27 April 2007

The tolerance that is a deal-killer

by Dan Phillips

I've studied the book of Revelation very closely. That doesn't mean I understand it — it just means I've studied it closely!

But I haven't read it for awhile, so in my latest read-through in Greek there is a freshness that is at the same time refreshing and disconcerting, if you know what I mean.

Yesterday's reading was in chapter two, amid the letters to seven churches that fill chapters two and three. When I was preparing for a very detailed test on Revelation at Talbot, I used the acronym ESP TSP L for the order of the letters: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea.

This was the letter to Thyatira (2:18-29). After the introductory identification of Jesus to them (v. 18), the Lord dictates this:
"'I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first" (Revelation 2:19)

Οἶδά σου τὰ ἔργα, καὶ τὴν ἀγάπην καὶ τὴν πίστιν καὶ τὴν διακονίαν καὶ τὴν ὑπομονήν σου, καὶ τὰ ἔργα σου, τὰ ἔσχατα πλείονα τῶν πρώτων.
Jesus says "I know" a great deal about this church. He says "I know" seven times in these letters (Revelation 2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15), and fully "I know your works" six times in these letters (2:2, 19; 3:1, 8, 15). Sometimes these words introduce some encouragement, even if measured (as here); sometimes a very sharp rebuke (cf. 3:1).

But here, see what the Lord knows: works, faith, service, endurance. Each of those is a rich NT word bespeaking a vital spirituality. The dimensions reach upward and outward, horizontally and vertically. They aren't just about trying to live Christianly without thinking God's thoughts after Him, nor are they given to the opposite error.

This is a well-balanced church, in this way.

Then add to it all that "your latter works exceed the first" (contrast 2:4-5). This is as should be (cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:12; 2 Peter 1:8). They are growing, thriving, moving on. What could be better? Could you hope to hear better from the Lord?

Yet the next word is "But." It is the stronger Greek adversative ἀλλὰ (alla), setting up a direct contrast.
But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.

ἀλλὰ ἔχω κατὰ σοῦ ὅτι ἀφεῖς τὴν γυναῖκα Ἰεζάβελ, ἡ λέγουσα ἑαυτὴν προφῆτιν καὶ διδάσκει καὶ πλανᾷ τοὺς ἐμοὺς δούλους πορνεῦσαι καὶ φαγεῖν εἰδωλόθυτα.
Every spiritual blessing in them and abounding—yet Jesus has something against them: they tolerate false teaching. It isn't enough that they are personally holy, alive, growing. These are good things, they are signs of personal health. But there is a vital, crucial, missing element. A body that does not fight off infection, whatever its other strengths, is not a healthy body.

This is their failing. They are not actively fighting off infection. They are not contending earnestly for the faith (Jude 3). The aggelos , "messenger" of the church (2:18) — which I take to be its pastor — is not sharply rebuking, resisting, and shutting the mouth of a virulent false teacher here called "Jezebel." This is the neglect of an important duty (Titus 1:9-11; 2 John 10-11).

To shift the metaphor a bit, he allowed cancer in their midst, a doctrinal cancer, an aggressive, if you will an "evangelistic" cancer. Maybe it won't claim them. But it will claim others.

All the other great works don't cancel out tolerating false teaching. It isn't that the pastor himself did it; but he suffered it to be done. And what he allowed, the church allowed. These church members were not themselves false teachers; but they permitted a false teacher, they tolerated her.

The job of a shepherd is not merely to guide and feed the sheep, though it is that. It is also to protect the sheep, by fighting off the wolves, even if it costs him personally. It is this commitment that sets him apart from a mere hireling (John 10:12-13).

In this relativistic, tepid days, perhaps it is much that we believe the truth, that we embrace the truth, that we act on the truth, that we live the truth.

But in such an embrace, if it is real, there is the necessary corollary of a rejection of, and in fact an active opposition to error (cf. Proverbs 28:4; Hebrews 1:9).

Wonderful church, Thyatira. Good pastor. But -- he wouldn't draw the line, and so they didn't. They wouldn't enforce the edges.

And Jesus has that against them.

Dan Phillips's signature


Greene Street Letters said...

When are we going to grasp the fact that this is Jesus' Church....
not mine or anyone else.
Good words to chew on...
michael bynum
Attalla, Al.

Daniel said...

This reminds me of the laws concerning leprous houses in Leviticus 14 - the whole house is unclean until the leprosy stones have been cut out, all the plaster scraped, new plaster applied, and thereafter, only if the same leprosy does not recur. Just as Paul quipped about whether God was primarily concerned with oxen in recording how we are not to muzzle the ox that treads the grain, so too I think that principle can be applied here - was God so concerned with leprous masonry?

It is a very queer day for me when I get to mention that twice, but this is the second time today I mention it...

I like the way you handled this text Dan.

Ben N said...

People today are very intolerant about intolerance. :)
Our God is both holy and loving.
I think that's how we should be too.
It is the lack of intolerance and the lack of love when dealing with the intolerance that will lead many churches to ruin.

Great post Dan. Thank you for challenging the church to be the church.

Unknown said...

Liked it a lot! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Dan. You are so right on target. We ought to be more concerned about what CHRIST is looking for in HIS church than what people are looking for. We've had enough "Seeker Sensitive" churches; what we need are "Spirit Sensitive Churches" that submit to the whole counsel of God. The seven letters in Revelation prevent us from letting the tail wag the dog.

Tim Valentino
Fleetwood, PA

Pastor Steve said...

The question that continually comes up is how far do I go to protect the truth, and what is the hierarchy of truth? What truth am I willing to sacrifice for the sake of unity? Should I be willing to sacrifice any of God's truth for the sake of unity? Since you are referring to the book of Revelation, how lenient should I be on eschatology differences? It's a hard thing for me to work through.

On one hand I realize that there is a hierarchy of truth, but on the other hand, how can I possibly say that any truth that God gave us is unimportant and not worth fighting for?

The thing that struck me is that not only was "Jezebel" condemned for promoting sexual sin (which we would all see as heinous), but then she is also condemned for something that I think we would all view as far less serious, that being eating food sacrificed to idols. Many of us would overlook that second error.

Andrew said...

The job of a shepherd is not merely to guide and feed the sheep, though it is that. It is also to protect the sheep, by fighting off the wolves, even if it costs him personally. It is this commitment that sets him apart from a mere hireling (John 10:12-13).

Outstanding! Great thoughts.

John Haller said...

Good reminder. Not sure why many Christians have so many problems with this.

Maybe a post how to ID the wolves?

SLW said...

Question: What is it that motivates pastors to not fulfill their rod (Ps 23) function?

DJP said...

Question: What is it that motivates pastors to not fulfill their rod (Ps 23) function?

Oh, SLW, you could make quite a list. Fear of man (Proverbs 29:25), fear of loss of job, fear of loss of glory (John 5:44), guilty conscience (Proverbs 28:1) — or just plain ignorance of the issues or the stakes?

How's that for starters?

DJP said...

Hm. I really should think of different "Key words" for this post....

philness said...


See if you will help me out here.

I’m still having a hard time trying to equate false teaching with sexual immorality here in this Rev 2 passage concerning the church of Thyatira. It is well with my sole to do so on the surface, but…..I need a little help before I go out into the field today and begin reflecting on this. As I read the passage in Rev 2 it says that “Jezebel is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols”. If the sentence just stopped at teaching and seducing Gods servants, then its all good to conclude that the Church in Thyatira was guilty of false teaching. But the passage seems to tell us that the practicing of sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols was what she was specifically teaching. Perhaps if the passage said that Jezebel is teaching and seducing my servants (that leads) to sexual immorality…..then it would all come together for me.

I’m reminded of the passage in Acts 15 at the Jerusalem Council where they concluded that abstaining from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality- one would do well. And so in the Rev 2 passage is one to equate false teaching here in this Acts 15 passage just the same?

I wish I could explain myself better, but that’s all I got. And now my head hurts.

philness said...

I mean soul not sole. Arrgg, I hate that.

DJP said...

I'm sorry, Philness, I'm not following you. She's a false prophetess teaching falsely and they're tolerating her, and Jesus has a problem with that. "Teaching" is mentioned a couple of times, and her targets are identified as Christians.

What am I missing as to what's puzzling you? (Not being sarcastic; I just guess I don't get the question.)

And my soul likes sole.


Solameanie said...

As to the false teaching/sexuality juxtoposition, why does God compare going after other gods harlotry? It seems to me there is a lot of that kind of comparison in Scripture. Sexual sin is seen as impurity, with a whole host of consequences. Spiritual adultery or fornication is similar.

David A. Carlson said...

I agree with everything BUT....

John does not limit his condemnation to the pastor. In fact he never mentions the leadership of the Thyatiran Church.

He addresses it to the whole body.

So yes, the leadership at Thyatira has more responsiblity for what was happening. But it seems to me it applys to all the member of the Church - none should tolorate this lapse of christian orthodoxy. Simply because the pastor leads does not absolve the members from responsiblity.

Having said all that, I really do not know very much about how the early christian churchs operated, much less the church of Thyatira. Did they have a single pastor? Leadership team? No individual or group - was it a communal leadership (wouldnt that be delightlfully pomo?)

philness said...

Yea... I know, but it looks like; the way it is written, is that sexual immorality and eating things sacrificed to idols is what she is solely teaching. And what church is really doing that? over.

Pastor Mike Paris said...

"But -- he wouldn't draw the line, and so they didn't. They wouldn't enforce the edges."

Man, it sure is tough being the shepherd. Everybody is always watching us and copying us -- the good the bad and the ugly parts! There is indeed a higher standard of excellence for us. Which of course goes back to your post about the warning against desiring to be a teacher WITHOUT considering that there is a unique judgment waiting for these teachers in the future. But which also reminds us of Paul's bold challenge, "follow me as I am following Christ".

Dan, maybe you have also heard this little maxim, "what the leader allows in moderation, the follower allows in excess".

Example: I may know how to "control" my alcholoic consumption but my young padouin may give in to the ravages of drunkenness.

Thanks for reminding us, from Rev. that we as rev.'s need to guard our steps and work on the edges. Let's remember to also call the edges as God does and not call them so far back from the edge that we slip into Pharisaism.

*How about "pastoral ministry" or "Revelation" or "dcotrine" for keywords!

Pastor Mike Paris said...

of course no one would find dcotrine, so try doctrine!
(fat fingers, too much caffeine!)

DJP said...

DavidIn fact he never mentions the leadership of the Thyatiran Church.

Well, that is an assertion.

To counter it I remind you that I take the aggelos TO WHOM the letter is addressed to be the pastor. Jesus then proceeds to speak in the singular number ("thou"), not the plural.

C.T. Lillies said...

I don't know but in the OT (1 Kings 16:31) that problem they had with Jezebel could have been fixed by Ahab pretty easily, but he just let her do whatever she wanted. She was a foreigner and she consistently did things that were 'agin' the law.

Could be the one in Dan's post is the preachers wife and no one wants to mess with her because they 'really like the pastor.' Could be she's the matriarch of the church and she's got every one cowed down. Or 'she's just so nice and good with the kids'.

What Dan is talking about isn't fun but when you plant yourself in God's Word there's going to be trouble or you're not doing it right.

"...the word of God is not bound."
--2 Timothy 2:9

donsands said...

That was a nice exposition. Thanks. Good stuff.

"Not sure why many Christians have so many problems with this."

Satan is subtle, and he's a mastermind of deception. He's a roaring lion, and an angel of light.

We need to be alert and in the Word. And we need to be in the Church, and under the Elders who are watching over us; and even elders need elders.

And of course Satan is no match for the Lord. Not even close.

"Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, ... and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.
And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen." 2 Tim. 4:17-18

And the Lord is with all His elect.

Sharad Yadav said...

Hey Philness, I think the modern dichotomy between false doctrine and sinful practices is one that the early church didn't make as readily as we do. 2 Peter chapter 2 describes false teachers as people whose "false words" are directly related to their sensuality and greed. You can see this in the early fathers as well; Ignatius says:

"Therefore as children of the light of truth flee from division and false teaching. Where the shepherd is, there follow like sheep. (2) For many seemingly trustworthy wolves attempt, by means of wicked pleasure [ἡδονῇ κακῇ], to take captive the runners in God’s race; but in your unity they will find no opportunity."

Sharad Yadav said...

I should have also mentioned the fact that a person's conduct was, by itself, was sufficient to condemn someone as a false teacher! A teacher's orthodoxy was measured in terms of his practices, not just his words. You can see the use of Peter's criteria in other early church writings such as the Didache, with the sensitivity to issues of greed and exploitation:

(11:3) Now concerning the apostles and prophets, deal with them as follows in accordance with the rule of the gospel. (4) Let every apostle who comes to you be welcomed as if he were the Lord. (5) But he is not to stay for more than one day, unless there is need, in which case he may stay another. But if he stays three days, he is a false prophet. (6) And when the apostle leaves, he is to take nothing except bread until he finds his next night’s lodging. But if he asks for money, he is a false prophet."

steve said...

DJP wrote Oh, SLW, you could make quite a list. Fear of man (Proverbs 29:25), fear of loss of job, fear of loss of glory (John 5:44), guilty conscience (Proverbs 28:1) — or just plain ignorance of the issues or the stakes?

How's that for starters?

Don't forget to include money, which has been used to buy silence from those who really should speak out.

David A. Carlson said...


I stand corrected

Anonymous said...

From the layman (woman), a question: What is the difference between false teaching and differences in understanding. What is the line between "I disagree with this teaching" and "this is heresy, I must run away!" And is there a biblical process to understand this?

SLW said...

Thanks for the list. It was good for starters, and Steve added a nice touch...
but that reminded me:
you've got to get a new picture, everytime I see it, it says "Mad Money" all over it!

Anonymous said...

Hi Dan!

I have a sincere question - I fully agree with false prophets and teachers to be "intolerant" with that teaching - as the Scriptures say so, on numerous occasions to guard that.

My question, is where do you draw lines of what is considered "false teaching" and what not to tolerate?

John MacArthur in his recent message at the Shepherds Conference made a strong statement of why he believes Amillennialism is wrong and Premillennialism right. So he clearly stated that he believes Amillennialisim would be "false" teaching and Amillennialsim would be "true" teaching and correct in his view.

To me, and I am sure to John M., that wouldn't be a truth or teaching to say it makes someone a false teacher by teaching something that John M. doesn't believe is true. I understand that at the Shepherd's Conference there were other speakers I think, who held views that John M. would say were "false" in terms of end times.

I imagine that because the end times view such as Amillenialism, even if someone says it is false as John M. did by him declaring that Premillennialism is true, that because it doesn't redefine the gospel, then that would not be something that one would consider as "false teaching", and to break fellowship over and to not tolerate.

In Jude, it is clear where it says "They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord." So in this case, it states that if someone takes advantage of the grace of God and lives a life of immoral behavior and says it is OK with God, or they deny Jesus as Lord, then it is false teaching. That is clear.

In Galatians 1:6-7 it talks about those who preach a different "gospel" would be "false", so if we hear the gospel is not what Paul defined it as in 1 Corinthians 15 and understanding we are saved by faith, through grace and justified by the blood of Jesus (Romans 5:9).

In Deuteronomy it says that someone is a false prophet is they make a prophecy and it doesn't come true.

These are ones that seem obvious as not to "tolerate".

But where do you draw where to tolerate or not tolerate lines beyond the gospel itself and these things? Looking at the Scriptures for this, I am trying to determine what are lines that are outside of changing the gospel, or the ones I just listed, that we then say "we cannot tolerate this."

Make sense, what I am asking?

I wholeheartedly agree with what you said, so I am wondering about how far do you define what to tolerate or not to tolerate - beyond the core gospel, someone denying Jesus is Lord (and by Lord, I mean Master, Savior, King, God incarnate), living an unrepentant life and saying it is OK, declaring God says something as a prophecy and it doesn't come true etc.

Thank you! I am honestly asking here.

By the way, I got the Terry Kath CD on line. You brought out in me a dormant early Chicago fan appreciation again.


Morris Brooks said...

Someone's view on eschatology does not lead them away from Christ or lead them into sin. It does not promote sinful, lustful, greedy, lascivious behavior. It does not take them down the broad road that leads to destruction. It does not substitute works for faith, following a teacher rather than Christ, promote life change versus faith Christ (the seeker/emergent model). It does not weaken their faith. It does does not sabatoge their faith or lead them to shipwreck their faith.

False teaching/heresy does all of the above. That, I think, is the difference. At the conference John did not say this was heresy, or that these men were leading people astray in their faith, but that he could not understand how they could be amillienial when they used a literal-historical-grammatical hermenuetic. In fact, I don't understand why they do it either.

Anonymous said...

djp, two hits for you:

1. Was Jesus condemning the church for allowing Jezebel to teach (assuming that Jezebel is a woman)? In other words, was Jesus against the egalitarianism of the church?

2. Your post reminded me of so many people who use a person's holiness to overlook bad theology. I have heard this across the spectrum. As evidenced by J. MacArthur's shepherd's sermon, people want to defend amillennialism on the basis of the proponents holiness or whatever.

This was so common by all the angry amillers out there that it hardly needs me to track them all down.

DJP said...

Hi back, Dan!

1. INNER THOUGHTS: Well, this is cool! Dan Kimball and me talking about false teaching, PLUS a mention of MacArthur's controversial address! Now, if I can just build something into my answer that takes a swipe at N. T. Wright, Charismaticism, and gutless-gracers, take that thread-king crown just might find itself back on my mantle....

But seriously....

2. To our audience, this full disclosure. I haven't commented directly on Dan and Phil's conversation, because I honestly have no opinion on it — beyond that it is an important conversation for them to have. I have not read Dan's published writings. I try not to comment on things about which I know nothing. (A policy I commend, btw.)

All I know about Dan is that he strikes me as a very nice guy, and has excellent taste in music. Don't look for anything more; there is no "there" there at present.

3. Now, finally, back to you, Dan. It's a great question, and I actually think you've provided the start to a pretty great answer yourself.

Sketch out the two poles in what is loosely called "Christendom." On the one side, you have those who say, "Hey, he said 'Jesus is Lord.' That's all I need to know." (Actually, there are regions to the left of that, of course.)

Then at the other extreme you have the sorts Emo Philips (wrong spelling, no relation) parodied so well. These sorts don't merely require the dotting of all i's and crossing of all t's, but they have a manual dtipulating exact dot-diameters.

What we want is a Biblical standard, which clearly ends up is not too close to either of these polls. Issues of the nature of God, the Gospel, and resultant, clearly-Biblically-defined practice are "deal-killers."

Now, I will specifically (but very gingerly) engage your example of eschatology.

I wouldn't myself define fellowship along those lines, but I might do in teaching. For instance, I am a Calvinist dispensationalist baptist who currently attends (and loves) a Presbyterian church. Its pastor, my friend, does me the honor of letting me preach. I don't use those opportunities to bring out a dispensational chart, or blow up an inflatable pool to do some real baptisms. Instead, I preach about the 42,975 areas where we are in hearty agreement.

If I were to begin advocating those doctrines in which my position varies from the church's, he would not disown me as a brother, but he would disinvite me from the pulpit.

But I wouldn't dream of doing it.

Similarly if he were to preach in a church I pastored. I'd invite Reddit to the pulpit without hesitation, trusting his character, knowing him to be rock-solid on the essentials.

But if he gave a "glass-of-water-call" for all the little babies to come down for a little water, we might have words. (c;

By contrast, I would not ever loan my pulpit (or Sunday School, or what-have-you) to those who deny or are wobbly on essential doctrines.

It's a great question, Dan. Was that answer of any help?

And have you listened to Kath's "It Better End Soon" from Carnegie, again, yet? Dude!

JackW said...

Aggelos is usually translated angel or messenger, but never pastor. Dan and I would most likely agree that a pope over all the church is a bad idea, but we would disagree that a pope in every church is a good idea. I really doubt that these churches had a single leader, but rather had a plurality of elders leading with an elder or two who were gifted as pastor teacher … sort of like … GCC? … I could be wrong though.

DJP said...

I would also oppose translating it as "pastor."

Let's see you propose and make sense of another interpretation. Seriously. If you want to.

Kevin said...

How essential in your view is the question of women's ordination? It seems to me that male eldership in the church is tied to God ordained role relations in the family. Overturning God's order in the church will have massive implications in the family. How does Pastor Jane, spiritual head of layman John, become helper Jane to husband John at home? It's getting very hard to find a church that hasn't caved on this. At present we attend a church that is vibrantly mission-oriented, with, for the most part, great teaching, but I think it's about to fold in this area. What to do?

Rhology said...


One of the funny things about women's ordination is that those who wobble on that very very often, upon further examination, are wobbly in more important areas which would be more relevant to the discussion.

JackW said...

Dan said, "Let's see you propose and make sense of another interpretation. Seriously. If you want to."

Sorry Dan, I should have said that I don't think an angel is what is meant ... I just don't think it means A pastor.

I think the best interpretation of it is found in Dr. MacArthur's commentary on Revelation Volumn 1. Page 48 reads "...since Christ is said to hold them in His right hand, they were more likely leading elders and pastors (though not the sole leaders, since the New Testament teaches a plurality of elders), one from each of the seven churches."

Also, phrases like "... the devel is about to throw SOME of you into prison ..." (Rev 2:10) would seem to indicate that it was directed to the church, not a single elder.

Sharon said...

Kevin: At present we attend a church that is vibrantly mission-oriented, with, for the most part, great teaching, but I think it's about to fold in this area [female pastors and elders]. What to do?

For me, that would be one of the "non-negotiables" that would preclude my involvement in a local body. It’s an affront to God whose role for men and women in His church is clear!

As Rhology said so well, those who wobble on that [ordination of women] very very often, upon further examination, are wobbly in more important areas which would be more relevant to the discussion.

Amen and Amen!


SJ Camp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SJ Camp said...

What began as an aberrant teaching in the church at Pergamos became full-scale activity in a mystic cult of worldliness at Thyatira. The church tolerated sin, apostasy, idolatry, and communal feasts (where sacrifices were offered to idols, eaten by the people, and followed by an orgy). The church even became deeply involved in those things! Once the church married the world, it became absorbed by the world.

Here is a link to John MacArthur's sermon on the church of Thyatira --it is an excellent exposition of the text and, IMHO, really answers some of the questions being asked here.

I highly commend it to you

Matt said...

Kevin, I would certainly hold egalitarianism to be far more destructive than different views on eschatology. Egalitarianism is more than just a belief in the abstract, it affects every day practice, in the church and in the home. To compromise with gender roles in the church or the home is to seriously disregard and disrespect God's creative intent, with the ministry practice of Jesus Christ, and with Paul's clearly worded instructions. Increasingly, we are also seeing egalitarians taking distorted views in their language to descripe God ("Creative Womb", "Compassionate Mother", etc.) and in their view of the Trinity (ie - no subordination of the Son to the Father, etc.). Not sure if a wrong view of God, Scripture, and Jesus Christ leads to egalitarianism, or vice-versa. Either way, there's a lot at stake in this issue. I know this is off topic with the original post, but it is a salient issue. Perhaps one of the pyros could post on this topic in the future? Unfortunate when the bride of Christ thinks she should start wearing the pants.

Danny Wright said...

I think with the right attitude you can tolerate just about anything. Not that that's a good thing.