Twisting Matthew 18:15 To Make Sin Acceptable

Twisting ScriptureSeveral years ago, a personal friend of mine began a very public journey away from biblical Christianity.Claiming to still be a Christian, he adopted a lifestyle that directly contradicted Scriptural principles and he encouraged others to follow his example. When I wrote a comment on his blog challenging his new theological positions, he chastized me for not approaching him privately first, in accordance with Matthew 18:15.Regrettably, I acquiesced to his demand that I confront him privately, because he twisted that very Scripture in an effort to avoid responsibility for his sinful choices.

Matthew 18:15-20 deals with restoring a transgressing brother or sister to fellowship within a local congregation.

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (ESV)

As Josh Buice recently wrote in his article, Matthew 18 and the Universal Church, there’s a difference between someone in one’s local church who sins privately and a person like my friend (who lives in another state) whose sin appears, not only in his blog, but also on television interviews and on other websites. The public display of his rebellion eliminates the need for private confrontation because his reputation doesn’t require protection.

I would add that my friend had already committed to his choices. Since Matthew 18:15-20 carries the goal of restoring a person to right relationship with God, it doesn’t really apply to someone who no longer accepts Biblical standards–especially when he or she publicly works to influence others to misinterpret Scripture in respect to that sin. When someone believes and teaches that their behavior meets with God’s approval, twisting the Word of God in order to justly their course of action, we can safely assume that they don’t honestly care about obedience to His Word.

Obviously commenting on my friend’s blog wasn’t going to bring him to repentance, but it could have made his readers think about the matter. Or I could have (and eventually did)  written about him in my own blog, warning people against his error. Because he is somewhat of a public figure who writes openly about his lifestyle and beliefs, and because it’s highly unlikely that anyone will dissuade him from his sin unless the Lord miraculously intervenes, I need not talk to him privately before warning others about his false teaching.

I use my experience with him today as an example of how people use Matthew 18:15 out of context in order to silence those who expose their false teaching. Like my friend, they don’t really care about being corrected in a Biblical manner. They want to shame Bible-believing Christians into leaving them unchallenged.

Please be aware that someone who publicly disseminates false doctrine, particularly with the purpose of excusing sin and influencing people to embrace that sin must not be permitted to hide behind Matthew 18:15. Their public espousal of false teaching already demonstrates an unwillingness to repent. Just as they distort other Scriptures to their advantage, so they twist this verse. We need not play their game.

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The Addition Of Psychology

Lady Reading BibleOver the last two-and-a-half decades, evangelical churches have incorporated psychological principles into their preaching and their counseling practices. Pastors often refer troubled congregates to “professional counselors,” who (though claiming to be Christians) rely more on the paradigms of psychology than on the teachings of Scripture to diagnose and counsel people.

The problem with using psychology as a supplement to the Bible lies in the fact that psychology comes from human wisdom, originating with Sigmund Freud, who didn’t exactly hide his contempt for religion. This shift of focus from God’s wisdom to man’s should bother Bible-believing Christians, since Scripture implores us to value God’s wisdom above our own.

The apostle Paul saw no benefit in using the wisdom of human beings to address spiritual issues.

12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. ~~1 Corinthians 2:12-13 (ESV)

And make no mistake, dear sisters: so-called Christian counselors  who are licensed as psychological counselors are dealing with spiritual matters! Tragically, they implement human philosophies more than they apply the Word of God to a person’s struggles, as if God’s Word lacks the power to effect victory over those struggles.

Essentially, psychology is a present-day form of Gnosticism, promising an understanding into the human soul that comes only though deeper knowledge. Therefore it supposedly unlocks secrets about who we are and why we do certain things. Yet it fundamentally ignores the clear teachings of Scripture regarding our sinful condition and our responsibility to repent.

Typically, while perhaps giving an obligatory acknowledgment to the concept of sin, professional Christian counselors will search for a reason for the sinful behavior. Even pastors fall into that way of thinking, sadly.

As a result of this esoteric hunt for the “underlying causes” of behavior patterns, psychology (yes, even so-called Christian psychology) in effect denies that Scripture sufficiently deals with the issues of humanity. That denial, of course, flies in the face of the apostle Peter’s words:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. ~~2 Peter 1:3-11 (ESV)

Bible-believing Christians can trust the Word of God. Certainly, there may be times when Biblical counseling is warranted, but this type of counseling draws wisdom from God’s Word rather than from the man-made philosophies of psychology. It trusts that, through the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit provides the resources necessary to overcome sinful patterns so that we can effectively live in ways  that honor Him.

Ladies, please don’t get entangled in human wisdom when the wisdom of God lies within your reach! If the Holy Spirit indeed has given you the new birth, you don’t need fallen human psychology in order to deal with the effects of your sin. Instead, praise the Lord for  blessing us with His wisdom, which gives us everything we need for life and godliness.

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Positively Negative

NegativeYou read my complaints about the condition of evangelical culture almost every time I post, and some of you may tire of them. I understand. No one enjoys constant negativity.

As young teens, my sister and I would always groan a little when Mom announced that Granny was coming to visit. Because Daddy had died when we were   7 and 10, Gran’s visits usually lasted several months so that Mom wouldn’t have to worry about child care while she worked. We understood the practicality of that arrangement, and in some ways we did love Gran. But her constant complaining bothered all three of us.

I sometimes fear becoming like Granny. For John’s sake, and more importantly for the Lord’s honor, I pray that the Holy Spirit will help me resist the temptation to maintain a negative attitude.

It is better to live in a desert land
    than with a quarrelsome and fretful woman. ~~Proverbs 21:19 (ESV)

That said, I do believe the Lord would have me voice concerns over false teachers and trends that infiltrate supposedly Christian  churches. Of course, being obedient to Him in that particular respect  doesn’t exactly make me popular among evangelicals who follow the false teachers and trends that I challenge.

In fact, someone who withdrew her friendship from me told me that she ended the friendship because my blog was too “negative.” Surely, she reasoned, I’d be more effective if I’d stop criticizing trends and people in evangelical churches with whom I disagree, instead channeling my energy into more “positive” posts. After all, young Christians (and even non-Christians) may read this blog. What will they think if they see me shooting down well-known evangelical teachers? Doesn’t my behavior cause division and discredit the visible church?

Well, no. The real division comes as these false teachers and trends distract people from the clear teachings of Scripture. Actually, the friends I’ve lost have all been compromised by teachers and doctrines that contradict Biblical Christianity. To the best of my ability, I’ve simply stood for what God’s Word teaches, questioning things that threaten its purity. The deviations from sound doctrine, not the adherence to it, is the true cause of confusing young Christians and discrediting the visible church.

I believe that sound doctrine, while it divides those who have a passion for truth from those who have a desire for spiritual experience, does unify the Body of Christ. That belief runs counter to conventional opinion, but I see the principle in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. ~~Ephesians 4:11-16 (ESV)


According to the apostle, a correct understanding of the Bible’s doctrine (or “teaching”) unifies Christians against the various false teachings that constantly worm their way into the church. Unless people correct these doctrinal aberrations, the Body of Christ sustains so many compound fractures that its disabilities far surpass mine!


Therefore, if I call out trends and teachers who detract from Scripture’s purity, I do so because I love truth. I may come across as “negative” and I may offend people. I may appear to complain merely for the sake of complaining, as Mom believed Granny did, but I remain certain that evangelical women desperately need to know when error is being presented. Assuredly, I won’t make a huge difference, turning the tide and rescuing massive amounts of evangelicals from deception. But I want to  faithfully stand for truth.

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Which All People Did Jesus Die For?

Pink tulips framedThe doctrine of Limited Atonement seems contradictory to the Bible verses that talk about Jesus dying for all people. I had difficulty accepting the doctrine because of such verses myself, so I do sympathize with my Christian brothers and sisters who believe God’s Word refutes it. Consequently, I pray that I can maintain an attitude of humility as I demonstrate how to understand these Scriptures while still affirming that Christ shed His blood specifically for those who would believe in Him.

Obviously I can’t examine every verse that people use to support the belief that Christ died for everyone in this single article. And it would probably be tedious if I wrote a separate article about each verse in question. So I’ve decided to show you just one passage, which I believe offers helpful context. I will also explain how the passage fits into the broader context of the apostle Paul’s teaching. Once you see my hermeneutic in understanding this passage, I pray that you’ll apply it to the other Scriptures on this issue.

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. ~~Titus 2:11-15 (ESV)

I see verse 11 as   clearly as you do. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,” it says. But verse 14 says with equal force  that He “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession.” This verse makes it evident that God has formed a particular group of people, distinct from the world in general, to belong exclusively to Him. Therefore Christ’s sacrifice only applies to this select group.

How does verse 14 then square with verse 11? Looking at Titus 2:1-10 provides the needed context:

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.~~Titus 2:1-10 (ESV)

Notice that Paul addresses a variety of sub-groups within the church in Crete. Although each sub-group has its own distinct responsibilities, they all function in ways that bring honor and glory to the Lord. Salvation crosses lines of gender, age and socioeconomic position. Paul affirms the same principal in Galatians 3:25-29.

Having once been a Jewish Pharisee who believed salvation was limited to his ethnic group, Paul delighted in knowing that  Gentiles could enter into God’s Kingdom through the shed blood of Jesus Christ (see Romans 1:16 and Ephesians 2:11-22). Titus 2:11, therefore, ties in with these Scriptures  (and others like them) to celebrate the glorious fact that Christ opens salvation to every race and nation. Salvation appears, not just to Jews, but to believers from every nation!

Praise the Lord that all who believe in Him, not just the physical descendants of Abraham, have the privilege of His salvation. We should feel humbled by His generosity to include us in His elect, mindful that we’ve done nothing to deserve His favor.

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Necessary Perspective

In this age of evangelical narcissism, people often adopt the erroneous idea that Christ’s death on the cross somehow proves that human beings are deserving  of His sacrifice. “He died for us because  He saw something in us worth saving,” they insist.

Yet Scripture never assigns us any such intrinsic value. Rather, we come to the Lord with an acute awareness that we have absolutely nothing to offer Him. As a matter of fact, we find it quite perplexing that He would shed His precious blood on our behalf. Today’s hymn reminds me that each of us should marvel  at His inexplicable  grace.

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Don’t Make God Spit You Out

Some time ago, as I read the letter to the church in Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22), it startled me to realize that false converts had overtaken the church that, at one time, shared Paul’s epistles with the Colossian church (see Colossians 4:15). It floored me to realize how rapidly a church could abandon sound doctrine! By the time John had experienced his revelation, the Laodicean church had evidently deteriorated so drastically that they had no real connection with the Lord. Think about this sad passage with me:

14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” (ESV)

Not only did this congregation lack passion for the Lord, but it had no idea of its impoverished condition.  Yet our Lord, in His abundant grace, offered salvation and restoration to this rebellious church. If they continued in their indifference and false pride, He would vomit them from His mouth in mutual rejection. But if they repented and zealously heeded His Word, He would draw them into fellowship with Himself.

I believe many 21st Century churches, like the Laodiceans, find excitement in their music, their various outreach programs and/or their attempts to be “relevant” to the world while they demonstrate boredom with the doctrines that reveal Christ’s nature. The may read the Bible, but usually only to see how it might benefit them personally. They don’t realize how much they need salvation.

Individual Christians can also wander into spiritual poverty by focusing on secondary issues to such a degree that they lose sight of the Lord. In this election year, we see an example of evangelicals losing perspective as they support Donald Trump. Trump voters within evangelical circles want change in the Republican Party so desperately that they’re willing to support a man who (despite his claims to be a Christian) leads a life flagrantly opposed to Biblical Christianity. His evangelical supporters have apparently forgotten that they originally joined the GOP out of a desire to honor the Lord.

I’m not judging every Christian who votes for Trump, but I do believe his evangelical supporters should think very carefully  about their reasons for voting for an admitted adulterer who pretty much made his fortune through the gambling industry. How does supporting such a man reflect godly values? And have you replaced devotion to Christ with a devotion to politics? Has your zeal to “make America great again” eclipsed your interest in proclaiming the Gospel and worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ?

Of course, being overly devoted to politics is only one example of how evangelicals can become lukewarm. Looking back at the passage, we see that the church at Laodicea suffered spiritual poverty for an ironic reason: they believed they were spirituality rich. Secure in the past commendation Paul gave them, they stopped looking to Christ and acknowledging Him as their Source of strength and Object of worship. They lost sight of Paul’s words in that letter to the Colossians:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. ~~Colossians 1:15-20 (ESV)

Whether it’s a church in general caught up in seeker-sensitive gimmicks, an individual exalting politics or any other distraction from wholehearted devotion to the Lord, we must guard against forgetting our absolute dependence on Him. Yet the Lord still offers us hope, if we’ll just admit our spiritual poverty and look to Him. This passage makes me marvel at God’s patience with those who passively reject Him, and even more at His willingness to restore repentant churches (and individuals) to Himself!

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Autobiography With Purpose: Love And Doctrine

StainedGlass04In June of 2000, I again came to the Greater Boston Area to spend five days with John. He made good on his promise to show me around the city, taking me to the Hancock Tower Observatory (which has since closed), the Old Granery Burying Ground, the Public Garden, the JFK Library and Castle Island. I also met more of his family, went out to lunch with two ladies from his  church, hung out with him and his pastor and enjoyed a romantic meal with him at Legal Seafood. And of course we attended his church together.

Because the topic of marriage had come up several times between my first visit and this one, I expected him to propose. Certainly, some of those venues would have been perfect for a proposal, at least in my estimation.

But I left Massachusetts without a ring.

We resumed our daily online chats and frequent phone calls once I’d returned to California. Although I felt some disappointment that he hadn’t asked me to marry him, I had hope. Anyway, I kept busy teaching Junior High Sunday School at Church of the Open Door and helping with Youth Group while he continued serving as a deacon at his church.

Somewhere in that year, his pastor expressed the need to either step down or have an assistant pastor. In response, John became  part of the Search Committee.

The church, it turned out, belonged to the American Baptist Convention, a particularly liberal denomination for Baptist churches. Therefore, both of the candidates that applied for the assistant pastor position happened to be women. At the time, John felt that, while a senior pastor should definitely be male, nothing in Scripture prohibited a woman from other leadership positions. Having spent several years in a Charismatic group that did have women in leadership positions, he felt a degree of comfort with the prospect of a female assistant pastor. When he voiced reservations about the possibility of calling a woman, his pastor persuaded him that 1 Timothy 2:11-14 applied specifically to the First Century church in Ephesus rather than being prescriptive for all churches in every era.

Two decades earlier, I had struggled with a desire to be a pastor, and had concluded that the Bible clearly forbids women from assuming that office. Over the years at Love In Action, I periodically questioned whether or not I should have been writing counseling letters to men. My male supervisors always convinced me that, since I was under their authority, it was okay  (I now know it wasn’t). As John and I continued discussing the possibility of marriage, however, I knew I’d be wrong to participate in his church if they called  a woman pastor. Actually, I knew they would be wrong to call one.

The issue seriously threatened my relationship with John, frankly. I contemplated breaking up with him, but thankfully my mom advised me to wait a few weeks.

During that few weeks, John and I both spent time individually studying the issue. As I examined arguments in favor of allowing women in leadership positions, I discovered something horrifying. Those arguments employed the same reasoning that pro-gay theologians use to convince themselves that the Bible affirms homosexuality. John found other reasons to reject the idea  of a woman serving as assistant pastor.

John took some heat from other members of the Search Committee when they realized that he wouldn’t support a female assistant pastor, and his pastor’s wife reprimanded me for insinuating that God hadn’t called the candidates to pastoral ministry. Many of my friends from church and youth group in California also believed I had become legalistic on the matter. But John and I know that the Lord spoke to us very clearly through His Word.

Interestingly, the Search Committee eventually decided that calling a woman as assistant pastor would cause too much division (John wasn’t the only person in his church to oppose a woman as pastor). The Lord sovereignly protected that church (at least temporarily) from rebelling against His Word. In all of it, He taught me and John to look to Scripture, not popular opinion, to understand His will.

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