I recently read an article that lamented the departure of James Dobson from Focus on the Family, calling him one of the last great "watchmen" of true American Christianity.
Follow me as I digress. I vividly remember the first time I heard Dr. Dobson and the Focus radio broadcast. I was still in college, in my early 20s, driving home to El Paso from a Fellowship of Christian Athletes event in Dallas. I was, I think, like a lot of Christian guys then -- wanting to be holy, struggling with the temptations and sins of a single college student. It was an unholy trinity of sins: lust (because I wanted to be desired by a girl), spending too much money (often because I wanted to be desired by a girl) and drinking too much alcohol (because somehow I thought girls liked that). Maybe that's why the Book of Arnie, chapter 1, verse 2 read "The love of women is the root of all evil." (Yes, I once wrote my own book of the Bible, but that's another topic, and we've already got too many. And it also places too much blame on girls -- the downfall was mine alone.)
Dobson spoke about men being fathers, good fathers, and I was moved to tears. I desperately wanted to be a godly man, husband and father, and I want to publicly say "thank you" to Jim Dobson for teaching me many things about how to go about that. The man is no doubt a godly man, and God has used him greatly.
I do, however, think that he wasn't on his best game when he started commenting more on political issues. Not that believers shouldn't do that -- we absolutely should -- but somehow the IMHO pettiness of partisan (read "conservative" not Republican, although you might could make the case for both) politics that seemed to taint Dr. Dobson's comments and actions on certain issues turned me off. I'm simply a believer that sin abounds in the hearts of men and women, and no amount of political wrangling can change that. Again, IMHO, he often seemed to project that changing laws would make the US a more moral, godly nation, and with that I disagree.
I hope his new radio program with his son is a success, and it builds the kingdom. I pray he continues to have an influence over young men and women in how they love each other and their kids. God know we need godly families.
The writer of the article goes on though to lament the lack of "watchmen" in the American church. The watchmen term, for those who don't know, comes from a section of Ezekiel 33 where Zeke the prophet is called the watchmen who warns Israel of the wickedness among them. Here is a quote from the article, where the author is quoting something he's written previously:
"In order to defend true Christianity against the encroachment of error, people must be active in finding the wolves that dwell amongst the flock." (from "Another Watchman Falls Off the Wall" by Todd Stranberg, found here)
There is an undeniable challenge in taking Old Testament commands, stories, laws, etc and applying them to today's world. We no longer stone disobedient children, make women stay outside for a week after their period, or avoid catfish and shrimp for dinner. We have examined and determined that certain laws are not meant for us to follow today. There are entire chapters of seminary hermeneutic textbooks dedicated to this, and we don't have the time here. But there aren't any believers today that I know of who follow all OT commands.
So I submit that we need to relook at this watchman idea -- what the author defines as being active in pointing out wolves or false prophets within the church.
First, we clearly need to be on the lookout for those who would mislead us. Jesus tells us in Matthew 7.15ff that there will be false prophets. We will be able to recognize them by their fruit, by the way their lives display a faith and trust in Jesus and his Way of life. This is not the same as adhering to correct doctrine, although that is clearly important. It is primarily about how our lives adhere to the Way of Jesus, because of our faith in Jesus (see Matthew 7.21-27). There will be people on the day of judgment who will say "Lord, we believed and practiced all these things in your name" but they will have missed out because they never knew Jesus. All of this demands that we study the life and teaching of Jesus and in faith get to know him and his Way of life.
Second, we need to be very clear on what is and is not our role to play in pointing out false prophets. Jesus tells a parable (Matthew 13.24-30) that gives us clear teaching on this. To summarize, a farmer plants wheat, an enemy comes and throws a bunch of weed seeds into the soil, and when the plants start to grow, the "fruit" of each plant is clearly either wheat or weed. The servants ask the farmer what to do about it -- should they pull up the weeds? No, pulling the weeds will damage the wheat. At the time of the harvest, the reapers will gather and separate and save the wheat but burn the weeds.
So let me make my point, because this post is growing too long. Our primary task as it relates to "weeds" or false prophets among us is to cultivate good fruit, in ourselves and in the church. It is not to cut down or pull out the weeds. That will be done at the time of harvest, but right now it damages good plants' opportunities for growth and fruit production. To put it plainly, to spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on attacking false prophets will do more harm than good. Many people on their way into the kingdom will be damaged by others' sincere attempts to destroy false prophets. Much care should be made to heed the teachings of Jesus.
The article above goes on to say "Sadly, 'apologetics' has become a dirty word." I will respectfully disagree. Apologetics means to give an reason for the hope that is within you with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3.15). May we all be apologetics for hope in the gospel of Jesus.