Scripture and the Church

Is It Wrong to Leave a Church Because It Hasn't Officially Endorsed the Heresy Within It?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
A church, so this objection goes, does not become a heretical body unless and until it officially endorses heresy.
From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part 11 of a series. Read part 10.

Our current series addresses these questions: "My church is no longer true to the Word of God on essential Christian truths. What should I do? Should I leave? Should I stay and try to fight error? Will I be guilty of schism if I do either one?"

Presently we're dealing with some of the un-Biblical responses that are common today. In this installment we focus on the untenable position of those who say that a church doesn't become a heretical body unless it officially endorses heresy.1

Another Fallacious Argument

This is the flip side of the argument we answered from Scripture yesterday - the false assertion that only church leaders or an official church body can declare false teaching to be heresy. A church, so this objection goes, does not become a heretical body unless and until it officially endorses heresy.

Besides, it is often said, those who some Christians have judged to be heretics in my church still protest that they are not false teachers. They say they believe the Scriptures and hold to the doctrinal standards of the church. We must take their word for it, even though what they teach appears to be inconsistent with what the Bible says. My church has not officially accepted false teachings, and therefore there really are no false teachers. Therefore there is no reason to separate, because there really is no error or apostasy from which to separate.

Don't Look for Banner Proclamations

This kind of argumentation not only employs faulty logic, it utterly misses the point. The Bible says that heresy will come in subtly and gradually, and many will be unaware of it (Jude 4). Men who are in fact ministers of Satan will put on the outward appearance of being true ministers of Christ, and this is no marvel, because Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

The fact is that there is much false teaching in many Evangelical and Reformed churches today, and that these false teachings are readily accepted and have done enormous damage. But does that mean that we should look for official statements from churches or denominations that begin with banner proclamations such as "Why We Endorse Justification by Faith Plus Works" - "Why We Believe Baptism Is the Instrument of Salvation" - or "Why We No Longer Believe the Bible is Inerrant"? Of course not. Scripture tells us (and church history abundantly demonstrates) that this is not how error begins and spreads. The Biblical image is that of a little leaven leavening the whole lump (Galatians 5:7-9).

False Teaching is Like Cancer

As Paul told the young Timothy, "their message will spread like cancer" (2 Timothy 2:17).

Members of the medical profession will tell anyone willing to listen that cancer is a silent enemy. It begins undetected and unrecognized. Physicians have learned that much of their success in treating cancer depends on early diagnosis. Otherwise, treatment is usually a losing battle. Doctors say that cancer's three great allies are ignorance of the nature of the disease, complacency when warning signs are present, and denial when it is clear that something is wrong. Often, people are simply not willing to listen. As one Canadian health care report put it, "We need hard-hitting information to break through ignorance, complacency, and denial."1

Like cancer in the human body, false teaching in the body of the church begins undetected and unrecognized. By the time Christians who are still true to the Word of God recognize the cancer of false teaching and are stirred to action, often it is too late to stop its deadly progress. The damage has been done, and a spiritual crisis is upon the church. The only "hard-hitting information" that can break through the barriers of ignorance, complacency, and denial regarding spiritual cancer is the faithful proclamation of sound doctrine from the Word of God, and the exposing of false teachers in the light of the Word.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. (Ephesians 5:8-11)

Vigilance Involves Steadfast Resistance

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints... (Ephesians 6:10-18)

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:8-11)

Next: Is Your Church a Spiritual Titanic?

 

References:

 

1. Material in this article is adapted from Christianity and Neo-Liberalism by Paul M. Elliott (The Trinity Foundation, 2005).

2. Division of Aging and Seniors, Health Canada, Workshop on Healthy Aging: Aging and Health Practices (Ottawa: Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2002), page 32.

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