Only those who have first severely criticised themselves have any sort of right to criticise the work and findings of others. For one thing, we should always be conscious that were it not for their strivings to reach the truth, the record of which they have passed down to us, nothing of theirs would exist to be criticised by us.
Such superiority as we may have to them is not any superiority of our own, but derives solely from the advantage we have in being able to profit from their studies, learn from their methods, and correct our own thinking from studying their mistakes. With the advantages thus conferred on us, we ought to be able to do better than they. If the products of our labours show no superiority over theirs, we are, or ought to be, thoroughly put to shame. The fact that we are so often able to detect the mistakes of Our predecessors and thus do better ourselves, is not to be counted to our credit, but to theirs. It is our duty, too, to make use of their experience when sowing for the harvest of those who are to come after us. To do this, we may submit the findings of our predecessors to criticism, not that we may blame them, but that we may do better in our turn.
But have we, in fact, any business so to apply our critical faculties at all?
This question has to be faced, because so many in these days reply with a most emphatic "No!" Yet they never feel moved to cite anything from Scripture in support of their ruling; and they invariably get angry if anyone should quote 2. Tim. 4:1-4 in reply to it. This can only mean that the true reason for their objection is a subconscious awareness that their own teachings will not stand up to searching examination.
Yet students of Theology should always keep consciously in mind that in all other sciences there is, in research work, perpetual criticism of the work done before. Some scientists naturally tend by temperament to resent such criticism when it is directed against themselves, but all admit that it is absolutely essential to progress. Among them there is very little of the open hatred of criticism one encounters in theological circles. This should shame us, for the Apostle Paul's words in 2. Tim. 4:2 are unequivocal and profoundly searching, leaving no room for doubt about his meaning:
For those who make it their business to proclaim the Apostle Paul's Evangel it does not take very long to discover that the era has already come when the majority of professing Christians refuse to tolerate sound teaching, turning their hearing away from the truth and turning them aside to myths (4:4). Our part is plain: to be sober in all things, suffer evil as ideal soldier of Christ Jesus, do evangelist work, fully discharge our service (4:5). These things necessarily involve the deeds listed in 4:2; and we may not shirk them on the ground that some brethren affect to be pained by such whole-hearted service.
The fact is, the era that Paul then spoke of as future already IS, and has been from the hour of his dissolution. That is why all those who have fulfilled his commands have, all down the centuries, suffered bitterly for their service.
The London "Observer," in its issue for December 12th 1958, quoted the following pronouncement by the Rev. Geoffrey Bryan Bentley, made, I understand, in a broadcast discussion:
One more thing needs to be said about this: only a fool would believe a dogma or practise a religion for which "absolutely no evidence" exists.
It does not greatly matter when ordinary people say or write such silly things as the pronouncement quoted above.. What makes it quite frightful is that it was made by one who is described as a Minister of God's Word. And yet when loyal Christians publicly protest, other Christians set up an outcry against their harshness. This is "appeasement" in its very worst form, the cowardly desire for peace at any price without regard for the claims of righteousness and truth. To reprove, and by implication condemn, any Christian who exposes, evil such as this is not to serve truth. No Christian can be impartial or neutral in such matters as this. "He who is not with Me is against Me," said our Lord (Matt. 10:30). Those who attempt to be neutral actually range themselves decisively on the side of evil. Moreover, no claim of saintliness will atone for lack of a faithful witness; since:
This attitude—that the integrity of God's Holy Word is a minor matter compared with the feelings of people who mishandle and misrepresent it—is the governing cause of the pitiful plight in which we find ourselves today. On men of past days, and alas! too many in our own day, who show spurious "charity," "love," "tenderness" and sometimes even sanctimoniousness towards burdensome wolves who enter among us, not sparing the little flock (Acts 20:29), rests the greater part of the responsibility for our troubles and our weaknesses now. May God forgive them! For one of the first duties of the shepherd in the days of the apostles was to guard the flock against wolves, not to be loving to those predators or to help them conceal their character under sheepskins so as to be able to deceive the flock more readily.
The Apostle Paul would have shown up such "shepherds" in their true colours. He speaks of Timothy suffering evil with him as ideal solider of Christ Jesus, as one who is warring (2. Tim. 2:3, 4). He told him to stand aloof from profane prattlings (2:16), to shun those having an outward semblance of devotion, yet denying its power (3:5), and those who "are withstanding the truth, men who have depraved the mind, disqualified about the faith" (3:8).
Apparently some people affect to counter all this with the exhortation that "the Lord's slave must not be fighting, but be gentle to all, apt to teach, bearing with evil, in meekness training those who are antagonizing" (2:24, 25). Yes, but, just before, Paul had urged Timothy (2:22) to "pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace, with all who are invoking the Lord out of a clean heart." Later, he says that others are to be shunned (3:5). This has to do with people, not their doctrines. We simply cannot shun their doctrines, for these are thrust into our faces, whether we like it or not. And we simply must not use 2. Tim. 2:24-26 to neutralize what is said later in 4:2-4. There is nothing, nothing at all, contrary to these exhortations in replying to attacks on God's Word, provided the reply is gentle and meek. We need not fight or abuse those who teach false doctrines, but instead point out error and teach a better way.
Our offence in the eyes of unbelievers is that we will not compromise with evil, but show it for what it is. As faithful servants of the Lord Jesus we can do no less. Certainly, we must, not, on any terms, write as if we thought the wolf was merely a misrepresented, but innocent, sheep.
Nor would the Lord Jesus. He spoke of wolves five times to Paul's once. So if we cannot listen to Paul let us hear One far greater. He said (Matt. 7:15, 16):
In Matt. 10:16 and Luke 10:3 the Lord Jesus warned His disciples that He was despatching them as lambs in the midst of wolves. In John 10:11-13 the word "wolf" occurs twice. Here the Lord Jesus compares Himself as the ideal Shepherd with the hireling who "is deserting the sheep and fleeing." We can only wonder whether those who encourage evil teachers ever ponder on this passage and ask themselves what sort of shepherds they are showing themselves to be.
Let us remember that the Lord Jesus did not confine Himself to verbal reproof. His first act, on entering the Holy Place of His Temple before He was judged and crucified, was to cast out all who were selling and buying there, and overturning the tables of the brokers and the seats of those selling doves. And this (Matt. 21:12, 13) was not the first time. He had already done likewise at the start of His ministry (John 3:13-17).
Some have even gone so far as to ask those who defend God's Word against false teachers: "Could your article say nothing to them in love?" This is to misunderstand the issue, and deliberately. Could the Lord Jesus have said nothing to the sellers and buyers and brokers in love, too?
Some may think all this rather harsh. If so, I would draw their attention to an excellent, but much more harsh and severe, criticism of the critics of Scripture by Mr. A. E. Knoch in "Unsearchable Riches" for July, 1936 (Vol. 27, pp. 197-203). This was really splendid, and one of the finest things he ever wrote.
The truth is, there is a powerful and influential "Fifth Column" in all the churches, whose evil and subversive activities permeate them. Any attempt to answer these men is silenced by every available means; and anyone who makes such an attempt is regarded as a railer and a general nuisance. There is nothing new about this; it has been going on for a century at least, only now the Fifth Column has become so powerful that no objector is permitted any opportunity to make himself heard.
R.B.W. Last updated 24.3.2006