The following is a booklet we published in 2016. For those who have not read this yet, we hope you will find it helpful. The booklet is divided into three parts. The first part is written by Harry Ironside (Should Christians Expose Error?); the second part is written by former journalist Paul Proctor (What Does Matthew 18 Mean?); and the third part is written by the editors at Lighthouse Trails (How Should the Christian Contender of the Faith Speak and Behave?) To order copies of Three Vital Questions to Navigating Discernment in booklet format, click here. Or you may scroll to the bottom of this post and click the green print button, which will provide you with a pdf of the article that you may print.
By Harry A. Ironside
Objection is often raised—even by some sound in the faith—regarding the exposure of error as being entirely negative and of no real edification. Of late, the hue and cry has been against any and all negative teaching. But the brethren who assume this attitude forget that a large part of the New Testament, both of the teaching of our blessed Lord Himself and the writings of the apostles, is made up of this very character of ministry—namely, showing the Satanic origin and, therefore, the unsettling results of the propagation of erroneous systems which Peter, in his second epistle, so definitely refers to as “damnable heresies.”
Our Lord prophesied, “Many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.” Within our own day, how many false prophets have risen; and oh, how many are the deceived! Paul predicted:
I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch. (Acts 20:29-31)
My own observation is that these “grievous wolves,” alone and in packs, are not sparing even the most favored flocks. Undershepherds in these “perilous times” will do well to note the apostle’s warning:
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers. (vs. 28)
It is as important in these days as in Paul’s—in fact, it is increasingly important—to expose the many types of false teaching that, on every hand, abound more and more.
We are called upon to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3), while we hold the truth in love. The faith means the whole body of revealed truth, and to contend for all of God’s truth necessitates some negative teaching. The choice is not left with us. Jude said he preferred a different, a pleasanter theme:
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. (Jude 3, 4)
Paul, likewise, admonishes us to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Ephesians 5:11).
This does not imply harsh treatment of those entrapped by error—quite the opposite. If it be objected that exposure to error necessitates unkind reflection upon others who do not see as we do, our answer is: it has always been the duty of every loyal servant of Christ to warn against any teaching that would make Him less precious or cast reflection upon His finished redemptive work and the all-sufficiency of His present service as our great High Priest and Advocate.
Every system of teaching can be judged by what it sets forth as to these fundamental truths of the faith. “What think ye of Christ?” is still the true test of every creed. The Christ of the Bible is certainly not the Christ of any false “-ism.” Each of the cults has its hideous caricature of our lovely Lord.
Let us who have been redeemed at the cost of His precious blood be “good soldiers of Jesus Christ.” As the battle against the forces of evil waxes ever more hot, we have need for God-given valour.
There is constant temptation to compromise. “Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach” (Hebrews 13:13). It is always right to stand firmly for what God has revealed concerning His blessed Son’s person and work. The “father of lies” deals in half-truths and specializes in most subtle fallacies concerning the Lord Jesus, our sole and sufficient Savior.
Error is like leaven of which we read, “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (Galatians 5:9). Truth mixed with error is equivalent to all error, except that it is more innocent looking and, therefore, more dangerous. God hates such a mixture! Any error, or any truth-and-error mixture, calls for definite exposure and repudiation. To condone such is to be unfaithful to God and His Word and treacherous to imperiled souls for whom Christ died.
Exposing error is most unpopular work. But from every true standpoint it is worthwhile work. To our Savior, it means that He receives from us, His blood-bought ones, the loyalty that is His due. To ourselves, if we consider “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt,” it ensures future reward, a thousand-fold. And to souls “caught in the snare of the fowler,” how many of them God only knows, it may mean light and life, abundant and everlasting.
Question #2: What Does Matthew 18 Mean?
By Paul Proctor
Every now and then I get a terse e-mail from someone who has taken exception to my candid comments on Rick Warren, asking questions like: “Have you ever spoken with him personally about your objections and concerns and tried to work through your differences privately as scripture teaches, rather than attack him publicly as you do?”
The Scripture they usually cite is, of course, Matthew 18:15-17:
Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
This is probably one of the more misunderstood and misapplied Scriptures quoted today. Because we have been inappropriately taught that unity and relationships are the most important things for Christians to pursue and protect in the church, the verses in Matthew 18 are often touted as the principal directive we should follow when addressing false teachers. But frankly, nothing could be any further from the truth and only ends up protecting, sustaining, and empowering those who bring these false teachings, which is probably why they teach it.
There is absolutely no biblical record of Jesus or any of His disciples ever taking a heretic off to the side for coffee and donuts after they led someone astray by distorting the Word of God. They didn’t shake hands, exchange hugs, kisses, and phone numbers or set up appointments on their smartphones to dialog their doctrinal differences over lunch in the quiet corner of a favorite restaurant at a more convenient time.
No, Jesus dealt with heretics harshly, publicly, and immediately, as did Paul and the other disciples. God is very serious about His Word being rightly divided and properly proclaimed.
So, what was Jesus referring to in Matthew 18? Look again carefully at how he begins:
If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone.
You see, the Lord is referring here to a personal offense, grievance, and/or misunderstanding between two people—something that has broken their fellowship and has little or nothing to do with anyone else. Personal and private matters of wrongdoing should always be dealt with personally and privately first, so as not to unduly disrupt the unity of the body. That is indeed, biblical.
Now, as for wolves in sheep’s clothing that stand in pulpits and on stages before vast audiences with microphones and television cameras proclaiming demonic doctrines as the Word of God, the scriptural directive is altogether different:
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8)
And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. (Ephesians 5:11)
(“Reprove” is another word for rebuke)
A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject. (Titus 3:10)
If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds. (2 John 1:10-11)
Jesus didn’t request a closed-door session with the Scribes and Pharisees in order to find common ground, build relationships, and promote unity in Jerusalem. He condemned their blasphemy before one and all and repeatedly warned His disciples about their leaven. And when His disciple challenged Him about His own up and coming crucifixion, Jesus didn’t put His hand gently on Peter’s shoulder and softly whisper: “My friend, you just don’t understand.” No, He lashed back at him with power and authority in front of ALL the disciples saying:
Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. (Matthew 16:23)
Why? Because, Peter was publicly contradicting God’s Word and Divine plan, which is the equivalent of proclaiming Jesus to be a lunatic or a liar.
Did the religious leaders stone Stephen to death because of all the cute and cuddly things he had to say about them? I don’t think so. Stephen spoke the cold hard truth that day, and they hated him for it because God’s truth is always “evil” and intolerable in the ears of the unrepentant. He told them:
Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears . . . who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it. (Acts 7:51,53)
Question #3: How Should the Christian Contender of the Faith Speak and Behave?
By the Editors at Lighthouse Trails
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
Lighthouse Trails has always made great efforts to speak the truth in love. We attempt to never be vitriolic or judge one’s motives, not even the “worst” of them. We leave that part up to God. We also attempt to make sure any article we link to by a fellow researcher is of the same caliber. While we do occasionally link to an article that might not fall perfectly into that criteria, our regular authors and writers are of the same mindset as us. So how does a believer rightfully and in a godly manner (following the example of Jesus, Paul, and the disciples) deal with those who are bringing false teachings into the church.
In thinking about following the example of Jesus, the disciples, and Paul, below are some Scripture verses that might help us outline some thoughts, for while we can show verses that talk about showing love and respect to others, we can also show many verses that talk about how to deal properly with those bringing heretical doctrines into the church.
While we don’t believe the New Testament condones cruel or hateful behavior to anyone, we do see a consistent pattern in Scripture that does not look lightly upon those who are teaching heretical doctrines or practices. Let us heed the whole counsel of God, which we believe tells us to remain humble and in an attitude of grace (knowing that we are no better than anyone else in that it is only by the grace of God that we can see these spiritual things), but also tells us to speak courageously, with confidence, honesty, and strength.
We are in a battle for the continuance of the Gospel message—souls are perishing—and words must be said. While we do care for the souls of the men and women who are bringing in dangerous false doctrine and practices, we cannot, in good conscience, take it lightly or have congenial “conversations” and futile private discussions.
The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. (Romans 13:12)
The Bible says that the message of the Cross is the power of God unto salvation (i.e., the doctrine of Christ—2 John 1:9-11). That is because it is the only way of salvation. When teachings such as contemplative spirituality, Spiritual Formation, and emerging ideology (which all have roots in panentheism, occultism, and interspirituality) threaten to diminish the “doctrine of Christ,” it creates a very serious situation that cannot be handled “sitting down.”
What Does Scripture Say About How the Christian Contender of the Faith Should Speak and Behave?
[B]e thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. (1 Timothy 4:12)
. . . that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ. (Ephesians 4:14-15)
Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor. (Ephesians 4:25)
Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. (Ephesians 4:29)
I . . . beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love. (Ephesians 4:1-2)
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. (Matthew 7:15)
Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)
But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; how that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts. These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit. But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And of some have compassion, making a difference: and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh. (Jude 1:17-23)
A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject, knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself. (Titus 3:10-11)
But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. (2 Peter 2:1-2)
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds. (2 John 1: 9-11)
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not . . . (Jude 1:3-5)
I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:6-10)
I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: and hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. (Revelation 2: 2-3)
. . . and that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. (Galatians 2: 4-5)
[Instructions to the disciples from Jesus before his death and resurrection]: Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves. Carry neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes: and salute no man by the way. And into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house. And if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon it: if not, it shall turn to you again. And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house. And into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you: and heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you. But into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you not, go your ways out into the streets of the same, and say, Even the very dust of your city, which cleaveth on us, we do wipe off against you: notwithstanding be ye sure of this, that the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you. But I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable in that day for Sodom, than for that city. (Luke 10:3-12)
To order copies of Three Vital Questions to Navigating Discernment in booklet format, click here