Quoting preachers and naming scoundrels

“Lord, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us” (Mark 9:38).

Robert Schuller founded the Crystal Cathedral in California and hosted television’s “Hour of Power” broadcast, making him the “media pastor” to countless millions who would never have entered my church. He wrote books, did a lot of good, did much that was questionable, and drove us traditionalists out of our collective minds.

My favorite Robert Schuller story: When he was a kid, his mother taught him piano. Once, in the middle of a recital, his mind went blank and he forgot the rest of the piece he was playing. There was nothing to do but walk off the stage in humiliation. Later, his mother gave him some great advice. “Any time you mess up in the middle of a piece, end with a flourish and no one will ever remember what you did in the middle.” Schuller would look at his congregation and say, “Some of you have messed up in the middle of your life. But my friend, you can still end with a flourish if you start now.”

It’s a great story and makes a fine sermon illustration.

However….

After Schuller died, I posted that story on Facebook and suggested readers restrain themselves from giving us their judgments of the man. I said, “He has One who will judge him, One who is far more qualified than either of us. And since I will be needing mercy when I stand before Him, I want to show mercy toward everyone I meet.”

The comments poured in quickly.

Most expressed appreciation for something Dr. Schuller had done or said, a few remembered visiting the Crystal Cathedral and gave us their lasting impressions, and several thanked me for the tone of my note.

Thankfully, no one judged.

But the first time I told that story to my New Orleans church, the reaction was different.

In telling the story, I made the mistake of attaching Robert Schuller’s name to it. (In time, I learned to say “A certain preacher” in order not to set off the alarms of the heresy hunters among us.)

A woman rushed to me after the service. “Pastor, you clearly do not know what Robert Schuller believes or you would never quote him from the pulpit!”

I assured her I knew about the man. “But,” I said, “I simply told a story from him. I didn’t endorse his theology.”

That was not good enough for her. She now had something to use against her new pastor and would be sharing it with friends, that was sure. Before she walked off, I added, “I quote a lot of people. If I quote a Catholic priest, it only means I like something he said.” Since she was a former Catholic on a relentless tirade against that religion, that would never do.

What’s a preacher to do? 

A wise pastor will give plenty of thought and prayer before endorsing or slamming another preacher, and will do so under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

When a pastor publicly calls out preachers they consider heretics, I suspect many in the pew cringe.

A friend who has suffered in this life more than almost anyone I know told me of a book by one of these questionable media preachers that is ministering to her. This friend buys and gives away Jesus Calling, which has sold in the millions. And yet, I know a lot of people who have absolutely no use for that book.

“Let him alone,” said our Lord to His disciples about the lone-ranger preacher. “For he who is not against us is on our side” (Mark 9:40).

Let him alone.

We are reminded of the parable of the tares from Matthew 13. “Master,” said the farm-workers, “Shall we go into the fields and uproot the tares?” “No,” said the owner. “Lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the (good) wheat with them.”

The principle might be stated something like this: “Sometimes you should name names and sometimes you shouldn’t. Know your Bible, ask the Lord, and obey the law of love.”

When I have said pastors should be cautious in identifying by name heretics from the pulpit, many have disagreed strongly.

Didn’t John call out Diotrephes in III John? Didn’t Paul issue a caution about Demas and others? Didn’t he say, “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm”?

Yes. But mostly, the apostles did not “call them out by name.”

In the Corinthian church, Paul was perplexed by certain “super apostles” who were sucking all the air out of the room. They were the “stars” of their day, they had gifts and egos and resumes’ (and probably coiffures and best sellers and lived in gated mansions!) that outshone Paul’s measly style, unheralded gifts, and questionable accomplishments. (I say that tongue in cheek. Who in the history of the Christian church rivals this apostle in gifts and accomplishments?! Just the other day I saw where a writer called the Apostle Paul one of the most influential people ever to walk this planet.)

Paul hated what these people were doing. He called them “false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13).

He did not name them.

That was enough. Those “in the know” required no further identification of the culprits. Besides, Paul was not there. His knowledge of these glamor boys was based on reports from friends. He would not sit as their judge, because he did not possess enough information. Nor did the situation require it. Addressing the situation should be sufficient.

History has not told us the rest of the story, although that will be one of the questions Paul will be addressing in his recollections some day in glory. (I hope the Father has in mind classes on this and ten thousand other subjects to tell His children “the rest of the stories.” I can’t wait.)

Please note that I did not say a pastor should never “call out” the wrong-headed preachers. Only that he should exercise care. He risks wounding the heart of the weak brother or sister who has found spiritual comfort in that person’s ministry. Therefore, pastors who decide to name names of offending preachers should know what they are talking about (that is, they’re not just quoting something they read from another preacher somewhere), should know their Bibles sufficiently to be certain of the Truth, and should obey the Law of Love as the Holy Spirit leads.

It’s not the worst thing in the world for the pew-dwellers to cringe at something the pastor says. But that should motivate him to be sure of his footing before he takes such a stand.

Our Lord said we shall give account of every idle word (Matthew 12:36). How much more will preachers account to Him for every sharp, harsh word, even when spoken in love with good intent.

On social media, I said something about Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, the other day.  Someone I do not know quickly messaged to say Warren is an infidel and I was no better for having quoted him.

I deleted his message.