One of the many important challenges of the pastoral role is that of 'protecting the flock'! No simple task for there are many wolves out there waiting to devour the sheep, many shepherds who are looking to steer the faithful away from the truth and loads of well meaning people who have simply got the wrong end of the stick or been sucked into error.
The potential for people to slip into error is great for that which, at first glance, appears to be sound can easily turn out not to be. The sadness is that many who follow, error more often than not, genuinely believe they are following the truth and this is where the problems begin, Problems because of the options before us when this happens:
i. Sigh and walk away having said nothing - AKA 'keeping the peace'
ii. Engage with them, find out more, and issue a caution - AKA 'making trouble for yourself'
iii. Teach and preach orthodoxy and hope people spot the errors themselves - AKA 'Living in hope'
Option i is the oft preferred method of choice because silence is golden and peace, however uneasy, reigns. This has been my option of choice at times because it's simple and avoids all that nasty conflict. But while it removes the frustration of dealing with people who refuse to even consider that they might be wrong it leaves them on the wrong track. Now as much as the 'leave them to their own ends' approach is compelling, The Bible tosses a spanner into the works in so many places (which we will cover shortly).
Option ii is fraught with problems because those who hold a different position will beat their breasts and complain to any who will listen (and there's always many of them) about you being negative. They will go on about how you oppose the things of God and are quenching the Spirit and, best of all, proclaim (loudly) how you, as an accuser of the brethren, are the very spawn of satan. It is this that 'encourages' so many of us to adopt the first option. After all, as a survivor of such an engagement last year put it: 'They aren't going to listen, their idiot friends make your life hell, what's the point, best leave them to it!'
I love option iii because it is the thinking shepherd's approach. You look at what's going on and then you see where it deviates from that which is right and then you teach that which is right in the hope that those under your care will, like the Alien toys in Toy Story emit a loud 'Oooooh!' as the penny drops - job done. Well that's the idea - but whilst some will make the connections, many require the explicit approach of option ii. if you're really going to do the job properly.
Attempting to counter error is fraught with bumps, potholes and rubble designed to knock you off your bike. The minute you engage with any suspected error the same old responses appear. It's like playing Sonic as you pass through familiar levels in pursuit of that final goal.
Next instalment will take a look at the response you get and some biblical responses (which will be great because there are so many unbiblical to choose from)
Here's a thought from 2 Tim 4.2 to be going on with:
'Tell everyone God’s message. Be ready at all times to do whatever is needed.
Tell people what they need to do,
tell them when they are doing wrong, and encourage them.
Do this with great patience and careful teaching.'