Thursday, August 1, 2013

Should We Follow Gamaliel's Advice?

Acts 5:38-39 reads:

"So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!"

Recently I've been seeing this come up over and over, exhorting us to stop fighting against perceived false teachers, heresies, and unbiblical practices. If it's not true, the reasoning goes, it will die out and go away. And if you're wrong and it actually is true, well, you don't want to oppose God, do you?

Is this an appropriate use of this passage? I think not, for numerous reasons.

First, it's an inference drawn from a narrative which is exactly the opposite of direct commands, such as Titus 1:10-11 and 1 John 4:1-6, as well as descriptions of the church such as Ephesians 4:11-16. In interpretation, the clear always trumps the unclear; clear doctrinal teachings explain the narratives. To subvert clear, unambiguous teaching by making it subordinate to possible inferences drawn from narratives is twisting the Bible on its head. It's a sure-fire recipe for disaster.

But even if that clear teaching wasn't there, would this even be good advice for Christians? True, it's the words of scripture - but it's the words of a blasphemous enemy of the church plotting the best way to eliminate any memory of Jesus Christ*. Well guess what, the words "He has uttered blasphemy" are recorded in scripture about Jesus - should we therefore hold that Jesus is actually a blasphemer? Of course not. Nor should we swallow this utterance unquestioned. At the very least, we need to have the same skepticism we use for the speeches of Job's friends.

And putting that aside, is it even good advice? Really, how often has "just ignore it and it will go away" worked? Maybe with an annoying little sibling you might get lucky occasionally. Maybe. But a health issue, a weed problem, a leaky faucet, Milton, or a subversive movement? Not likely.

No, I don't think this was good advice we should emulate. I think it was providentially terrible advice, just as God providentially made Absalom listen to Hushai's awful advice rather than Ahithophel's counsel. God protected his people by making their enemies act foolishly. By the time they got around to full-on attacks, it was too little, too late.

This advice of Gamaliel's is directly contrary to God's commands, was aimed at destroying the church, and proved to be spectacularly awful. Why, exactly, should the church follow his advice now? Oh that's right - it's those who are promoting unbiblical nonsense and want it to go unchallenged who suggest we should. How about we just obey God instead?

By the way, do you think they actually believe what they're promoting? Here's a test - go to one of their churches and start teaching, say, the full gospel, the sufficiency of scripture, etc. Do you think they'd let you go unopposed or shut you down? Exactly.

*Because he had been mentor of the Apostle Paul, I've often heard people speak of Gamaliel as if he surely must have been a Christian himself. And maybe there's some early-Christian literature describing his conversion, I dunno. But in this story, he's clearly not a Christian. He compares Jesus to some rabble-rousing nobodies and schemes how to make people forget about him, too. Certainly he doesn't speak up affirming Jesus as Lord and Christ! And a few paragraphs later, when we see his great disciple Saul, what is he doing? Assisting in the murder of Stephen, and going on a Christian-killing rampage. So his top man was a persecutor, he rejected Jesus as Messiah and wanted the church to just go away. We think he was a crypto-Christian... why, exactly?


Michael Coughlin said...

Thanks for pointing this out. This practice annoys me, too.

It reminds me of "healthy" Ezekiel bread.

Have you seen it?

It says "crafted in the likeness of the Holy Scripture verse" - Ezekiel 4:9.

I wonder if they follow the proscription in Ezekiel 4:12, then? After all, it is scripture.

Robert said...

The church really needs to have classes defining the differences between prescriptive and descriptive...that would helpwith this type of thing.

Also, do people with this philosophy say that Paul was wrong for writing his epistles? I mean, they surely must think he should have just ignored the problems in the churches, right?

trogdor said...

All the local healthy stores have that Ezekiel bread. I shudder to think of how much money is wasted on that in a vain attempt to earn God's blessing.

Robert, you bring up an interesting point. Who would know Gamaliel better than Paul? And yet he had no problem opposing false teachers in numerous ways. Maybe we should follow the apostle rather than the apostate?