(Fifth of eight installments)
As we study the Scriptures, we soon learn that there is another very special evil that is always threatening to spoil the beauty and joy of Christian fellowship. In fact, it is this evil that first spoiled the relationship between God and our first parents in Paradise.
What is this evil? It is the teaching of some point that is either contrary to God’s teaching or that adds to or subtracts from it. Satan spoiled the perfect fellowship in Eden by introducing a doctrine that was contrary to God’s Word. He said to Eve: “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4). This, of course, was contrary to God’s clear command: “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17).
The introduction of false teaching is a dangerous evil because it not only involves sin on the part of the teacher but it also has the potential of leading others astray from God’s Word. That is why our Lord does not want any kind of false teaching to gain a foothold in His Church. The apostle Paul instructed his assistant Timothy: “Remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:3). No greater harm can come to a Christian congregation than when those who are supposed to be God’s spokesmen teach otherwise than what God’s Word teaches.
With respect to false teaching Paul repeated the same warning he had used in connection with the toleration of ungodly conduct. He wrote: “A little leaven leavens the whole lump” (Galatians 5:7). In fact, Paul went so far as to curse those who change or pervert Christ’s gospel: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8). Paul compared false teaching not only to yeast that permeates the whole loaf but to cancer that spreads quickly if it is not dealt with at once. In the early church Hymenaeus and Philetus were teaching lies concerning the resurrection of the dead. Paul said of them that “they overthrow the faith of some” and “their message will spread like cancer” (2 Timothy 2:17-18).
False teaching is seductive, appealing to a human being’s old Adam. Sometimes it is introduced out of personal malice. Sometimes it spares its promoters and adherents persecution from the unbelieving world. Satan even likes to pretend that false teaching is a thing of beauty and joy and love in contrast to the true teaching of the Lord—which appears to be so rigid and unbending. Since Satan knows how to disguise himself as an angel of light, false teaching is presented
as love, tolerance, freedom, and
But God’s Word is clear. He wants His ambassadors to “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2) and “teach no other doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:3). He provides this assessment of any teacher who disagrees: “If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing” (1 Timothy 6:3-4).
Remember how God warned His Old Testament people against false teaching. If they heard of anyone bringing in false worship, they were told to investigate, and if the report was true, and wrong teaching was being taught to God’s people, they were directed by God to take drastic action immediately lest the false teaching spread (Deuteronomy 17:2-7). Sadly, God’s people rarely heeded this strong warning, and as a result their nation was corrupted by false teaching of various kinds, even gross idolatry, and the people were led away from their God. Throughout Israel’s history the beauty and joy of true fellowship with their God was rarely to be seen, simply because of the snares of false teaching that had been allowed to spread, unchecked by the positive action God demanded.
In the New Testament the presence of false teaching in Christ’s Church does not call for the death penalty, but it does call for action lest God’s people be led away from Christ and His Word. The continuing action that is necessary in order to preserve the beauty and joy of Christian fellowship is an intelligent alertness to what is going on in the world. Our Lord Jesus said: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15). Jesus’ disciples were slow learners. They did not understand at first what
He meant when He told them
“to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” But finally “they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees”
John wrote: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). Paul wrote to Titus: “There are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain” (Titus 1:11).
How do we stop the mouths of false teachers? We cannot prevent them from public speaking, of course, but we can prevent them from speaking in our churches and schools. There is nothing beautiful or joyful about false teaching. It creates dissensions; it disturbs the faith of the simple; it can even lead lifelong confessors of Christ into doubts and despair. Through every kind of false teaching Satan’s aim is always the same: to destroy our faith in the gospel of Christ and lead us into the hell where he himself is destined to spend eternity.
In our dealings with suspected false teachers we, of course, need to have the attitude Paul called for in these words: “I beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:1-2), but at the same time we should be spiritually alert. “We should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into
Him who is the head–Christ”
This means that when God’s Word demands strong action in behalf of God’s people who are in danger of being misled by contrary teaching, we will not hesitate to do what Paul tells us to do: “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple” (Romans 16:17-18). Notice that the purpose of this action of avoiding is to prevent simple Christians from being led astray. The beauty and joy of Christian fellowship is in evidence when Christians love each other so as to do what needs to be done to protect one another from the cancer and leaven of false teaching.
(to be continued)