Correction is one of the most conspicuously absent, yet essential ministries in the church today.
There are those who seek to avoid correction by hiding behind a misapplication of Christ's words, "Judge not, lest ye be judged" (Matthew 7:1). It is strangely forgotten that these words were spoken by the same One who warned the Jews:
to not judge according to appearances, but to judge righteous judgment (John 7:24),
told us to judge the fruit of prophets (Matthew 7:16)
and promised His disciples that they would sit on thrones judging Israel (Matthew 19:28).
From the context and the remainder of Scripture, it seems clear that Christ was warning us not to judge motives, because these are hidden from us. We must put the best reasonable interpretation upon what others say and do, not judging their hearts, nor their Salvation, which only God knows. However according to Scripture, we are obliged to judge doctrines and deeds.
If the Bible says something in judgement, it's not the person speaking it who judges, but the Word of God.
The WORD OF GOD judges.
Paul pleaded with Timothy in 2 Tim 4: 2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.
We are instructed to correct what is incorrect. Why? Well, Paul tells us in the very next verse:
3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
Isn't this EXACTLY what is happening throughout the church today?! The time has certainly arrived when men reject sound doctrine, reject the Truth and turn aside to that which they would rather LIKE to hear! What's also important for us to realize here is that it's not just a few pastors doing this, but a GREAT NUMBER - which indicates that this includes a significant portion of the church of today.
Further to what Paul said in verse 2 ... On what basis would one correct or rebuke without having judged whether the conduct or doctrine is wrong?
Such correction is a major theme throughout Scripture.
Both a) public teaching of false doctrine and b) publicly known sin, must be rebuked publicly.
Paul reminded Timothy: 1 Tim 5:20 Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.
Further instructions for Christians to judge
To the church at Corinth Paul wrote, 1 Cor 14:29 Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the others....judge.
Public teaching, whether in sermons or songs or the operation of the gifts of the Spirit, must be judged publicly as to biblical authenticity and accuracy. This should be done at the same time that the teaching occurs in the church, although this seldom happens. It seldom happens because members of congregations too often ignore the instructions of the Bible to test all things: 1 John 4:1 beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
Again, a warning about FALSE PROPHETS/TEACHERS, and how many there are! Is your teacher a False Prophet? Test what he says... by the Word of God - this is an outright instruction. Know too, that whenever a pastor rejects questioning of his teaching "in the name of Jesus!", that there is a serious problem.
Scriptural ExamplesThe Apostle Peter himself was deceived and Paul found it necessary to rebuke him and the entire Galatian church for their false doctrine.Gal 2: 4 This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. 5 We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you........11 When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. 12 Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. 14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?
Paul considered it necessary and proper to publicly name Hymenaeus and Philetus because of their publicly taught false doctrine which had "overthrown the faith of some" (2 Tim 2:17-18). How much more essential would public correction be if a modem Hymenaeus or Philetus as a best-selling author or popular Christian television personality were leading millions astray! Instead of giving priority to protecting the reputations of those whose teachings are publicly questioned, should we not rather be concerned for the thousands and perhaps millions of people whom they influence? Such an attitude should surely characterize every leader who is truly a man or woman of God.
The Problem Today
Those in control of most Christian television programming generally refuse to allow on their stations or networks Christian leaders who would question their views. Moreover, instead of judging within their own ranks, as Scripture says must be done, they decry correction as "divisive" and instead preach "unity" based not upon truth but upon the agreement not to disagree with one another. There is much talk of love, as though it somehow rules out correction. Yet the Bible teaches that love speaks the truth (Eph 4:15), which may very well be "negative." Real love corrects those who are loved: "Whom the Lord loves he chastens" (Heb 12:6). Jesus himself declared, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten" (Rev 3:19). No wonder Solomon said, "Rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee" (Prv 9:8) - A wise man desires and welcomes correction and loves the one who corrects, considering rebuke not an "attack" but a kindness. Inspired of the Holy Spirit, Solomon declared: “Correction is grievous unto him that forsakes the way, and he that hates reproof shall die. Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate you: rebuke a wise man, and he will love you.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding...but fools despise wisdom and instruction”. (Prv 15:10;9:8,10;1:7).
The Biblical Pattern
From Genesis to Revelation, a major theme of the Bible is correction. This is because God loves us and desires to lead us from death and judgment into the eternal and abundant life available in Christ. Referring to the Old Testament narrative accounts of the history of Israel, Paul declared, "They are written for our admonition" (1 Cor 10:11). John the Baptist preached repentance and correction, and so did Christ. Much of what our Lord said was in the nature of reproof aimed directly at the religious leaders, but indicting also the typical Jew of His day. It is dishonest to focus only upon what one considers to be the positive aspects of Christ's ministry and to fail to take to heart and apply in our lives and churches the correction He taught.
Christ did not hesitate to call the religious leaders "hypocrites" and "whited sepulchres" and "blind leaders of the blind," and His own disciples "fools and slow of heart." He had obviously never taken a Dale Carnegie course in "How to Win Friends and Influence People," and did not consider being positive, the only, or even the best, way to present truth! The pastors, evangelists, and radio and television preachers who fail to press upon themselves and their audiences the corrective teaching of Christ because they don't want to be negative are not only ignoring the example He set but are repeating the very sin for which He rebuked the religious leaders of His day.
Much of the New Testament was written to correct error that had already crept into the church in the first century. The epistles of Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jude embody the major corrective doctrines of the church, which of course are still valid today. Leaders in the early church were expected to be involved in an ongoing corrective ministry. Unfortunately, many of today's most popular church leaders seem astonishingly unwilling either to judge the teaching of other leading Christians or to accept any correction themselves.
Division or Correction?
It is claimed by some that openly questioning or correcting the doctrinal teachings of church leaders is divisive, as though all division were bad and to be avoided.
Yet Christ Himself declared that He came to bring division (Lk 12:51), and it followed His ministry wherever He went (Jn 7:43; 9:16; 10:19; etc.). The division He brought was essential: it separated between truth and error, between light and darkness.
Romans 16:17, a favourite proof text for those who cry "division" in order to avoid correction, is usually quoted only in part: "Mark them which cause divisions"—as though "division" were the problem that is being dealt with. However, the verse actually says, "Mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned," making it clear that the issue is sound doctrine. It is those who refuse to have their false doctrines judged who are causing the wrong kind of division, not those who "earnestly contend for the faith" (Jude 3), as we are admonished to do.
Nor dare we compromise truth for the sake of avoiding controversy.
There is nothing unscriptural about controversy when the good of souls requires it, as it did in the controversies of (for instance) Christ and Paul.