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FALSE TEACHING IN THE CHURCH

FALSE TEACHING IN THE CHURCH
(Part 1 of a 3 Part Series")

By The Rev. Canon Jeff Williams
Special to Virtueonline
www.virtueonline.org
June 4, 2019
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The real question is, which party is guilty of the schism, the party which separates and goes out? or the party that forces the separation, by making binding on the conscience what Christ has not made binding?" -- Alan Guelzo, For the Union of Evangelical Christendom, p.194. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2005.
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All Scripture ESV unless otherwise indicated. Scripture italicized; comments not.
A. Introductory Considerations
1. A Biblical Attitude Towards This Topic

Here are some passages of Scripture that should be taken into account when considering the subject of false teaching:

I Peter 3:15 (KJV) But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:
Ephesians 5:11-13 (KJV) And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret. But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light.
Proverbs 27:5 Better is open rebuke than hidden love.
I Timothy 5:20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.
II Timothy 4:2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
James 3:17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
Titus 2:15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.

2. Standards for Consideration of This Topic
a) Scripture

Our primary binding standard for all doctrine and practice must be the Holy Scriptures. If this is not so, then one form or another of fallible human reasoning takes precedence.

Psalm 119:89 (KJV) For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven.
Psalm 119:129-130 Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them. The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.
Psalm 119:165 Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.
Matthew 5:18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
II Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
II Peter 1:21 (NKJV) for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.

b) Tradition

Tradition, defined as faithful transmission of truth and custom from one generation to another, is generally a reliable standard for consideration, as long as that tradition does not contravene Scripture in practice or in spirit.

Since major presenting issues in the current controversy among Anglicans regarding false teaching are homosexuality and homosexual marriage, we will digress from the main thrust of this paper briefly to mention the place of these issues in the controversy in 2b, 3, and 4 of these Introductory Considerations.

Virtually all tradition among orthodox Christians in virtually all ages of church history holds to the authority of Scripture, and the central importance of normal heterosexual marriage as a creation ordinance.

Although admittedly homosexuality and pedophilia have been secretly tolerated in some orthodox settings, yet only in recent decades has it even been suggested by some church personnel that homosexual practice or marriage are acceptable or normative, and then only by professing Christians who willfully ignore, twist, or contradict the Holy Scripture's clear teaching on these subjects. Such false teachers are casting aspersions on 2,000+ years of church tradition by alleging that only they, out of all ages of church history and out of all cultural settings, have enlightened and acceptable attitudes on these matters.

I Corinthians 11:2 Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.
II Thessalonians 2:15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.
II Thessalonians 3:6 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.
Matthew 15:9 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.
Mark 7:8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.

3. The Creeds and Confessions of Faith
All major historic orthodox Creeds and Confessions of Faith hold to the authority of Scripture, and (where it is dealt with at all) the importance of normal, monogamous heterosexual marriage. Not one Creed or Confession of Faith countenances or advocates homosexuality or homosexual marriage; and though these are not dealt with, the fact that they are explicitly rejected in Scripture makes any advocacy thereof major heresy, an unambiguous rejection of the clear teaching and authority of Scripture, and (by derivation) of the Creeds and Confessions.

Archbishop Justin Welby says that the church should not be torn asunder by issues that are not "creedal." To intelligently make that assertion, one would have to either say that the Creeds and Confessions are all wrong when they say the Scriptures are normative, or that all rational and competent expositors of Scripture for the past 2,000 years are wrong when expounding verses about sodomy.

4. Adiaphora

Adiaphora (adiafora), "the things indifferent," means those Christian teachings that are neither commanded nor forbidden in Scripture. Since the Scriptures, when reasonably and competently interpreted, deal extensively with and unambiguously condemn homosexuality, it most certainly is not in the category of "things indifferent."

If the Bible did not repeatedly excoriate unnatural sexual activity, then there would be room for an argument that perhaps homosexuality was a viable or acceptable alternative for some to follow; but it does, and there isn't. For example:

Leviticus 20:13 If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.
Romans 1:24-27 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator . . . For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men . . .
Jude 7 Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.

5. Perspectives from Church history

The main lesson we learn from church history is that worldwide, again and again, when persistent false teaching and heresy overcome an ecclesiastical unit, those who wish to remain faithful to Christ and the Scriptures eventually and reluctantly have to sever relations and form a new ecclesiastical structure to effectively continue their ministry. Additionally, there are many cases where the dividing issues were not so much specifically expressed false teaching and heresy per se, but rather perceived spiritual deadness and unresponsiveness to the leadings of the Spirit. In yet other cases, the reasons are adiaphora or even much more trivial, and the motives often more suspect. A large number of cases of schism could be cited in detail, but for the purposes of this paper we will confine ourselves to the following few observations:
(1) The Great Schism of 1054 between the Western (Roman Catholic) and Eastern ("Orthodox") churches had doctrinal elements and themes, but was perhaps largely in the end empowered more by issues of power, preference, and politics than by critical differences in basic doctrine. The presenting argument dealt with whether the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son (the Western position), or from the Father alone (the Eastern position) -- hardly a doctrinal distinction that the laity were (or are) are significantly concerned with, if indeed they were/are even aware of the issue.
(2) The Waldensians rejected the doctrinal and material errors and excesses of the Medieval church in the 1100's, especially the doctrines of purgatory and transubstantiation. After dialogue with the Pope and other prelates, they eventually ended up on the wrong side of the Pope's armies, who waged a war of extermination against them. Other separatist groups of the era (not all of pure doctrine) persecuted by the Catholic Church include the Arnoldists, the Paulicians, the Cathari and their offshoot the Albigensians, etc..

(3) Luther had to separate from medieval Catholicism when he concluded that his hearers and enemies were more interested in permanently silencing him than in reforming false doctrines such as those listed in his 95 Theses, which we need not go through here. His leadership in standing up to heresy has had incalculable historical influence for good. Hence, we have the original Lutheran movement, followed quickly by Melanchthon, Zwingli, Calvin, the Anglican reformers, and many others.

Lutheranism has since split into many separate denominations worldwide. In North America alone there are over forty different Lutheran denominations (not to mention over thirty other now-defunct North American Lutheran denominations which either merged or were absorbed into larger bodies). The three largest Lutheran bodies in America are the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

(4) When John Wesley found the spiritual deadness of much of the Anglican Church of his day too confining, he eventually founded the Methodist Episcopal Church, which went on (especially in its American frontier efforts) to be a leading source of evangelism and church-planting for well over a hundred years. The separation seems to have been more out of concern for attitude, zeal, and evangelism than due to expressed serious doctrinal deviation, though it could be argued that lack of evangelism and spiritual deadness are indeed de facto practical issues involving negation of clear commands of the Scriptures. (It should be noted that Bishop Charles Ryle, and possibly George Whitfield, also seriously considered the possibility of separating from the Anglican church, concerned that it might become a necessity at some point.)

When some of the more zealous American Methodists became disenchanted with the Methodist Church (especially because of disagreements regarding slavery, church government, and the doctrine of holiness) they separated in 1841 and began forming a new denomination, the Wesleyan Methodist Church.

The new denomination so formed has subsequently had various groups, in turn, secede from it, including the Wesleyan Methodist Church (Allegheny Conference), the Bible Methodist Connection of Churches, God's Missionary Church, the Church of the Nazarene, the Free Methodist Church and the United Christian Wesleyan Methodist Diocese of South Florida.

Most of these groups appear to have separated out of secondary points of doctrine or adiaphora, not the basics of sound doctrine; in some cases the points of difference were as absurd as whether members could be allowed to own televisions, or whether women were allowed to cut their hair. These provide a cautionary tale to those considering forming a new ecclesiastical connection: is there really a need to separate due to significant false doctrine, heresy, or moral declension, or are the differences far more trivial and unworthy of further schism?

(5) Likewise, Calvin's original Geneva movement has spawned many splinter groups, mostly known as Presbyterians here in America. A detailed description of the reasons and timing of the various divisions would require several lengthy books, but suffice it to say that some of the separations were due to declensions into liberalism, heresy, and rejection of Biblical morality, and some were due to differences in such secondary issues as dispensationalism, church government, "separation from worldliness," etc..

Currently, a partial list of Presbyterian groups in the U.S. includes the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Presbyterian Church in America, the Presbyterian Church in the United States, the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, the Bible Presbyterian Church, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America, the Presbyterian Reformed Church (North America), American Presbyterian Church, at least five different synods or presbyteries calling themselves the Reformed Presbyterian Church, the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, the United Presbyterian Church of North America, the Westminster Presbyterian Church in the United States, the Christian Presbyterian Church, the Covenant Presbyterian Church, the Evangelical Assembly of Presbyterian Churches in America, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (established 1956), the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (United States), the Evangelical Reformed Presbyterian Church, the Free Presbyterian Church of North America, and the Free Presbyterian Church Synod of the United States. Even the Korean North American Presbyterian subculture has split into the Korean American Presbyterian Church and the Korean Presbyterian Church in America.

Surely much of this fragmenting was unnecessary and contrary to Christian goals of unity; but some of these cases were necessitated by rank heresy in the form of liberalism and tolerance of immoral doctrine and practice in areas of sexuality.

(6) The Baptist movement is a discipline unto itself, from the early Anabaptists of the 1500's and such subgroups as the Hutterites, the Mennonites, and the Amish, to their taking root in England among those dissenting from existing orthodox church bodies, to their rapid spreading in America and elsewhere. Most of their original existence seems to have originated in differences in ecclesiology, not in response to any rejection of foundational doctrines; however, in the context of the past century or so, it appears that certain Baptist bodies have slid more and more into liberalism, prompting other Baptist groups to separate as a result.

(7) The separation of the Reformed Episcopal Church from the Protestant Episcopal Church in 1873 was due to the increasing dismay of founder Bishop George David Cummins and many other PEC clergy at the Oxford/Tractarian movement. In a letter to a Bishop Cheney, Bishop Cummins said,
We went before the General Conventions of 1868 and 1871 with petitions signed by hundreds of clergymen and laymen from all parts of the land, asking relief for Evangelical men. We asked but three things, the use of an alternate phrase in the baptismal office for infants, the repeal of the canon closing our pulpits against all non-Episcopal clergymen, and the insertion of a note in the Prayer-book, declaring the term "Priest" to be of equivalent meaning with the word Presbyter. We were met by an indignant and almost contemptuous refusal.
--Following the Light, Bp. George David Cummins, 1876 at
http://anglicanhistory.org/usa/rec/cummins/following1876.html

Cummins and many other PEC clergy concluded that the rejection of these requested reforms, together with widespread criticism of his attendance at interdenominational communion services from PEC ranks, required decisive action in the setting up of the REC denomination. Yet, there was no question as to the orthodoxy of the PEC at that time regarding any basic doctrine of the faith.

(8) Two notable exceptions to the usual denominational splintering have occurred in recent decades in the United States, with two groups which were becoming increasingly more liberal being rescued by conservative factions within their constituency.

First, the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Baptist denomination, had been gradually slipping into liberalism since the 1950's, especially in its educational institutions. In the 1970's, a movement of fundamentalist leaders and laymen succeeded in stopping the decline and turning the Convention back to sounder doctrine.

Second, starting in the 1950's and more so in the 1960's, liberalism came to infest Concordia, the main seminary of the Missouri Synod Lutherans, and some 240 of the denomination's pulpits. The authority and reliability of Scripture was questioned, and "higher criticism" and the Historical-Critical Method began to hold sway. A strong conservative movement decided to intervene, with the result that in 1974 the more liberal faculty and students departed and founded "Seminex" (Concordia Seminary in Exile), which lasted until 1987. Thus purged of liberalism, the Missouri Synod and Concordia could chart a much more conservative Biblical course.

The lesson from these two cases for the purposes of this paper is that if true Bible believers wish to reclaim their denomination, there are indeed these two rare precedents, but these were cases where (1) the leadership was not controlled or dominated by heretics, false teachers, or hypocrites, and (2) the laity was engaged, committed, and largely compliant with the newly-emerged conservative leadership.

B. Christ's Statements Regarding False Teachings

Strictly speaking, the earthly life and ministry of Christ were in a Jewish Old Testament context, not a New Testament Church context. He was there to perfectly fulfil the Law as a faithful Jew. Nevertheless, Jesus' attitude towards hypocrites and false teachers in authority must be taken into account.

Matthew 7: 15 Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

Even in His earthly humiliation, Jesus reserved His most scathing denunciations for religious leaders erring in matters of doctrine, tradition, or practice. Should His followers excuse and coddle those He would excoriate? At the very least, the following passages show the perfect God /perfect man's true attitude towards false teaching and practice:
Matthew 15: 7 You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: 8 "'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 9 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'"

Matthew 21: 12 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, "It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer,' but you make it a den of robbers."
Matthew 23: 1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. ... 13 But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. 16 "Woe to you, blind guides, who say, 'If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.' 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, 'If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.' 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it. 23 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! 25 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. 27 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. 29 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, 'If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?

Hendriksen says,

In six of these seven woes Jesus calls the scribes and Pharisees "hypocrites." Immediately afterward (verse 33) he styles them "snakes ... offspring of vipers," which, in the final analysis, does not differ materially from "hypocrites." . . . the hypocrite is the man who pretends to be better than he really is. He is a fraud, a deceiver, a phony, a wolf in sheep's clothing, a snake in the grass.
John 8: 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are doing the works your father did." They said to him, "We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father--even God." 42 Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him . . . 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God."
John 9: 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, "Are we also blind?" 41 Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, 'We see,' your guilt remains.

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Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953--2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Vol. 9, p. 827). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

Canon Jeff Williams is Canon Presbyter, Anglican Church of North America and Associate Pastor and teacher at Holy Cross Anglican Cathedral. He is also Partner, The Williams Law Office LLC

END OF PART ONE

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