The Necessity of Refuting the Gainsayer

Though I’ve always been suspicious of this analogy, I’ve used it.  Bank tellers aren’t taught to recognize counterfeit money by handling hundreds of examples of funny money but by handling true money.  Therefore, we shouldn’t spend a lot of time going over the errors of other Christians.  We should focus on the truth.

I’ve noted that you can focus on the truth all day long and most people will let you, but the moment you start saying, “This teaching is wrong, false, incorrect, or even misleading,” people are offended.  Yet Paul plainly tells Pastor Titus that a pastor should be one “Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers” (Titus 1:9).

As I suspected, focusing on teaching the truth rather than refuting the error is thoroughly modern.  According to the 1939 work Christianity and Classical Culture, early Christians believed that “the best approach to truth is through a study of error” (vii).  This is how the Lutheran Formula of Concord does theology.  It not only states the thesis but the antithesis.  It not only says what the truth to believe is but rejects and condemns the error.

The modern approach doesn’t.  It states the truth, and eventually its watered down to be the truth “as you see it, understand it, believe it, or interpret it.”  This then leads to understanding truth as somewhere between your thesis and someone else’s antithesis.  Truth is a synthesis.

I honestly don’t know if the banking industry does train tellers by exposing them only to true money, but even if they do, still the teller must say at sometime, “This is not true money.”  And if he will not, he cannot be a teller.  Or if he should somehow become one, he won’t be much of one.  Likewise, the pastor who isn’t able to say or will not say, “This teaching is false.”  He may be a nice guy, a gifted guy, a “loving” guy, but he’s not a shepherd.  Shepherds must be able and willing to identify the wolf even if it is all dressed up as a sheep.  True sheep want such a shepherd.  True sheep don’t say, “You’re being negative, unkind, or unchristian.”  True sheep say, “God bless you for refuting the gainsayer if not for his sake then mine.”

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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4 Responses to The Necessity of Refuting the Gainsayer

  1. Brad says:

    I believe it was Sasse who wrote somewhere that one of the troubles Lutherans in America will eventually face is that, because the Book of Concord is not studied regularly by clergy and laity together as it should be, the rhythm of thesis-antithesis will be lost. The result? Exactly what you have articulated here. Now, if only I can find that quote!

  2. Bart Goddard says:

    Book of Concord…Psalms…Proverbs…St. Paul…Athanasian Creed…. Yeah, we’re certainly breaking with tradition when we decline to name the anti-theses. There’s a subtler problem. In Lutheran doctrine, the negation of the anti-thesis doesn’t always follow from the thesis. E.g., the fact that some are predestined to heaven doesn’t imply for us that, therefore, some are predestined to hell. It is not the case for us that just because A is part of our doctrine, then not(not A) is necessarily also part of our doctrine. So if it turns out that not(not A) is, in a particular case, part of our doctrine, then we need to state it. Otherwise we fall into the sophistry of the Calvinists.

  3. Scott says:

    Well said.

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