Doctrine Plus Character (Part 1)
Christians have been confused by the fact that there are Christian ministers and teachers who, in spite of sin, continue to teach the Word in a doctrinally correct way. We understand that none of us is perfect and that we all sin. But here we are referring to ongoing sin which has not been repented of. This is often glossed over with terms such as “character flaws” or “weaknesses”. Often a vile temper is excused as “righteous anger”. Hatred, an unforgiving spirit, bitterness and strife are often “sanctified” as righteous zeal. Similarly a judgemental and critical attitude is camouflaged under the term “discernment”. The facts remain that sin is sin and wrong can never be called right:
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! - Isaiah 5:20
So, even if their doctrine is correct, they are actually in error because they justify their sin!
The questions we must ask are how it is that such people can continue to preach right and live wrong. What does the Bible say about it, and should we continue to receive ministry from people like that?
Doctrinal orthodoxy does not prove God’s blessing:
- The Devil quoted scripture when tempting Jesus, but he applied it incorrectly. According to John 8:44 he cannot speak the truth, so even if he seems to be speaking the Word of God, he is still lying!
- On at least two occasions the Scriptures record that demons preached the truth (Luke 4:41, Acts 16:17).
- Balaam four times prophesied the word of God correctly and yet, because he was driven by greed, brought the people of Israel into idolatry (Numbers 22-24).
- Solomon had a real gift of wisdom from the Lord and wrote three of the books of the Bible and yet in the end he was an idolater.
- Jesus judged the church of Ephesus as fallen, not because they had the wrong doctrine, in fact, their doctrine was 100%, but because they had left their first love. Their sin was not even one of moral failure!
God does not excuse a life which does not back the teaching. Is this not the essence of hypocrisy? The right outside, but the wrong inside – appearing to be pious and yet denying the essence of the message?
1 Corinthians 13 makes it very clear that one can have the greatest gifts, and make the greatest sacrifices, but if our service is not motivated by love, it is a waste of time. Many preach because they love themselves, the acclaim of people, the influence it brings or the money. Some preach because they love being right while others minister because it makes them feel superior. According to Paul they are wasting their time. The only motivator that is acceptable is a love of God and a love of people as a consequence. 1 Corinthians is specific that unless we are driven by Agape love, we are just performing dead works.
Jesus warns of those who, although they had preached and performed miracles in His name, were not known by Him (Matthew 7:21-23). Although they were doing all these wonderful things, they were practicing lawlessness/iniquity. Notice He does not question their doctrine or the validity of their miracles. But He does question their relationship with Himself.
Paul warns the Ephesian elders to take heed to themselves and to the flock (Acts 20:28). To Timothy he says “take heed to yourself and the doctrine” (1Timothy 4:16). He writes as much to Timothy about right conduct as he does about right doctrine. Thus even if the minister takes heed to the flock and the doctrine without taking heed to himself, he will be disqualified for the ministry. For this reason Paul says “for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1Timothy 4:16).
If sound doctrine is not the only measure of a preacher/teacher/minister, how then, will we recognise the true shepherds from the false? Here are a few pointers:
- Obviously his doctrine must be correct. Nothing we have said thus far can be taken to mean that doctrine is not important. He may be the most loving, kind, caring and sacrificial brother, if his doctrine is wrong, you will be lead into error. Avoid him and find a true man of God. If he really loved the Lord and His people, he would be much more careful about his doctrine and he would pay attention to rightly divide the word of truth.
- Does he operate from a basis of love? Does he love the Lord, His people and His Word.
- Is he in submission to a local fellowship? The question is not whether he attends or even holds office in a local fellowship. The question is whether he is truly in submission to a local church (Ephesians 5:21)?
- How does he respond to correction? Does he welcome correction and does he repent or does he lash out against the one who dared bring correction to him?
- Is he broken before the Lord? If your favourite preacher is not broken he will be imparting himself and his ideas to you. If he is broken he will impart Jesus (2 Corinthians 4).
- What is the fruit of his life? Jesus presents this as the ultimate test (Matthew 7:15-23). Some point to the correctness of their doctrine or the miracles or their devotion to Christian works as fruit. The question is clearly not about the fruit of their ministry, the question is about the fruit of their lives. In this analogy the tree is not the ministry, it is the man. So, what fruit does he bear through the whole of his life? How is his relationship with his wife and children? Can he control his temper? What report does he have from the world, etc. The qualifications of a preacher are no less than those of elders. Does he conform to 1 Timothy 3:1-11? If not, we may not appoint him as an elder, much less allow him preach or teach.
Now you may say that it is impossible to judge all these things because you do not know him well enough. Maybe you have never met him or seen him in his home context. That is why unless you can personally, or on good testimony, verify every one of the above six points, you need to be very wary. For this reason when people, especially preachers, moved from one church to another in the New Testament, they did so with letters of commendation from their local fellowships. Acts 18:27, 1Corinthians 3:1, 1Corinthians 16:3.
If believers paid attention to these principles, they would not be so easily deceived and hurt by foreign preachers, tapes, TV ministries and internet ministries.
Doctrine Plus Character (Part 2)
Soon after writing the above article in 2002  a few people objected for different reasons. Some felt that the standard disqualified all from ministry. Someone else said that we cannot draw the line between “serious” sin and “less serious” sin. In order to answer some of these questions, allow me to cite the following actual situations:
- The pastor of a charismatic church is caught stealing money from the church. The elders then dismiss him. He responds by taking the church to labour court for unfair dismissal while he continues to preach.
- An “international teacher” as he calls himself, makes it his life’s mission to vilify anyone who dare bring correction to his lack of Christ-likeness. These tirades, often consisting of lies against godly men, are spread throughout the world through every form of media possible.
- Elders challenge another pastor concerning lies, a lust for power, and greed. He responds by getting rid of the elders and lying to the congregation about what actually happened.
- Yet another minister finds the checks and balances of his godly elders too restrictive and promptly disbands the church, only to reopen it a few months later. This time all the assets and the sheep that are left, are under his sole control.
- An elder is caught stealing from his employer and fired. The denomination promptly moves him to another town. This time as a full-time pastor.
- A minister is caught after two years in an illicit affair. He resigns from the denomination, divorces his wife, marries his concubine and embarks on an international ministry.
Figments of my imagination you say – gross exaggeration! No, these are only some of the situations I personally witnessed over the span of two years, most of them in the small town where I was living. (In the 12 years since I have witnessed many more such situations.) I have spared you the ugly details and shared just the basic facts. And don’t think these examples come from dead denominations. These all took place in Evangelical, Pentecostal or Charismatic churches. Yet some ask; how dare we set standards for those who minister the Word?
It is not I who set the standard. The Bible sets the standard: “A bishop then must be blameless...” (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:6,7) “...deacons, being found blameless.” (1 Timothy 3:10). Not once but four times we are told that leaders are to be “blameless” The Greek word means exactly that: blameless. And yes, this blamelessness it is not in the forensic sense that we have all been justified through the cross. The context deals with practical on- the-ground righteousness. Paul even says he must have a good testimony from those who are outside who look at how we live and act (1 Timothy 3:7).
Is there a different standard then for those who are leaders and those who are not leaders? (By this, I do not support the clergy-laity system). Most certainly. “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.” (James 3:1) “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:48). Over and over leaders are instructed to be examples to the flock. What example does the bunch above set for the flock? It is a well-worn saying that leaders need to set very high examples, as the flock will cut that standard in half and try to live up to that reduced benchmark. It is also well said that leaders cannot lift people higher in spirituality than what they themselves have reached. No wonder many churches are in such a state of compromise and sin.
If you read the first paper again, you will notice that I did not say that leaders must be perfect, I said: “What I am referring to is ongoing sin, which has not been repented of.” The man who had his father’s wife in Corinth was not the only one who had committed some gross sexual sin in that promiscuous church. The issue was that he had not repented of it and, to make matters worse, the church was quite proud of their open-mindedness in this matter. The blood of Jesus Christ is still sufficient to cleanse us of all sin. The problem is that many continue in sin, presuming that grace covers it all. These preachers cannot say they have repented and are under grace, when they are not prepared to give up their sin.
Of course we don’t like a message that highlights our imperfections because it hurts our confidence and self-esteem. But that’s exactly the point. Like Isaiah we can pronounce woe on everyone-else’s sin (Isaiah 1-5), but until we have seen our own despicable state and pronounced woe upon ourselves, we can never be valid messengers of the Gospel (Isaiah 6). Only when we minister fully aware of our own lack; only when we tremble before Him; only when we have counted our own righteousness as rubbish; and only once we cry “woe is me”, can we be of any value to the church. All this is summed up in the two words: brokenness and the cross.
Brokenness is probably the prime qualification for any servant of the Lord. Every minister is bound for disaster unless he is broken before, and by, the Lord. Brokenness will bring us to our knees, make us dependent upon Him, and cause us to not rely solely on our own ability to withstand temptation.
Finally, humility opens us to correction by others. Those who are so arrogant, as to believe they can do no wrong, and therefore reject correction, will inevitably end in sin, error, or both. But worse: they are already in sin – the greatest sin of all – pride. Leaders who do not accept godly correction are to be avoided no matter how right their doctrine or even how blameless the rest of their lives (Proverbs 12:1, 13:18; Hosea 4:6; Romans 2:21ff). The standard is indeed high since leaders represent the Lord Jesus Christ. Leaders who do not look and sound like the Great Shepherd are wolves, thieves and robbers.
 The first article (above) was originally written on 24 January 2002 and the second article was written a week later, both while the author was still serving in South Africa. These articles are heavily edited versions of the originals while retaining the message and facts contained in the originals.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: