If you’ve ever shared the grace message with your friends and family, you probably met resistance. And you might have wondered why.
Why would anyone hesitate to accept such good news about Jesus and the freeness of salvation?
There are many reasons, but one of them is loyalty to a favorite teacher.
Loyalty is a double-edged sword.
God gave us teachers (cf. Eph 4:11). We need them. They tell us what to believe. They edify us and help us grow. That's all good.
The trouble comes when we accept what they say without doing too much double-checking for ourselves.
That certainly happens with anyone who grew up in the Christian faith. Children absorb what they’re taught in their homes and church, and it becomes part of their thinking without checking those beliefs for themselves. After all, it’s hard to be a Berean when you’re too young to read!
But while having an unexamined faith is normal for children, it’s not normal for adults to always believe whatever they’re told by trusted authorities. Nevertheless, that seems to be a typical attitude among Christians. As Eberle and Trench write (in a book I was reading to challenge my eschatology!):
“In fact, we dare say that most Christians believe what they believe, not because they can support those beliefs with Scripture, but because they believe what they were taught by their favorite pastor, Sunday school teacher, denomination, or television preacher” (Eberle and Trench, Victorious Eschatology, p. 81).
When you believe things without examining the issues, you have implicit faith. While it’s normal for children to have implicit faith, adults should ask questions, look for evidence, and check whether claims correspond to reality. Adults should be making their faith explicit. But we often don’t. Why not?
There are many possible reasons (cf. Heb 5:11-15), but loyalty is one of them. Loyalty to your favorite teacher might prevent you from being open to what Scripture teaches. You might consider yourself a Berean who’s open to the truth and checks everything against Scripture. But the reality might be that you never seriously consider that your teacher could be wrong. Your loyalty to him might discourage you from actively seeking out contrary opinions or evidence from other teachers who might be right where your teacher is mistaken:
“However, we should be concerned when Christians are so loyal to one teacher or denomination that they cannot consider seriously the views of other teachers who also are trying their best to serve the Lord” (p. 82).
Because of your loyalty, your openness to truth might only go so far as seeking evidence that confirms what your teacher says but not anything that might contradict him. This means, in practice, that you’re not really open to the truth. Your faith is not based on what the Bible says so much as on what your teacher says:
“Most Christians will struggle to hold their present beliefs no matter how compelling the historical and biblical evidence is to the contrary. They will hold to those belief not because they can defend them biblically, but because of their own loyalty to a spiritual leader whom they love and admire” (p. 82).
That attitude has prevented many people from hearing the grace message. Sometimes, loyalty to a teacher means if you consider opposing views at all, it may only be through the lens of how the teacher presents it. And that will usually be very biased. For example, I’m sure plenty of people have “studied” Free Grace theology, but only as presented by John MacArthur or Wayne Grudem. And that means they haven’t heard an accurate presentation.
You might love your teacher so much that questioning or disagreeing with him is too painful to consider. There may even be an unspoken culture reinforcing the idea that questioning the teacher is an act of disloyalty. If you think pursuing the truth is too hard, you might prefer the easy path of not examining your faith:
For them, to question their own beliefs is to be disloyal to the leaders who taught them. It is easier to not question. It is easier to let things remain as they are. It is difficult to consider other ways of thinking because you must entertain the possibility that you have been misguided, and also that teachers whom you love and admire have been incorrect” (p. 82).
Eberle and Trench present an unhealthy picture. What’s a healthier alternative?
A good teacher will admit that, since he is fallible, he must have some doctrines wrong. He would encourage you always to double-check what he says against Scripture. He’ll recognize that he’s still learning, too, and will still have reason to change his mind on things, and he definitely won’t create a culture of punishing people for questioning him or disagreeing with his conclusions. Although there will be some doctrinal “lines in the sand,” he won’t make every theological hobby horse or interpretation a fellowship-breaking issue. He’ll show grace and patience for your learning journey, just as he recognizes he needs the same grace and patience for his.
Loyalty to your teacher can be good—but a healthy loyalty will never come before your greater loyalty to Jesus Christ. Focusing on Jesus should help you be open to the truth because He, not your teacher, is the Truth. If people resist hearing about the grace message due to loyalty to their favorite teacher, ask them whether Jesus is their teacher, too, and then point them to what He said about salvation.
It may be unsettling to disagree with your favorite teacher, but shouldn’t your greater concern be to disagree with Jesus?
Send your questions or comments to Shawn.