You will know them by their obedience
You either believe the Scriptures or you don’t. It really does come down to that, doesn’t it?
I have been in the pastorate, in one form or another, for 32 years. I can’t tell you the number of times people who claimed to be Christian – who had always defended the Bible as the word of God – chose to disregard clear scriptural teachings when it suited them.
But the word of God will stand forever as a testimony against all rebels. Jesus said, “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).
I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when I read an opinion piece written by a professing Christian on the Huffington Post web site.
The article was written by University of California-Irvine professor H. Adam Ackley, a self-described homosexual Christian and ordained minister. He was defending Vicky Beeching, a fairly well known worship leader and songwriter in the U.K.
Beeching had come out of the closet as a lesbian and was apparently stunned by the backlash from the evangelical community who had supported her music for so long.
In his defense of Beeching, professor Ackley addressed those evangelicals who were confused about the songwriter. These evangelicals were asking, “How could she write such wonderful music and be a lesbian? How could I be so blessed by her songs if she was a homosexual?”
Ackley assured them that the answer was simple. “Jesus Himself gave Christians a direct and clear answer as to how Christians are to respond when confused by the actions, words, or identity of another Christian,” the professor said.
He appealed to Matthew 7:16-20 and established “the fruits test.” Which is to say, if the person in question has done wonderful things in the ministry that have blessed people, that is a sign that God approves of their homosexuality. It must be a sign, because these are good fruits.
Ackley said: “The fruit is good, so the tree is good. … [Coming out as a lesbian] doesn’t change the fruits she has born and will continue to bear in ministry, which are gifts of the Spirit. The fruit (her songs, her worship) hasn’t changed: It’s still good. And the tree is still good, too.”
This sort of exegesis is appalling – and destructive. The errors are numerous and thus the delusions are compounded.
Let’s start with irony, however. Matthew 7:16-20 follows Jesus’ warning in vs. 15 of the danger of false prophets – which would be men like the professor. False prophets in the Bible tended to proclaim a vision of spiritual reality that went with the spirit of the age, never against it. Jeremiah discovered this first hand. Which side was in right standing before Yahweh in the war of the prophets? Was it those that preached that there was no judgment coming for idolatry – or was it Jeremiah, who proclaimed the evil of idolatry and the sure judgment of God? Of course, not everyone who preaches holiness and repentance from sin is a true man or woman of God, but you can be pretty sure those who claim God blesses the ministry of unrepentant peoples is on the wrong side.
This is why Jesus said that false prophets “come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” The appearance is one thing; the true nature is another.
So Jesus warns His disciples to subject prophets to a test: “You will know them by their fruits.” What is the test?
For Ackley, the test is whether or not a minister’s public actions have blessed people. Did people enjoy Beeching’s songs? Yes? Well, that’s proof that how she lives her private life – in her case, as a lesbian – is approved by God.
Nothing could be further from the truth – and I can’t imagine a more dangerous teaching to put forth to the upcoming generation of young men and women who might want to serve God in ministry.
That Ackley’s absurd “fruits test” is a despicable lie is clear from the New Testament’s instructions for the selection of ministry leaders in places like 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. The church is commanded to recognize the character and behavior of candidates and decide accordingly. Absolutely nothing is said about how “blessed” people are when these candidates preach, teach, or lead worship.
In fact, if the first century churches had ignored Paul and followed Ackley, they would have chosen the men who would “fill the seats” with happy fans and rejected the men who are mature and obedient to Christ. After all, no one likes those guys.
The fact is, God sometimes even used full-on unbelievers to accomplish His purposes. Take Cyrus as an example – a man whom the Lord calls His “anointed” (Isaiah 45:1). This despite the fact that the king of Persia was, in all likelihood, just another idol-worshiping, pagan king.
And sometimes a ministry seems to flourish (for a time) even though people harbor dark sins or even a fatal moral flaw. After all, Judas Iscariot was called a disciple and was sent out with the rest of the 12 apostles to cast out demons and heal the sick (Matthew 10:1-2). They were successful in this ministry – and so was Judas Iscariot (Luke 10:20). We all know how that guy turned out.
The real and ultimate test of a minister – or anyone else who professes to be a Christian, for that matter – is obedience birthed out of a genuine and sincere faith in Christ. Jesus makes clear in the very next passage that the Day of Judgment will bring some terrible surprises for at least some professing Christians.
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter” (Matt. 7:21).
In fact, the very defense used by the damned on that Day is precisely the argument Ackley uses: “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’” (vs. 22).
Or, to paraphrase Ackley: “Weren’t people blessed by my music?”
That’s not enough, Jesus states in frightening language about the Day of Judgment.
“And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS’” (vs. 23).
Those who practice lawless deeds – i.e., they don’t simply stumble, but persist in unrepentant sin – are not known by Jesus. Those who do the will of God are known.
Moreover, for the church, that’s how we separate sheep from wolves – true prophets from false – and it’s how we separate good trees from bad.
This is not to suggest that a person in ministry needs to be perfect or without flaw. That would be an impossible standard. God loves Vicky Beeching and He loves H. Adam Ackley. But He loves them enough to call them out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).
So no, Professor Ackley, the Scripture cannot be broken. And it should never be bent and twisted, either.