In the book of 2 Timothy, Paul, the aged apostle, divinely commanded his protégé Timothy, “Preach the Word!” (2 Timothy 4:2a). “For the time is coming,” Paul warned, “when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4; ESV)
It’s been two thousand years, or so, since the apostle penned those words, and time and again people have showed his words to be the absolute truth.
One might wonder, how bad can it get?
Some thirty years ago, the BBC television series, “Yes, Prime Minister,” in an episode entitled, “The Bishop’s Gambit,” satirically opined that the ideal Bishop in the Anglican church was a “modernist,” which the show explained, was code for “atheist.” How could this be? Well, the show explained in further dialogue, the church of England was more of a social institute than a true religious body. In the church of England, while the Queen was inseparable from the church, God was considered an “optional extra.”
That was thirty years ago, in a different country.
More recently, in Colorado, Karen Oliveto, an ordained Bishop in the Methodist church, and an openly practicing lesbian, recently taught her followers that Jesus was an ignorant bigot who should not be idolized, but instead serves as an example of how we too need to grow past our own prejudices. This rather blasphemous view of Jesus has created some small controversy in certain circles, but it seems unlikely, at this point, that she will be disciplined for it. One must assume that there is a certain crowd who agrees with her. They did, after all, appoint her as a bishop. Rather than viewing the Christian church as being centered on Christ as the holy Son of God, these individuals see Christ as sort of an “optional extra” in pursuit of other matters.
If we were to go back two thousand years in time, we would see that not much has changed for people. The Sadducees, a Jewish religious party in the 1st century, had a particular set of views, which are summarized for us thusly: “Sadducees say that there is no resurrection—and no angel or spirit.” (Acts 23:8; NKJV) The Sadducees were the “modernists” of the ancient world: men who did not believe much in God, the inspiration of Scriptures, or the existence of an eternal soul. They were also, quite notably, in charge of the Temple of God. The High Priest and many of the most influential priests of Jesus’ day were all Sadducees.
How could such a thing happen?
The answer is that it happened then for the same reason it happens today: people find religious leaders who will teach them what they want to be taught. If there was not an audience for such teaching, then such teaching would not be influential. It is really that simple.
Going back even further in time, the prophet Jeremiah wrote, “The prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule by their own power; And My people love to have it so. But what will you do in the end?” (Jeremiah 5:31; NKJV)
Why are there “Christian teachers” out there who are willing to forego Christ? Because there are listeners out there who “Love to have it so.” It won’t do them any good in the end, but for the present it pleases them, and many of their teachers tell them not to worry about judgment day anyway.
One must assume that most individuals do not start off by looking for ministers, bishops, priests or pastors who are going to consider Jesus to be an “optional extra,” in Christianity. Rather they look for someone who will countenance their marriage, or their gambling, or their drinking, or their dancing, or their materialism, or their homosexuality, or whatever sin they want to engage in. They look for someone who will suit their own passions, an individual who will not make them feel guilty about their life choices. And the longer they listen to such preaching and teaching, the easier it becomes to slide just a little further and further from the truth. Until at last they find themselves in a congregation where the preacher is telling them that maybe Jesus really isn’t the path to salvation and that maybe there is no God, no hell, no angels, and no eternal heaven.
The man of God, heeding the advice of the Lord’s apostle, needs to guard against the temptation to tell people what they want to hear, and choose to “Preach the Word!” And the man of God, when looking for teachers, also needs to be willing to “Listen to the Word.” Not only listen to the Word when it exhorts and encourages us, but also when it corrects and reproves him. (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16)
It is for this reason that the church of Christ invites you to study and worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions, please share them with us through our website: chapelhillchurchofchrist.org
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.