It occurred to me today that all of the times I have heard the “itching ears” passage of 2 Timothy 4:3-5 referenced it has been focused on preachers watering down the truth of Scripture to please wishy-washy churchgoers who were lax on holiness or commitment to the Kingdom. In essence, these ear-tickling pastors are exposed for taking the offense of the Gospel away to please those who are, at best, nominal disciples of Christ. While that application is valid, I would also like to suggest that there are current preachers who are afraid of losing the approval of narrow, overtly traditional, legalistic, denominationally-heavy-handed, financially influential churchgoers in conservative churches. These pastors scratch these ears by failing to preach biblical liberty, unadulterated New Testament truth (contrasted with presumptive denominational tradition), and grace for daily living (not just grace for salvation). They defer to people who exercise at varying levels unbiblical narrowness and control as the self-appointed keepers of the faith. They give a free pass to people who expect their pastor to keep “the old paths”…even those paths have not been subjected to the truth of God’s Word for scrutiny to find out if they were ever biblical in the first place. These pastors are expected to ignore legalism where they would be castigated for tolerating liberalism. I’m wondering why I have never heard the itching-ear message applied to pastors who tolerate this kind of thing in the churches they shepherd.
Aren’t both of these extremes of liberalism and legalism sinful and therefore the responsibility of pastors to define, expose and refute?
I encourage my fellow pastors that it’s not just liberal churchgoers who may want their ears tickled but also the legalist or the traditionalist. Let us check our hearts to make sure we do not tailor our callings to scratch either ear. You men who would be considered older pastors, please know that none of us buy into the excuse of you being too old to change now. You forfeit credibility and, in my opinion, hazard the legitimacy of your calling if you don’t confront legalism with the same zeal you would theological liberalism. It is deeply discouraging to watch some of you play it safe and tell us in private that you agree with us while failing to display courage in public to make a stand. When did you emasculate your calling and for whom? You may lose face with your peers who are still planting those irrelevant, moth-eaten flags that you used to be convinced of but, if you know in your heart that those things don’t mean what you used to say they meant, then show your spine and admit that you missed it back then. What is more important to you? Saving face with your peers or exemplifying character and humility by confessing you missed it in times past and no longer hold dear those man-spawned standards and traditions that you made equal to God’s Word? Those coming up behind you long to admire your courage and be helped by your humility as you stand up and say that you planted some misguided flags back then. We will follow you anywhere if we believe you are genuine. We are loathe to follow you at all if you stubbornly stay loyal to a cause that you know is not valid. We know some of you know better now but that the fear of man has become a snare that holds feet which were once swift and beautiful to bring good tidings of God’s message to man.
To younger pastors: God has raised you up in these last days to be a voice for Him, not to preserve the ecclesiastical museum of the former generation. Know your bible, preacher. Eat it. Pray it. Parse it. Ingest it again. Beg God for wisdom and understanding. AND THEN STAND ON IT in the name of Jesus Christ and for His glory. Refuse to perpetuate unbiblical tradition no matter who your civil disobedience disappoints. When persecution finds the American church (this will increasingly occur in the next fifteen years) nobody will be helped because you stood for the KJV or made sure you wore a coat and tie to the church or were widely known as a dyed-in-the-wool Baptist/Methodist/Calvnist/Charismatic or held on to your commitment to sing only from the hymnbook. God has ordained prophets in every generation and the current and next generation of believers will need true prophets more than any in America before them. The coming fires of persecution will incinerate all religious straw-men created by those who went before you. You are not imagining things when you sense in your soul that those things do not hold importance in the mission of Christ. Younger pastors, make up your mind today that you will be student of the Word and presence of God. Be filled with and driven by the Holy Spirit and not the denominational expectation that keeps the peace with unreasonable and demanding religionists. Buck the system if it runs counterproductive to authentic Kingdom advancement. Stop being timid (under the guise of you being humble & teachable) and welcome God to use you to wake up this slumbering Church and to raise up the dead in our culture. Nobody has ever been transformed by a vanilla ministry that maintains the status quo so it can be easily passed down to the next milquetoast messenger. Young pastors, we need you to stop fearing the loss of approval from those who went before you. Learn what is TRUE and then live it, preach it, model it and impart it to people who are malnourished because of religion and begging for a meal of spiritual substance God will raise up and use those who treasure the flame of truth and loyalty to His mission. The rest He is blowing out and letting their smoke fade. That’s all they have to offer anyway if they won’t confess it as vacuous and unprofitable. Younger pastors, you need to decide now whom you are called to please. The longer you put it off, the more difficult that decision becomes. Some older preachers wish they had made it when they were young but didn’t. Now they are older and won’t. Do not become them. They would not be if they could do it over again – some of them have confessed this to me so let us learn from their regrets.
I’m writing this letter at 1:45 AM on a Wednesday morning and I am deeply stirred. When God stirs you, He expects you to steward the stirring, brother. I’m going to do so with His continual help. I hope both older and younger preachers will do the same.
Your fellow pastor,
Give to the ministry