My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. James 3:1(NKJV)
Stricter judgment? Yikes! What does that mean? Since all eternal judgment is based on our relationship with Christ, I take this to mean earthly judgment, judgment of the community or church. James goes on to remind us that the tongue is a dangerous tool. No doubt, in our culture, he would agree that the pen and the computer are dangerous as well. Those who teach should be careful.
Is it fair to judge teachers? That may be the wrong question. The question may be whether it is avoidable. Is it even possible not to judge teachers? Sooner or later, something you teach will come back and people will use it to challenge you. Sadly, we expect our teachers to be perfect and a failing in one area discredits much of the rest of their teachings.
Teachers are accountable rightly when they claim that their teaching comes from God or is “biblical.” They ought to make their case strongly with Scripture support. Teachers are accountable wrongly when their followers look to them without questioning. That isn’t necessarily the fault of the teacher. However, I believe that teachers should cultivate questioning and allow discussion, simply to avoid the impression that they speak with the voice of God. When the teacher is sharing something that is clear from the Scriptures, he/she should let the Scriptures speak. In other words, if God said it, show me. If you are saying it, I will feel much more free to disagree.
There are certain “job hazards” that come with being a teacher. Some people, who perhaps lack the means or the interest to attack the teaching, will attempt to discredit the teaching by discrediting the teacher. The teacher’s life becomes much more open to inspection and challenge than the life of the student. I suppose this is true in Christian circles more than in others, but politicians face a similar hazard.
Also, teachers are placed in a position of having to produce material. To write regularly on a blog, preach each Sunday, write follow-up books, whatever—takes work. No one wants to use the same ideas over and over, whether they are his own ideas or the rehashed ideas of others. Teaching today must be innovative, interesting, motivating, and challenging. How do you come up with that regularly?
Well, good teachers are also students. They study the Scripture and they study writings of other teachers and they study people and life. As they study, they learn and form ideas. One serious job hazard is the temptation to teach what is being learned, rather than what has been learned. In other words, teachers sometimes teach out of their own journey. Not a bad thing in itself, except that a journey is not a conclusion. How often have we learned things at or near the end of the journey that affect our whole understanding of where we have been? If we teach out of the journey, we may mislead people and may find ourselves defending things we aren’t even sure of ourselves. Pretty soon we have painted ourselves into a corner. Labels come that we don’t want, but we can no longer deny easily.
Preachers often hear themselves quoted as saying things they didn’t say. You may have heard of the ancient heresy called, “Nestorianism.” It had to do with how we understand the union of God and man in Jesus. It is interesting that some people suggest Nestorius never really taught Nestorianism. There is real question as to whether Pelagius ever taught what became known as Pelagianism. What happened? Well, the followers of these men took the teaching farther than their teachers. But when the teaching went over the edge and became objectionable, the name continued. Few people warn teachers of this “job hazard.”
Our evangelical fathers asked an appropriate question, “Where stands it written?” What they meant was that the doctrine, in order to be taken as prescriptive or normative, had to be found in Scripture. They would then test the application of Scripture to the question, using accepted methods of interpretation. Teachers have to be willing for their teachings to go through such a test and the people who do the testing may not have studied the issue as long or as carefully as the teacher. It is similar to placing a painting out for public view. Regular people are quite free to stand in front of the artwork and decide whether they “like it or not” based on their own set of standards. Just as this is often frustrating to an artist; so the examination of a teaching can be frustrating for a teacher. A job hazard.
God calls some to teach. Just be careful . . . and be ready for challenges.