Listening to Preachers Who Associate With Heretics?

What should we think about well-known preachers, with sound doctrine, who begin to associate or partner with others who have bad theology? Of course we shouldn’t listen to those with bad doctrine, but should we even separate ourselves from the well-known preacher with good doctrine who is associating with them?


This is from Jeremy. He puts in the subject line: "I'm often confused when I see people who seem to have good theology but partner up in ministry with people that some deem heretical." So this is one of the guilt by association kinds of questions. Should I fellowship with somebody who has a friendship or some involvement with or a ministry with somebody who I would deem heretical? And so classic examples - there's probably many. But I guess a common one that comes up, several years ago, John Piper - Mark Driscoll was one that I think he had on his platform. Rick Warren was another one that he had invited out. I think they actually videoed that to the conference. I don't think Warren actually went there. He was supposed to. But it's things like that. Okay, should we raise eyebrows at John Piper if he does something like that? There's numerous - we could go on. Let's get to his actual question here. "Hello, Tim. I'm not really sure what the biblical action is when it comes to secondary separation. If there is a person (person A) who is associating with a person (person B) who has bad theology or is even a false prophet, should we separate from person A?" This is practical especially in this day. You know, there was a day, it's very likely the only preachers you would have been exposed to is the pastor in your own pulpit. Maybe some others in your local vicinity. But we were limited at one time. We're not limited now. We're in the information age and with our technology, we are bombarded by all manner of things. So the reality is this: there's nobody that we could mention that you don't have full access to. I mean, as long as their material's on the Internet you have full access to it. And most men in ministry - women in ministry - they want that access. They want to reach you. And so it's available to us. So these questions about who should I fellowhip with or who should I separate from (incomplete thought). He asks this: "Do you have any guidance on when the line should be drawn? Does the level of heresy from person B and/or their public stature play into this decision? I'm often confused when I see people who seem to have good theology but partner up in ministry with people that some deem heretical. For example, Francis Chan spoke at an International House of Prayer and publicly said out loud that he loves Mike Bickle. John Piper campaigned with Rick Warren. So what are biblical responses to people like Chan and Piper? Is this activity not similar to what 2 Corinthians 6:14-16 addresses?" Anybody know what that addresses right off?

James: Do not be unequally yoked?

Tim: What fellowship does light have with darkness? We should not be yoked. Let me ask you this. (Incomplete thought) I was asking for quotations, so it's not like anybody could take it out of context - except this guy. This guy mentioned it. We just stated what it was. So we weren't using it out of context. We were just stating it. But let me ask you something, is that text - somebody read it. Somebody read it exactly. . Somebody read that. James: "Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? For what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God said, 'I will make My dwelling among them and walk among them and I will be their God and they shall be My people. Therefore, go out from their midst and be separate from them,' thus says the Lord, 'and touch no unclean thing,` then I will welcome you.'"

Tim: Okay, here's the thing. Let me ask you this. Does that text apply to what we're talking about?

James: Depart from Me workers of lawlessness. In Matthew 7, they were professing saying, "Lord, Lord."

Tim: Well, obviously, it's got to do with fellowship. I mean, it's got to do with who I'm fellowshipping with. Now, you might say, but does it have to do with secondary issues? Perhaps. I mean, certainly, there's spiritual principles to draw from that. But anyways, he says, "Is this activity not similar to what 2 Corinthians 6:14-16 addresses? I.e. what fellowship has light with darkness and what accord has Christ with Belial? I came across a video that publicly calls this activity out, and he claims that we shouldn't be associating with people like this." Well, and I pulled it up. This guy specifically that he references is attacking Phil Johnson and John MacArthur. And he's saying that they're hypocrites because he's saying on the one hand, they will condemn somebody like Michael Brown who affiliates with these wild charismatics. Guilt by association. But they said, then John MacArthur will stand on the same platform with somebody like John Piper who condones Rick Warren or Mark Driscoll. And so they're saying that MacArthur is being a hypocrite. He's not playing by the same rules. He'll condemn somebody else, but then he himself will go do that. Look, we need to be discerning. The real reason that I want to do these Bible studies is this: Discernment. And the idea behind discernment - I was listening to John MacArthur on the radio just recently, maybe three weeks back or so. And he was talking about the term discernment. And he said that the Old Testament word has to do with a space. The Old Testament word for discernment - sometimes it's "understanding" or it can be interpreted a number of different ways. But he said it's the idea of a space. And he said how does that work with discernment? Well, it's the person that has the ability to look at two things that at first sight might appear to be the same. But discernment is the ability to separate between the two and put a space between them. Now, proper discernment would be able to look at a John Piper over against a Michael Brown or any two different cases and say: is it the same thing? Or, are they actually different somehow? That's discernment. But let's keep going because his question goes on. He says, "I came across this video that publicly calls this activity out. He claims we shouldn't be associating with people like this. I would love to get your thoughts on this because it makes things really confusing for me. In this video, Phil Johnson mentions a lot of things that he seems to contradict himself on and it often looks like there is a double standard." Well, that's what the guy doing the video is trying to make it look like. I listened to the things that Phil Johnson was saying (incomplete thought). I think it's understandable what he's saying. And I don't think it's a double standard. But, he goes on to quote Spurgeon. "Spurgeon has even said things such as, 'that I might not stultify my testimony, I've cut myself clear from those who err from the faith and even from those who associate with the ones that err from the faith.'" That comes from "The Sword and Trowel." "The person's argument is the following: that when we're dealing with false prophets we take part in their wicked works by partnering with them at conferences per 2 John 10-11." Somebody look that one up. . And he goes on to say concerning that, "that we're called to not associate with them if they continue this activity per 1 Corinthians 5:11. Is this a correct assessment of situations like this?" And of course, 1 Corinthians 5 is about disassociation. So somebody read the text from 2 John. (from the room) "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting. Whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works." Tim: And then he goes on to say, "I don't know what all this means in terms of the appropriate response. Do we not associate with these people for these public figures/teachers? Do we not recommend them to other people because they might direct people into the hands of wolves? Should we not learn from them at all? What if other people we know in the church are learning from them? Should we warn them? I'm definitely confused in a matter like this and would appreciate any advice. Regards, Jeremy." So, last week, I'm telling Jared about these Gatepost articles that I printed off a whole ream of paper's worth and took with me to a vacation several years back with the mindset - I'm going to try to read through all these while I'm on vacation. So I printed of all these Gatepost articles from Conrad Murrell. And I brought this down last week to show Jared. So we've got it over there on the table and we're flipping through, and here this comes up, and it made me think, hey, I saw that. I saw that Conrad dealt with something that I think is applicable. And I thought, oh, it's probably buried in the middle. It's the first one. Now listen to this. You can change the names here. We can bring it up current. Because I'll tell you, this was written in July 1973. Conrad just died a few weeks ago. Back when he started writing these, his very first one - Volume 001 - is called "Flamboyant Evangelical Personalities." Now listen to this. "What about Billy Graham? Oral Roberts? Rex Humbard? Katheryn Kuhlman? Bill Bright? T.L. Osborne? Jerry Falwell? Bill Harrington? etc." Now, we could take all those names right out and you could put whatever you wanted in there. You could put Bickle in there. You can put Rick Warren in there. You could put whoever you want in there. He says, "these are some of the more flamboyant evangelical personalities that we're often asked to categorize." And see, I think that's what's happening here. We're trying to put people in categories. Is that friend or foe? Somebody I should be rubbing shoulders with or no? Somebody I should be listening to on the Internet? Or is that danger? Is that poison? We're trying to find the right categories. "It's not always easy to do a cut and dried job of it." And that's true. It's not easy. And you know, the truth is just because somebody did something with Rick Warren several years ago, doesn't mean that they'd do it now. And it doesn't mean that both men are in exactly the same theological positions right now. Men are changing. Men's positions change. Their theology is sometimes - we hope that happens. It's developing. So it can be very difficult. Plus it can be very difficult to know. Just because you might happen to be able to pull up YouTube, pull up a John MacArthur sermon, and find he's preaching at a conference and say, what? He's on the same stage with Francis Chan. And don't you know Francis Chan was with IHOP? But you know, what if MacArthur was thinking, you know, I'm not inclined to take this conference, but I feel like God has been prompting me for an open door with Francis Chan. And this will give me a good opportunity to talk with him. And there are some things I feel like I need to warn him about. What if that was happening? And you look at him and say: we better cut him off! When the reality is, he didn't go there to endorse IHOP. And it may not have had to do anything with Francis Chan. It may have been that specific environment - he felt like was something that he felt God would have him to do. But these things are difficult. It's not just a cut and dry job of it. "I doubt that it is as necessary as we suppose." Now, I want you to get that. You hear what he's saying? I doubt it's really all that important that we figure out the categories for all these guys. I think that's key. Of course, the question is why? Why would we take that position that it's not important? You mean it's not important for me to know who the false prophet is? Maybe it's far more important you know what the truth is than to know who all the right and the wrong preachers are. But listen to what he says. "Both the Old and New Testaments are constantly crying out their warnings against false prophets, false teachers, and hirelings. The Scriptures are too numerous to list and too obvious to ignore. A false teacher can readily be identified by his false doctrine. But these persons cannot be dispatched or vindicated so easily." What he's saying is this: It's very easy to knock straw men over. But real people are not so easy to knock over. The thing is when you start looking at men's ministries, oftentimes, they say a lot of good things. They say right things. What he's saying is it's not so easy to just look at a man and say, oh, that's a false prophet. That's just really obvious. There are some that are very obvious. But you know, the vast majority are not so obvious. He says, "Their deviations from fundamental Bible truth are little more than can be found in most men." In other words, when you look across the nation, you find all sorts of people that stray into odd beliefs just as much as any of these men. "A more likely test is found in Matthew 7:16, 'You shall know them by their fruits.' But even this is troublesome because it takes time for fruit to come forth and mature. This week's report of last week or last year's success means nothing. The counterfeit does not always show up that quickly. Nor does the true grain always show up that quickly. William Carey labored 7 years in India without a single convert. Some of these have been around long enough that some sort of fruit ought to be showing up. We should ask: what is the effect of their ministries? Does it cause men to become holy? Does it turn the tide of wickedness in the areas in which they serve? Are strong spiritual men coming forth from them? Do their ministries cause men to see a mighty and holy God? Are the fear and love of God struck upon men's hearts through them?" Then he says this, "At the least, we can say this. None of these can be called in any sense great men of God. When the fruits are measured..." He's talking about that list he gave in the beginning. He says, "When their fruits are measured, they can't stand in the shadow of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley, Calvin, Luther." He was very much a Calvinist, but he says even Finney. "This is not to say that their ministries are all counterfeit or useless." This is important. "We are not required to say either, unless we know." You hear what he's saying? Either - what do you mean "either"? What he's saying is this: We're not required to say that somebody's ministry is counterfeit or the real deal. Whether it's useless or valuable. We're not required to make an assessment on these things unless we know. You know how many people just talk about other people? And the truth is they don't really know. They speculate or they've heard second-hand, third-hand, tenth-hand. Somebody rumored it abroad. Somebody said this. "Paul rejoices in the preaching of Christ even though many were doing it for wrong motives. Who are we to judge another man's servant? We're not responsible to analyze everything that comes along - only that which has to do with our own personal ministry. If I'm faced with a decision of working with these men or supporting or endorsing a particular thing they're doing, then I do need to find the mind of God in the matter." I mean, if it's impacting me - one of these guys asks me to preach with them - I might need to ask. If it was directly bearing on your life, you had to make a decision... but then he says, "It's only in relation to what God wants me to do." And then he says this, and I boxed it. "Let them alone." That's good advice. Leave them alone. "You have enough to do without embittering yourself, fighting against flesh and blood. It's only going to swell you with pride over your own self-righteousness. Get on with your own personal work and refuse to be distracted by catcalls, taunts, and questions from the sidelines. These men's apparent successes mean nothing. God is keeping the records. The laurels or the censures of men do not influence Him. There will be many surprises at the Judgment Seat. A man's results may be great or it may be zero, but it makes not one whit of difference about your responsibility to God. In all likelihood, if you follow God, your ministry is never going to cross the path of the man in question. Gamaliel wisely suggests that time will either vindicate or condemn all men." Look, I would say this. If you don't like the fact that John Piper did what he did with Rick Warren, and that causes you to not be able to hear him to profit, don't listen to him. You don't have to listen to him. You don't have to go to his church. Leave him alone. He's going to stand or fall. If you look at a man and you think: I think that man is being influenced by a bad influence, and that makes me not want to be involved in his ministry, then don't. Listen, you can choose whether you're going to listen to MacArthur, Piper. You've got that choice. And you know what? That link that he gave me. Here's a guy that just wants to argue. And he wants to be right. And he wants to win the argument. He wants to say: Well, I think this about so-and-so. And I want you to agree with me. Listen, Conrad's exactly right. All it does it puff people up. You're trying to be the critiquer; you're trying to be the judge. You're trying to run around and say, well, I think this, and guilt by association. You know what? What I would do is this: If somebody profits your soul; if John MacArthur profits your soul, but you say I don't agree with his eschatology, okay. I mean, I've listened to over a thousand of his sermons probably. Much of my seminary training came from listening to John MacArthur. But I didn't listen to Matthew 24. I didn't listen to large portions of 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Why? Because I thought he was dead wrong on his eschatology. But I listened to the other things. You see, that's being discerning. If you feel like, you know what, I don't like what he said about strange fire. Okay, don't listen to him there. And if you get to the point where, you know what, he's becoming issue-oriented enough and it's a lot of issues that I don't care - look, if it's not profiting you anymore, you don't have to listen anymore. And he's going to stand or fall before the Lord. If you listen to John Piper and it's like, wow, that really spoke to my soul. And somebody comes along: But do you know what he did with Mark Driscoll in the past? Well, okay, maybe he did, but I'll tell you, that message right there helped my soul. You know what? It's your choice whether you want to stop listening to him now and not be profited by any more of his messages. We've got choices. You've got choices of churches to go to and you've got all manner of choices of people to listen to. And we need to be discerning. We need to be Berean. We need to listen to people. I mean, just because John MacArthur goes and stands on a stage with Francis Chan perhaps and Francis Chan has been rubbing shoulders with some of these crazy prophet guys - well, if I don't hear that coming across in MacArthur, I don't know his motives. Why sit there in the judgment seat and try to judge those motives? I think he's so right. Look, you've got your own life to live. Rather than sitting there on the judgment seat condemning, it's like, well, if I condemn him, he's condemned. And if I bless him, he's blessed. Who are you? Who are we? I'll tell you who we are. If we're God's children, we're called to be Berean. We're called to take Scriptures and we're called to be discerning and to exercise ourselves in that. And we should listen to what people preach. We should listen to what people teach. And we do need to be discerning too in the areas of, you know, John MacArthur and R.C. Sproul could be friends though they disagreed on baptism and eschatology. They could be friends. You know what? They believe those things are secondary issues. So do I. There are some people who believe baptism is a primary issue. Okay. I mean, if you do, and because of that you can't listen to R.C. Sproul - I had a pastor in the past who told me he would not allow George Whitefield in his pulpit. Okay. He's free to do that. I said, brother, I would. I mean, are we not free? And so, I think that's the approach we need to take. Live your life. The men who help you run faster and better, rub shoulders with them. If not, leave them alone. Yes, just recently, I was asked to preach a conference in another state. And it was with people who held to certain positions and I felt like it was best to not accept it. I mean, when you're confronted by things like that, you need to weigh them out. And I felt like that was the wise path. We all get put in those places. We have to make judgments. We have to make decisions. Don't live your life just consumed about what that person believes or what they're doing or this high profile person or that one. Run. Run, man! Run, woman! Run your race. Serve the Lord. Those that help you, listen to him. And you know what? Just because somebody's good doesn't mean you need to listen to them. (incomplete thought) You know, there's a portion of my life where this preacher was very helpful to me. Then other portions where this preacher was extremely helpful to me. There's been another portion where this preacher was. It doesn't mean that the first two I came to find out were heretical. It's just where I was at the time. Look, expose yourself to what profits you the most and helps you walk with the Lord; helps your faith; helps your love; helps your Christlikeness. Any comment or questions on that before we move on? (from the room): I was just thinking about the Lloyd-Jones incident with Billy Graham. Would you say that he would have participated if Graham agreed with those three things he was talking about? (unintelligible)

Tim: See, that was a big problem and that was the reason that Bob Jones separated from Billy Graham. And that was one of the issues that you're hearing there - Lloyd-Jones had with Billy Graham was the fact that he was putting Catholics on the platform with him. But see, this was a situation where Lloyd-Jones - this pertained to him. Would Lloyd-Jones stand on that platform with Billy Graham? Would he be involved? And you know what? When people come to you for counsel, sometimes you're in a situation - he was a pastor's pastor. And people would come. There can be a time to express your opinion. I'll tell you this, if I feel like somebody is dangerous, I'm going to warn you about him. I'm going to warn the church about him. And if somebody says what do you think about so-and-so? I'm going to say I wouldn't go there. I'll tell you. Why? Because I want to protect you from poison. And listen, a man who will stand on a platform with a Catholic in my estimation is poison because what that tells me is he is compromising on the Gospel. And you know, how many years later, he sat down with Robert Schuller and he specifically said he believed there were other ways to God than by faith in Jesus Christ. See, that falls into the category of 2 John. And yes, when somebody is denying the Gospel and it's not a secondary issue - but we each have to study the Scriptures and determine what is a secondary issue. We all have to come to convictions on that ourselves. Secondary. Personally, I consider baptism - I would die for my baptistic convictions, but I wouldn't separate and disfellowship from somebody who was a paedobaptist. I think we need to allow for variations in church government. That is very secondary in my estimation. You know, people have ideas about closed communion or close communion or open communion. I'm not going to draw battle lines there. I have convictions about it. But I'll tell you, when somebody starts saying that they think there are Hindus and Muslims and Buddhists and atheists and that they're going to be in heaven with us, that is damnable lie right there. It doesn't matter who it comes from. Billy Graham - it doesn't matter. It is damnable error and we should avoid that like poison. We should not condone such people. (from the room) Do you think you can apply 1 Corinthians 15 where I think Paul is talking about how bad company corrupts good morals and I think the context is about the resurrection?

Tim: Well, it is about the resurrection and there were people denying the resurrection. (incomplete thought) But see, that's personally impacting us. That's personally me determining who I'm going to be companion to. And see, when it directly involves you, then yes, I think we have to weigh out, we have to discern. But there's so much happening out there that we can just get curious where all we do is sit there and read the blogs and read the latest stuff, the latest and greatest arguments and battles and be putting ourselves in this position or in this group or wanting to defend this or that. And we're just fighting this stuff all the time. Don't do that. Don't do that. We are called to serve the Lord. We are called to ministry. We are called to doing things like reaching out to those who sit in darkness, and clothing the naked, and visiting those who are in prison. I mean, think about it. Pure religion and undefiled before the Lord. What is it? Is it to sit and argue about guilt by association? Or is it to visit the widow and the orphan in their affliction? Well, it's not the first. So, let us follow Christ. It's kind of like remember how Peter - he said, "what about him?" You know, Peter, you're going to be led about where you don't want to go. He was looking at John: what about him? What was Jesus' timeless answer? (unintelligible) Exactly. "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me." See, we can spend all this time gazing off at the horizons; at what's happening in other people's lives, and what they're doing in their ministries. And Jesus is just saying: what does that have to do with you? You follow Me. (from the room) I want to speak to something that you referenced, because you gave an example of someone who would perhaps be blessed by a sermon by pastor A and someone else come along to them and start staying, well, did you know this? Do you think it's important for Christians who seem to be well meaning in doing that - because in your example, you said the person who was told that would say, yeah, you're right, but they bless me. But I think there's also the danger of that person perhaps not being in a position of maturity yet to where they're actually now bothered and can't listen anymore and now they're in almost this paranoid panic state where because of that well meaning, or maybe not so well meaning warning, this person - they can't listen to that person, not because they're well informed, but because their conscience might be weak. And I just think that that's something that's pretty probable, especially amonst people like us who we have a good grasp on what's true and what's not, but say a young convert comes in and they're listening to someone who in my estimation may be less favorable, may be less profitable, but that person is growing by them, and so by me telling them, I also run the risk of maybe putting them in a position where they shouldn't be as far as them being unable to listen to that person.

Tim: Yeah, I mean, again it might be one of the places to leave them alone.

(from the room) Leave both people alone.

Tim: Right. Exactly. Leave them alone. If I hear somebody in the church is saying I'm really profiting from pastor so-and-so. And it's like, well, they wouldn't be my first choice or my tenth choice, but if they're profiting from it...

(from the room) And I say that because that can be hard sometimes. Because exactly like you said, they're way down the list.

Tim: Right. Okay.