Painting with a Broad Brush

While it is unfair to judge a group, whether it is a school’s fan base or a local church, by the words and actions of few, is it not equally unwise to fail to see a widespread problem because there are a few exceptions? By way of illustration, consider 2 Peter 2 and its warning against false teachers. In this chapter they are described as…

  • Secretly bringing in destructive heresies. 2:1
  • Involved in covetousness or greed. 2:3
  • Presumptuous. 2:10
  • Self-willed. 2:10
  • Willing to speak against dignitaries. 2:10
  • Speaking evil of things they didn’t understand. 2:12
  • Engaged in carousing or revelry. 2:13
  • Having eyes full of adultery. 2:14
  • Unable to cease sinning. 2:14
  • Making their appeal to people through the lusts of the flesh and lewdness. 2:19

Are we to understand that every teacher would possess all ten of these characteristics? If just one person could have been found who was teaching the same error as the others but lacked “eyes full of adultery,” would the readers have then been able to dismiss the apostle’s warnings with a comment about him painting with too broad a brush? While I can’t imagine anyone doing that, the broad brush criticism is frequently used to dismiss warnings that are sounded about various teachings and practices.

You can preach a lesson on the importance of Christians marrying Christians and cite Old Testament warnings such as the one found in Deuteronomy 7:1-4, point out the difficulty of rearing children as Ephesians 6:4 demands, look at the importance of the proper companions as in Proverbs 12:26 and 1 Corinthians 15:33, along with several other biblical principles, only to have your sermon dismissively waved off with an anecdote about someone who maintained their faith, converted their spouse, and raised several godly children. You may be rebuked for painting with too broad a brush, but have you? Are those principles not valid? Do the exceptions, and they do exist, really mean that Christians should not be concerned about marrying Christians?

Suppose you warn against the doctrine of once saved—always saved and point out that when people do not believe falling to be possible, they are less likely to take heed that they not do so (1 Corinthians 10:12). What if you say that believing in the impossibility of being lost can promote carelessness in one’s service to God (Jude 1:4), but someone finds an avid believer in this doctrine who strives with all his might and to the best of his understanding to walk upright before God, have they rendered your argument invalid? Have they somehow disproven the danger of believing a doctrine that goes against 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Galatians 5:4; Hebrews 10:26-31; 2 Peter 2:20-22; et al?

When we deal with widespread doctrinal error, we must sometimes speak in broad, general terms about attitudes, applications, dangers, etc., as was done in Colossians 2; Galatians 4-5; 2 Peter 2; Jude 1; and other passages, simply because we cannot examine every teacher individually. Will one be able to find a promoter of whatever error is in question whose character seems impeccable and is not guilty of the prideful presumption with which we might have described the movement? Almost certainly, but does that allow the warning to be disregarded as simply painting with too broad of a brush? That there are some whose character and motives are different from the majority doesn’t change anything about the danger of the error being promoted and should not distract us from the real problem.

While it is possible to paint with too broad a brush and unfairly indict a group, let’s not allow ourselves to be distracted from important principles and teachings by some exceptions that might seem to have gotten a little paint splattered on them.