Wednesday, February 1, 2012

T.D. Jakes, Thyatira and Tolerance: A Pernicious Evil

In our culture, repeatedly we hear that tolerance is the highest of all virtues, or at least that is the impression one has upon surveying the virtues, so called, that receive the most attention. In fact, folks in our culture are constantly bragging about how tolerant we are. Tolerance is perceived and even portrayed as being kind, loving, and even sophisticated. On the other hand, people who reject societal norms defined for certain behaviors are maligned as intolerant bigots that are full of hate. Oftentimes they are characterized as simpletons or overly naïve with a bend toward religious superstitions. In fact, many atheists enjoy classifying all religious zealots in the same category as Islamic fascists that desire, on their foundation, to destroy everyone else’s freedom. The purpose of this blog is to ask the question, “what is tolerance and should Christians practice it?”

Prior to discussing the practical implications of tolerance, we should begin with a working definition of the word. Since we are thinking about tolerance from a biblical perspective, it is only reasonable to examine the word in the Greek text in order understand its use. Since we are working with a specific text located in Rev. 2:20 ἀλλὰ ἔχω κατὰ σοῦ ὅτι ἀφεῖς τὴν γυναῖκα Ἰεζάβελ. My gloss of this text is simply, But I have against you that (you) tolerate the woman Jezebel. This letter is written to the church in Thyatira. I do not wish to get into the background and setting of Thyatira. What I want to focus on is one word in this personal rebuke issued by Christ. And that is the Greek word apheis. This is a form of the word aphiemi. This word appears some 143 times in the NT. Most of the time it is translated “forgive.” It has the sense of release, or dismiss. Louw-Nida tells us it means to leave it to someone else to do something, with the implication of distancing oneself from the event. BDAG says it has the idea of to cause someone or something to undergo separation. When we think of being forgiven of our sins, we think of having those sins released in the sense that God no longer sees them adhering to us. We are separated from our sin. Think of it this way: as an unbeliever, people are forgiven, released from God. They are separated from God. As believers, we are now separated from sin. We are released from the penalty and power sin in order to be joined to God.

The Church in Thyatira is on the receiving end of a stern rebuke from our Lord. This church has an excellent reputation with one exception: she is tolerant. She has a strong predilection for tolerance and The Lord is moved to issue a strong rebuke. This church tolerates false doctrine and immoral living. Notice that she is not charged with either of these sins. It is not that false doctrine or immorality actually have taken root in her midst. That is not her breach. Rather, her failing is her proclivity not to take a strong stand against the evil existing in the culture at the time. The church is tolerating others, apparently outside her community to engage in false teachings and immorality without taking a stand against it.

For past few weeks, the controversy over T.D. Jakes has waged on. People have come down on all sides of the issue. T.D. Jakes has preached and taught for years against the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. He has never recanted his views or announced publicly that he has repented from this heresy. Mr. Jakes has appeared on James MacDonald’s Elephant Room panel to discuss, well, I am still not sure what they were trying to discuss. From my perspective the only thing that happened was a fist bump and group hug. Many have criticized MacDonald for referring to Jakes as a brother. Many have criticized those who have criticized MacDonald. I am not writing to talk about the heresy modalsim or to defend orthodoxy, per se. I have little regard for the willfully uninformed reformed and the just plain old uninformed as far as that goes. Unlike many, I do not think we need to revisit every single dogma the church has discovered since the beginning, wipe the slate clean and start over. Moreover, any man who would ignore the theologians of decades past is a fool. The wise man gathers to himself many counselors. The fool stands alone.

What should the church do with men like Jakes? It is really quite simple: the church should discipline him and if he refuses to repent after much counsel, she must shun him for the heretic he is. MacDonald and Driscoll have earned just about every ounce of criticism that has been leveled against them. John tells us not to even eat with men who bring such abominable heresy with them. We are not to even bid them God-speed. Yet, just like the church at Thyatira, we tolerate them in the name of grace, in the name of love, in the name of kindness. However, God tells us we must rebuke and shun them, all in the name of grace, love, and kindness. Perhaps God will use this shunning to bring them to repentance. Who are we to say otherwise?

What would it look like for T.D. Jakes to repent? He would stand up in his church and confess publically before everyone and explain in great detail that he was wrong about the doctrine of the trinity, how and why he was wrong, and that he has repented of that view. He would then explain, in great detail how he now understands the doctrine as taught in Scripture. He would respect the truth of Scripture enough to realize the dangerous heresy he has been teaching for years and this would lend itself to a very sobering and official public repentance that would leave no doubt in anyone’s mind. What we saw in the Elephant Room recently is very familiar to all of us. We see in Washington D.C. every day we listen to our spin doctors speak.

I am not making any assertions about the faith of Mark Driscoll or James MacDonald. I am asserting that their judgment is out of bounds from where it should be, from where it needs to be. Association with known heretics who pervert the one true God is no small matter and we are not in a position to make it out to be one. It is what it is: exceedingly serious!

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