The Bible contains two letters the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessaloniki, which might lead readers to think the people in that city were widespread supporters of Paul’s work. They weren’t. Rather, while one group of people heard Paul’s preaching and accepted it there were others who wouldn’t even give him a hearing. This opposition rose up in riot against the gospel of Jesus.
The new Christians rushed Paul and his companions away under cover of night for their safety. The travelers found a more receptive community in the next town.
As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men. (Acts 17:10-12.)
The Bereans fact-checked their spiritual leader every night and were called noble because of it. Not a bad example to follow, wouldn’t you say?
Notice too that the non-Jewish women of Berea are mentioned prominently as being among the new Christians. Women and men together made up this group of noble questioners and believers.
Spiritual Leaders or Spiritual Dictators
Spend time among Christians and you will hear stories of churches where people are not only not encouraged to check up on their spiritual leaders, the pastors and elders and deacons who are over the congregation, but are actively discouraged from following the Bereans’ example. One problem with such churches, of course, is that pastors and elders and deacons shouldn’t see themselves as over anyone since leadership in the church means putting yourself below everyone else, not establishing a position above them. (Mark 9:35, John 13:12-17.)
A greater problem is that the leadership in these churches sees itself as beyond question and above the reproach of anyone not in leadership. If the church is large enough to have a number of leaders, the hierarchy continues all the way to whoever is at the top. The person might be called Senior Pastor, Head Elder, Bishop or some other title, but there will be someone at the top of the chain who is answerable to no one. It happens in other ministries too, where the ones in charge brook no dissent.
Those who question a leader or a lesson, no matter how supportive they may be of the church or ministry overall, can be subject to discipline, reprisal, ouster and shunning.
- You can see it in notorious fellowships such as Westboro Baptist and in local fellowships such as in my own town, where questioning the leaders’ teaching results not in conversation but shunning.
- You can see it in ministries that spread their teaching on-line, where offering a contrary view causes the ones running the ministry to block your access to their website, Twitter or Facebook pages, and to immediate denigration of you as belonging to the Antichrist.
- And you can see it in mega-churches where pastors preach of having thrown dissenters under the bus, or dictate how individual members must submit to the church’s authority in all matters including whether to report crimes to the police. Fail to adhere and you too will be disciplined, perhaps even excommunicated.
All of them would claim they are following the church model of the New Testament. Yet none of them follow Paul’s model of teaching and allowing his listeners to check up on him. If the Bereans showed their nobility in doing so, what does that make you when you exercise Scriptural discernment of a sermon, a blog post, a tweet?
It makes you noble too.
Checking up on the teachers
Some people will claim they are teaching God’s truth, but their teaching doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. And scrutiny is exactly what John advised:
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1.)
This is similar to the advice Paul gave the Thessalonians after he left them:
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22.)
One can’t help but imagine Paul had the Berean experience in mind when he advised the Thessalonians to check up on spiritual teaching (prophecies). To do otherwise is to quench the Holy Spirit’s ministry in the life of the Christian. Don’t let spiritual dictators try to quench the work of the Spirit in you.
You are called to something far more noble than that.