Strikes and Outs
An Essay by Kent Philpott
“Strikes and Outs”—baseball lingo--but this essay is not about baseball; it is about courage.
Strikes and outs are what umpires, those who officiate baseball games, are supposed to call. A “call” means an umpire indicates that a pitched ball is either a ball or a strike. Batters do not want to hear a pitched ball called a strike, and the umpire knows this well. Strikes are booed, fans are unhappy, players are unhappy; it takes courage to call strikes.
Then consider a “play” as when a runner is coming into home plate and arrives at about the same time as a ball thrown by a fielder. A call of safe or out must be made and it is easier to make the safe call—any seasoned umpire will say amen to that.
How do I know this? I have umpired many a game, and most of them at San Quentin State Prison, and the strikes and outs are not good news to the convicts who are the objects of those calls. One contested call may mean an entire game being heckled by a disgruntled fan.
In the last game of our season at the prison we needed an umpire, since our usual ump had just paroled. I volunteered, and during the course of the game the subject for this essay came to mind.
As it is easier to make a ball or safe call, so it is easier to stand down and avoid confronting error. Courage is a rare and wonderful quality, one which may cost us dearly.
A price paid for obedience
We see in the pages of the New Testament the price Jesus paid for His obedience to the Father. He was attacked by many, scorned and rejected, and ultimately went to the cross. His Passion was the express will of God, yet we see the tortuous process that goes with standing for the truth.
Paul would have understood my baseball analogy—he called strikes and outs, and paid the price for it. He took stands for the Gospel that earned him enemies and a stressful life.
John was opposed by the Roman authorities and was forced into exile, yet he never ceased to speak out against error.
The Church has had its heroes, men and women of faith and vision, who have been defenders of the Faith delivered once and for all to the Church. Christians in whatever era are called to do the same. And it takes courage to do so.
Taking a stand against error
Currently I am in a struggle or two and am discovering again what it is to take a stand. It is even more difficult if the stand is against error within the broad Christian community. Many do not understand that spiritual warfare is waged more often inside the “visible” church than outside it. The secular world is one thing, but issues of biblical doctrine and practice impact us more directly and critically than the ongoing confusion in the world.
Fewer topics arouse my reaction these days, and for this I am thankful. One of my life goals is to avoid giving in to a cynical, complaining attitude, always looking for what is wrong rather than what is right. There are far too many issues abroad that can get me stirred up, so I must be selective and focus only on those things that go to the heart of the biblical and evangelical Gospel. I cannot be afraid to call strikes and outs.
The biblical warnings and warrants
Here are passages I look to in order to remind myself that certain error must be opposed regardless of the discomfort in doing so.
Matthew 24:4-5. “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ.’ And they will lead many astray.”
Jesus’ words to His apostles were meant for something more than information, I would think. Perhaps they were to be actively opposing those who announced they were the Messiah. Such pretenders may or may not have come from the Christian community, but from wherever the false claim originated, there would be an evil harvest.
Acts 20:28-31a. “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made your overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert…”
Paul delivered the warning to the elders of the Church at Ephesus, and it is reasonable to expect that the current elders of God’s Flock must heed the same warning. Notice the emphasis here: the trouble will come from within, not without, the church. This is so often the case. Over four decades of ministry, my experience has been that opposition from without the church is less common; it is nearly always from within the visible church that the confusion arises.
Galatians 1:6-9. “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. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”
“Accursed”—precisely what Paul had in mind in using such a word is unknown, but at minimum accursed is not a good thing. Paul is courageous in his concern for the Galatian churches and speaks his mind. Though he might anticipate that his direct warning will stir up trouble, he writes because he is aware of the greater problems that would result if a false gospel were to make its way into those churches. Paul again warns that the platform for the presentation of the strange gospel would be from within the Christian community.
Beware of angelic revelations
Paul may not be going to an extreme when he mentions a gospel coming from an angel. More than once persons have claimed angelic revelation. One only has to think of Islam and Mormonism for illustrations. As crazy as it seems, angels or what present themselves as angels, are up to the same old tricks right now. Fallen angels–demons--are spiritual and powerful (“angels of light” Paul called them--see 2 Corinthians 11:14), and it is very hard to resist that which seems to come from God.
1 Timothy 4:1. “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.”
Whether these days are last days or not is unknown, but they may be, and so the warning of Paul could easily be applicable. Those who will be devoting themselves to the demons have departed from “the faith.” Again the trouble arises from within the visible church. And it is not mentioned if the devotees are genuine Christians or are unbelievers supposing themselves to be born again but are merely Christianized.
Could it be that we have been living in the “later times” for some long time, perhaps even from the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry? (see 1 John 2:18). A survey of the history of our Church might lend support to the concept.
1 John 4:1. “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
Upsetting indeed—“many false prophets”—out into the world, too, so the Apostle John sounds the warning. Would the same be true for today?
Jude 3-4. “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
Jude would rather have written a celebratory letter focused on the grace and mercy of the Lord Jesus but of necessity had to urge the readers to “contend for the faith.” And it has always been so.
Once again, the trouble comes from within the Christian churches. Here the problem might have been easy to spot due to the blatant sinfulness of those who would pervert the Gospel. How it was that these were “designated for this condemnation” is not apparent. However, the message is simple: strange and false doctrine will be proclaimed and it must be withstood.
Be strong and courageous
Before long I will be sixty-nine years old, but I was once a young lion ready to take on any foe. It is more taxing for me now and more stressful to listen to the heckling when strikes and outs are called. Quickly it becomes apparent that I need my community of faith, the congregation I pastor, to stand alongside me.
A passage I memorized some decades ago gives me fresh strength to stand and deliver. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
By Christianized I mean someone who has all the appearances of being a Christian, yet are not actually born again. False conversion may be fairly common when it is thought that by repeating a prayer, making an altar call, engaging in what are thought to be spiritual gifts, submitting to an organization’s requirements for membership, confessing and adhering to doctrinal positions, or doing anything within the human capacity, one automatically becomes a Christian.