GAMALIEL’S ADVICE

T. Pierce Brown

Last night in a session with a congregation in which we were trying to find some practical answers to some of the divisive problems which plague the church, a lovely young couple who were deeply disturbed about the divisions and disturbances brought up two scriptures which are perverted and misapplied, which adds to the problem rather than solving it.

In fact, they brought up another one with which we do not want to deal today, for we have already seen several articles on it. That is Matthew 18:15-17, with the assumption that if a person publicly teaches a false doctrine or promulgates a false system of worship or living, one must go to that person and talk to him alone, and must never speak or write publicly about it. Surely, there is no doubt in any compassionate Christian’s mind that no matter what the situation is, the principle of trying to settle matters in as quiet and loving a manner as possible is valid. But the very idea that when a person or group has spread false doctrine or pernicious practices over the whole brotherhood, one can not even combat the doctrine without finding the source and speaking to him privately is, in itself, a false doctrine and destructive to the Christian system. I certainly do not have to find the one who first thought up this strange and false exegesis of scripture before writing in refutation of it! But we do not remember reading a refutation of the two ideas advanced last night, so this article will address those thoughts.

The first was concerning the parable of the tares in Matthew 13:24-30. The idea suggested was, “Let the false teachers along until the harvest, and God will take care of them.” The second scripture was from Acts 5:34-40 concerning the advice of Gamaliel, who advised, “Let them alone, for if this is the counsel or work of mean, it will be overthrown, but if it be of God, ye will not be able to overthrow them.” Of course the “punch line” was, “Do not bother with these false teachers and perverted practices, for if God does not approve of it, he will overthrow it in His own way.” I was amazed that I had already heard an elder, a good friend and an excellent Bible student express the same idea some months before. They are both “dead wrong” in their misunderstanding and misapplication of the scripture. But if they were right, they are still wrong in not letting me alone in my efforts, for if I had no right to criticize or try to correct a false system and false doctrine, then they had no right to criticize or correct me. Verily the “legs of the lame are not equal” (Proverbs 26:7).

But what is the correct exegesis of these passages? The passage in Matthew 13 cannot be talking about denying and refuting false doctrine, or even of not withdrawing fellowship from those who persist in it for at least these reasons: First, it would have Jesus in conflict with Himself and with Paul, for they both taught to mark and avoid certain kinds of persons (Romans 16:17), and count some as publicans and sinners (Matthew 18:17).

Second, the very language of the parable shows that the rooting up and punishing the false teachers has to do with the concept of how the church is to be kept pure. In this age, the church is not to be kept pure by burning at the stake, cutting off heads, stretching on the rack, or any such means. It is to be kept pure by teaching, admonishing, rebuking, and withdrawing fellowship from those who refuse to do right–all spiritual in nature. But in the judgment day, those who remain tares will not simply be rebuked and withdrawn from, but actually taken and burned. But that is God’s punishment, not ours.

In the case of Gamaliel, we need to note two things. First, he was not an inspired man, proclaiming the truth of God relative to how to treat error, nor does Luke present him as such. He is merely expressing his opinion, to which the ungodly Jews agreed verbally, then went ahead and beat the Apostles. Again, if the idea is advanced that this is God’s teaching, we have it in conflict with every inspired man in the Bible, including Paul and Jesus, not only in what they said, but what they did. Moses, Elijah and Jeremiah were all wrong! Jesus could not have rebuked the false doctrine and practice of the Jews. Paul and Barnabas could not have gone up toJerusalemand had discussions about the false doctrine of circumcision, or anything else! There is no practical way anyone could ever “contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). In fact, no one could, on that principle, even try to restrain gambling, prostitution, or abortion, either in the church or out! Just leave them alone and they will quit! Anytime anyone would try to stand up for anything or against anything, he would hear the plaintive cry, “Let it alone. God will take care of it.”

I find it difficult to even argue against such a position, as I would to argue with a man who says, “The moon is made of green cheese” or “A circle is square.” Surely we do not need to beat a dead horse. Can any reasonable, thinking person who actually considers seriously the implications of the practical (or impractical) application of that idea continue to think it is God-given or valid? If so, you can not even respond to this article, for if you practice what you teach, you have to leave this alone too!

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