Dealing with Apostasy
- What is apostasy?
- Apostasy foretold
- What causes apostasy?
- Why does God allow apostasy?
- How to identify false teachers
- We must be faithful
- The leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees
- Can the blind lead the blind?
- Apostasy causes division
- Judge with righteous judgment
- Snatching them from the fire
- The right hand of fellowship
- Religious freedom
- Basic Principles of Christianity
- Some Things Never Change
I. What is apostasy?
Apostasy is a falling away from the true faith and worship of God.
This assumes a norm, an original pure form of service to God which must be maintained.
In Jeremiah's day the people of Israel had fallen away from the true worship of God. The Lord said to them about their apostasy: "Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls. But they said, 'We will not walk in it.' Also, I set watchmen over you, saying, 'Listen to the sound of the trumpet!' But they said, 'We will not listen.' Therefore hear, you nations, and know, O congregation, what is among them. Hear, O earth! Behold, I will certainly bring calamity on this people, even the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not heeded My words, nor My law, but rejected it" (Jeremiah 6:16-19). Israel had rejected the word of God, and refused to follow the original, good way.
Apostasy is a departure from the old paths prescribed by God. It involves a rejection of the word of God in favor of something new and different.
Paul associates the coming apostasy with "the man of lawlessness" (2 Thessalonians 2:3), who is also called 'the lawless one' (verse 8). This is someone who sets himself against (anti) and above "all that is called God or that is worshiped" (verse 4). Apostasy is related to 'lawlessness' (verse 7).
In John's discussion of apostasy he speaks of the antichrist (1 John 2:18,22). He defines the antichrist as the "many deceivers" who have gone out into the world (2 John 7). They are people who go beyond and do not remain in the doctrine of Christ (2 John 9). He also speaks of the spirit of the antichrist (1 John 4:3).
Apostasy is a perversion of the original gospel. Paul wrote to the Galatians: "I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:6-8).
And Jude wrote: "Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).
Thus, apostasy is a departure from the original faith. It is a perversion of the original gospel by people who do not remain in the doctrine of Christ. Apostasy is leaving the old paths prescribed by God. It is lawlessness, a rejection of the word of God, which is rebellion against Christ and self-exaltation above God.
II. Apostasy foretold
Widespread apostasy was foretold by Christ and His Apostles.
Jesus said: "Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you, depart from Me you who practice lawlessness'" (Matthew 7:22,23). We should expect, then, that there will be many apostates who think they are following Christ, who appear to be doing 'great things' in the name of the Lord, but who actually are practicing lawlessness because they are not building their house on the Rock (verses 24-27) by doing what Jesus says!
He also foretold: "And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold" (Matthew 24:10-12). "For false christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand" (Matthew 24:24,25).
Paul warned that false teachers would arise both from without and from within: "For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves" (Acts 20:29,30).
Peter gave the same warning: "But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words" (2 Peter 2:1-3).
When Paul wrote his second letter to the Thessalonians, which is considered to be among the earlier books of the New Testament, a widespread apostasy had not yet occurred. "Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?" (2 Thessalonians 2:3-5). The expression "falling away" here is a translation of the Greek word for 'apostasy.' Paul uses the fact that a great apostasy had not yet occurred to refute the false claims of some that Christ's return was already there. The Lord's prediction of an apostasy would have to be fulfilled before the Day could come.
But when John wrote his letters, which are considered to be among the latest books of the New Testament, this prediction had already been fulfilled. From then on, Christ could come at any moment. John describes this as being 'the last hour'. It is still the final hour. Christ can come at any moment.
"And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour" (1 John 2:17,18).
Since the close of the first century, the world has been filled with false and perverted forms of the Christian faith.
One must search to find the few who practice the original Christian faith, and who worship God according to His word rather than the traditions of men.
And even among the faithful few, in every generation there are individuals and congregations that go into apostasy.
"Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away" (Hebrews 2:1).
Everyone who wants to walk in the old paths prescribed by God -- everyone who wants to believe and preach the pure Gospel of Christ -- must be able to avoid apostasy.
III. What causes apostasy?
Apostasy comes from the devil. God is not the author of confusion, but of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33). The current confusion in Christendom, resulting from many divergent forms of apostasy, is the work of the devil. He does his work through men, appealing to their carnal and selfish desires.
"But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing will be there" (James 3:14-16). Envy and egotism are two major causes of the confusion of apostasy.
In pride and arrogance, people rebel against God. "Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: 'Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tested Me, proved Me, and saw My works forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, and said, "They always go astray in their heart, and they have not known My ways." So I swore in My wrath, "They shall not enter My rest."' Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God" (Hebrews 3:7-12).
As Nehemiah said of Israel: "Nevertheless they were disobedient And rebelled against You, cast Your law behind their backs and killed Your prophets, who testified against them to turn them to Yourself; and they worked great provocations" (Nehemiah 9:26).
The Israelites were instructed to teach their children the word of God "That they may set their hope in God, And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments; And may not be like their fathers, A stubborn and rebellious generation, A generation that did not set its heart aright, And whose spirit was not faithful to God" (Psalm 78:7,8).
From the Old Testament we learn that apostasy occurs when people reject God in their hearts and refuse to obey His word.
Jesus told the religious leaders of His day: "All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition" (Mark 7:9).
Luke explains that the Pharisees and lawyers had "rejected the counsel of God for themselves" by refusing to listen to John the Baptist (Luke 7:30).
To His Apostles, Jesus said: "He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me" (Luke 10:16). Apostasy comes when people reject the word of Christ and His Apostles, which is now preserved for us in the New Testament.
Jesus warned all men, "He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him -- the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day" (John 12:48).
So why does apostasy exist? Apostasy comes from the devil who does his work through the selfish desires of men. In pride and envy they exalt themselves against God, they rebel against His authority, they reject His word and go their own way. But God will have the final word on the last day.
IV. Why does God allow apostasy?
God allows false teachers to test us: "If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder of which he spoke to you comes to pass, saying, 'Let us go after other gods which you have not known, and let us serve them,' you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deuteronomy 13:1-3). Do you really love God? If you do not, some false teacher will lead you astray. Do you love the truth? If you do not, God will send you a delusion that you might believe a lie (2 Thessalonians 2:11).
Everyone who loves God, also seeks God, and heeds the word of God rather than the word of man: "And when they say to you, 'Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,' should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isaiah 8:19,20). In the New Testament Peter gives the same charge: "If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God" (1 Peter 4:11).
As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, apostasy separates the dross from the silver: "For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you" (1 Corinthians 11:18,19).
As was predicted by Jesus and His Apostles, the world is now full of teachers who darken counsel by words without knowledge.
God is testing us to see if we love Him and the truth enough to follow His word.
V. How to identify false teachers
Jesus and His Apostles not only predicted apostasy, they also told us how to identify false prophets and teachers! There are distinguishing marks by which they can be recognized. They exalt themselves and lord it over others. They are deceptive. They bring a different doctrine.
False teachers exalt themselves and lord it over others
One of the most noticeable marks of false teachers is that, like Diotrophes (3 John 9), they usually love to have the preeminence. They like to wear distinctive clothing and high-sounding religious titles. Jesus said this about the religious leaders of His day: "All their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, 'Rabbi, Rabbi.' But you, do not be called 'Rabbi'; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ" (Matthew 23:5-10).
True followers of Christ do not lord it over others: "But Jesus called them to Himself and said, 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you'" (Matthew 20:25,26a). In writing to elders, Peter said: "Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by constraint but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock" (1 Peter 5:2,3).
Not satisfied with lording it over a local congregation, false teachers often set up hierarchical systems of authority, like the Gentiles, which exercise control in entire regions, countries or even in the whole world. Synods, councils and headquarters are set up, contrary to the teaching of Christ. All who participate in such systems of authority are false teachers who have rebelled against the authority of God.
Through their lordship they bring people into religious bondage.
"Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: 'The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses's seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers'" (Matthew 23:1-4).
Paul wrote: "But this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Jesus Christ, that they might bring us into bondage), to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you" (Galatians 2:4,5).
This religious bondage often involves regulations which are no part of the pure gospel of Christ.
"Therefore let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. Let no one defraud you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase which is from God. Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations -- 'Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,' which all concern things which perish with the using -- accordingly to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh" (Colossians 2:16-23).
"Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth" (1 Timothy 4:1-3).
False Teachers are deceptive
Jesus warned: "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves" (Matthew 7:15).
These hungry wolves can be recognized. Jesus goes on to explain: "You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them" (Matthew 7:16-20).
It need not surprise us when false teachers disguise themselves. They are just following the example of their leader, the devil. "For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works" (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
False teachers often try to deceive by basing their false doctrine on philosophy. Many a wolf has come with a 'sheepskin'. As Paul warned the Colossians: "Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words" (Colossians 2:4). "Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ" (Colossians 2:8).
False teachers often misuse difficult passages, which they can more easily twist for their own deceptive purposes. Peter says that Paul's writings contain "some things hard to understand, which those who are untaught and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures" (2 Peter 3:16).
Jesus also warns that false teachers will try to substantiate their deception by signs and wonders: "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you, depart from Me you who practice lawlessness'" (Matthew 7:21-23). "For false christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to deceive, if possible, even the elect" (Matthew 24:24).
False teachers are able to deceive people who do not love the truth. "And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thessalonians 2:8-12).
"For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward. Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds" (2 John 7-11).
False teachers bring a different doctrine
Paul warned the saints at Rome: "Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple" (Romans 16:17,18).
To bring false doctrine they must of course deceive people in one way or another. Paul was concerned about the Christians at Corinth: "But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you may well put up with it" (2 Corinthians 11:3,4).
False teachers pervert the gospel of Christ and preach a gospel that is different from the original gospel. As Paul wrote to the Galatians: "I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:6-9).
An important task of an evangelist is to combat false doctrine. Paul wrote to Timothy: "As I urged you when I went into Macedonia -- remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith" (1 Timothy 1:3,4).
"If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wrangling of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself" (1 Timothy 6:3-5).
"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables" (2 Timothy 4:3,4).
The young evangelist, Titus, was given similar instructions: "For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain. One of them, a prophet of their own, said, 'Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.' This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth" (Titus 1:10-14).
The warning written to the Hebrews is valid for us all: "Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines" (Hebrews 13:9).
Thus, not only have we been warned that apostasy would take place, we have also been told how to identify false teachers and false prophets. They exalt themselves and lord it over others. They are deceptive. They bring a different doctrine. If we love the truth and know the Scriptures, we will be able to recognize and avoid them.
VI. We must be faithful
Each one of us is answerable to God: "It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). "So then each of us shall give account of himself to God" (Romans 14:12). "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad." (2 Corinthians 5:10).
We are liable for the bad things we do. But we are also obligated to do good! This includes an obligation to worship and serve God according to His will, as revealed in the Scriptures, whether anyone else does or not.
Noah and his family lived in a bad environment: "Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5). Yet, Noah chose to be different. "Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God" (Genesis 6:9). Thus we read: "But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord." (Genesis 6:8).
Although the world is filled with false religions, we must be true. Although the congregation to which we belong drifts or plunges into apostasy, we must worship and serve God according to the original pattern: "But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered" (Romans 6:17). The word "form" in this verse can also be translated as "pattern." When we become Christians we are committed to a pattern of doctrine. We are personally responsible for following this pattern.
Every Christian belongs to the priesthood. "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9).
A priest has the privilege and the obligation of worshiping God according to His word. When the gospel is preached and people respond in areas where there is not yet a church of Christ, they must form one. They must learn to assemble for worship according to the New Testament pattern. When Christians are traveling and find themselves in an area where there is not a church of Christ, they assemble as a church on the first day of the week (Sunday) to partake of the Lord's supper and to remember His death and resurrection. Jesus has promised: "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20). Each Christian must learn how to do this, so he can fulfill his priestly responsibilities in whatever situation he finds himself.
A member of the 'royal priesthood' may not participate in apostate worship.
Sometimes Christians who find themselves isolated from other Christians are tempted to compromise and to worship with some group that is not following the teaching of Christ. But if they do, they are profaning their priestly consecration. When we become Christians we are sanctified, made holy, and set apart for exclusive service in the temple of God, which is the church of Christ. To the church at Corinth, Paul wrote: "Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are" (1 Corinthians 3:16).
The Holy Spirit gives us this warning by the pen of Paul: "Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: 'I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.' Therefore 'Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty'" (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).
Referring to Babylon the great, a prophetic representation of apostate Christianity, God says: "Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues" (Revelation 18:4).
The same applies when the congregation to which one belongs, leaves the narrow way and goes into apostasy.
During the week before these lines were written, I received messages from two Christians who were being forced to leave congregations they had attended for many years.
A brother in California had been a member of a church of Christ for thirty-one years. He is a Christian who is well-versed in the Scriptures and who actively teaches the gospel to others. He has made many mission trips to countries where conditions are far from pleasant, to teach the word. But three new elders changed the worship and teaching of the congregation. Their activities are no longer in agreement with the original pattern. Since they would not listen when he encouraged them to follow the Scriptures, this brother had to leave so he could worship and serve God faithfully.
A sister in New Mexico had been an active member of a church of Christ for twenty-two years. Gradually during the last few years, however, changes had taken place away from the "pattern of doctrine" to which we have been committed. Although faithful brothers and sisters patiently tried to persuade the others to follow the Scriptures, about thirty members of the congregation finally decided they could no longer conscientiously worship there.
These people could go to other congregations nearby that are still following the word of God. But apostasy can also occur where there is no other congregation nearby. Then -- just like new Christians in areas without a congregation -- they who leave an apostate group must form a new congregation composed of people who want to obey the Spirit's command: "Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 1:13).
As members of a royal priesthood, we have individual responsibility. We must follow the example of Daniel and his friends.
After Daniel was taken into Babylonian captivity, we read: "But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank" (Daniel 1:8). God blessed Daniel because of his faithfulness.
Later, the king of Babylon made an image of gold. It was 27 meters high. All his officials were commanded to bow down and worship his idol. But Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego remained standing. When reprimanded by the king, they replied: "Let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up" (Daniel 3:18). And one whose form was like the Son of God, rescued them from the fury of the king (Daniel 3:25).
The words of the song by P.P.Bliss are appropriate:
Dare to be a Daniel!
Standing by a purpose true,
Heeding God's command,
Honor them, the faithful few!
All hail to Daniel's band!
Many mighty men are lost,
Daring not to stand,
Who for God had been a host,
By joining Daniel's band!
Hold the gospel banner high!
On to victory grand!
Satan and his host defy,
And shout for Daniel's band!
Dare to be a Daniel,
Dare to stand alone!
Dare to have a purpose firm!
Dare to make it known!
Jesus said: "Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Revelation 2:10).
VII. The leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees
Jesus warned His disciples: "Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees" (Matthew 16:6). They thought He meant literal leaven, so Jesus asked: "How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? -- but, you should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (Matthew 16:11). "Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (Matthew 16:12).
The Pharisees and the Sadducees were the two main denominations among the Jews in the first century. They represent two prevalent forms of apostasy: adding to and subtracting from the word of God.
The Pharisees were proud of their strictness. As Paul said of his life before he became a Christian: "They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee" (Acts 26:5).
Although this strictness was commendable to a certain extent, they neglected spiritual values while fanatically enforcing all kinds of superficial rules and regulations that were not based on the word of God.
They were so strict, they even criticized, condemned and finally helped to murder the sinless Son of God!
"Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, 'Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.' But He answered and said to them, 'Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, "Honor your father and your mother"; and, "He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death." But you say, "Whoever says to his father or mother, 'Whatever profit you might have received from me has been dedicated to the temple' -- is released from honoring his father or mother." Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: "These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men"'" (Matthew 15:1-9).
Jesus had scathing words for the Pharisees: "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. Woe to you, blind guides, who say, 'Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.' Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold? And, 'Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.' Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it. He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness" (Matthew 23:13-28).
On another occasion Jesus warned: "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy" (Luke 12:1).
In our day too, some people pride themselves in their strictness and orthodoxy, while enforcing their own narrow-minded rules and regulations that are not based on the word of God. They carefully observe superficial aspects of religion while neglecting "the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith."
Jesus warns against such teaching.
The Sadducees thought of themselves as modern and practical. They only accepted the first five books of the Old Testament, and adherence to the word of God was not among their main concerns.
They did not believe in a resurrection.
"The same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, saying: 'Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were with us seven brothers. The first died after he had married, and having no offspring, left his wife to his brother. Likewise the second also, and the third, even to the seventh. And last of all the woman died also. Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her.' Jesus answered and said to them, 'You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven. But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob"? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living'" (Matthew 22:23-32).
Jesus said they did not know the Scriptures or the power of God.
Because of their fanatical opposition to belief in a resurrection, the Sadducees persecuted the Apostles: "Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead" (Acts 4:1,2).
The Sadducees were materialists and secularists. Luke explains: "For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection -- and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both" (Acts 23:8).
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus says: "Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod" (Mark 8:15). The Sadducees were the politicians (Acts 5:17). They favored compromise and co-operation with Rome. To them political expediency was more important than following the law. They co-operated with the evil family of the Herods to rule the country.
This type of apostasy is also prevalent in our time. Jesus warns against a secular, materialistic approach to religion, where expediency and political correctness are considered more important that spiritual values, an approach that is ignorant of the Scriptures and of the power of God.
Why does Jesus call the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees leaven? Because: "A little leaven leavens the whole lump" (Galatians 5:9). These doctrines are insidious and contagious. They spread like leaven.
Those holding such beliefs are unacceptable to God and will be lost unless they repent. John the Baptizer had harsh words for the hypocritical Sadducees and Pharisees who came for baptism: "But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, 'Brood of vipers! Who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance'" (Matthew 3:7,8).
"Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees" (Matthew 16:6). We must avoid apostasy. We may neither add to nor subtract from the word of God. Our faith must be genuine rather than superficial. We must know the Scriptures and the power of God.
We can learn from God's word to Israel: "Therefore you shall be careful to do as the Lord your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you" (Deuteronomy 5:32,33).
VIII. Can the blind lead the blind?
"And He spoke a parable to them: 'Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch?'" (Luke 6:39).
Jesus called the scribes and Pharisees "blind guides" (Matthew 23:16,24). He gave this evaluation of their worship and teaching: "Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 'These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'" (Matthew 15:7-9).
"Then His disciples came and said to Him, 'Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?'" (Matthew 15:12).
We can learn much about apostasy from Jesus' response: "Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch" (Matthew 15:13,14).
Every plant of human origin will be uprooted.
Jesus built His church as He promised (Matthew 16:18). Under the new covenant, the church of Christ is the only religious institution God has planted. Every other religious institution has been planted by men and is in rebellion to God. The world is full of non-Christian and pseudo-Christian religious establishments. They will all be uprooted.
Most so-called Christian institutions do not even claim divine origin. Their members are proud to tell you exactly who established their denomination or society, when and where. The church of Christ was established by the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. All churches established by someone else, someplace else, at some other time, are apostate churches. They will be uprooted by God.
Some claim to be the church of Christ when they are not. How can you know? Because their name, teaching, worship, leadership and lifestyle are different from that of the church we read about in the New Testament!
Do not join -- or remain a member of -- a religious institution that will be uprooted by God. Jesus has given a clear warning: "Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted" (Matthew 15:13).
Let them alone.
Other passages give a similar command.
"Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them" (Romans 16:17).
"Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned" (Titus 3:10,11).
"But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!" (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
"Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds" (2 John 9-11).
How should we treat apostate teachers? Let them alone! Avoid them! Reject them! Turn away from such people! Do not receive them into your house or greet them!
They are blind leaders of the blind.
Only a blind man selects a blind man as his guide.
People are spiritually blind because they choose to be. They have chosen not to see. Jesus explained: "Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the heart of this people has grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their heart and turn, so that I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear" (Matthew 13:13-16).
"But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them" (2 Corinthians 4:3,4).
Leaders and followers are responsible since no one can lead unless someone follows. People choose leaders they like: "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables" (2 Timothy 4:3,4).
People who love the truth, follow Jesus. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus, explained: "And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers" (John 10:4,5).
And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.
It is a hopeless situation. These blind leaders and blind followers reject the light and then arrogantly suppose they can see. "And Jesus said, 'For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.' Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, 'Are we blind also?' Jesus said to them, 'If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, "We see." Therefore your sin remains'" (John 9:39-41).
I have written many bulky letters trying to show some apostate brother the truth. In most cases it was like pouring water on a duck's back. They went astray because they rejected the truth. Thus, even the most complete, clear and careful explanation is also stoutly rejected. Nothing is accomplished by giving a blind man a lantern. These blind guides and blind followers must first repent, they must turn back from the wrong road of darkness they have taken. Only then will they see the light.
Jesus' warning can help us understand and avoid apostasy: "Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch" (Matthew 15:13,14).
IX. Apostasy causes division
Jesus prayed that His followers might be one as He and the Father are one (John 17:11). Referring to His sheep, Jesus said: "They will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd" (John 19:16). Paul admonished the Corinthian Christians: "Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Corinthians 1:10).
Unity exists among Christians to the extent that they follow Christ.
Also, division is inevitable between those who are faithful and those who fall away from the true faith and worship of God: "Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?" (Amos 3:3).
It makes us sad when loved ones wander away from the one Shepherd and the one flock, and thereby separate themselves from the "unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3). But that does not destroy unity among those who stay close to the Shepherd.
Apostasy caused division while Apostles were still living. One might suppose that everyone would submit to the authority of the Apostles of Christ! Not so. As Paul risked his life going from place to place preaching the gospel of salvation, false teachers went around behind him, stirring up trouble in the churches. Just as some now reject the Apostles' teaching, there were also people then who refused to listen.
Even the Apostle John, whose heart overflowed with the love of Christ, was rejected by some: "I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church" (3 John 9,10). Apostasy causes division in different ways. In this case an apostate leader was expelling faithful brethren from the congregation.
Some false teachers claim to favor unity. They want the faithful to accept them in spite of their apostasy. As in Jeremiah's day, they cry "Peace! Peace!" when there is no peace. God explained why He would punish the people: "'Because from the least of them even to the greatest of them, Everyone is given to covetousness; And from the prophet even to the priest, Everyone deals falsely. They have also healed the hurt of My people slightly, Saying, "Peace, peace!" When there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? No! They were not at all ashamed; Nor did they know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; At the time I punish them, They shall be cast down,' says the Lord. Thus says the Lord: 'Stand in the ways and see, And ask for the old paths, were the good way is, And walk in it; Then you will find rest for your souls. But they said, "We will not walk in it"'" (Jeremiah 6:13-16).
When the majority are unfaithful, they often accuse the faithful of being trouble-makers: "Then it happened, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said to him, 'Is that you, O troubler of Israel?' And he answered, 'I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father's house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and you have followed the Baals'" (1 Kings 18:17,18).
When people go into apostasy they often splinter off and form their own group: "Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us" (1 John 2:18,19).
Sometimes apostates sneak in and try to dominate the church. After false teachers had attempted to bind circumcision on Christians, Paul wrote: "But this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Jesus Christ, that they might bring us into bondage)" (Galatians 2:4).
Apostasy can cause division along ethnic lines. Paul wrote further: "But when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, 'If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?'" (Galatians 2:11-14).
Paul said that division must come and that it serves a purpose: "For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you" (1 Corinthians 11:18,19).
Here is Paul's response to apostasy: "If we endure, We shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself. Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some. Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: 'The Lord knows those who are His,' and 'Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity'" (2 Timothy 2:11-19).
There is one flock and one Shepherd. Unity exists among those who follow Christ. The inevitable separation of the faithful from those who fall away is caused by those who depart from the true faith and worship of God, not by those who remain faithful. Division is caused by apostasy.
X. Judge with righteous judgment
"Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment" (John 7:24).
From a reliable witness I heard that a brother in British Columbia was advocating unscriptural practices in local church leadership. In a letter asking him for details about his teaching I wrote: "In such matters I prefer to reserve judgment until I have first-hand information." He sent no information about his teaching, but returned my letter with a note in the margin: "Get out of the judging business!"
"Judge not, that you be not judged" (Matthew 7:1) is indeed one of the least heeded -- and most misused passages in the New Testament.
We so easily condemn others for what we do ourselves. The brother who told me to "get out of the judging business" was rather judgmental himself. He also scribbled in the margin: "Whoever has been gossiping about this is sinning."
"Judge not, that you be not judged."
Does this mean we are never to judge? Certainly not, for Jesus also said: "Judge with righteous judgment" (John 7:24).
The context makes the meaning clear: "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the same measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck out of your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother's eye" (Matthew 7:1-5).
We must avoid unrighteous judgment.
We may not judge according to appearance (John 7:24).
If we condemn someone for something we do ourselves, we bring condemnation upon ourselves. "Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?" (Romans 2:1-3). "Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you" (Luke 6:36-38).
We may not judge in matters of opinion. "Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand" (Romans 14:1-4). "But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: 'As I live, says the Lord, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.' So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way" (Romans 14:10-13).
We may not judge with insufficient knowledge. Paul wrote: "But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts; and then each one's praise will come from God" (1 Corinthians 4:3-5).
We may not take God's place in judgment: "Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?" (James 4:11,12).
We may not condemn the guiltless by neglecting mercy: "But if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless" (Matthew 12:7).
We must keep these warnings carefully in mind.
At the same time "Judge not, that you be not judged" is often the wailing cry of false teachers and hardened sinners who misapply the verse to ward off censure for their evil deeds. Do not be intimidated by such people, for Jesus has commanded us to judge with righteous judgment (John 7:24).
"He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just, both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD" (Proverbs 17:15). "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them" (Ephesians 5:11).
"Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment" (John 7:24). This is reminiscent of Leviticus 19:15. "You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. But in righteousness you shall judge your neighbor."
There is a place for righteous judgment. When Christians persist in sin, they are to be judged by their fellow Christians, as Paul explained to the Corinthians: "I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner -- not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore 'put away from yourselves that wicked person'" (1 Corinthians 5:9-13).
When Christians come in conflict, some wise man should be found to judge between his brethren: "Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren?" (1 Corinthians 6:1-5).
We may not reserve judgment when faced with clear manifestations of evil. Jesus reprimanded the church at Thyatira: "Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and beguile My servants to commit sexual immorality and to eat things sacrificed to idols" (Revelation 2:20). What if false teaching on divorce and remarriage leads God's people to commit sexual immorality? Will God hold us guiltless if we allow such to be taught, and if we fellowship people Jesus says are committing adultery? (Matthew 5:31,32; 19:9; Mark 10:11,12; Luke 16:18).
Many commands of God require the exercise of righteous judgment.
"But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us" (2 Thessalonians 3:6).
"And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother" (2 Thessalonians 3:14,15).
"Teach and exhort these things. If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wrangling of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself" (2 Timothy 6:2b-5).
"Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple" (Romans 16:17,18).
All these commands require the careful exercise of righteousness judgment. Do not be deceived by smooth words and flattering speech. Beware of wolves who come to you with a sheep's skin. "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment" (John 7:24).
XI. Snatching them from the fire
"And on some have mercy, who are in doubt; and some save, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh" (Jude 22,23 ASV).
When apostasy occurs, we must help those who are in doubt.
We have already learned how to treat those who are causing apostasy: "Note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them" (Romans 16:17); "Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned" (Titus 3:10,11); "From such people turn away!" (2 Timothy 3:5); "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds" (2 John 11).
At the same time, we must realize that false teachers cause much confusion among people who are sincerely striving to serve God. This is why Jude tells us, "On some have mercy, who are in doubt" (Jude 22 ASV). People who have just begun their study of the Scriptures, and Christians who are not yet grounded in the faith, are often confused by conflicting doctrines.
Because of this, they may ask questions and even make statements which sound strange or even dangerous to someone who is well-versed in the Scriptures. We must be careful how we respond to someone who sincerely wants to do what is right.
Speaking of matters not related to salvation, Paul says, "Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand" (Romans 14:1-4).
Notice that there is responsibility on both sides. Someone weak in the faith is not to be ridiculed because he is a vegetarian. But neither may he force his opinion on others or condemn someone who eats meat.
"We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves" (Romans 15:1).
"Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all" (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
Thus we must patiently teach those who want to learn. But we may not engage in useless arguments: "But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will" (2 Timothy 2:23-26).
"Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one" (Colossians 4:5,6).
Sometimes immediate action must be taken to rescue someone from a false teacher or a dangerous situation. This is why Jude goes on to say: "And some save, snatching them out of the fire" (Jude 22 ASV).
This alludes to a passage in the Old Testament: "Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him. And the Lord said to Satan, 'The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?' Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and was standing before the Angel. Then He answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, saying, 'Take away the filthy garments from him.' And to him He said, 'See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes.' And I said, 'Let them put a clean turban on his head.' So they put a clean turban on his head, and they put the clothes on him. And the Angel of the Lord stood by" (Zechariah 3:1-4).
Via false teachers and temptations of all kinds, Satan continually tries to lead God's people astray. The high priest standing in filthy garments represents God's people. And Satan is right there to accuse. But by the grace of God they who sin can be snatched from the fire and clothed in white linen.
"Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted" (Galatians 6:1).
Sometimes immediate action must be taken against false teachers to protect God's people. An elder is to be one who is "holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict. For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain" (Titus 1:9-11).
As we try to snatch someone from the fire, we must be careful not to be burned ourselves. We must love the sinner, but we must hate the pollution of sin. This is why Jude says: "And on some have mercy with fear; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh" (Jude 23 ASV).
This is also why God warns those who compromise with apostate Christendom: "Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues" (Revelation 18:4).
You cannot pull someone out of quicksand by jumping in with him. Unless you are standing on solid ground, he will pull you down.
After worshiping scripturally in their home for a while, an isolated Christian couple started attending an evangelical church instead. They rationalized that this would give them an opportunity to teach the truth. But, of course, in so doing they compromized the truth and went into apostasy themselves.
As we patiently teach the uninformed, and rescue people from the fire, we must beware of the flames ourselves. "And on some have mercy, who are in doubt; and some save, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh" (Jude 22,23 ASV).
XII. The right hand of fellowship
"When James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised" (Galatians 2:9).
Paul and Barnabas were given the right hand of fellowship. Paul preached to the Gentiles and Peter preached to the Jews, but the gospel was the same.
What is the basis of Christian fellowship?
The bond of fellowship among Christians is difficult for non-believers to comprehend. We have fellowship in our common salvation and in the breaking of the bread. We have fellowship with the Father and the Son through the doctrine of the Apostles.
In the description of what happened on the day the church was established, we read: "And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, 'Be saved from this perverse generation.' Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:40-42).
This new fellowship, the church of Christ, was a fellowship of the saved: "And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47).
Many years later, when the church was being infiltrated by false teachers, Jude wrote: "Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). Our fellowship is based on our common salvation in the faith, once and for all delivered to the saints. We must contend earnestly for that faith to maintain fellowship with Christ and with one another.
We have fellowship with the sacrifice of Christ as we continue steadfastly in the breaking of the bread.
"The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, being many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread" (1 Corinthians 10:16,17). The word 'communion' here is the same word that is translated 'fellowship' elsewhere. The loaf is a fellowship with the body of Christ. The cup is a fellowship with His blood.
Paul goes on to explain: "Observe Israel after the flesh: Are not those who eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? But I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord's table and of the table of demons" (1 Corinthians 10:18-21).
Fellowship with the body and blood of Christ precludes fellowship with evil.
"Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: 'I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.' Therefore 'Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty'" (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).
This refers to God's call to Israel in the Old Testament to come out of Babylon and restore the true worship in Jerusalem, which was a prefiguration of God's call in our time for believers to come out of false religions and serve the true God, as we read in the Revelation: "And I heard another voice from heaven saying, 'Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues'" (Revelation 18:4). The Greek word translated 'share' means 'have fellowship with'. We many not have fellowship with false religions.
"And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them" (Ephesians 5:11).
We have fellowship with God and Christ by continuing steadfastly in the Apostles' teaching and fellowship. John wrote: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life -- the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us -- that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:1-3). "But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7).
"God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Corinthians 1:9,10).
What are the limits to Christian fellowship?
Obviously, in the light of these passages, our fellowship is limited to those who are saved by the blood of Christ, to the extent that we are able to determine such. We cannot have fellowship with those who are clearly unsaved according to the Scriptures.
In Christendom, many preach a perverted gospel that cannot save: "I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:6-8). "Note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them" (Romans 16:17); "Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned" (Titus 3:10,11); "From such people turn away!" (2 Timothy 3:5).
Some think we should fellowship all Christians. But even in our relationship with Christians, there are limits to what we can condone and there are limits of conscience.
If we fellowship immoral Christians, we condone their lifestyle and bring dishonor to Christ: "I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner -- not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore 'put away from yourselves that wicked person'" (1 Corinthians 5:9-13).
If we fellowship Christians who are false teachers, we condone their error: "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds" (2 John 11). The Greek word translated 'share' means 'have fellowship with'.
We cannot extend the right hand of fellowship to Christians who are false teachers, who are living immoral lives, or whose behavior is in serious conflict with Christian principles.
There are also limits of conscience. "But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin" (Romans 14:23).
We must train our conscience by careful study of the word of God so we will not think something is wrong when it is not wrong, or think something is good when it is not good. Our conscience can be misinformed. Paul persecuted Christians with a clear conscience before he learned better (Acts 23:1; 1 Timothy 1:12,13)!
But after we have carefully studied the word of God we, like Paul, must "always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men" (Acts 24:16). See also 1 Timothy 1:5,18,19; 3:8,9.
This means that we cannot have fellowship with other Christians in activities that violate our conscience. We cannot be a member of a congregation if it involves participating in forms of worship or activities that we believe are wrong.
One young man told me he was upset because he could not conscientiously worship with a certain congregation (because of unscriptural things they were doing). Yet, he felt that refusing to worship with them was the same as condemning them all to hell, which he did not think he had a right to do! I explained to him that just because he could not conscientiously worship with them did not mean that he was condemning them all to hell. God will judge them on the last day for their departure from the New Testament pattern which excludes others from their fellowship. In any case, he may not violate his own conscience by participating in something he knows is wrong.
This limitation of conscience has to do with participation and approval. I have fellowship with many brethren who hold views quite different than mine on certain points. In these instances fellowship is still possible because the differences are of such a nature that I am not forced to practice or approve something that violates my conscience. But when an association involves personal participation in, or endorsement of, something I believe to be wrong, fellowship is no longer possible. As Paul wrote: "Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves" (Romans 14:22).
The limits of Christian fellowship are clearly defined in Scripture.
A well-known preacher who presented some lectures in Germany said that, although many people think of the church as a circle, he prefers to think of it as an amoeba with hazy edges and with Christ as the nucleus.
This man is trying to erase the Scriptural limits to fellowship.
According to the Word of God the church is not just a circle, it is a walled city! The "great high wall" of Zion (Revelation 21:12) is salvation: "In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: 'We have a strong city; God will appoint salvation for walls and bulwarks. Open the gates, that the righteous nation which keeps the truth may enter in" (Isaiah 26:1,2; see also Isaiah 60:18-21). Our fellowship in Christ is based on "our common salvation" (Jude 3) which we have by the grace of God because we keep the truth.
Christians can conduct themselves in such a way that fellowship is disrupted: "But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us" (1 Thessalonians 3:6). We may not condone immorality, false doctrine or unscriptural practices, and we may not participate in something that violates our conscience.
What a joy it is to extend the right hand of fellowship to those who are like-minded in Christ: "Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind" (Philippians 2:1,2). "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen" (2 Corinthians 13:14).
XIII. Religious freedom
Through the ages, terrible atrocities have been committed in the name of religion.
During the first few centuries after Christ, Christians were severely persecuted by pagans and Jews. But Jesus taught His followers to love their enemies and to do good to those who hate them (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27,35).
From the seventh to the eleventh century, by force of arms, Muslims spread their religion around the Mediterranean from Asia Minor, along the northern coast of Africa, and into Spain. Church buildings were destroyed, church leaders were murdered, and Christianity was exterminated where Muslims came to power.
The Koran commands: "And if they turn back from the faith, take them and kill them wherever you find them" (Chapter 4). With regard to anyone who "shall oppose Ala and his apostle" (Mohammed) the charge is given: "Therefore strike off their heads, and strike off all the ends of their fingers" (Chapter 8). When a treaty with non-Muslims expires, the following is commanded: "And when the months wherein you are not allowed to attack them shall be past, kill the idolaters wheresoever you shall find them, and take them prisoners, and besiege them, and lay wait for them in every convenient place" (Chapter 9).
Fortunately, many Muslims in our time do not apply these teachings, and try to explain them away or soften them in various ways. But it cannot be denied that through the centuries, and even at the present time, these passages in the Koran have resulted in much religious persecution, war and terrorism.
From the eleventh through the thirteenth centuries, Crusades were organized in Europe in an attempt to conquer Jerusalem by force of arms. This was done by apostates who were not following the teachings of Christ. Thousands of Muslims were murdered and their villages were destroyed.
At the time of the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church used the Inquisition to murder those who opposed its authority. It was a capital crime to read the Bible without the permission of the Church. In 1536 William Tyndale was burned to death at Vilvoorde, Belgium by Catholic authorities. His crime? Publishing the Bible in English and exposing false doctrines of the Roman Church.
When Protestants came to power in certain countries, they persecuted Catholics and other Protestants who did not agree with them. On October 27, 1553, Michael Servetus was burned to death at Geneva, Switzerland at the instigation of John Calvin. His crime? Teaching doctrines Calvin considered heretical.
In our own century, millions of Jews have been exterminated in gas chambers and millions of Muslims have been evicted from their homes in Palestine and forced to spend their lives in camps of poverty in the desert. During our own decade, religious and ethnic conflicts in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Indonesia have cost the lives of millions of innocent people. Countless believers of all faiths have been persecuted and murdered under communism in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America.
All such persecution is contrary to the doctrine of Christ. Jesus teaches religious tolerance and freedom.
Although apostasy is to be forcefully refuted and apostate teachers are to be expelled from the church, Christians are not to persecute others or use coercion to prevent others from practicing their religion.
Once when Jesus and His disciples were traveling to Jerusalem, they were refused lodging in a Samaritan village. "And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, 'Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?' But He turned and rebuked them, and said, 'You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of man did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them.' And they went to another village" (Luke 9:54-56). One may not use Old Testament examples to justify violence. The teaching of Jesus is on a higher plain, is of a different spirit.
Not only does Jesus teach against persecuting others, we are not even to forbid them: "Then John answered and said, 'Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us.' But Jesus said to him, 'Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is for us'" (Luke 9:49,50 //Mark 9:38-40).
Some have misapplied this passage to teach that we should fellowship false teachers. But Jesus did not condone what this person was doing. He simply taught religious freedom. We are not to 'forbid' others.
Paul explains: "Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from good will: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice" (Philippians 1:15-18).
Some who are now Christians in Belgium, first started studying the Bible with Jehovah's Witnesses. Others who are now Christians, first studied the Bible with Mormons. As they continued studying the Scriptures, however, they rejected the errors of these groups, and learned the truth of the gospel.
Although false teachers are not to be permitted to teach in the church, it is not our task as Christians to prevent them from proclaiming their beliefs in general. It is our task, however, to refute their false doctrine. Religious freedom does not mean that we must remain silent in the face of religious error.
"For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
Christians combat false doctrine by preaching the truth. We refute false arguments and capture the thoughts of men by preaching the Word of God. Rather than being overcome by evil, we overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).
Although one can sympathize with oppressed peoples who mistakenly think force of arms can set them free, it does not work. Jesus said: "Put away your sword, for all who draw the sword will perish by the sword" (Matthew 26:52). You cannot overcome evil with evil. An attempt to do so only multiplies evil.
Jesus taught us how to overcome evil with good by going to the cross and rising victorious from the grave to become King of kings and Lord of lords. He tells us to take up our cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24).
The most powerful weapons on earth are not guns and bombs, but words. If you want to have influence for good, learn to speak and write well. And the most powerful words of all are the words of God.
"For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12).
Christians are proponents and defenders of religious freedom. Our weapon is the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). Apostasy is to be refuted, but followers of Christ do not persecute others or prevent them from practicing their religion.
XIV. Basic Principles of Christianity
As predicted by Jesus and His apostles, the world is now filled with apostate churches and people who claim to be Christians when they are not. Among all the false forms, how can the true form be recognized?
For a complete definition of Christianity, one must read the entire New Testament, which in turn can only be properly understood if one also knows the Old Testament. There are, however, certain basic principles which can help us distinguish genuine Christianity from perversions. The possible mutations of falsehood are unlimited. But all forms of error are refuted by the simple truth.
The word of God is the standard.
Jesus said: "He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him -- the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day" (John 12:48).
When Josiah became King of Judah, the people were worshiping idols. But in the temple the book of the law was found which enabled Josiah to restore the true worship of God (2 Kings 22, 23).
We can restore genuine Christianity by obeying the word of God. "To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isaiah 8:20).
"For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). The word of God can cut away all forms of apostasy.
"'And he who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat?' says the Lord. 'Is not My word like a fire?' says the Lord, 'And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?'" (Jeremiah 23:28b,29). The hammer of God's word can pulverize blocks of false doctrine. The fire of God's word can burn away the dross and leave the silver of truth.
What is the essence of being a Christian?
To be a Christian one must accept the Holy Scriptures as inspired and as a complete standard for faith and practice. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16,17). "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:20,21).
"He who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6b). A Christian believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16), that He died on the cross to redeem man (Romans 5:8,9; Titus 2:14), and that He rose from the dead the third day (Acts 10:39-41). A Christian understands that he is a sinner who can only be saved by the grace of God through the sacrifice of Christ (Romans 3:23,24).
He has repented of his sins and confessed his faith in Christ (Acts 3:19; Romans 10:8-10). He has obeyed God's command given through Peter: "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). He has been baptized "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19). He has been baptized into Christ (Romans 6:3-6; Galatians 3:26,27), into the body of Christ, His church (1 Corinthians 12:13), that his sins might be washed away (Acts 22:16). He has been born of water and the Spirit (John 3:3-8). He has been saved "through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 3:21). "In Christ, he is a new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17), "having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever" (1 Peter 1:23). As a Christian, he assembles regularly with the church (Hebrews 10:25). He continues "steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42). With the help of the church, he grows to maturity in Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16). He presents his body "a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God" (Romans 12:1). Whatever he does in word or deed, he does "all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him" (Colossians 3:17).
What is the essence of being a church of Christ?
The church of Christ is not a denomination, but is simply the church which Jesus built (Matthew 16:18), of which He is the only foundation, "For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 3:11). There is "one flock and one shepherd" (John 10:16).
When Jesus ascended to His Father, forty days after His resurrection, the Kingdom of God was established (Acts 2:29-36; 5:30,31; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20-23; Colossians 1:13,14; Revelation 1:5). On the Day of Pentecost after His ascension, the church came into being (Acts 1:4; 2:41-47).
Churches of Christ limit their faith and practice to things authorized in the New Testament (1 Peter 4:11; 2 John 9-11; Jude 3; Galatians 1:8,9; Revelation 22:18,19). Each full-grown congregation is led by elders who meet the Biblical qualifications (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). Local congregations have fellowship with one another, but they do not participate in any kind of centralized organization (Luke 22:25,26; Matthew 23:8-12; 1 Peter 5:1-4). Churches of Christ assemble each first day of the week (Sunday) to remember the sacrifice of Christ by partaking of the Lord's supper (Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1,2). They sing songs of praise to God without instrumental accompaniment (Acts 16:25; 1 Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:18,19; Colossians 3:16), they pray (Acts 14:23), read Scripture (1 Timothy 4:13) and listen to the preaching of the Word of God (Acts 20:7). The church is supported by the freewill offerings of Christians on the first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16:1,2).
Women are active members of the congregation, but they do not speak in the assembly or teach and exercise authority over men (1 Timothy 2:11,12; 1 Corinthians 14:34-36).
Christ's teachings on upright, moral living are preached and practiced (Matthew 5:20). Divorced people cannot remarry without committing adultery, except for the faithful spouse who divorced the other because of fornication (Matthew 5:31,32; 19:9; Mark 10:11,12; Luke 16:18).
The mission of the church is to "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15), to go "and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things" that the Lord has commanded (Matthew 28:19,20).
By following the New Testament, we can be Christians and churches of Christ.
XV. Some Things Never Change
Apostasy is change from the original, true form of Christianity.
Some things do not change, and some things may not be changed.
God is immutable: "For I am the LORD, I do not change" (Malachi 3:6).
"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning" (James 1:17). "You are the same, and Your years will have no end" (Psalm 102:27).
"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines" (Hebrews 13:8,9a).
Strange doctrines are departures from the unalterable word of God. "Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35). Jesus said: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away" (Matthew 24:35). And at the close of Revelation He warns: "For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book" (Revelation 22:18,19).
We must grow up in Christ so we can become stable. He has provided what we need: "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head -- Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-15).
We must stand firm on the Rock of ages and not allow ourselves to be tossed about by changing winds of doctrine. "Do not associate with those given to change" (Proverbs 24:21).
False teachers -- led by the master change agent, the enemy of God -- are crafty proponents of change. Jude speaks of "ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness" (Jude 4). Paul warns against those "who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ" (Galatians 1:7). Peter warns against those "who are untaught and unstable" who twist the Scriptures to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16). Paul speaks of those who "exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator" (Romans 1:25). People who cannot endure sound doctrine "will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables" (2 Timothy 4:4). We are not to give heed to "fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth" (Titus 1:14).
Change, instability and perversion of the gospel are fruits of apostasy to be avoided by those who build on the Rock, the solid Foundation laid for us in Zion.
On this Rock Jesus is building His church (Matthew 16:18). The church of Christ does not change. Its identity is defined by the word of God. It is a unity with Christ, who is the Head of the body (Ephesians 1:22,23). "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (Ephesians 4:4-6).
These things never change.
Apostates, who are not led by the one Spirit, who do not obey the one Lord, whose faith is not the one faith, whose baptism is not the one baptism, are not serving the one God and Father of all, are not a part of the one body, and do not have the one hope.
Although you are confronted by apostasy on every side, do not be discouraged. Amid all the turmoil, some things never change.
The faithful, who are led by the one Spirit, who do obey the one Lord, whose faith is the one faith, whose baptism is the one baptism, are serving the one God and Father of all, are a part of the one body, and do have the one hope of eternal life.
The way to deal with apostasy is to "Be faithful until death" and the Lord "will give you the crown of life" (Revelation 2:10).
Unless indicated otherwise, Scripture quotations in this work are from The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982, Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers. Permission for reference use has been granted.
Published in The Old Paths Archive