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*REVISED* Tickling One’s Own Ears, Part One

Scott on January 14, 2007 at 4:11 pm

SPECIAL NOTE: I have added a small addendum at the end titled “A NOTE OF CLARIFICATION.” Please be sure to read that section as well, as it attempts to clarify my motivation behind writing this 2-part post.

As the issues connected to Christian “watch-dogging” have heated up, I have become more and more fascinated with the whole concept of people feeling as though they have been called upon (by God) to keep watch over the rest of us. Mind you, I’m not speaking of the “pastors as shepherds of their flock” kind of watching, but more along the lines of the “Big Brother is watching you” kind of watching. John’s excellent post about John Macarthur and his upcoming book Truth War gives clear evidence as to just how high up the “watch-dogging” craze goes. When prominent Church leaders begin to advocate a “devil in our midst” philosophy (no pun intended), then the lower ranks may take their lead and begin seeing the devil everywhere as well. Think Salem Witch trials but without the burning at the stake (at least not yet).

To be clear, Christian “watch-dogging” (verb) and Christian “watch-doggies” (noun) are the terms that I use when referring to the process of and those individuals and groups who engage in the act of keeping tabs on everyone else in the Body of Christ. (Oddly enough, these “watchdogs” typically reject the notion that someone should be keeping a watch on them. See this excellent post – Who Will Watch the Watchmen).

In essence, “watch-dogging” has become the spiritual equivalent of Christian McCarthyism, but rather than Communists in every corner, they see heretics in every pew. Another way to look at this is to compare the “watch-doggies” to the members of the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities, the group that spent years searching for evidence of infiltration by communists, Nazis, fascists and the like within American society. But this new committee of self-appointed watch-doggies and discernment organizations is looking for heresy and apostasy, and they’ll find it even if they have to manufacture it.

According to the proponents of these “discernment” ministries, almost everything that is happening in the American Christian church is bad/negative/apostate in some form or another.

Contemporary music in worship..bad.

Making life in 1st Century Judea more culturally understandable to 21st Century America bad.

Utilizing cultural icons and pop culture trends to bridge the gap between a secular mindset and a Christ-centered mindset VERY bad.

Discussing and encouraging the positive influences of a Godly life on day-to-day living rather than going for the throat and preaching the retribution and judgment of God HORRIBLY bad.

In their minds, these people are the faithful remnant while the vast majority of people involved in the American Church have abandoned Christ. From their perspective, this wholesale apostasy leaves only the few who REALLY know and REALLLY understand how Christianity is REALLY supposed to work, leaving the rest of us out in the cold and in the Dark.

But how do these “watch-doggies” end up where they are at, believing themselves to be among the few faithful while the overwhelming majority of the Church (at least in the States) are traveling down the road to ruin? I would suggest one possibility – They have tickled their own ears.

II Timothy 4:2-4 says:

Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

In true dispensationalist fashion, most of those who engage in “watch-dogging” will interpret this passage as a reference to the condition of the church around the “end times,” prior to Christ’s return. They will point to obvious examples like TBN, Creflo Dollar, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, et al and combine them with less obvious teachers whom they believe to be in error (Rob Bell, Rick Warren, et al) and mix them all together in order to use them as anecdotal proof that the end times are coming because of these preachers who may (or may not) be teaching sound doctrine.

And I agree some of these people are examples of the worst of the worst in terms of where the Church can go terribly wrong. A doctrine of prosperity, healing in exchange for money, conversations with Jesus while dressed in pajamas, holy laughter, roaring in the spirit, really bad isogetical teaching related to tithing, blessings, multi-generational curses, etc, etc, etc (not to mention the hair styles of Jan Crouch and Benny Hinn). These are all bad and all horrible…all of the time.

But these watch-doggies ignore the history of the Church. They ignore that there have always been times when people turn away from sound doctrine and chase after ridiculous, sad, pathetic imitations of the True Gospel. They ignore the fact that there have always been teachers and preachers who are off their rocker and about as theologically sound as the Book of Mormon.

These “watch-doggies” ignore that the charge in 2nd Timothy of preaching the Word and being prepared in and out of season is an exhortation to all Christians of all generations, not just the Christians in our generation. They feel as though this charge is more relevant now than it has been previously, thus creating some new sense of urgency. But this just isn’t true. Sharing the Word has always been the goal of the Church. These remnant-leaning “watch-doggies” want to believe that they are restoring something, but they are attempting to restore something that was never actually lost.

“Watch-doggies” (and the discernment ministries who love them) ignore that people have always wanted their ears itched and have always wanted to hear sentiments that echo what they want to believe, regardless of whether or not those beliefs are true. That is human nature. When we are told, “the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine,” this isn’t just referring to a single time in history. People (including Christians) will eventually lean towards things they want to hear because they agree with them. Rarely do people want to listen to people whom they disagree with. Again human nature.

“Watch-doggies” WANT the negatives to be true about the preachers, teachers and trends within the Church, and they want to be the ones to denounce these negatives. In these negatives, they find the justification for their existence. Unfortunately, they are so intent on finding the witches in our midst that they begin to create the witches themselves by shaping them out of whole cloth, painting them black and putting large, black, pointed hats on their heads.

And how do they manufacture these “imitation witches?” They fall victim to the 2nd Timothy “ear itching” syndrome, the same disease that they claim to be “watch-dogging” against. To suit their own desires, to find the demons and witches in the midst of the Church that they are SURE must be there, they only listen to others who are just as convinced of the wolves in sheep clothing who must be leading the church into apostasy. They then use those others as proof of their own concerns and fears. They begin to isolate scriptural passages that might appear to support some aspect of their Church-focused witch hunt, and then tie these isolated scriptures to their beliefs and writings advocating the need for “watch-doggies” within the Church.

When others from outside of the “watch-dogging” remnant bring up concerns about proof-texting scripture and the use of isogetics (looking at scripture without context and ignoring the greater meaning of a passage as opposed to looking at scripture within its context and overall meaning), the remnant “watch-doggies” begin to hyperventilate as they throw around hot-button words and dire pronouncements and condemnations such as heresy, apostasy, wolves in sheep’s clothing, deceivers, schemers, dwellers in darkness, tools of the devil, spiritually blind, etc. Those who question are relegated to the classification of “on the path to Hell” and their words are never given consideration.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, the “watch-doggies” listen ONLY to those people and organizations whose opinions echo those ideas with witch they already agree. They then continue to spread those ideas and teachings around to others who are of a like mind. “Discernment ministries” sprout up on the web like weeds in June, focusing on recycling the opinions and teachings that confirm what they have already concluded, namely that apostacy is rampant, the American evangelical church is lost, and there are only a precious few out there who are equiped enough spiritually to survive the impending dark ages of the Church.

Here ends Part One of “Tickling One’s Own Ears.”

Stay tuned for Part Two…An Example In Action of Ear Itching.






One of our regular readers made an observation about both parts of this “Itching One’s Own Ears” series. She challenged me, saying that it appeared that I was “knocking” all discernment ministries. I must admit that though that was not my intention, I can see how it could have come across this way. Thank you, Amy, for your critique and your recommendation.

Let me be clear. It was never my intent to broad-brush all discernment ministries. There are discernment ministries out there that focus on all aspects of life and many of these organizations do great work. They focus on a a wide range of topics including: cults and counter-cult facilitation, science and faith, countering the influences of popular culture and society, the role of faith in politics, etc.

Many of these discernment organizations demonstrate keen insight and judgment, using the Bible, logic and reason, research and investigation, etc. These ministries are able to analyze the obscure, the suspicious and the obvious, their perceptions honed by years of study. They demonstrate wisdom in how they apply their knowledge and perceptions to various situations, individuals and organizations. They demonstrate restraint in how they proceed in dealing with matters of style and substance. They are transparent in their operations and in how they arrive at their conclusions.

At the same time, these discernment ministries are open to critique and criticism. They engage in dialogue. They don’t engage in demagoguery aimed at those who voice disagreement or concerns. Their approach is methodical and measured. From my experience, a few of these effective discernment ministries include:

- Reasons to Believe

- Ravi Zacharias International Ministries

- The Christian Research Institute

- Stand to Reason

- Walter Martin’s Religious Info Net

As I said, there are MANY discernment ministries out there who discern responsibly and who interact with the Church and the World responsibly. My concern is with the other brand/style of discernment ministries whose approach is far more aggressive and far less reasoned and thought-out, far more knee jerk and far less logical, far more perception-based and far less Biblically-based. These types of discernment ministries have good intentions but in my experience they do far more damage and harm than they do good. In particular, many of those discernment groups who feel called to focus most of their attention internally within the Church place themselves in the position of not only questioning suspect beliefs and/or doctrines but questioning the motivations and the very salvation of others within the Church with whom they disagree.

It is these groups that I had in mind when writing these two posts.

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