Tag Archives: heresy

The Coming Great Divide

pendulum-626623_640For many months, I have been hearing strongly about a coming division in the American Church. It is the division between the true Church, and a false one. By a false church, I do not mean those who openly deny the deity of Christ and subscribe to grossly unorthodox beliefs. Those have been with us for a long time already and are fairly recognizable for what they are. No, the false church I am referring to is more subtle. And it is fast gaining influence even within evangelical and Spirit-filled congregations.

Many in the false church were at one time aligned with the true, but have veered off course. For those who are pastors/leaders in this false church move, their deviation from the true may have started with a desire for more church growth, popularity with society as a whole, a fear of being persecuted, or the drive to gain more wealth for themselves and their churches.

Because many started out all right, the lines between the true and false have been blurred, and there has been much confusion about which is which. Some of the leaders of this false church continue to convincingly talk the right talk in some ways, while having shifted into compromise and deception in others. They say a lot of wonderful, highly quotable things, which encourage us all that we are loved by God, that God wants to bless us, and that He intends for us to be successful at impacting our world. Those messages are not bad in themselves. We need to be encouraged. The problem is that these good words are mixed with a lot of humanism — worship of ourselves. The gospel message, with Jesus being central, is distorted or nonexistent, and instead there is a constant barrage of “If you just think and speak positively, there are no limits to how successful you can be!”

In the midst of the fog of who is who and which is which, God is dropping a plumb line into the Church, which will clearly divide the straight and true from the crooked and false. As time goes on, the distinctions between the two will grow more apparent. Believers will have to make a clear choice to come out from fellowshipping within the false and make a conscious step over into the true, if they are going to continue on with the Lord.

Jesus’ parable of the wheat and tares (Matthew 13:24-30) is another illustration of what is currently happening. At first the tares look very much like the wheat. It is hard to discern between them. But as the plants mature, the differences become more noticeable. Likewise, we are approaching the point where the distinctions between the false and the true Church will become more marked. And when we notice the differences, each of us will have to determine whether we’re going to malnourish our spiritual stomachs with “tares” teaching or whether we will only ingest the wheat.

What are some telltale signs of a false message?

1.)  Universalism — The belief that all will be saved, that no one will go to hell, because God is love, is a heresy which has been around in one form or another for a long time. But in recent years it has made large inroads into many evangelical churches. Jesus is presented as the best way to the Father, but not the only way. The end of what Jesus said in John 14:6, “NO man comes to the Father except through Me” is conveniently not quoted.

2.)  A message which is primarily motivational in nature — There is minimal talk about Jesus, the cross, living a sacrificial lifestyle of obedience to Him, or Jesus’ soon return. The focus is on having a satisfying life now, with little emphasis on eternity. YOUR destiny purpose now, YOUR success now, YOUR happiness now is the all-in-all, rather than the Lord’s desires being fulfilled at any cost.

3.)  Anything goes — The message implies or openly states that God understands we all sin and therefore does not mind if we indulge in whatever sin we would like to keep indulging in.

4.)  Acceptance of homosexuality — This is snowballing on us at an alarming rate, and I personally think it is going to be the clearest dividing line between the true Church and the false in the next couple of years. Several prominent ministries have already fallen off the cliff on this issue, and I think that within a year or two we will see some internationally known pastors openly embracing homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle within their churches. They are already on the brink and teetering.

Watch out for any teaching which says people can be practicing homosexuals and still be Christians at the same time. No matter how much some may want to explain it away, 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10 still says what it says: “Do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither fornicators [sexually impure], nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind [homosexuals], nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”

When God drops a plumb line, it is important not to stay on the wrong side of it.  We will have to decide whom we want to please and whom we are willing to offend. We will have to choose whether we are going to compromise in order to stay comfortable (and popular), or whether we will abide by what God says, no matter how much ridicule, and even persecution, we endure.

James 4:4 states the choice clearly: “… Do you not know that the friendship of the world [system]  is at enmity with God? Whoever, therefore, will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” We can’t have it both ways.

The apostle Paul exhorted the Corinthian believers, “What fellowship does righteousness have with unrighteousness? And what communion does light have with darkness? … ‘Wherefore, come out from among them, and be separate, … and I will receive you and will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters,’ says the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).

Moses asked, in a time of crisis within the Israelite camp, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Let him come to me” (Exodus 32:26). God is asking that same question of us today. Let us get up and step across to Him. His plumb line is the dividing point between spiritual life and death.

Holding the Line on Truth (Part 6)

In this post, we’re going to touch on a few popular erroneous teachings to beware of. But before we do that, I’d like to review one last time the three steps to staying clear of deception:

Step #1 — Read the Bible cover to cover, over and over.
Step #2 — Learn to listen to the Holy Spirit.
Step #3 — Know, and hold fast to, the core doctrines of the Christian faith.

Now, on to the yucky stuff! Watch out for:

“Christian” Universalism — Teaches that because Jesus died for all people, everyone gets to go to heaven. It takes various forms. Some say that as long as you are sincere in what you believe, you’re eligible for heaven (the “all roads lead to God” theory). Some universalist teachers deny there is a hell. Some say that there is a hell, but that wicked people go there long enough to burn off their sins and then get out (sort of an evangelical version of purgatory). Some say even the devil will be forgiven and eventually be restored to heaven. Ewww!!!

Gnosticism — This was the main heresy that the New Testament apostles dealt with. Among other complicated notions, Gnostics believed that Jesus came spiritually, not in the flesh, and that therefore He did not bodily rise from the dead. Unfortunately, Gnosticism has never really died out, and is currently enjoying a tremendous comeback in popularity. A modern twist in some Christian circles says that Jesus will not physically return to earth, as promised in the Scriptures, but that His return will only be spiritual, as He manifests Himself perfectly through His Body, the Church, which will bring the earth into perfection for Him.

So-called grace (which is not) — Some are teaching that we no longer have to repent when we sin, intercessory prayer is unnecessary because Jesus’ finished work at the cross means every need is taken care of already, and we are free to indulge in sinful lifestyles, because Jesus paid the full price for past, present, and future sin. Both Paul and Jude had to deal with false grace teaching back in their day, and it is a problem yet today. Jude said, “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness [lewdness] …” (Jude 4). 

Be careful not to conclude that all grace teaching is bad. Some, because of their dismay over the extremes preached by several so-called grace teachers, are bringing confusion to the Body of Christ by condemning the whole grace movement. I personally believe that God is raising up a fresh awareness of grace in His church, and there are genuine grace teachers out there. We need them! It’s just that we’ve got some wolves among the sheep, too. Study the epistles of Paul, the apostle who had the most detailed revelation of grace, and you will see that true grace understanding brings about a pure and holy lifestyle in God’s people. (And Paul, the grace teacher, speaks over and over of the need for intercessory prayer.) 

Preoccupation with angels — It is good to know about the angels’ function. The Word speaks much of them. But we must be careful not to exalt or overemphasize angels and visions of angels, rather than focusing on the Lord. Of course there is nothing wrong with having visions of angels. The New Testament  records many instances of angelic visitations, particularly those received by the apostles. But, if our services and conversation continually center around angels, angelic activity, and supernatural manifestations, or if teachings are circulating which are based solely on visions which prophets claim to have had, something is off-kilter. Colossians 2:18 (NIV) warns us, “Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind.”

Balancing our need to be careful of false teaching, we must also avoid the opposite extreme. Some once well-meaning believers, in the process of trying to warn about deviant teaching, have slipped into the terrible muck of becoming continual heresy hunters. Their focus has shifted from exalting the Lord of Truth to being accusers of the brethren — “exposing” many  preachers and teachers as heretics, who are not anything of the sort. In most cases, they willfully misunderstand what has been said and are disseminating misinformation about those whom they seek to tear down. The lack of grace and love in the heresy hunters is often worse than the occasional errant teaching of those whom they are attacking. Truly, most of the men and women coming under fire ARE anointed by God. They are God’s instruments to swing the Church back to a place of showing the world the power of God, they are loving and compassionate, and yes, they are real believers — NOT the apostate people they are accused of being.

Because errant teaching abounds today, wise Christians must continually, actively, ask the Spirit of Truth to teach and guard us in truth. As we do that, He will be faithful to help us stay on His straight and narrow path.

(This concludes this series.)

Holding the Line on Truth (Part 1)  
Previous: Part 5 

Holding the Line on Truth (Part 5)

merging trafficSo far, we’ve mentioned two simple, effective steps we can take to keep free of being deceived by wrong teaching:

Step #1 — Read the Bible cover to cover, over and over.
Step #2 — Learn to listen to the Holy Spirit.

Here is Step #3:

Know, and hold fast to, the core doctrines of the Christian faith. 

Some Scriptures are hard to understand, and the best of Bible scholars disagree on how to interpret them. Really, there are not multiple meanings. Scripture says what God meant it to say, but people still don’t always agree on what they think He was saying! 

However, some beliefs are non-negotiable — God’s eternally perfect nature; the deity of Christ; Jesus’ virgin birth; His perfect and complete atonement for our sins at the cross; salvation by grace, not works; Jesus’ bodily resurrection; our future bodily resurrection; and the physical return of Christ. There are others. If you are fuzzy on the core doctrines of Christianity, a place to start educating yourself quickly is the Apostles’ Creed. Denominational statements of faith, while not always perfect, are usually based around core doctrine as well. But do go on to see what the Bible says for yourself. The basic teachings of the universal Church are repeated throughout the Scriptures, and are especially clarified in the New Testament.

Core doctrines were considered by the first apostles to be of the utmost importance. Paul exhorted his young protégée Timothy to teach the main beliefs of the faith: “And the things which you have heard of me among many witnesses, commit the same to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). John made a similar statement: “Let that therefore abide in you, which you have heard from the beginning. If that which you have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, you also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father” (1 John 2:24).

Paul further warned Timothy to beware of those who wished to teach “fables”: 

… Charge some that they teach no other doctrine, neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith. — 1 Timothy 1:3, 4 

But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself rather unto godliness. — 1 Timothy 4:7

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears: and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned to fables. — 2 Timothy 4:3, 4 

I rather think some of the teaching circulating today which draws on Jewish legend, apocryphal books, and extra-biblical phenomena could easily fall into this category of fables which bring more questions than edifying. 

Basic tenets of the Church since the days of the first apostles must never be subtracted from or added to. This is why belief in the “catching away” of the Church (commonly called “the Rapture”), revealed in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:50-58, must never be discarded, no matter who says otherwise. 

A repeated exhortation of the first apostles and Jesus Himself was to hold fast to sound doctrine: 

Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. — 1 Thessalonians 5:21 

Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word or our epistle. — 2 Thessalonians 2:15

Hold fast the form of sound words, which you have heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. — 2 Timothy 1:13 

Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; for He Who promised is faithful. — Hebrews 10:23 

Behold, I come quickly: hold fast that which you have, so that no man takes your crown. — Revelation 3:11 

If we will return to the basic teaching laid down by the original apostles of the New Testament Church, we can be confident of standing in truth. 

Next time, we’ll talk briefly about some current popular erroneous teaching.

Holding the Line on Truth (Part 1)  
Previous: Part 4 
Next: Part 6

Holding the Line on Truth (Part 4)

deafchildLast time, we said that there are three uncomplicated, effective steps to keeping free, or getting free, of erroneous teaching. The first step was to read the Bible cover to cover, over and over. Here is Step #2:

Learn to listen to the Holy Spirit.

As you set aside time to listen for His voice, you will become more adept at hearing His checks and promptings. You will develop the ability to discern moment-by-moment what is from Him and what is not. (However, Step #2, listening to the Spirit, is not going to work if you ignore Step #1, reading the Word — because the Bible is still the primary, infallible way that the Holy Spirit speaks to us. Reading the Bible familiarizes us with how the Lord’s voice sounds, too.) When something makes you uneasy, learn to ask Him, “Lord, why am I feeling uncomfortable?”

A consistent, passionate prayer of mine is that the Spirit of Truth would continually adjust my beliefs and the beliefs of my loved ones, so that we increasingly come into perfect alignment with His doctrinal truth. John 16:13 promises, “When He, the Spirit of Truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth.” One of the Holy Spirit’s great ministries to the Church is found in John 14:26: “But the Comforter, Who is the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My name, shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatever I have said to you.”

When we are troubled by a “new” teaching, if we will take the time to ask the Holy Spirit to show us in the Word whether it is true or not, He will be faithful to do that. Sometimes He will immediately bring a verse to mind that settles the issue for us. Sometimes He will do it over a period of months, during our regular course of Bible reading, drawing our attention to particular verses which answer our questions.

I’ve had it work both ways — God either revealing the truth of a teaching or the falseness of it. He has shown me verses that refuted certain teachings that troubled me. He has also revealed to me truth that I was resisting because it was contrary to incorrect teachings I had grown up with and had never questioned. The point is, if we ask Him to impart truth to us, He will be faithful to do so. However, many of us are secretly afraid of the truth He might reveal, so we never ask.

The two steps we’ve looked at thus far — continually staying in the Word and listening for the Spirit — will take you a long way toward keeping free of false teaching. In addition, the two work harmoniously together: we cannot accurately understand the counsel of God’s Word without the Spirit’s enlightenment, while measuring everything we are hearing from the Lord by the infallible written Word ensures that we do not hear incorrectly.

Isaiah 8:16-17, 19-20 addresses the importance of the Bible as a measuring stick to detect false teachers and also the importance of waiting on the Lord to hear Him speak to us:

Bind up the testimony, seal the law [the Word] among my disciples. And I will wait upon the LORD … and I will look for Him.

And when they shall say to you, “Seek to them that have familiar spirits, and to wizards which peep and mutter: shouldn’t a people seek to their God? For the living to the dead?

To the law and to the testimony [the Word]: if they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them

Next time, we will look at our final step for keeping free of false teaching.

Holding the Line on Truth (Part 1) 
Previous: Part 3 
Next: Part 5 

Holding the Line on Truth (Part 3)

Keeping ourselves from buying into false teaching — or getting out of it, if we’ve already succumbed to it — is not complicated, but it does take some effort. There are three steps, and we’ll look at the first one today:

Read the Bible, cover to cover, over and over. 

A lot of the doctrinal error people are swallowing today would not be able to get a beginning foothold if we Christians would read the Bible consistently. Eventually, neglect of the Word shows up in what we say, how we act, and what we are willing to believe. 

I have asked prophetic people who were a little bit skewed in their prophetic words whether they spent much time in Scripture. The answer goes something like this: “I read books by prophetic teachers all the time. I feel I get enough Bible as I do that.”

No, you don’t.  What you get is a smattering of Scripture — whether a verse or a whole passage — followed by someone’s interpretation (right or wrong) of what it means.  And it sounds very plausible, because an adept teacher will state his case well.  But the verse or passage might be taken out of context, and even if it isn’t, if you don’t read the whole Bible for yourself, you aren’t getting the entire counsel of God.  At best, you will end up getting just an angle on God’s truth here and there, not the complete picture.  And that is one way people get off — by knowing only a part of the truth.  At worst, you could be soaking up seeming truth that really is not truth at all.

 I like to read in both the Old and New Testaments at the same time. I ask the Lord to (figuratively) read over my shoulder and point out truths to me which I have not seen or understood before. I often pray in tongues while reading, to keep communion between the Holy Spirit and me flowing. 

Listening to Scripture is another great way to get the Word into yourself, and many times hearing it spoken will bring things to light that you didn’t catch while reading silently. There are plenty of free audio Bibles online for you to choose from.

The Word of God brings supernatural cleansing to our minds — the “renewed mind” mentioned in Romans 12:2.  Jesus told His disciples, “Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken to you” (John 15:3). 

The apostle Paul says Jesus sanctifies and cleanses His Church “with the washing of water by the word” so that it will be a glorious Church (Ephesians 5:25-27).

We’ll go on to Step #2 next time.

Part 1  
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Next: Part 4