Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Parable of the Weeds

I would like to discuss a common but incorrect teaching regarding the famous parable of the weeds:

24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Matt 13:24-30)

This parable is often explained this way: in the church there will always be unbelievers (weeds). God, however, will straighten everything out at the harvest.

This is an incorrect interpretation for two reasons:
  1. Jesus himself repudiates this interpretation.
  2. Other teachings in scripture indicate that, within the church, we should be weeding.
First, what does Jesus say? In explaining this parable our Lord teaches:

36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38The field is the world, and the good seed is the children of the kingdom. (Matt. 13:36-38)

Jesus is quite clear in verse 38: The field is not the church and neither is it Israel. The entire world is the field. In the world there are plenty of weeds, but it is not our business to do anything about that, other than to proclaim the Gospel. In particular, we are not to engage in violence against non-believers.

Second, it is clear that we are to "weed the weeds" in the church. If this parable is describing, as many suggest, the inevitable reality of apostasy within the church—then the lesson of the parable would be "do nothing to remove apostates from the church." But we know that is not the case—at the very least weeds easily identified by their refusal to refrain from an unrepentant, sinful lifestyle (or from preaching heresy) are to be excommunicated. Paul's letter to the Corinthians is just one example where it is taught that, at times, people must be given the boot. And the well known instructions for church discipline provided in Matthew 18 would be meaningless if weeding was not permitted within the church.

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