Someday soon, truth will become clearly evident, universally acknowledged, and will prevail over non-truth. Someday soon, those who confess Christ as Lord and have lain down their lives to follow Him will be in complete unity concerning truth. Someday soon, the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane when He prayed to the Father that His people would be sanctified in the truth will be fully realized. Someday soon, those thoughts and opinions which we hold near and dear although they carry with them more darkness than light will be dispelled by the true Light when Jesus returns for His victorious church. What a great day that will be!
But that day is not today…
Today, we deal with an incredibly complex and treacherous doctrinal landscape within the church along with those who would associate themselves as the true church although they are false. This landscape is full of pitfalls and landmines that threaten to destroy anyone climbing the hill of faith and religion. It is wrought with half-truth debris; landslides of flawed opinions, boulders of distorted viewpoints, chasms of erroneous positions.
While the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Latter Day Saints are still a very real influence in the world, briefly consider some of the “newer” distortions that are popular today.
While the Judaizers (a KJV term used by Paul in Galatians) have been around since Jesus inaugurated the New Covenant in His blood and are not a new phenomenon, they have experienced a fresh resurgence in popularity in the past ten years or so under a new name. Often going by the name Hebrew Roots Movement or Sacred Name Movement, they promote a “Jesus and the Law” philosophy. As such there is a major push to be justified by works of the Law, believing that the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice and sending of the Spirit was to enable and empower them to keep the Torah thereby allowing adherents to be accepted by God as the true Israel. Ironically, this ultimately leads to a rejection of the sacrifice of Jesus as Hebrews 6 and many other passages point out. Another major distortion in their teaching is that the Hebrew language is the true language of the bible (both Old and New), therefore using God’s name in any other language is cultic and idolatrous. What they fail to recognize in all of this is that their love for national Israel has caused them to stumble; turning themselves into idolators as they worship Israel and its Old Covenant culture over the God who created Israel and gave us a New Covenant by a new and living way. (For more on this, here are a couple of good articles)
New Apostolic Reformation
This movement is also nothing new in the attack against truth in the church. It began as an offshoot of the Latter Rain Movement sometime after World War II. While it fizzled out amidst controversy, false doctrine, and fleshly excess, it resurfaced recently as the New Apostolic Reformation. It is believed by this movement that God “rebirthed” the offices of apostle and prophet sometime in the 80’s upon which the modern church will be built. Based on a vague, distorted interpretation of Revelation, these modern day apostles and prophets believe they are instrumental in ushering in the second coming of Christ and without the success of their ministry, well, Jesus just has to wait to fulfill His promise to return. Furthermore, these apostles and prophets are believed to carry immense, unquestionable authority. So much so, that it is taught that this authority will replace the authority of scripture in God’s churches. While this new apostle and prophet movement claims roots in pentecostalism, it has been rejected by traditional pentecostal fellowships including the Assemblies of God for obvious reasons. (For more on this, check out Spirit of Error)
While the two movements mentioned above have teachings that are organized under a particular name, there are also a whole mess of other disturbing teachings that balk against truth. They are simply ambiguous, confusing, and sometimes heretical teachings that threaten to lead the sheep of God away from their Shepherd. For instance, in the recent past I have heard pastors teaching such ignorant things as:
- “multiple” gospels that all lead to salvation
- scripture is not necessary for the life and faith of a believer
- preaching is only a necessary evil
- the Father hated the Son for His work on the cross
- Muslims know the bible better than Christians
- Jesus was a sinner
These are just the tip of the iceberg as there seems to be no end to the distortions which contribute to the treacherous landscape of the modern church. The most recent dangerous teaching that I heard about came out last Friday from the Catholic Pope who produced a 250 page plus document called “Joy of Love,” concerning divorce, remarriage, and the acceptance of homosexuals in the Catholic church. In it, Pope Francis made this statement:
“No one can be condemned forever because that is not the logic of the gospel. Here I am not speaking only of the divorced and remarried, but of everyone in whatever situation they find themselves.” – Pope Francis
This is a huge statement from the leader who carries top spiritual authority in the Catholic church. Catholics have been famously known in the past for not recognizing divorce in the church and refusing communion to those who have been divorced, therefore preventing them from the saving grace that they believe comes from the sacraments. But, while this seems to point to a major shift in Catholic policy, the bigger shock is the statement of advocacy for the heresy of universalism – that all humans will eventually be saved. This is different from their teaching of purgatory where a sinner’s soul is perfected by time served in a transitional afterlife upon acceptance of Christ. The Catholic church has traditionally held a very clear view on hell and eternal punishment for those who reject Christ in this life – until now. Now, according to the authority of the Pope, everyone will be saved whether they have repented of their sins or not. Now, everyone will spend eternity with the Lord, even if they hate God. Sounds like an even worse punishment than hell for unbelievers; lovers of sin spending forever with a holy God who hates and judges sin. (For more on this, check out Albert Mohler’s podcast The Briefing)
While I know there are many Protestants who have much stronger opinions against the Catholic church than myself, my opinion being that there are Catholics who really are true believers although Catholicism has some very serious errors. But advocating universalism is anti-gospel, anti-Christian, and Satanic, plain and simple. The thought that “You can do whatever you want with your life because there aren’t any repercussions for sinning against God” sounds familiar…
“The serpent said to the woman, ‘You surely will not die!'” Genesis 3:4 (NASB95)
As one looks at these and other doctrinal pitfalls that are being touted as truth in our epic of time, it would be easy to become discouraged and give up. But actually, it gets even more complicated, the landscape becoming more treacherous as we consider the modern attitude that has been adopted by many.
The Modern Challenge
The other factor that complicates matters to no end is the premise that many hold to which says we aren’t to challenge anything because that is judgmental and unloving. I have written extensively on this in other posts (Who Are You to Judge Part 1 and Part 2) and don’t feel the need to take up too much space here. But a person doesn’t have to look very far to hear someone warning against confronting another person with truth while suggesting change because that person will be guilty of being “judgmental.” All of this is nonsense, a misinterpretation of scripture, and self-defeating.
I mean, think about it…
The statement clearly defeats itself because in making the declaration that someone is being judgmental, they fail to recognize that by making the distinction and proclamation of “judgmentalism” they themselves are committing the very act of criticism that they condemn. Hypocrisy anyone???
So, unfortunately, we are often told not to confront people’s ideas, beliefs, and lifestyles, even if they are heretical lies that are doing major damage to their spiritual well-being. What are we to do? Give up? Ignore the problems? Approve and join them? Absolutely not! We must always obey scripture in this regards no matter how unpopular or how lonely it may get.
“But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.” 1 Peter 3:14-16 (NASB95)
When, not if, we choose to make a defense for the hope of Christ in us, how do we go about it in a way that honors the Lord, respects the creature created in God’s image, and at the same time, allows us to stand firm in our integrity? I came across a phrase years ago that spoke to my heart in regards to this and has been helpful in discerning when and if an issue is worth confronting as well as how to have the right attitude if correction is necessary.
Unity, Liberty, and Charity
The phrase is this.
“In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.”
The history of this simple but profound saying has been attributed to everyone from Augustine to Richard Baxter to an unknown Lutheran theologian in the 17th century. While its source isn’t really all that important, its content is.
When speaking about Christian essentials, we are referring to those foundational, biblical truths that cannot be compromised. The essentials are those major teachings that if they are compromised, for whatever reason, then we would forfeit the essence of what Christianity is as well as give up our identity as Christians.
For instance, if we deny the fact that Jesus is God, our salvation is no longer in tact because only God could be the sinless sacrifice that would offer deliverance for the whole world from sin’s penalty of death. If we reject the God-breathed authority of the eternal scriptures, then the means by which God chose to reveal Himself to us and establish our faith, life, and conduct ceases to be. If we discard the truth that Christ is returning again for His church, to establish His eternal kingdom, then the hope of Christian resurrection is null and void. The point is that all believers must be in unity and agreement on certain truths or else we just simply aren’t Christian.
Secondly, there are issues of non-essential truths that are secondary and have a lesser impact upon our faith. For instance, water baptism is a good example. Does it really matter whether a believer is sprinkled at their baptism or completely submerged in water? I have my opinion, but there are good, biblical arguments for both cases. Another example could be whether it is better to sing hymns in our worship services or if contemporary music is better. Is one style more pleasing to the Lord than another? Not necessarily, although we could probably have a lengthy discussion concerning which is preferred. Or another example, which translation of the bible should we use? There are the staunch King James people and there are those who prefer a newer paraphrase such as the New Living Translation. Or there are those who prefer a more literal word-for-word translation such as the New American Standard. Who is right? In these three examples, along with a plethora of others, we can have friendly debates, but at the end of the day if we fail to reach a biblical consensus by which we agree, neither party ceases to be a Christian. Therefore, in non-essential truths, we must always have liberty with each other, providing the necessary space to allow others to practice their faith at the level they are at, as long as we don’t violate the essentials. We must never let the tension of secondary issues divide us.
But then there is the category of “all things.” We discussed essential truths, then non-essential truths, and so what is left? Everything else, including those things that aren’t truth. And the point is that in this category, we are reminded to always show charity as we disagree with non-truth. Charity simply means kindness, respect, and love. So, for example, with the current hot button topic of homosexuality, the church would stand firm on the bible’s teaching that it is sin and rebellion against God. Also we stand just as firm that it is not the unforgivable sin; that all who confess and repent of their sins, including the gay lifestyle, will find a God who will forgive and cleanse from all unrighteousness because He is faithful and just. But in our unwavering stance for truth, we must always remember to be loving, even though we may be accused of being hateful for speaking the light of truth in the midst of darkness.
The Necessity of Standing for Truth
You may be asking yourself as you consider the current culture, “Is all of this necessary anyway?” Is it really worth expending the energy necessary to proclaim truth to those who honestly, most of the time, don’t want to hear it anyway? Let’s face it, people generally aren’t humble enough to accept correction. Let me give three quick reasons that will hopefully encourage us (yes, me included).
First of all, Jesus is truth. He is the most truthful truth in the universe. And He has chosen to reveal Himself to mankind for our joy and His glory. Therefore, it is our right, responsibility, and privilege to proclaim Him to the world. To be indifferent with truth is to be indifferent with Jesus. To be lazy with truth is to be lazy with Jesus. To deny truth is to deny Christ and He said:
“…whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 10:33 (NASB95)
Secondly, it is a biblical mandate. We are commissioned in scripture to defend and contend for the faith. In the book of Jude, he encourages us by saying:
“I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain men 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 3-4 (NASB95)
Thirdly, and finally, I think it would be wise to remember those who have gone before us. Those who stood for faith in precarious times like the ones in which we live in. Men and women of God from Old Testament times to New Testament times who heard the voice of the Lord in truth and didn’t back down from proclaiming it as accurately as possible, even in the face of persecution. Not to mention those who in more modern times stood boldly in the face of darkness and represented the light of God’s holy word at risk of loss of life and limb, of houses and family, of social status and worldly honor. I have great respect for those down through the ages who went before us; standing firm in the essentials, giving liberty in non-essentials, and in all things showing charity but NEVER denying the truth of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, church of God, stand firm.
“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5 ESV