on Christ. If you must get your lecture on, start a small group or something. Folks who are always teaching when they talk to you get on your nerves. Imagine what it causes in loved ones who already know you have made some doctrinal changes. Get together with them consistently and simply have some conversation.
Resist the Need to Win a Doctrinal or Biblical Argument
I know that sometimes family members or close friends who lack biblical knowledge — especially if they are long-time Christians — can be frustrating. You feel like they should at least know some basic Christian truths. One word leads to the next and before you know it you just want to “tighten up their heads” (get them told or straighten them out). Rest assured you will “get them told,” but in most cases, from that point on, they will not hear anything else you have to say. You would have won the theological argument, while at the same time leaving your loved one in error.
Talk About Truth, Not About Their Pastor or Church.
Okay, you know their pastor is a false teacher. The evidence is clear. He’s been exposed on many occasions. It seems everyone knows it but your loved one. However, if you want to offend your loved one quick, fast, and in a hurry, start running down their pastor or church. Let me share two very important lessons you will need to learn or be reminded of.
- Most African-American people love and respect their pastor. This is why you will find it rare in the Black church for members to address their pastor by his first name. Sometimes it’s a mere thoughtless formality, but most of the time it’s downright respect. So please know they are not going to take to kindly to you running in with your newfound theology calling out their pastor. If they love him, you are in for the fight of your life. If they simply respect him, it might not be as bad, but you will still be in a fight. Again, we are not talking about whether he’s right or wrong, because you won’t get that far. So, on the front end at least, keep the conversation off of their pastor. Focus instead on the truth of Scripture. Remember you’re talking to a loved one, not teaching a class on apologetics.
- People take critiques of their church very personal. This is one reality well-meaning, doctrinally-sound, reformed, Calvinistic, etc. brothers and sisters seem to forget. We forget that when we critique the doctrine of someone’s church we are critiquing their doctrine as well. When we say their church is in error due to false teaching we are saying they are living in error too. After all, they are faithful members of said church. We must remember, our ability to identify error in our loved ones’ church informs them (indirectly) of their inability to identify error in their own church. “How are you going to come in and tell me something about my house?” Can’t you see their heels digging in? Can’t you hear them humming the tune, “I Shall Not Be, I Shall Not Be Moved”?
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that you overlook unqualified church leadership or marginalize false doctrine in the churches of your loved ones. I’m merely seeking a kind, patient, and gentle approach, (2 Tim. 2:24-25).
Focusing on the truth will ultimately allow its light to shine upon your loved one’s disqualified pastor, erroneous church doctrine, and practice. The truth will bring light to them and give insight about their current church situation. If you continue in the relationship for the long haul, there will be myriads of opportunities to address their false teacher and corrupt doctrine head on, Lord willing.
Listen for Understanding, Not for Exact Doctrinal Quotations from Statements of Faith, Creeds, Theologians etc.
Most reformed African-Americans have been exposed to the Confessions, Catechisms and Creeds. These are all very important documents. Our church is confessional. We’ve also read many outstanding works by men of great insight. Sometimes in our circles it’s cool to throw out a quote or two from some renown theologian. Many of us are proficient at what “so-and-so” said, right?
“Focusing on the truth will ultimately allow its light to shine…”
I suggest you jettison all that when you are seeking to help a loved one out of error. They don’t know Owen or Piper. They have no knowledge of the Westminster, Savoy, Heidelberg, London 1689, Longer or Shorter Catechism. We should become proficient at hearing truth from them, not formulas. Actually, the clearer we are on the formulas, the better qualified we should be to know whether or not a person understands it in their own language. The real question is not can the person quote the article, instead does the person know the truth contained in the article. If you are in it for the long haul and the Lord is willing, you will have ample opportunities to catechize them. This is especially true if your loved one is a member of a Black Baptist Church which utilizes the National Baptist Hymnal with the New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith, 1833 in the back.
Finally, as Leython said at the close of part two of the podcast, be prayerful. Praying for your loved one reminds you that the Lord is the One Who changes hearts. He is the Sovereign One Who “may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,” (2 Tim. 2:25).
These are just some thoughts. But since we are on The Front Porch, what say you?