In 1 Timothy 4:2 Paul makes a disturbing statement in connection with a set of instructions to Timothy, his disciple: “… by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron.” The previous verse warns that in the “later times” (code words for the times we are living in now, the Church age), some would fall away from the faith in order to follow “deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.”

Wow, you may say, “how’s this possible?” These are not pagans following pagan ways, which would not be a surprise. He is referring to people who were at some point and in some fashion identified with the faith. Shocking.

Well, the answer is that someone did a number with their conscience. I call these “conscience surgeons.” Most translations, like the NASB here, use the word “sear” to express Paul’s thought. Paul is using a medical term. “Cauterize” would be a more literal translation, as the DBT has it. 

Merriam Webster defines cauterize as “to burn (something, such as a wound) with heat or a chemical substance in order to destroy infected tissue.” The procedure renders the area insensible, thus the words “deaden” or “numb” would also be appropriate. In other words, the reason these folks have abandoned the faith, Paul says, is that they have allowed some “doctors” to operate on their consciences, rendering them incapable of triggering the mechanism that differentiated right from wrong. Deaden and deadly.

So who are these conscience “surgeons”? Here are my top three candidates (there are many more):

Highly educated Psychologists. These are people with letters after their name who insist that we ought to do away with artificial moral constructs. One of them, a Dr. Doris Jeanette, for example, claims, “There is no right or wrong, only experiences to learn from. So get out there and enjoy learning and living and growing. Toss guilt out. Trust yourself and love yourself.”

Makes me want to ask, “But if there is no right and wrong, why should I listen to what you have to say about it? Or maybe you mean to say ‘there is no right or wrong, but I beg you to make an exception by believing that what I am saying about right and wrong is right.'” Total non-sense, and yet, like a surgeon’s sharp knife, it has been used countless times to cauterize the conscience of our people and especially our youth.

Highly psychologized educators. Though there are many great people in our public schools, some try to use subtle psychology to serve the universalist soup to the mind of our unsuspecting little ones. 

When one of my daughters was 5, she heard her teacher say in school that “every religion leads to the same God.” This was a time when several Muslim families were part of our lives and my daughter had befriended a girl her age who was from Egypt. So my daughter told me what the teacher had said and asked me this question, “Dad, Aisha believes Muhammad is the way to God and we believe Jesus is the way to God. How can we both be right?” 

Without knowing it, at age 5, my daughter was articulating the law of non-contradiction, which in essence says that if A is true, the opposite of A cannot be true at the same time. She proved to have a greater understanding about religion than her teacher did, but not everyone has the courage to contradict what is said by someone who is an authority figure and is supposed to know better. The best conscience surgeons are the ones who don’t even consider themselves to be one.

The last group of “surgeons” I want to mention is highly sensitive preachers. I could dedicate many blog entries just to this topic, but let me just say that sometimes the would be purveyors of truth are the most skilled surgeons when the subject is conscience cauterization. Preachers who love money and position more than truth. Bible expositors who fear the ire and isolation of the majority. Wolves in sheep’s clothing, the pulpits are filled with them. Don’t get on their operating tables. Run from their presence. Flee their anemic pronouncements that carry no authority. Don’t be afraid to challenge the authority of pseudo-truth tellers.

Finally, I find it amazing that when it comes to surgeries on our bodies, we go to great lengths to find the best physician. We find out where he/she graduated from; we read reviews online, we talk to his/her peers and try to find others who may have had the same procedure under the care of that doctor. But then in matters of conscience, the very thing that gives us a moral compass to live by, we are willing to go under by the hands of just about anyone who pretends to know more than we do. Time to reverse course. We will find out how when we study Psalm 32 this Sunday and understand what God has to say about guilt. 

Hope you can join us!
Pastor Ivanildo da Costa Trindade 
Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA