Our church has been going through Paul’s first letter to Timothy. As Paul had warned when he first left the church at Ephesus (Acts 20), “fierce wolves” have risen up from among the leadership and are causing all kinds of problems–leading sheep astray. The letter is a direct charge to Timothy, to draw lines, take stands, and shoot false-teaching wolves. He charges Timothy to protect SOUND DOCTRINE which accords with the gospel.
The last book of the New Testament, Revelation, begins with Jesus’ seven letters to seven actual churches. The first is written to the same church at Ephesus. It appears that, perhaps in response to Paul’s letter and Timothy’s leadership, the Ephesian elders learned all-to-well how to fight false teachers. Jesus commends their intolerance for wolves and courage to shoot them. In the same letter Jesus commends them for fighting, he condemns them for their failure to love Jesus. This letter to Ephesus shows the danger of becoming Doctrinal Mercenaries, how we can get very good at fighting false teachers while failing to actually fight for Jesus.
Our charge to defend the truth is not merely a call to become more polished theologians and apologists; it is a charge to see Jesus as supremely better than anything else, to give Jesus central priority in our lives, and to find our ultimate joy in him. Unfortunately, there are a lot of doctrinal mercenaries, assassins with a quiver full of theological arrows looking for someone to kill. Their attacks spring unexpectedly, picking fights where there was no battle to win, motivated by little more than showing off their bow-staff skills. Regardless of how well the mercenary wields the Sword, the surprised individual can’t help but feel like a helpless victim. They immediately become defensive because they feel they are under attack–and they are.
And sadly, it seems, many of these killers are reformed in their theology. I used to be a mercenary and responsible for perpetuating the myth that Calvinists are, as one pastor put it, “Elitist…Self-Righteous…part of the Calvinist Machine.” A foolish person was responsible for making something good and biblical look bad and threatening. The tragic irony of it all is that those who hold to Reformed Doctrine should be the humblest people you know. Humility is inherent in Reformed Theology. A Reformed biblical understanding of sin and grace should take us to a clearer understanding of our total brokenness, and a deeper appreciation for the power of the gospel. It should lead us to where Paul lives–1Timothy 1.15.
In the end, mercenaries rarely admit they are mercenaries, but the signs of obvious. They fight for the wrong things the wrong way, with the wrong people, in the wrong places, at the wrong time. There are lines to draw and battles to fight–Jesus fought some too. The difference is that assassins are trained to kill, to find an unsuspecting target, to strike a fatal blow, and then to get away. The theological soldier, one who genuinely love Jesus and His Word, fights for truth when they have to, not because they want to. And when they fight, they don’t fight to win as much as they hope that his opponent might love Jesus and His Word too.
Why is this a church planting lesson? Two reasons. 1) You will meet a lot of doctrinal mercenaries who will want to challenge your Bible knowledge, authority, and theology. It is one thing to entertain honest questions. It will require some discernment as to whether or not the guy is there to kill you or learn. Don’t waste your time with mercenaries. In fact, the best thing you can do for a hiding ninja assassin is simply say, “I see you”, they’ll run. 2) The second, and more important lesson, is don’t become a doctrinal mercenary. There are certainly theological truths you hold and want to protect as a young church. But you’ll be tempted to shoot anyone who disagrees or questions. Fight that temptation. Hold the line of gospel truth with grace and humility–the heart of greatness, the heart of our God.