Volume Nine, Issue Five
Greetings from the islands of the Pacific!
The feature in this DITC e-Newsletter is called "Beware of the Counsel of Gamaliel!" by Dr. Peter Masters: SWORD & TROWELL, The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Issue: 1995, No. 3. This argument was used on myself and others who stood against the false doctrines and practices of the Brownsville revival movement when they brought it out to the islands of Guam and Micronesia. In trying to stem the tide of false teachings and false prophecies, we were denounced by a number of pastors in a document using the Gamaliel argument, as well as misapplications of the Matt. 7:1 "don't judge" and Ps. 105:15 "touch not the Lord's anointed" arguments. I have a booklet called "What Should I Say" that I wrote to help deprogram those who have bought into and used these arguments. These are also covered in my book "Discernment Toolkit". If you are using the Gamaliel argument to justify false teachings, then perhaps this article will dissuade you from continuing that practice. Unbiblical arguments like those I have mentioned, and many more, only benefit those who want to be allowed to continue to proselytize Christians into following their ways. These excuses do not benefit the individual believer at all. We are not to apply hypocritical judgment, but we are to judge those inside the Church (1 Cor. 5:12). We are to test everything and hold on to the good (1 Thes. 5:21), as well as test the spirits (1 Jn. 4:1). We are to admonish those who claim they are "anointed" of God, and if they do not stop teaching false doctrines, we are to reject them as heretics (Titus 3:10) and warn others away from them as Paul did. We are not to just allow false teaching and practice to continue. God is the final judge, but we are to separate ourselves unto the Lord, a holy people (2 Cor. 16:17). The Church was bold enough to call the Mormons, Jehovah's Witness, and others cults long ago. It is time to do the same for those who deny one or more of the core doctrines of the Faith by what they teach and do. If the Church had followed Gamaliel's argument, it would have slipped into apostasy long ago instead of the quagmire we find it in today. Let's listen to Paul instead of Gamaliel!
1 Cor. 6:2-3 Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life?
2 Tim. 3:1-9 But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
2 Tim. 4:2-5 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
LETTERS TO THE CHURCH is a fitting manual for the Revelation Christian. All the precepts are in the seven letters in Revelation 1:9 - 3:22 to help us keep the faith, stay in sound doctrine, and reach out to those who are perishing. I hope and pray that this book will help the reader to be an “overcomer”.
Go here for more details and how to order!
Want to be able to see your way through to clear biblical discernment? Want a set of tools that will allow you to disciple your loved ones so they will stand firm in the Faith? Want to sort out many of the false arguments and teachings that have invaded the churches? Then DISCERNMENT TOOLKIT is for you!
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On Benny Hinn!
SPIRIT OF TRUTH OR SPIRIT OF ERROR?
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In His hands,
Beware of the Counsel of Gamaliel!
Dr. Peter Masters: SWORD & TROWELL, The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Issue: 1995, No. 3.
And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God. (Acts 5:38-39)
Some people seem to think that Gamaliel was the only wise man in the whole of the Bible! Whenever wisdom is needed to assess the latest strange idea or movement to penetrate the churches, we hear the famous "counsel of Gamaliel" quoted. We hear it endlessly, for example, in connection with the "Toronto blessing" [laughing revival].
We hear it especially when there is no scriptural support for something. When the rest of the Bible seems to say "No!" then the counsel of Gamaliel comes to the rescue.
Gamaliel is often preferred above Paul. If the apostle clearly condemns something, his word is pushed aside in favor of Gamaliel's. But Paul is not alone in this. Gamaliel is even wiser than the Lord Jesus Christ in the estimation of some. Where Christ says, "Beware of false prophets," Gamaliel says, "Leave them be; just watch and wait. Say and do nothing. And if they survive and flourish, they will prove to be from God."
A Liberal Appeal
A famous historical appeal to the counsel of Gamaliel was made by the
notorious liberal, Harry Emerson Fosdick. In an infamous sermon of 1922
(entitled, "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?"), Gamaliel was extolled as
the personification of tolerance and magnanimity. Fundamentalists were
urged to abandon their narrow and cantankerous unreasonableness and to
great Gamaliel's intellectual liberalism.
In recent decades, however, evangelicals too have been heard to press the counsel of Gamaliel as a reason for doing nothing about a range of new trends, including contemporary music in worship and charismatic excesses. The ministry of warning has been strangled, and the people of God exposed to wild experimentation, all on account of the wisdom of Gamaliel.
Who, then, was this man Gamaliel? Was he a good and faithful wise man? Did he speak from God? Is his celebrated counsel as wonderful as many seem to think?
Gamaliel was a leading Pharisee, a doctor of the law, and a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, who possessed great influence between AD 20 and 58. He believed firmly that God's favor was secured by virtue of being born a Jew, and by meticulous obedience to the ceremonial law. As a leading Pharisee, he would have been swamped by self-righteousness and vehemently hostile to salvation by grace through faith.
He was well aware of the teaching of John the Baptist, that Christ was the Lamb of God, appointed to take away the sin of the world. He was also very familiar with the teaching of Christ, that neither Jewishness nor the ceremonial law could save the soul, and that individuals must repent and be born again by the power of God. These teachings he rejected. Indeed, he rejected the idea that Jesus Christ was any more than a man.
If Gamaliel had been affected by the ministry of Christ in the smallest degree, he was nevertheless among those who loved their position and the esteem of men far more than the praise of God. We must remember that he was one of those of whom Christ had said: "You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do ..." (John 8:44).
Is it true that when the furious Jewish leaders were about to execute the apostles, Gamaliel intervened to save them. The older Protestant commentators, however, were never impressed. How remarkable, they said, that God would use a proud man with foolish reasoning to blunt the mad fury of a murderous Sanhedrin. The old writers gave the glory to God, and no credit to Gamaliel.
Calvin expressed astonishment at the intellectual shallowness of Gamaliel, saying, "His opinion is not what one might expect from a man of wisdom." If Gamaliel had been right, observed Calvin, "men must punish nobody and all crime must go uncorrected."
Gamaliel's "do-nothing" counsel would certainly bring to an end all law enforcement, if adopted by any State. Equally, there would be no discipline in the church. God repeatedly commands in His Word that right conduct should be approved and wrongdoing should be restrained. The Sanhedrin had a duty to establish the truth (using the Scriptures) and act accordingly.
If the apostles were teaching correctly, they should have been supported and encouraged. If they were teaching falsehood, they should have been excluded from the Temple, and the people warned. Gamaliel and his colleagues should have sided either for or against the apostles. Gamaliel's counsel was a total abdication of responsibility. He said, in effect, "Time will tell. In the meantime, it does not matter whom they mislead."
It must be admitted Gamaliel made two correct statements: first, that the work of men comes to nothing, and secondly, that the work of God cannot be overthrown. But he failed to note that the fall of the false may not take place for many centuries! Has Islam fallen yet, or Rome, or Hinduism? By Gamaliel's test, perhaps we should conclude that these movements are of God. But Gamaliel forgot that God does not judge the false immediately. Some false institutions will last until Christ destroys them at His Coming.
True Only at Final Judgment
The counsel of Gamaliel is true only when set in the context of eternity, and the final judgment. In the meantime we have a duty to exercise discernment by the clear guidance of the Word. To substitute the do-nothing counsel of Gamaliel for discernment leads to one of two consequences, as we have noted. Either we fail to support something which is right, or we say and do nothing about something which is harmful and dishonoring to God. Gamaliel's counsel is always foolish, selfish, and hideously costly to the cause of Christ.
In the event, by doing nothing Gamaliel fought against God, because he failed to support God's cause. He even failed to act when the apostles were beaten and charged not to speak in the name of the Lord.
Gamaliel's absurd counsel was not due to his being a foolish man, for he was a renowned scholar and thinker. His reasoning was the product of fear. He was afraid of the reaction of the crowds in Jerusalem.
The other members of that hastily convened Jewish Council imagined that they possessed the social standing and moral authority to get away with whatever their murderous instincts dictated. Gamaliel knew better, realizing that the death of the apostles could put the Council itself at risk. So he warned, "Take heed to yourselves what you intend to do."
Counsel of Fear
The Temple police sent to arrest the apostles had not dared to use violence "for they feared as people, lest they should be stoned" (verse 26). The people sympathized with the apostles on account of their power to heal.
History repeats itself. Just as self-preservation and self-interest was the motive behind Gamaliel's original counsel, so it is often the reason for its use today. The "Toronto blessing" arrives in a town where a weak and vacillating pastor leads a fellowship of the Lord's people. "If I oppose this," he reasons," I may lose members in my church. Worse, the advocates of this new phenomenon may push me aside. On the other hand, if I encourage this new phenomenon too openly and too early, I will certainly meet with disapproval from others."
What can this "dishonest steward," this "hireling," do? How will an insincere, indecisive, unprotecting pastor handle such a dilemma?
He will not find a text presenting the words of Christ, or any prophet or apostle, to justify an ambivalent, compromising, equivocal position. But fortunately for the unworthy pastor, the words of a proud, self-righteous, unconverted Pharisee will come to his rescue. The counsel of Gamaliel is available for any pastor or elder interested only in self-preservation and peace at any price.
Who are these who appeal so much to the counsel of Gamaliel? They are like him. They do not want the counsel of God, but a safe, easy, and congenial solution. Even with the entire Bible open before them, nothing is to their taste or of any value except for the words of an unregenerate Pharisee.
Gamaliel, to support his plea to do nothing, mentioned the cases of two rebel leaders who had been killed (apparently by the Roman authorities), with the result that their influence soon waned. The obvious implication was that Jesus of Nazareth had also been put to death by the Romans, and his following would doubtless die out in the same way. Gamaliel further warned that if the movements was from God, to kill the disciples would be to fight against Him.
So Gamaliel employed two arguments. Number One: If God is not behind the disciples, they will disperse without our interference. Number Two: If God is behind them, we will be guilty of fighting Him. How frequently these arguments are heard today! If God is not behind the gimmicks, the worldliness, and the hysterical and occult practices coming into present-day Christianity, they will die out in time. Therefore, forget all pastoral responsibility and let them be.
On the other hand, if you act against them, you may find you are quenching and blaspheming the work of the Spirit of the living God. Therefore, keep off! Don't interfere! Stand on the "touch line." See which way the wind blows. Do whatever is most advantageous and favorable to yourself and see how matters unfold.
A Test of Pastors!
The most useful purpose of the counsel of Gamaliel to present-day believers is that it serves as an indication of the depth and reliability of those who function as pastors, leaders, and Bible teachers. The use of the counsel of Gamaliel in defense of a "do-nothing" or "run-with-the-tide" approach to any new fad is a sure sign of a person who has an inadequate respect for Scripture as the authoritative judge of all matters.
In other words, the counsel of Gamaliel may tell you much more about a pastor than about how you should respond to the latest spiritual threats.
It is only to be expected that Gamaliel should be held in high regard
by today's "evangelical" Bible commentators. If the present array of new-evangelical,
ecumenical evangelicals can endorse the Pope, then why not Gamaliel? What
is the difference? Both stand tenaciously for works as the basis of salvation,
and both reject grace. Both uphold a mediatorial priesthood imagined to
be vested in themselves, and both reject the simplicity which is in Christ.
The similarities could be continued at length. Just as the Pope is now
widely accepted as a true man of faith, so Gamaliel, a Christ-rejecting,
proud Pharisee, is regarded as a saintly
protector of the apostles.
Fellow believers--be warned and beware of the counsel of Gamaliel!
Adapted from an article by Dr. Peter Masters: SWORD & TROWELL, The
Metropolitan Tabernacle, Issue: 1995, No. 3.