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.

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