Wheat or weed?

My commenter Daron Medway has brought up the parable of the wheat and the weeds in Matthew 13 and how it relates to the issues concerning The Donatists, GAFCON, and the Todd Bentley critics. I refuse to use the traditional name “the wheat and the tares” for this parable because I have never heard the word “tares” used in any other context. Anyway, my preferred title “wheat and weeds” is not only alliterative but, by a happy chance of the modern English language, illustrates within itself one of the main points of the parable, that “wheat” and “weed” are indistinguishable except at the end, and even then only slightly distinct.

I was a bit reluctant to apply this parable to the situation in question because I am aware of a popular misunderstanding of the parable, going back I think to Augustine, in which the field is not the world, as Jesus clearly states in Matthew 13:38, but the visible church. The parable is not teaching, as Augustine misinterpreted it, that false believers should be allowed to remain alongside true ones in the church. At this point I think I am agreeing with Daron. The point is rather that Christians, the servants in the parable, should not be trying to judge the world around them now, but leaving it to God to sort out the mess at the end of time. This might be a lesson for the US government to stop interfering in other countries’ problems, but it is not one for the GAFCON leaders or the critics of Todd Bentley.

But there is a message for this situation from the parable of the wheat and the weeds. That message is that wheat and weeds, at least some kinds of weeds, look very much the same until wheat sprouts and forms ears (verse 26); it was only then that the servants could distinguish them. That is, the difference between the two could be discerned only when the fruit became visible. This is of course the same teaching as Jesus gave in the Sermon on the Mount:

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.

Matthew 7:15-18 (TNIV)

No one can tell the difference from the outward appearance, for both sheep and wolves look like sheep. The only way to distinguish between the two groups is to wait for the fruit to appear.

This implies that it is still rather early to make definitive judgments about Todd Bentley. I think there has been good fruit, but there have also been reports of bad fruit. We will have to wait and see.

As for making judgments about errant Anglicans, there has been much more time to assess their fruit. I am not in a position to make personal judgments, but if I can trust what others say there has been plenty of bad fruit produced in certain areas and not much good. So we can be rather sure that there are false prophets around. What to do about them, when they are in positions of authority in the church, is another issue. Does the principle of the parable apply, to leave them be until God sorts things out at the end of time? I’m not sure.

12 thoughts on “Wheat or weed?

  1. Peter,

    It is interesting to note that the wheat and the weeds look similar isn’t it? However, unlike good wheat, darnel (Gk. zizanion) is a species of rye-grass that has the stupefying properties of a narcotic – it’s poisonous. The servants in the parable of the wheat and weeds had already skillfully discerned the presence of weeds – worthless and potentially harmful weeds masquerading as fruitful wheat. They’d exercised their duty of discernment correctly but – in their zeal for purity – they were wrong in their application. They were wrong to assume that it was their duty to exercise vengeance, but they weren’t wrong to have discerned and classified the weeds in the first place. Nor were they wrong to bring it to the attention of the landowner.

    It isn’t a matter of waiting to see what plants bear good fruit; it’s a matter of discerning the presence of weeds early, marking their location, and then waiting wisely and humbly in the full knowledge of their presence until God sees fit to burn them.

  2. “This might be a lesson for the US government to stop interfering in other countries’ problems”

    Wow. Talk about politics as a lens to scripture. Why don’t you share what other countries’ problems the US should ignore, I can’t believe you’d mean that as a blanket statement despite you using it that way? I’m going to guess you’ll say some combination of the Middle East. What about Darfur? How about Europe during WW2? I’m guessing you’re thankful we didn’t ignore other countries problems then. How about Indonesia after the sunami? Or Burma after the cyclone?

    I find it completely ridiculous when that statement is thrown out there so carelessly when there are so many examples of the US “interfering” in other countries problems as a servant. You use that statement to demonstrate the US as a tyrant. If we(the US) were to follow your advice, Israel would cease to exist, you would be reciting the German national anthem and Africa would be in even worse shape than it already is.

  3. Kyle,

    Try the Soviet Anthem rather than German, since they really won the war (but that’s another matter).

    Yes, there are many examples of the US interfering abroad with its ‘interests’, mainly because they are so visible. Other nations also are involved, including the UK, but media fans the attention.

    British history is full of ‘intervention’, much of it a sad point in history – subjugation of native peoples etc, so we can’t be judgemental either, but a colonial-esque attitude by any nation or group (inclduing the Church) is not the right way to approach a world-attitude.

  4. Indeed, Daron. You should bring your concerns about weeds to the Landowner of this earth and let him deal with the problem in his time.

    Kyle, it was a throwaway comment about the USA, with a “might” in it. I am merely suggesting that the US government might like to consider the principle in this parable before taking further action which is not welcomed by the people it is intended to help. Offering help as a servant is of course a quite different matter. Jamie, yes you are right, in the past and in minor ways more recently the UK has been just as guilty.

  5. Bentley punches people to give them God’s healing. Bentley kicked a man with late cancer.

    Does that sound like God to you? Cos it doesn’t to me.

  6. Peter,

    Your last comment to me was neither gentle nor wise, and it wasn’t scriptural either! You’ve clearly made up your mind. I can respect that, but I also sincerely disagree with you. Ephesians 5.11 says “have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” It’s not my job to uproot and burn the weeds, but as a minister of Christ it is my job to identify them, expose them, and warn others of their presence. Quietism in the face of error isn’t scriptural.


  7. Daron, I have given a good scriptural argument for my last comment to you, which I consider to be God’s wisdom for this situation. Anyway, I thought I was agreeing with you when you wrote this:

    it’s a matter of discerning the presence of weeds early, marking their location, and then waiting wisely and humbly in the full knowledge of their presence until God sees fit to burn them.

    I don’t see how I could be more gentle, unless your idea of gentleness is stereotypical Anglican woolliness. As for Ephesians 5:11, I can see that this may be relevant to the discussion, but as I see it this is about immoral activities, not allegedly false teaching.

  8. Peter,

    I don’t have chapter and verse to prove that last-wordism is a sin, so I’ll spare you the theological gymnastics. However, you’ve got a serious case of lastwordism brother. 🙂


  9. “This implies that it is still rather early to make definitive judgments about Todd Bentley.

    Ten years of teaching posted on his website (well, he removed the really yucky stuff, not because he disavowed it, but because God told him it was causing division) and its still “rather early?”

    The fruit of a teacher is his teaching. Bently claims to be a teacher in that he has posted over 300 messages on his website under the banner “Todd’s Teachings”.

    Well, OK, let’s just watch it for a while.

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