False teaching – a corrosive, toxic, contaminant

This is how false teaching arrives:

A man with a white lab coat and rubber mallet in his pocket protector arrives in order to “heal you.” And just think, you didn’t even know you were sick! Still, after hmms and haws, he pull a bottle of medicine from a pocket, holds your nose and chucks a spoonful down your throat.

At this point, you gag and retch and run to the sink, where you empty your stomach.

“Ah,” says he, “the case is worse than I had thought! A double dose is what you need!”

You swallow, and retch twice as violently as before and drop to your knees.

“It’s obvious that you stand in need of my remedy worse than most. A triple dose is called for!” You choke it down, falling prone on the floor, your face drained of color, wheezing and tear-streaked.

A peddler of strange elixirs, potions which cannot be bought in just any store; he’s a trickster, and he usually charges plenty for his wares – probably money, definitely a chunk of your soul.

Why must we defend true doctrine and reject the false? I hope it’s not just that we can satisfy our own fussiness. I’ve seen those who love to make things “even”, but for their own mental and psychological satisfaction, as Carl Sandburg wrote in a favorite poem of mine:

The abracadabra boys – have they been in the stacks and cloisters? Have they been to a sea of jargons and brought back jargons? They foregather and make pitty pat with each other in Latin and in their private pig Latin, very ofay. Do they have fun? Sure – their fun is being what they are… (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/238494)

Anal Retentive 5_3True doctrine is not ensuring that our system has all its “t”s crossed and “i”s dotted, nor ducks arranged in order of color and height. Truth speakers need not be pickers of nits or splitters of hairs. Rather, it is making sure that we follow God’s truth and avoid the “teachings of demons” (1 Tim 4:1): the Evil One oversees a factory with round-the-clock shifts, a production line of ideas to draw people away from God. The collection he’s brought out this year is nothing new; they’re old lies, spray painted with this season’s colors.

What are we to do? The Lord Jesus gave us a paradigm that solves many of our basic life questions. In Matt 22:35-38 –

And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.”

So: Jesus just wants us to be loving people, right? And not sweat theology? Not at all: remember, Jesus had just taught that sound doctrine matters: it is true that God wants people to pay their taxes; it is untrue that he is glorified by rebellious political action; it is true that God will resurrect the dead; it is untrue that people cease to exist when they die (read Matt 22).

Why is doctrine important? Because it is one manner in which we love God with our mind; to speak what is false about him is a lack of love and an insult to his glory, what C. S. Lewis labeled “sin of the intellect” (in The Great Divorce).

Jesus continued in Matt 22:39-40 – 

And a second [commandment] is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.

We want to be orthodox because we’re supposed to love our neighbor as ourselves, and because we’re told that false doctrine harms other people. 

We usually apply Eph 4:14-15 to mean that, when we rebuke people, we tell them the truth about themselves in a kind way. While this too is an important principle, here Paul is saying that the church must teach the truth in a loving way, so that they won’t be knocked about by falsehood:

so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…

An Episcopalian bishop wrote a book a couple of years ago called The Cruelty of Heresy, in which he argued that heresy is not simply a mental error; it bespeaks a lack of love. A lack of love for God, but also for people: whether legalism, wrong christology, or errors concerning the Spirit, these false teachings harm others. To be sound doctrinally and insist on soundness, humbly, is to ensure that believers can thrive. It is to snatch corrosive chemicals away so that they will not be poisoned.

How the devil must laugh when he sees Christians flounder because of the lies he tells:

Legalism – Paul wrote Galatians to prove to the Gentile Christians that they did not need to convert to Judaism in order to experience Christ. In fact, Paul points out, if you depend on rules and regulations to make you holier, you will find the Spirit’s power leeching away from your life. Only those who trust in Christ alone can bear the fruit of the Spirit; those who trust in their own ability to obey find themselves acting with impatience, anger, frustration, lust and other works of the flesh (= actions that are fueled by human motives and self-control). The harder you try, the behinder you get! and the devil chuckles appreciatively.

Gnosticism – This error gained momentum in the second century and then went underground; it still exists today. Gnostics taught that there were two types of believer: the “Soulish” (or “Psychics”) were the common, everyday Christians. They could experience some of God’s ideas, but they were unequipped to grasp the real truth. Only a handful, the “Spiritual” (or “Gnostics” = Knowing Ones) were able to come to grips with the deeper truths. The Gnostic movement told the church that it was spiritually simpleminded, no matter how much you loved Jesus and enjoyed the power of the Spirit. This elitism insulted and harmed hordes of believers.

The Rhema Doctrine (also known as the Prosperity Gospel, or the Name-It-and-Claim-It doctrine). In Latin America and elsewhere, a preacher will announce on TV that if you’re not rich and healthy, then you don’t really have faith. “And what, brother preacher, must I do to prove I have faith?” “By donating to my ministry!” He shows off his expensive suits, watch, car: “I have faith, just look at all the stuff I have!” He tells you that if you donate $100, you are guaranteed – guaranteed! – to get $1000 in return. If you are not rewarded, he will mock you for your weak faith. It is a cruel teaching which says, if you’re still poor, then you need to show more faith and donate more money: just make out the check to him.

To love God is to tell the truth about him; to love your neighbors is to tell God’s truth to them in a humble, kind and patient way.

Related posts:

Gary and Karen Shogren – Who we are, what we do

Jesus? Yeshua? Yahushua? Which is the ‘real’ pronunciation?

My four decades in the Bible – Part I

Who dares to command God?

“False teaching – a corrosive, toxic, contaminant,” by Gary Shogren, professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thanks, Gary. Interesting that Tim Keller (Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York) also posted some thoughts this month on the importance of sound doctrine. Keller looks at the question from the perspective of spiritual health:

    “…wrong doctrine eats away at your spiritual health. Or, to say it another way, if you lack spiritual vitality and fruit, if you are not courageous enough, or joyful enough, or if you are not filled with love and hope, it may be because your grasp of Biblical doctrine is shallow and thin, or distorted and mistaken.”

    http://www.redeemer.com/news_and_events/newsletter/?aid=449

  2. I enjoyed this article, Gary … very much. I like that you actually took time to detail some heretical views. Pastors can warn their flocks to shun “false prophets” and their teachings, but if they fail to define and identify those heresies, what does this even mean to their listeners? My theology classes at Dallas Seminary have exposed my own ignorance when it comes to subtle heretical teachings that I’ve heard and accepted (or at least ignored) over the years … modalism comes to mind. I’m currently taking ST105 Sanctification and Ecclesiology. Dr. Svigel has been teaching us the importance of doctrine and showing us how the Patristics made such efforts to protect the church from heretical teachings. It has been fascinating to me to see the significance of succession of offices – holding heretics accountable for their sources – and their fidelity to doctrine. It boggles my mind that one can literally grow up in a church and learn next to nothing about church history.

    I think you would enjoy Dr. Svigel’s blog (www.retrochristianity.org) if you’re not already aware.

    Thanks for sharing this!

    • Hi, Della, thanks! I absolutely agree, a knowledge of church history and historical theology is essential. In seminaries they are sometimes trimmed down in favor of more “practical” courses, but when I was a pastor I used their insight all the time.

  3. Gary: I love your teachings! Recently a friend recommended a site to me…Hardcore Christianity.com. I checked it out and to me , it seems he focuses on Satan and his antics and ability to debilitate us in any and every way. However , I did detect a couple of things that I believe he is wrong in. That Jesus is not to be considered a friend and God is not our daddy. He is to be honored and adored but not considered an equal in the sense of a friend. Gary, I would like to hear your take on this belief. Is it as rampant as he alludes, in every health issue? Or is he on to something we “as churches” are afraid to deal with?
    Any chance of coming to Atenas to teach us again???
    Shirley Lowes
    ssunbabe@gmail.com

    • Shirley, hi! I’m in the US for a while, but would love to visit Atenas when we return.

      I took a look at the website, and will write and ask him about his Greek training. He speaks much about Greek but doesn’t seem to have more than a very basic grasp of a few words. I could be wrong. He has long, long lists of things that indicate spirit possession; I’m not convinced.

      Jesus calls his disciples his “friends” in John 15: 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” If Jesus taught this, then I have no problem with it.

      Abba is Aramaic, and is generally thought to be the affectionate form of “Father.”

      • Thanks for the good post, Gary. I suspect the problem about Jesus as our friend and God as our “Daddy” is that both the blogger and most Christians today fill in “friend” and “Father” with modern American notions of what those terms mean and understand them as a kind of familiarity (“buddy” and “Daddy”) that I doubt was meant originally and which may actually work against biblical intimacy with God.


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