Are We Genteel or Maśkîlîm (Dan 12:3, 10)?

posted by R. Fowler White

“In an age enamored by soft words that lead to deception, we still have a duty to speak ‘truth’ to the deceived.”—Philip G. Bowersox, Smooth Words: Daniel’s Perspective on the Great Commission

The quote above from Philip G. Bowersox, pastor of Grace Bible Church in Oklahoma City, OK, is nothing if not a sobering call to duty for pastors and teachers. It’s a call to discern and to confront the reality of deception—no, the danger of deception—a threat that often goes undetected and unchecked as it creeps into our lives. This call to duty is made the more earnest when we ponder the unrelenting menace to which the Apostle John alerts us in his first letter. “Children,” he writes, “it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18 NASB95). Let those words sink in. They bring us up short, don’t they? John would have us understand that, living as we do after Christ’s ascension (as even his first readers did), we’re living in the last phase of history. Talk about a “wake up and smell the coffee” moment for us in God’s church.

As if the gist of John’s words is not arresting enough, we realize that he describes this final stage of history as an age in which antichrists and false prophets flourish (1 John 4:1). They, with their followers, promote beliefs and behaviors that are contrary to the faith handed down once for all to the saints (Jude 3). The details John provides demand our attention: the number of these deceivers is many (1 John 4:1), and they are already here (1 John 4:3). More than that, they are not just out there, in the world. No, John tells us that they went out from us after being with us in the church. In fact, it is not just that deceivers were once in the church: it is that they can be presently in the church just as it was the case at Thyatira (Rev 2:18-28). All told, the call to duty that Pastor Bowersox gives us echoes the context that John describes: because deceivers are present both outside and inside the church, we must speak truth to those who might be enamored with soft wordssmooth words—and led astray wherever deceivers appear.

Skeptical as we are, you and I might ask, how seriously should we take these threats? Despite warnings from Christ and His Apostles, there seem always to be some in Christ’s church who simply deny reality. You probably know some of these folks. They prefer the pablum of therapeutic to-do lists that (allegedly) get them personal peace, influence, or affluence instead of the solid food of instruction necessary for them to develop discernment and endurance. The result? In their willfully childish rejection of nourishing food for their growth in holiness, they leave their souls defenseless against the waves and winds brought in the smooth, soft words of deceivers who would lead them to apostasy.

Whether, then, we look within the church or outside of it, we in Christ’s church find good reason to prepare ourselves to speak truth. The Apostle Paul tells us how to prepare in Eph 4:12-16. Through the ministry of the word, we grow up into Christ; we attain the faith of an adult Christian (cf. 2 Tim 3:14-17). Why? The reasons are straightforward. Only those who stay true to the Scriptures and mature in the faith are able to speak truth to others (Eph 4:15). Only those who learn to distinguish truth from error, good from evil, right from wrong are able, in turn, to speak truth to the deceived.

Knowing these things, we’ll devote ourselves to discipleship in community to learn from and with others the historic doctrines and practices by which Christ has built His church (Rom 6:17-18; Eph 4:20-23). We’ll place ourselves in the care of the shepherds and teachers whom Christ gives us through his Spirit, those who are committed and gifted to train us in what to believe and how to behave according to the faith handed down to the saints. We’ll do these things because the discipleship we need to counter the smooth, soft words of deceivers won’t become ours by just any means. It is the church’s unique purpose to gather and grow the saints. So, we’ll covenant with others of like mind to learn the historic truths of the faith—not least, those of justification and sanctification as highlighted by Bowersox.

Are our congregations prepared to speak wise words of truth to any who might be led astray (cf. Dan 12:3, 10)? Bowersox’s book is a fine resource to help get us ready. Take it up and read it. Then, like Daniel, in this last hour of smooth, soft, deceptive words, you’ll have wise words to speak, and you’ll stand with others, firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by [our] opponents (Phil 1:27-28 ESV).

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5 Comments

  1. Reed Here said,

    October 27, 2022 at 3:28 pm

    This from a preface?
    Very well written.

  2. rfwhite said,

    October 27, 2022 at 3:31 pm

    Yes, the post is taken from the Foreword that I wrote, tweaked here and there for this format.

  3. November 5, 2022 at 11:04 pm

    […] Read More […]

  4. November 6, 2022 at 9:42 pm

    “John tells us that they went out from us after being with us in the church.”

    Sobering thought indeed, which makes this sound advice all the more tricky to navigate:

    “We’ll place ourselves in the care of the shepherds and teachers whom Christ gives us through his Spirit, those who are committed and gifted to train us in what to believe and how to behave according to the faith handed down to the saints.”

    The sheep hear the Good Shepherd’s voice, but deception of even the earnest is possible. May God be pleased to grant Christ’s true under-shepherds not just that pattern of sound words but a filling of the Holy Ghost so that the elect might be led beside still waters.

  5. rfwhite said,

    November 6, 2022 at 9:43 pm

    Amen.


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