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The Rise of False Teachings within the Church

 

 

But the Spirit explicitly says that in the later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrine taught by demons. . . . (1 Tim. 4:1).

 

 

Most historically informed Christians should be familiar with the Latin sola’s (sola meaning, “alone”) that were first boldly proclaimed by the Reformers in the early sixteen century: sola gratia (“grace alone”), solo Christo (“Christ alone”), sola fide (“faith alone”), sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone” [1]), soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”).

 

That is not to say that these important biblical concepts were not proclaimed before the sixteenth century—for they were by many important early church Fathers. For example, Athanasius, the great defender of the full deity of Christ in early fourth century, declares that Holy Scripture “is sufficient above all things,” and “fully sufficient for the proclamation of truth.”[2]

 

 

The point here is that because of an out-and-out attack on and a vociferous denial of the sufficiency of Scripture[3] and the perfect and sufficient work of Christ made by the Roman Catholic Church, the Reformers codified (not invented) and determinedly proclaimed these sola’s. For them, sola Scriptura[4] teaches that salvation was by sola gratia,[5] through solo Christo,[6] through the instrument of sola fide,[7] and soli Deo Gloria.[8] For every one of these essential sola’s, Rome categorically rejected as they do today.

 

 

Note: the very bedrock upon which all the other sola’s rest is sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”), which groups such as Roman Catholicism and Mormonism (LDS) aggressively deny.[9] To allow Scripture to read for itself would be theologically disastrous to these groups. However, there is one sola that is loyally and tenaciously shared by both: sola Ecclesia (“Church alone”). In fact, sola Ecclesia is absolutely necessary and foundational to their entire theological/sociological system. In other words, for them, it is their Church alone that determines what is and what is not doctrine. Thus, for the Catholic: Rome is correct because she says she is correctex cathedra.[10]

 

 

Toto Scriptura: “All of Scripture”

 

 

Aside from the sola’s, there was also another important principle that came out of the Reformation: toto Scriptura (“all Scripture”). The Reformers, as with the early church Fathers before them, held persistently to defending and affirming Scripture alone. And with this same passion and zeal they saw that “all of Scripture” (toto Scriptura) should be clearly and vigorously taught—since “all Scripture is God breathed out” (2 Tim. 3:16).

 

Unfortunately, many Christian leaders and pastors today will indeed declare “Scripture alone” yet disregard the principle of “all of Scripture.” Important doctrines are often marginalized and/or flatly avoided because many behind the pulpits of large churches and leaders of Christian organizations are afraid that they might offend someone, and/or lose sponsorships and endorsements. Consequently and inevitably, when a false teaching emerges in a church or on the airwaves, it is gladly accepted and goes unchallenged. For why would anyone see a false teaching as false if they themselves are undiscerning and unstudied?

 

 

By consistently avoiding (and distorting) the whole counsel of God, Christian leaders and pastors are raising up biblically illiterate Christians ineffectual in providing an accurate presentation of the gospel. The Apostle Peter rightly says that the “untaught[11] and unstable distort” Scripture (2 Pet. 3:16).

 

 

 

Acts 20:17-31

 

When the Apostle Paul gave his farewell address to the elders of the church of Ephesus (cf. Acts 20:17ff.), he was very concerned as to what was going to soon take place (cf. v. 25). This was the last time that they would see Paul, for he was martyred roughly 4 to 6 years later under Nero around A.D. 64-66. Next, Paul testifies that he is “innocent of the blood of men.”

 

For, Paul tells the elders, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God (v. 26).[12] Paul understood the severity of preaching only “parts” of Scripture or “toning down” what God has said, as many do today. God takes a very dim view at those who preach an edited version of the gospel utterly dodging judgment and apologetic passages of Scripture. In verse 28, Paul then instructs the leaders of the church to carefully watch and protect the church: “Be on guard for yourself and for all the flock. . . .” And as a final point of instruction, in verses 29-30, Paul speaks of the grave consequences of not proclaiming all of Scripture (toto Scriptura):

 

 

I know after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw disciples after them. Therefore be on alert, remembering that for night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears (emphasis added).

 

 

Biblically there are two categories of “wolves”: Those outside the church: e.g., non-Christian cults, world religions, etc. and those inside the church to whom Paul is referring. Paul was so concerned about the wolves from “within the church” that he warned the Ephesians elders for three years in tears! So destructive were these false teachers that the Holy Spirit warns and prophesizes of their coming in virtually every New Testament epistle. Hence, it should be paramount that we as Christians (esp. leaders) be biblically equipped to (a) accurately affirm the gospel and (b) detect false teachings so we can warn others and “refute those who contradict” sound doctrine (Titus 1:9).

 

 

Jesus said to “watch out for false prophets.” For they always come as “Christians” and they do everything in the “name of Jesus”; even producing “miracles, signs, and wonders” (Matt. 7:15-23; see also 2 Thess. 2:9ff). It is of no great wonder then as to why Paul was so troubled. These particular “inside-job” wolves came as the genuine article deceiving many in their path. Why? Far too many Christians today determine the validity of pastors and evangelists on the way they speak, not on their theology! Hence, the most popular so-called Christian speakers today are the greatest[13] of heretics (e.g., T. D. Jakes).

 

 

And according to Paul, these false teachings will be perpetual (cf. 1 Tim. 4:1). Moreover, the Apostle Peter likewise deals with the on-going problem with false teachers within the church. Towards the end of his life, he was directed by the Holy Spirit to state:

 

But false prophets arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies . . . bringing swift destruction upon themselves . . . and in their greed they will exploit you with false words. . . . (2 Pet. 2:1-3; emphasis added).

 

 

 

Again, these false teachers exist within the church. The Mormons, JW’s, Oneness believers, Christian Science, etc., are wolves outside the church: But the deception by which most Christians are duped is from the wolves within their own number. So let us be studied Christians being able to defend and affirm the whole gospel (viz. toto Scriptura) with doctrinal precision. It is a biblical command to all Christians and it glorifies God. And to Christian leaders and pastors: you have been called by God the Holy Spirit to shepherd and hence “guard” the flock against the wolves who seek to distort the gospel. If Christians do not speak out against false teachings, the false teachings will be construed and truth!


 


NOTES

 

[1] Sola Scriptura simply means that in Scripture alone all things necessary for salvation and concerning faith and life are taught explicitly and implicitly in which any literate person can understand.

 

[2] Cf. Athanasius, De Synodis, 6.

 

[3] I.e., the accepted Protestant cannon, which does not include the seven (or more) “apocrypha” books added by Rome in which they call “Deuterocanonical” (“secondary canon”).

 

[4] Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”) opposes Rome’s view that both Scripture and tradition (viz. oral traditions not contained in Scripture) are the word of God.

 

[5] Sola gratia (“grace alone”) opposes Rome’s view that justification comes by the grace of God and the meritorious works of man, which includes water-baptism (which Rome calls “the laver of regeneration”), performing the sacraments, good works, and esp. acknowledging all Marian doctrines, which includes religious worship to Mary.

 

[6] Solo Christo (“Christ alone”) opposes Rome’s view that the sole work of Christ is not sufficient. For Rome teaches that one must merit his or her justification in addition to the work of Christ. Further, doctrines such as Purgatory deny that Christ totally and perfectly propitiated (appeased) the Father (viz. His sacrifice averted God’s wrath *literally* taking away sin). However, that salvation is through Christ alone does not mean that the Father and the Holy Spirit did not participate in the salvation of the believer. For salvation from start to finish rests on the work of the triune God: God the Holy Spirit regenerates the sinner (cf. Titus 3:5) after which the *gift* of faith is granted by God and then exercised by the sinner as a result of being regenerated (cf. John 1:12-13; Phil. 1:29) after which the Father justifies the sinner (cf. Rom. 8:33) and, through that faith alone, imputing to him or her the righteousness of His Son (cf. Rom. 4:4-8). Christ alone simply means that the sole work and righteousness of Jesus Christ passive (allowing Himself to be crucified) and active (His perfect obedience to the Father) is the very ground of salvation. Thus, salvation is through His righteousness alone.

 

[7] Sola Fide (“faith alone”) opposes Rome’s view of faith + works. The Council or Trent (1546-63) states categorically:

If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to the obtaining [of] the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema (Canon 9).

However, in sharp biblical contrast, the very ground of justification is the work of Christ (as seen above) while faith being the very instrument that God uses to justify the sinner. Note: biblically, faith is never said to be the cause or ground of justification, but rather the sole instrument: “having been justified by faith (ek pisteōs, lit., “from faith”) we [now] have peace with God” (Rom. 5:1). If faith (i.e., the faith-act) was the cause of justification, it would become a meritorious work opposing Paul’s “apart from works” theology. Further, saving faith is said to be a “gift” granted by God. “By His doing,” Paul says, “you are in Christ Jesus” (see Acts 13:48; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 1:9; 2:25).

 

[8] In view of Rome’s official doctrine of salvation, the glory belongs to both man and God, hence rejecting soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”). According to Rome, man must, by way of his required works, cooperate with God to be justified. Thus, man and God working together (synergism) as a team in justification, whereas Paul states that it is God alone that justifies (cf. Rom. 8:33). So, in Roman Catholicism, the glory of salvation is shared by both man and God.

 

[9] Rome states that “Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence” (Catechism of the Church, para. 82).

 

[10] Ex Cathedra (“from the throne”) meaning that any official theological affirmation made by the Pope is infallible, for he cannot error. This teaching was promulgated as doctrine by Pope Pius IX at the first Vatican Council (1870), as he arrogantly stated: “I am tradition.”

 

[11] The term “untaught” is from the Greek term amatheis, which carries the literal meaning of “unstudied” or “untaught” as the NASB translates. Thus, it is not the biblically studied that distorts Scripture, but rather the unstudied.

 

[12] Here, Paul seems to be drawing from Ezekiel 33:6ff.

 

 

[13] I use the term “greatest” in the sense of most influential.