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Issues Facing Missions Today: 48. Heretical Teaching and False Unity Then and Now

Issues Facing Missions Today: 48. Heretical Teaching and False Unity Then and Now

[This post begins a study of mission as church renewal with respect to the specific question of Church unity.  It does so by examining an erroneous understanding of Church unity that does not allow for division and discipline in the Church.]

Mission is not always about the Church's reaching out to others with the Gospel and various ministries; it can and often needs to be a renewal movement within established churches.  The opposite of continuous renewal of the Church according to the Scriptures is a wearisome process of endless dialogue led by persons committed to false teaching and a call for unity of fellowship with persons who undermine the faith and who lead others into errors with eternal consequences.  The challenge of heresy, the need for orthodox teaching, and the urgency to separate false teachers from the faithful—not endless dialogue and false fellowship with them—was present in the earliest days of the Church.  

The following quotes from the New Testament on these issues are just as relevant for us today.  They come from a variety of authors (and Jesus).  They highlight three points that the Church needs to consider today: (1) error is ever present in the Church and the work of renewal and correction must therefore be a primary task of the Church’s mission; (2) unity is defined around agreement with Scripture, God’s commands, and affirmation of the Gospel,; (3) unity is not understood in terms of fellowship with those opposing the truth--not welcoming false teachers is essential for the vitality of the Church’s witness.

Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God; whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.  Do not receive into the house or welcome anyone who comes to you and does not bring this teaching; for to welcome is to participate in the evil deeds of such a person.[1]

"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.[2]

For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.[3]

Certain intruders have stolen in among you, people who long ago were designated for this condemnation as ungodly, who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.[4]

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient.  Therefore do not be associated with them.[5]

Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son.  Some even from your own group will come distorting the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them.[6]

There will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive opinions. They will even deny the Master who bought them-- bringing swift destruction on themselves.  Even so, many will follow their licentious ways, and because of these teachers the way of truth will be maligned.  And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words. Their condemnation, pronounced against them long ago, has not been idle, and their destruction is not asleep.  The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment -- especially those who indulge their flesh in depraved lust, and who despise authority. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their dissipation while they feast with you.  They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin.  For they speak bombastic nonsense, and with licentious desires of the flesh they entice people who have just escaped from those who live in error.  They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for people are slaves to whatever masters them.[7]

They know God's decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die-- yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.[8]

Wicked people and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving others and being deceived.  But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed….  All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.[9]

Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments.  Whoever says, "I have come to know him," but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, "I abide in him," ought to walk just as he walked.[10]

We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God's word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.[11]

[1] 2 John 1:9-11.
[2] Matthew 7:15.
[3] 2 Timothy 4:3-4.
[4] Jude 4.
[5] Ephesians 5:6-7.
[6] Acts 20:28, 30.
[7] 2 Peter 2:1-3, 9-10a, 13b-14a, 18-19.
[8] Romans 1:32.  
[9] 2 Timothy 3:13-15, 17.
[10] 1 John 2:3-6.
[11] 2 Corinthians 4:2.