The Untouchables

Touch not the Lord’s anointed.

This is a very popular battle cry whenever the teachings and actions of a particularly popular Christian leader is questioned or criticized. If I am not mistaken this is what is meant when people use this statement:

  • A man of God is called by God and not by man
  • He is therefore not answerable to anyone but the one who called him
  • Since we do not know whether what he is teaching and/or doing is by divine instruction and therefore according to God’s will to question his actions or teaching can unknowingly be questioning God Himself and therefore incur the wrath the Lord.

I wonder if this view of Christian leaders as being untouchable stems from the way we as an African society view spiritual leaders. Traditionally religious leaders are untouchable. Their word is law and to speak against them or question their methods or instructions is to go against the gods. Terrible things could happen to someone who challenged their authority. I suspect an aspect of this has influenced the way our society also views Christian leaders especially the ones who display the ability to perform the miraculous.

There is need to examine the origins of the phrase Touch not the Lord’s anointed in the Bible.  Conrad Mbewe does a brilliant job of explaining the meaning of the phrase in this article http://www.conradmbewe.com/2012/12/touch-not-lords-anointed.html. The key point is that, the phrase  “…is about harm, especially physical harm, and not legitimate criticism“.  Using this as a defense against criticism just doesn’t work.  The Bible calls on us to actively check that what we hear is in accordance with the gospel. Conrad Mbewe makes this point brilliantly:

“Public teachers must be above reproach. That is one of their qualifications. If they meddle in heretical teaching or immoral living, they disqualify themselves. Thus, those of us who are aware of their devious dealings or dangerous teachings must sound the public alarm. We must warn the unwary lest they fall prey to them. Public sins must be rebuked publicly.

Paul named heretical teachers and wanted the church to keep a safe distance away from them. He wrote to Timothy saying, “But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some” (2 Timothy 2:16-18). Was he “touching” the Lord’s anointed? No, but he was certainly publicly naming those who were teaching heresy…..

Paul rebuked Peter publicly when he acted in a disorderly manner and his behaviour was going to undermine the gospel. This was not even heresy—yet it had dangerous long-term effects….Evidently, Paul did not think that rebuking Peter publicly was touching the Lord’s anointed!”

We as Christians must really begin to know the gospel that we believe.  I suspect we are in a generation that assumes what the gospel is.  We were brought up in Christian homes and have lived with Christian jargon our entire lives.  We know how to talk the talk and walk the walk.  We can answer Sunday School questions without thought.  But do we really know the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The gospel of which Paul says:

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. ” – Gal 1:6-8

Do we know the gospel enough to be able to discern when an “angel from heaven” preaches a different gospel? Here is why I think we may have difficulty to discerning between the authentic gospel and a fake gospel.

  1. A lot of us are second-hand readers of the Bible.  Our knowledge of the scriptures is sometimes based on what someone has told us.  There is no direct engagement with the scriptures.  In this case you can’t really check whether what is being said is in error because you don’t even know what the original source says.
  2. We have learnt a lot of unhelpful ways of reading the Bible.  I keep hearing the popular refrain “read your Bible…read your Bible” but I think there is an assumption that we all know how to read the Bible.  That would have been a fair assumption if not for the fact that the ways we hear the Bible being taught also teaches us how we read the Bible.  If we only see people pick one verse and come up with stunning conclusions seemingly out of the air,we will assume that is how verses should be read.  It has become incredibly normal to see Biblical verses used to justify all kinds of things and incredibly rare to see an actual exposition of a Biblical text.  The current approach to Bible reading is liking going to a marketplace.  You walk around examining the goods and picking what you like and leaving the rest.  At the end of the day the gospel becomes whatever creature you want it to be.  If we read the Bible in this way we are only reinforcing positions and ideas we already have instead of being challenged by scripture and being transformed by the word. A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text. 
  3. False teaching often tells us what we want hear to instead of instructing us in sound doctrine. In instructing a young preacher, Paul has this to say: For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths 2 Tim 4:3.

When we are tempted to say Touch not the Lord’s anointed, let’s first try and out what exactly is being criticized.  Is just it just an unwarranted attack at a faithful servant of the Lord? or are legitimate questions being asked about the content of what is being preached as gospel?  Also before we launch into any “attack” on any Christian leader, are we doing so in a helpful, respectful constructive way that seeks to build up the church?

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11 comments

  1. A lot of question come to mind here. How do we know the Lord’s Anointed? The usual answer is that the Spirit of God bears witness with our spirit. The issue right there is that leaving it open to people’s feeling (yes, feeling not God’s inspiration).

    How did the old testament folks deal with this? Precedence. Samuel anointed Saul and then David. David respected Saul without question because believed by signs and divination that Samuel was a prophet of God.

    We can learn from this. It is not possible to say there are no men of God currently. We can identify a man of God by who anointed him and/or his roots.

    Once we’ve established who a man of God is, let look at how the prophet Nathan rebuked David. One can say that Nathan was in many ways more mature in the LORD than David. I believe this is what is missing the the criticism and attacks by this generation on men of God. I believe this is what God abhors. Respecting your pastor/man of God (and generally neighbour) by virtue of your view of his source is honouring God. Jesus has a parable on this right?

    My little something.

    1. Thanks for the input Henry 🙂
      Who is the Lord’s anointed? Now that is a good question which needs exploration as well, but even when we agree on the criteria that marks one as “anointed”, there is still the question of what happens what the person is teaching seems a bit flawed. I fully agree that respect for the person and the office he holds should mark how we going about doing this but I do not doubt that it needs to be done. Sola scriptura was one of the battle cries of the reformation for a reason.

  2. The strength of criticism lies in the weakness of the thing criticized.”

    The Bible tells us the whole body of Christ is, not just some certain people in the body.
    John 17:17 ‘Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth.” NIV
    Unless someone is speaking the word correctly they are not teaching the truth and it doesn’t matter if they call themselves ANOINTED, or how successful /big a ministry they have, they are WRONG.
    2 Cor 1:20-22.
    ”Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.”
    So I ask who is anointed?

    1. This is definitely a recipe for disorder and unruliness if we interpret these scriptures as meaning there is no more the “anointeds” of God. Yes we all have anointing for something. Well the apostles did as well. I see a rebuttal coming – Peter and Paul.

      I will like to liken all of this to growing up. We are all born to a parent / care taker. They may not control you all your life (not true for all :-)). However, when of age, they respect you as an adult but you continue to respect them even when they go wrong. You may as well show same to the older ones who saw you grow. You may also show same gesture to those in positions of authority in society.

      I do not believe this is any different. We all grow in God. God is ultimately the one that brings increase (understanding, wisdom, etc). However, by gaining more insight by reason of the fulfilment of God’s word does not mean to be unruly or disrespectful.

    1. Great article Steve, very helpful and enlightening.

      I agree with one of the comments made that 1 John 2 (particularly v18-25) is helpful in the discussion of ‘the anointed’. John make it clear that every Christian is anointed because they have the Holy Spirit (same as OT anointed) and it is interesting that the sign of their anointing is not miracles but ‘knowledge’ which many so called man of God would find appalling because of their anti-intellectualism.

      Paul calls Timothy “man of God” (1 Tim. 6:11) not because he was a miracle worker but because he was a faithful minister of God’s word and exhorts to godly living because of that. In fact Paul calls all Christians “man of God” (1 Tim. 3:7).

      And so the New Testament seems to cast the blanket wider on who’s the anointed man of God and who’s not. There is no warrant in Scripture for any Christian to be exempted from criticism if they’re wrong as you helpfully point out with examples in Scripture. And you’re right that African Christianity has imported reverence for traditional spiritualists to Christianity which is very unhelpful.

  3. Well done Stephen. I suspect that the Kenyan pastor caught with his pants down would not like THIS verse.

    When we Westerners read of a Nigerian pastor lending his private jet to the politicians to fly to BUY ARMS, we do wonder if they have read the preaching of Jesus Christ at all.

    Keep up the good writing

    Neil Cameron
    Teacher at Navrongo (a LONG time ago)

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