My last post said that church problems are always doctrinal. It is never accurate to say that a church which is straying in some way is doctrinally sound. Every church problem is based on an error in applied doctrine.
In this article, it may sound like I’m contradicting that article. If every church problem is doctrinal, won’t attacks on the church always be doctrinal in nature? Perhaps — but they rarely start with a doctrinal focus.
Paul and John, in their epistles to the churches, warned of false teachers, sometimes naming them. Down through the centuries, whether Christianity was persecuted or state-sanctioned, there has always been heresy, there have always been those who tried to come into the church to spread their false doctrine. Just as there has always been false teachers, there have always been those who would stand against the heresies — and always those who have fallen prey to the wolves.
Today, false teaching is gaining traction in many churches. One can walk into any number of “evangelical” churches and hear a false Gospel preached. In recent high profile cases, some famous mega-church pastors endorsed a man who spreads false teaching on the Triune nature of our God, and a well-known British evangelical rejected the Biblical teaching on the atonement (and now, he rejects Biblical teaching in other areas as well). Almost every area of Biblical doctrine is under attack in churches where the Bible was once faithfully taught, often where the stated doctrinal position of the church is still sound.
False teaching seems to be on the rise — but the attack on a church rarely begins with false teaching. Sound pastors or teachers do not usually wake up one morning and say, “I think I’ll change the doctrine I teach going forward,” and begin to promote error. Faithful church members do not usually say, “I think I’ll stop checking the Scriptures to see if what I’ve been taught is true.” No one in a true Biblical church suddenly decides, “I think what our church needs is more false teaching.”
The first attack is usually spiritual, not doctrinal. We have been told not to love the world, but we have accepted the world’s value system, its philosophies, its politics, its entertainment, and its loves. Too many churches are full of people who love what the world loves and think the way the world thinks.
People don’t say, “Let’s let error come in,” whether it be error that is taught directly or (as I mentioned in yesterday’s article) error that is taught by practice. But when churches are full of spiritual weaklings who have been drugged and poisoned by the world and the things the world loves, they don’t even see what is happening.
When we spend more time on entertainment and Internet discussion (which is often really just another form of entertainment, even if it is on Christian topics) than we do our Bibles, we become spiritually stunted. Our minds are not being transformed and renewed, and we don’t even recognise the error when it comes.
The Scriptures warn repeatedly that false teachers will come, and keep coming, and we need to be ready. The solution is not writing better doctrinal statements or owning more theology books. That has already been done. Those who had good doctrinal statements and owned (and even wrote) good theology books have gone into error.
They loved the world, or the praise of man, or their own intellectual or preaching prowess, or pleasure, or another person, or some other thing. Their hearts grew distant from God as sins of pride or lust or ingratitude or anger took hold — and doctrinal error found fertile soil to produce its bitter harvest.
If our senses are tuned to truth, we’ll recognise when someone tries to give us something besides the truth, even if we don’t know exactly what it is. If you love a cup of tea, you’ll know when someone gives you one containing a foreign substance. There will be a taste there, a taste you don’t recognise. You’ll say, “Hey, something is wrong here!”
But if you stop making yourself a cup of tea, you just don’t take the time to do it anymore, you’ll forget the exact taste. If someone gives you a cup that seems a little off, well, you probably just forgot what it really tastes like, right? You’ve gotten away from tea drinking these days. I’m sure it’s fine.
But not only do our hearts grow distant from God, we take from the world and learn to love its loves. Too easily, we spend Monday through Saturday drinking the spiritual equivalent of anti-freeze. Our spiritual taste buds become a mess. A false teacher could put anything in your spiritual cup of tea on Sunday morning, and you’ll never know the difference. You’ve forgotten what truth tastes like, and learned to like poison.
Church problems may always be doctrinal — but the attacks on churches almost always start on a spiritual level (not a doctrinal one) in turning our love, ever so slightly, away from the Lord to other things. It starts slowly, deceptively, insidiously growing, until we either don’t care or don’t notice when error shows up. We’ve been drugged by false loves, the love of the world, and the enemy can do with us what he wishes — as long as he keeps supplying the drug.
When we get to that state, the adversary could easily get us to leave the church, but he’s in no hurry to do that. He can use us to destroy from within. We won’t recognise error any longer, or care about it. There are things we want, now, things we love, and we’ll be in favour of anyone who provides them. If we can get those things we want and love in the church, all the better — we’ll be able to drift along feeling good about ourselves spiritually as we pursue the loves we got from the world. If anyone says anything, tries to warn us, we might even get angry — “It tastes good to me, and I like it!”
In fact, if the church only had teachers who said the things we love are ok, are Christian, are actually what the church SHOULD be doing, that would be best of all! Give me my loves in a Christian flavour, please!
We’ll be ready allies for the false teachers when they show up. One should be along any day now.
1 If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.
2 Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.
3 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.
4 When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.
Update: A brother has translated this article into Spanish. http://bautistasreformadosperu.wordpress.com/2014/11/07/el-ataque-a-la-iglesia-es-raramente-doctrinal/.