Daubing With Untempered Mortar
Churches of Christ, the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Although this expression may have a familiar ring to it (cf. Hebrews 13:8), it reflects neither the truth of Scripture nor the reality of history. Churches of Christ do change. For example, the church at Ephesus had both a beginning and an end. In Acts 20:29-31, the apostle Paul warned the Ephesian elders: "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 disciples after themselves." At first, the church at Ephesus was resistant to false teachers, and was even commended by the Lord for this. But eventually, it left its first love (Revelation 2:1-4). Unless the church would repent, the Lord promised He would remove it from Ephesus (verse 5). History tells us that the church in Ephesus did cease to exist. When we consider what Paul said to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:29-31, we can imagine the process: Having lost their ardent love and zeal for the One who had so graciously redeemed them, they (the church) waned in their desire to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered" (Jude 3). As a result, they began to tolerate the false teachers they had once so steadfastly resisted. Eventually, even their own leaders began to teach things that were false. To use an expression that had been used earlier in describing the failings of fleshly Israel, they built a security wall and "daubed with untempered mortar" (cf. Ezekiel 13:10,11).
Today, it seems like many among us are trying to build a wall of unity and security with untempered mortar. There is, of course, nothing wrong with true unity and security, which is provided for us in Christ, but a man-made wall of false unity and security built with untempered mortar is destined to come tumbling down. Like Israel of old, many churches are in serious trouble today; but, instead of acknowledging it and then doing something about it, they are, instead, falsely encouraged (i.e., seduced) by those who cry, "'Peace, peace!' When there is no peace" (Ezekiel 13:10; Jeremiah 6:14; 8:11). This cry is heard today in the messages of those who are preaching and teaching that things are really not as bad as they seem, and churches are really better off today than they have ever been. From all appearance, this is simply not true. Nevertheless, many Christians have been lulled into a false sense of security. As our man-made wall of unity and security comes tumbling in on us, those who are intent on building the self-esteem of their listeners by crying "'Peace, peace,' when there is no peace" have only "healed the hurt of [God's] people slightly" (Jeremiah 6:14). These modern-day Pied Pipers have cured nothing. In truth, they have only aggravated the problem.
In the name of a unity that will make us secure from "splintering and dividing into a thousand different little groups, each with their own peculiar little doctrine," an adulterated Romans 14, one that ultimately would have us tolerate just about every kind of false teaching, is being used to construct a wall put together with untempered mortar. Of course, it is true that the teaching of Romans 14 was designed to preserve unity in the various churches. This is done by instructing Christians not to divide over matters of indifference, such as the eating or non-eating of meatsneither of which are unlawful "in Christ." But, the principals taught in Romans 14 were never intended to teach churches that they should overlook false teaching, or the one who teaches it. Those among us who try to use Romans 14 this way are "daubing with untempered mortar.
Ironically, but true to the parable of the untempered mortar found in Ezekiel 13, the stop-gap measure of a misunderstood and misapplied Romans 14 does not actually provide the unity and security it promises. On the contrary, just as untempered mortar would cause a wall to ultimately crumble, a tolerance for false doctrine actually precipitates the development of parties within churches of Christ. For instance, if a well-known and highly regarded preacher and teacher, who falsely teaches that alien sinners are not subject to God's marriage law, is identified publicly along with his teaching, as he should be, then there are those who, although they do not agree with the false teaching, will accuse these accusers for not exhibiting what they consider to be the right attitudei.e., they will accuse them of all sorts of ulterior motives. Do the accusers of these accusers prove their charges? No, they simply assassinate the characters of these individuals. Sadly, the evidence that proves this beloved brother teaches false doctrine is not even questioned, only the motives of those who have cited it.
Just suppose for a moment that this same thing would have been done when Paul publicly identified Peter as a sinner in Galatians 2:11-21. What would have happened? Paul, some would have said, had ulterior motives. He was just headhunting. Others might even have said that Paul just could not stand the fact that Peter was more popular than himself. Some might even have accused Paul of trying to hurt the cause of Christ by destroying one of its icons. Of course, all these charges would have been false. Paul loved the cause of Christ and he loved Peter, Barnabas and the rest of the Jewish Christians, and he proved it by his appeal to the objective standard of God's Word. Peter and the rest were wrong, and they were wrong not because Paul said so, but because God's Word said so. It should be clear that criticism of Paul in this situation would have done Christ and His cause, Peter, Barnabas, and the rest of the Jewish Christians absolutely no good. Instead of genuine repentance and the furtherance of the gospel, there would have been party-ism and strife. We thank God that Paul and Peter provided us with a better example than that which is being provided by many of who claim to be God's people today.
Thinking about this reminds me of the famous case of anthropologist Derek Freeman's exposing of fellow anthropologist Margaret Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa. Myriad college students have been subjected to Mrs. Mead's thesis that Samoans, unencumbered by the sexual and social taboos of the West, grew up with a healthy sexuality, freely expressed from an early age, and did not indulge in such Western hostilities as rape. In his book, Margaret Mead and Samoa, Freeman showed that during the 1920s while Mrs. Mead was in Samoa doing her research, the native society was full of serious dysfunction, sexual and otherwise. According to the court records of that time, rape was a very serious problem in Samoa. Mrs. Mead was wrong, but when Freeman's book appeared, he was attacked by his fellow anthropologists, not because of inconclusive evidence, but because he was desecrating an icon of anthropology. As a matter of fact, during the controversy surrounding his book, many distinguished scholars said they had known for years that the Mead account did not ring true, but there was really no reason for Freeman to splash it over the whole world. This kind of behavior on the part of Freeman's critics is very unseemly, even when committed by non-Christians, but does it not also reflect the behavior of some among us? Brethren, this ought not to be!
The preaching of the word, the being instant in season and out of season, the reproving, the rebuking, and the exhorting mentioned in II Timothy 4:2 are not directed toward the denominations, but Christians. Yes, we must keep the world out, and this is our solemn duty, but we must remember the wall that keeps us unified and secure is that which is daubed with the tempered mortar of God's Word, not the think-sos of modern men. We must continue to learn not to think of men above that which is written (I Corinthians 4:6). This, like the other things contained in God's Word, is a message for our time.
By faith we know that God's Word will never fail us. By experience we ought to know that any other wall must be daubed with untempered mortar.