by Michael Makidon
Cruising at subsonic speed, the Nighthawk, better known as the stealth fighter, is one of the most elusive fighting machines on earth. With the use of radar absorbent materials and the optimization of its surface and edge profiles to reflect radar, it is nearly impossible to detect. On radar, the stealth more closely resembles a hummingbird than a 65-foot long 52,000-pound war machine.
The Nighthawk was developed for the sole purpose of flying undetected into hostile territory to accomplish its stated mission while minimizing casualties and opportunities for retaliation.
Evangelism in Stealth Mode
We as Grace advocates commonly adopt a similar stealth strategy in our evangelistic endeavors. Entering hostile territory with “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph 6:17b), we bring the clear gospel to those who need to hear it. We accomplish our mission during the initial evangelistic encounter by conveying the truth in a purely positive light, avoiding or at least minimizing any possibly offensive material. Consequently, we emphasize the positive—that Jesus guarantees eternal life to all who simply believe in Him, while the negatives—warnings about false gospels and those who preach them—are deemphasized or left unsaid.
The advantages to this are obvious: 1) People hear the truth and have the opportunity to understand and believe the gospel, and 2) Prospective believers are not overwhelmed with new information. Few would argue with an approach that produces such results. However, what happens after people believe? If people are taught the gospel of grace but are not warned about false gospels and those that propagate them, are they not left defenseless against attacks on their faith and the lure of false doctrine? Indeed the pages of the New Testament are replete with examples that answer the question with a resounding “Yes!”
Discipling the Flock to Withstand the Wolves
Fearful that this very thing might happen in Ephesus, Paul instructed the elders of the church about this critical issue:
Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears (Acts 20:28-31).
Paul knew that telling the flock that, “Jesus guarantees eternal life to all who believe in Him” would not be enough to protect them against the wiles of the savage wolves who would come in and pervert his message. Consequently, alerting the flock was Paul’s highest priority, evidenced by his persistent warnings and shedding of tears.
Paul instructed Timothy to:
Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables (2 Tim 4:2-4).
We must not only exhort our people in what to believe but we must also rebuke what is not true so that our people will not fall prey to false doctrine.
Some Cretans were teaching that circumcision was a necessary ingredient in the gospel and were leading many astray. For this reason Paul instructed Titus to appoint elders who would “both…exhort and convict those who contradict” (Titus 1:9b). What if Titus had only exhorted the church concerning the truth of justification but had stopped short of warning them about those who were adding the false requirement of circumcision? Many more could have been led astray!
Paul was amazed at how quickly the Galatians had turned away from the truth and so he spent much time rebuking the errors of the Judaizers. Indeed, Paul even rebuked Peter to his face in Antioch (Gal 2:11) for his actions toward the Gentiles. The Galatians had been led astray and exhortation would no longer suffice. Rebuke and correction was necessary.
What a privilege we have been given—to proclaim the gospel of grace so that people have the opportunity to believe in Jesus for eternal life. However, if we do not disciple believers by warning them of false doctrine, our prior efforts may be overrun and believers may be led astray.
May our arsenal include not only exhortation, but also refutation of error so that people will believe the gospel, remain steadfast in their faith, and endure sound doctrine.