Saturday, September 30, 2006

Apostolic Fears - J. C. Ryle

Excerpt from “Apostolic Fears” by J.C. Ryle.

Warning #7 to the Church
Apostolic Fears
by J. C. Ryle (1816-1900)

"I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's
cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your
sincere and pure devotion to Christ."

The text which heads this page, contains one part of the experience of a very famous Christian. No servant of Christ perhaps has left such a mark for good on the world as the Apostle Paul. When he was born the whole Roman Empire, excepting one little corner, was sunk in the darkest heathenism; when he died the mighty fabric of heathenism was shaken to its very center and ready to fall. And none of the agents whom God used to produce this marvelous change did more than Saul of Tarsus, after his conversion. Yet even in the midst of his successes and usefulness we find him crying out, "I am afraid."

There is a melancholy ring about these words which demands our attention. They show a man of many cares and anxieties. He who supposes that Paul lived a life of ease, because he was a chosen Apostle, worked miracles, founded Churches, and wrote inspired Epistles, has yet much to learn. Nothing can be more unlike the truth! The eleventh chapter of the second Epistle to the Corinthians tells a very different tale. It is a chapter which deserves attentive study. Partly from the opposition of the heathen philosophers and priests, whose craft was in danger--partly from the bitter hatred of his own unbelieving countrymen--partly from false or weak brethren--partly from his own thorn in the flesh--the great Apostle of the Gentiles was like his Master--"a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering" (Isaiah 53:3).

But of all the burdens which Paul had to carry, none seems to have weighed him down so much as that to which he refers, when he writes to the Corinthians, "my concern for all the churches" (2 Corinthians 11:28). The scanty knowledge of many early Christians, their weak faith, their shallow experience, their dim hope, their low standard of holiness--all these things made them peculiarly liable to be led astray by false teachers, and to depart from the faith. Like little children, hardly able to walk, they required to be treated with immense patience. Like exotic plants in a hothouse, they had to be watched with incessant care. Can we doubt that they kept their Apostolic founder in a state of constant tender anxiety? Can we wonder that he says to the Colossians, "How much I am struggling for you," and to the Galatians, "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel." "You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?" (Colossians 2:1; Galatians 1:6; 3:1).

No attentive reader can study the Epistles without seeing this subject repeatedly cropping up. And the text I have placed at the head of this paper is a sample of what I mean: "I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ." That text contains three important lessons, which I wish to press on the attention of all my readers. I believe in my conscience they are lessons for the times.

I. First, the text shows us a spiritual "disease to which we are all susceptible, and which we ought to fear." That disease is corruption of our minds: "I am afraid your minds may somehow be led astray."

II. Secondly, the text shows us an "example which we ought to remember, as a beacon:" "Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning."

III. Thirdly, the text shows us "a point about which we ought to be especially on our guard." That point is being led astray "from sincere and pure devotion to Christ."
The text is a deep mine, and is not without difficulty. But let us go down into it boldly, and we shall find it contains much precious metal.

[The remainder of this article can be viewed at “Bible Bulletin Board”]

All Scripture references are taken from the HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (C) 1978 by the New York Bible Society, used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
This updated and revised manuscript is copyrighted (C)1998 by Tony Capoccia. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Dealing With False Teachers

“10For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision,
11who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain.
12One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons."
13This testimony is true. For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith,
14not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth.” (Titus 1:10-14; NASB)

It is true that patience must be practiced in persuading people in sound teaching. There are those who are victims, not the perpetrators of false teaching. (2 Timothy 2:24-26) However, those who persist and continue to spread the venom of errant doctrine need to be dealt with more sternly.

False teachers must be confronted and every effort taken to stop the spread of their errant doctrine. In Titus 1:11, Paul stresses that they be “silenced”, which means to “bridle” or “stop up the mouth”. The foolish talk of false teaching must be promptly stopped. The spread of the nonsense of the false teachers was overthrowing or destroying the faith of many, turning them from the foundation of biblical faith. The command given is to “reprove them severely”, with the intent that they would be restored to sound faith. The term “reprove” means to convict or refute even to the point of bringing shame on the person or persons responsible, making them accountable. It also includes using sharpness, being very terse with the intent of being peremptory, giving no room for the perpetrators to plead their cause and show reason for non-compliance. Their error must be exposed with the light of the truth. Persistent error needs to be dealt with harshly in order to contain it from spreading. That may not sound nice, but when you are dealing with false doctrine, swift drastic measures must be taken, as if you were dealing with gangrene in the human body. It is no time to be “nice”. Corrective action is crucial to the very health and survival of the church body!

Like any other sin in the church, those persistent in false teaching must be disciplined, even to the point of removing them from the congregation. In 1 Timothy 1:20, Paul banished Hymenaeus and Alexander from the church, placing them outside the protection and nurture of the congregation, outside of God’s blessing and under Satan’s control in hopes that they would repent and come to the knowledge of the truth. This is the same way that anyone who remains obstinate in their sin should be dealt with. Paul commanded the Corinthians to do the same thing in 1 Corinthians 5 with the man who was caught in immorality. God demands purity in His church. The church must not be tolerant of sin in any form if purity is to be maintained; “a little leaven leavens the whole lump”. (1 Corinthians 5:6) Just like leaven in a lump of dough, a small amount rapidly spreads throughout the whole lump.

This is why it irritates me when false teachers and their materials are tolerated in the church. The excuse given is that they are “chewing off the meat and spitting out the bones”. When you are dealing with false teachers who are attacking core essential doctrine in the church, this excuse will not fly. In fact, it is patently unbiblical. I will cover that subject further in my next post.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Pervasive Nature of False Teaching

"16But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness,
17and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus,
18men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some." (2 Timothy 2:16-18; NASB)

Paul advises Timothy to “avoid worldly and empty chatter”. We are to avoid discussion based on worldly wisdom and philosophy that is described as “empty chatter”, which is translated from the Greek word “kenophonia”, which means discussion comprised of vain and useless matters based on man’s wisdom that cannot edify. In fact, this type of discussion will only multiply, resulting in more ungodly talk and is very caustic in nature. False teaching does not remain isolated and if left unchecked will actually spread very rapidly, becoming very pervasive and extremely corrupting. The word used to describe its spread is a disease called gangrene. This is a pervasive and deadly disease that attacks the tissue of an affected body part with such voracity, that if treatment is not promptly applied, it will rapidly spread to other parts of the body until it finally gnaws away the bones. In order to treat the disease, the effected tissue must be urgently removed to prevent further spread, and often includes amputation of the affected part. Prompt intervention is vital to the survival of the affected individual and the disease simply cannot be ignored in hopes that it might go away.

Likewise, false doctrine cannot be ignored. It cannot be allowed to coexist along side truth any more than gangrene can be permitted to remain along side healthy tissue. It is extremely invasive and will rapidly corrupt even the healthy part of the body. If false teaching is allowed to fester in the church, it will inevitably corrupt it. It must be dealt with promptly and swiftly. It cannot be allowed to coexist along with the truth. False teaching must be addressed immediately and cannot be ignored.

To give another illustration, if you went to the doctor and after running some tests he came back and informed you that you had a cancerous tumor growing in your body. After reviewing the results the doctor gives you a prognosis that if you begin treatment immediately, you have at least an 80% chance of eradicating the disease. It would be unwise and foolish to decide that you think that your healthy cells outnumber the bad ones and that the malady will take care of itself. Cancer spreads. In fact, certain cancers are known to spread aggressively invading other parts of the body. False teaching is the same way. It cannot be ignored.

If we look at Galatians and Paul’s response to the Judaizers, you can readily see how embracing certain elements of the truth have a tendency to provide a covering for doctrinal error. The false teachers in Galatia were not denying such things as the virgin birth or the resurrection of Christ. But they introduced heresy in one crucial area; by adding works to the plan of salvation which essentially denies salvation by grace alone through faith alone, and ended up proclaiming another gospel. It seems apparent that this error spread rather rapidly, given Paul’s amazement that they “so quickly “departed from the gospel of Christ. (Galatians 1:6) Once again, these false teachers were brought in secretly, by stealth, unnoticed, to release their pervasive teaching. (Galatians 2:4)

This is why it is fundamental to the duty of pastoral leadership to guard the flock and be diligent to “earnestly contend for the faith”. (Jude 1:3) Paul also warned Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:20, to “guard” what was entrusted to him, and to take great pains to avoid the “worldly and empty chatter” and the arguments based on false knowledge to oppose the truth.

"23But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels."
(2 Timothy 2:23; NASB)

Foolish and ignorant speculations are not to be entertained. The term “ignorant” comes from the Greek word "apaideutos" and means “uneducated”, “without instruction”. This is coupled with “speculations”, (Greek “zetesis”), which basically means an enquiry designed to instigate a debate which engenders controversy. It is a common strategy among false teachers to devise arguments and raise questions, not to dig into the text and determine the meaning, but rather, to create doubt and confidence in the clarity of Scripture. This is certainly the case with postmodernism and its entrance into the church through the emerging/Emergent church movement. Satan found an effective strategy way back in Genesis 3 that has proven most effective in drawing people away from God; create doubt concerning the authority and integrity of the Word of God and twist it to distort its meaning.

It is of utmost importance that we understand how to properly interpret Scripture and not tolerate those who distort and twist the Word of God. Phil Johnson wrote in a post yesterday about an hour long interview he taped with John MacArthur on the Emerging Church Movement. Grace to You will be offering the interview on CD next month. If you are not on their mailing list, you may want to sign up. Phil has an email listed in the post that you can use to sign up for the mailing list for Grace to You. I will look forward to listening to that interview. Here is a quote from that post concerning what Dr. MacArthur said about the movement:

"one of the worst tendencies of the "emerging" spirit is the way it exaggerates and venerates mystery at the expense of the Bible's clarity. Denying the perspicuity of Scripture has the same practical outcome as denying the truthfulness of Scripture. The essential message of Scripture is not unclear or uncertain, and Jesus Himself bore testimony to that fact repeatedly."

All I can say is "Amen"!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Where Did They Come From?

“1But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.”
(2 Peter 2:1; NASB)

“13For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.”
(2 Corinthians 11:13; NASB)

4For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
(Jude 1:4; NASB)

False teachers are not always easy to spot. 2 Peter 2:1 tells us that they “secretly introduce destructive heresies”. The tendency is that they enter the flock secretly, unnoticed, giving all appearance of being one of the sheep. Their error is generally not readily seen. They initially appear to adhere to some form of biblical orthodoxy, at least initially. Their initial work and teaching may be so in line with biblical teaching, that it gains them a certain degree of respect in the Christian community. It is only further down the road that little by little they release small doses of their error, often alongside the proclamation of the truth. This is probably what makes their deeds so dangerous and threatening. The appearance of doctrinal orthodoxy provides a camouflage that conceals their true identity.

MacArthur notes that “False teachers don’t wear a sign proclaiming who they are. They disguise themselves as apostles of Christ (2 Cor. 11:13). “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (vv. 14–15). And it should not be surprising even to hear false teachers and heretics recite the Apostles’ Creed.”

- MacArthur, John. 1994. "Reckless faith : When the church loses its will to discern." Crossway Books: Wheaton, Ill. pg. 117

This is particularly true with many in the emerging/Emergent church movement. Peruse through some of the doctrinal statements of some of these churches and you will find that they appear to adhere to at least some form of biblical orthodoxy, including affirmation of such ancient creeds as the Apostle’s Creed. The problem often lies with their word games, redefining the truths expressed in these creeds.

What generally occurs is the adoption of the view of the truth as “utilitarian”. In other words, whatever version of “truth” that proves useful for a particular time. As John Piper notes:
"When the preference for what is new, combines with a naturalistic bias and a skepticism about finding abiding truth the stage is set for the worst abuses of religious language and the worst manipulations of historic confessions. In essence what the modernists do is not throw out Christianity but reinterpret the creeds and give old words new meanings. That is, they make them into symbols for every changing meaning.
Thus the Virgin birth is one theory of the incarnation. The bodily resurrection is one theory of the resurrection. And so on. The old "facts" don't correspond to anything permanent. They symbolize general principles of religion. And those symbols are arrived at by what is useful or helpful, not by what is true. If they are useful for one generation, good; and if not for another then they may be exchanged."

J. Gresham Machen’s Response to Modernism” by John Piper

It should also be noted that creeds such as the Apostle’s Creed are insufficient to fully define all aspects of biblical faith. It is not that they are necessarily innacurate, but that no one particular creed was intended to define every essential truth crucial to saving faith. These creeds were often formulated to confront prevailing heresies in their day, not a complete summary encompassing all the essentials of Christian faith. They need to be taken collectively. Furthermore, we must be very cautious not to elevate creeds above the authority of Scripture.

Even where detailed statements of faith are used, there is the same tactic of redefining the doctrines outlined there as well. It is becoming commonplace for false teachers and churches that harbor them, to hide behind some statement of faith. This does not mean that statements of faith are unimportant, because I still think that they can give a general idea of where a church stands. But in addition to a statement of faith, it is necessary to watch closely what is being taught and what material is being used in their teaching ministry. They should be held accountable to the statement of faith, with believers scrutinizing very closely for subtle deviations from these statements of faith.

The subtle aspects of the introduction of heresy by those who initially appear as orthodox believers pose the most danger to the church. Little by little, false teaching is dispersed until the poison of heresy gradually spreads. Like a once famous experiment of the frog in the kettle, people gradually adapt to the environment until they boil to death in heresy. (see my post on this topic here)

This is why it is extremely important for believers to thoroughly understand and know what they believe. This is the only remedy to purge false teaching out of the church. I will have more to say about this in an upcoming post.