Tag Archives: deceivers

How to respond to deceivers in a church – 2nd John, Part 4

12 Sep
Photo by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash

How much should Christians interact with the secular world? I live in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which is known for our Amish community, a Christian sect that practices a form of separation from the world. As I type this, I can look out my kitchen window and see my Amish neighbors wearing their traditional clothing and riding in a horse and buggy. They can look out their kitchen window and see me and my family wearing our contemporary fashions and driving cars. But we would both call ourselves followers of Jesus. I can tell you, living in this community for decades, that it works. I’m not saying that Lancaster is utopia, but for the most part, though we have a fairly diverse Christian population, we get along, allowing people the latitude to practice their faith in their unique ways, even if we might disagree.

I’ve often wondered, though, what would happen if we tried to actively convince each other that our way is right, and their way is wrong. What if we started attending each other’s worship services and gatherings trying to preach and teach them that they need to change and become like us? How would we handle that? The reality is that this very situation has happened in the past, and still does today. Not with the Amish, though! They’re not big on that kind of evangelism. Instead think of times when people might try to teach false doctrine in a church, or when a so-called cult group knocks at your door. How should you respond?

John continues teaching in the letter we call 2nd John, and he has a warning for people teaching false doctrine.  In verse 4, he wrote that he was thrilled that there were many in the church who were walking in truth, but now in verse 7 he warns them about another group, a dangerous group in the church. John calls them deceivers, those who are not in the truth, who do not practice love by obedience.

How did the deceivers deceive?  He says they did not acknowledge that Jesus came in the flesh.  In other words, these deceivers were teaching false views about Jesus.  John and the apostles who walked with Jesus, who actually knew Jesus, taught that Jesus was human and God.  These teachers were saying something different. 

So John calls them “antichrist”?  What does he mean?  John is not talking about a concept of THE Antichrist, who is considered to be a future world leader. Instead John is referring to a person who teaches something that is against or anti- true teaching about Jesus.  Jesus and his disciples, including John, taught that Jesus is 100% human and 100% God, while these deceivers said something else.  John comes strongly against them. 

So in verses 8-9, John has a further warning for the church about losing what they have worked for.  He calls it “running ahead,” and “not continuing in the teaching.”  What does all this mean?  To continue in the teaching is the idea of remaining faithful to the true teaching about Jesus.  If you remain faithful, or continue in the teaching, John says in verse 8 that there is a reward.  Running ahead, then, is the opposite of continuing. The deceivers were “running ahead” when they taught false concepts about Jesus.

This is another reminder, as we have seen many times in the short letters of the New Testament, that faith is not merely assent but allegiance.  Faith does not stop at belief, but absolutely must work itself out in obedience.  This is what John already said in verse 6, “this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands.”  If you do not have obedience to Jesus, therefore, you do not have faith.  He goes on to clarify this in verse 9 when he writes that the person who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ, “does not have God.”

As he continues in verses 10-11, John answers the question, “What should we do about the deceivers who bring false teaching about Jesus?  Further, what should we do about about people in the church who do not obey the teaching of Jesus?”  His response is, “Do not welcome them in your home.”

Can you feel the tension in this?  I feel it. We want to guard ourselves from false teaching for sure, but aren’t Christians supposed to be welcoming? Why would John say that we shouldn’t welcome people? Maybe if we built a relationship with them, we could earn the right to talk honestly with them? But if we just deny them, it seems unlikely that we’ll be able to connect with them.

On one hand, in Psalm 1 we have a teaching that is very similar to what John says about being separate from those who call themselves people of faith but who are living a sinful live or teaching false doctrine.  On the other hand, we see Jesus himself interacting with sinners, talking with them, spending time in their homes and attending their parties.  

There are numerous examples where Jesus does this.  He attends parties with sinners.  He talks with the woman caught in adultery. He purposefully reaches out to the Samaritan woman at the well, and it is clear that her lifestyle was far from the straight and narrow.   What do we see in every one of these situations?  Jesus indulging in sin?  Of course not.  What we learn is that he called them out of a sinful lifestyle.  “Repent and sin no more.” 

Also take note that clearly Jesus did not have the attitude of “Well, I’m the savior of the world, so I don’t go to parties.”  Or “I don’t talk with people who sin.”  He did go to the parties and the places where sinners congregated. He is our example, and that means we can and should reach out as he did. He also confronted false teaching wherever he heard it, whether from the religious leaders or from his own disciples. So John’s teaching in 2nd John is in line with Jesus. While we can and should have genuine relationships with people, we shouldn’t accept false teaching into the church or our homes. When we hear it, we would be wise to graciously and lovingly respond, asking the person to consider changing their view. If they will not, we can just as lovingly agree to disagree. If a person is malicious in their attempt to push their teaching, then a church leadership team can and should respond to that person, even to the point of denying them access to the congregation.

But this requires sensitivity and self-awareness.  As we interact with people like Jesus did, we need to ask ourselves, “Am I being pulled down in the midst of those relationships?  Or am I able to maintain my faithfulness in Christ amidst the pressures and temptation, such that I can have an ability to lift people up?” We need to have honest people around us who we invite to speak into our lives, people who will confront us if we struggling with temptation.  So have a humble mindset, don’t think of yourself as a Christian superhero that rescues sinners.  Trust in God.

Spotting deceivers in the church – Titus 1:10-16, Part 1

1 Jul

“They didn’t teach that in seminary.”  I had a wonderful seminary experience, and I would recommend my seminary to anyone. But there are some aspects of pastoral ministry that you just have to experience, and it is about those that pastors can say, “they didn’t teach that in seminary.” Dealing with funerals.  The emotional toll.  How it can feel being on call.  But for sure one of the most difficult is dealing with church discipline.  I’ve never met a church discipline situation that I liked, and we’ve had a number of them over the years.  Each is unique.  Each is emotional and taxing. But each one is important. 

I became senior pastor in July 2008, and by the first week of August we were embroiled in a really thorny situation.  I’ll never forget the day in the office as the phone rang, and who was on the other end, but my bishop at the time.  In my denomination the bishop is leader of the whole denomination. In that era, there were actually mid-level conference ministers who were my direct “bosses.” The bishop was their boss. So I was getting a call from my boss’s boss. Maybe you’ve experienced that too. I answered and said, “Hey Bishop Kevin, how can I help you?”  Imagine my surprise when he revealed that he was calling me because some of the people in the difficult situation in my church had called him to tattle on me!  I will admit that I had not handled that difficult situation perfectly, and as I talked with the Bishop, I conceded that there were some things I would have done differently. 

The larger context, though, was that there was sin in the church family, and not just me alone, but our Leadership Team had confronted the sin, and the disgruntled people ended up leaving the church. We tried very hard to handle the situation in a faithful manner, and the result was very hurtful. Just about every church discipline situation I’ve encountered has been like that. I’ve learned that when our Leadership Team has confronted people, they usually don’t say, “Thank you, I needed that.”

As we continue reading other people’s mail, we come to Titus 1:10-16, where Paul talks about confronting sin in the church.  What Paul says relates to church discipline for any reason, but what Titus needs to deal with in Crete is a very specific situation.

When we studied Titus 1:5-9, we learned that Paul gave Titus his primary mission, which was to select leaders for the churches in Crete.  Now in this series of posts we learn why Paul had such specific guidelines for who Titus should appoint as leaders. 

Remember the one word that Paul used to describe the leaders?  It’s like bookends to verses 6 and 7: blameless.  There Paul gave Titus a variety of lists, so Titus had an unmistakable idea of what blameless leaders are all about. 

Why?  Because those blameless leaders had a job to do in Crete.  Look at verse 9.  Those leaders were going to hold firmly to the message as it had been taught, so that they could encourage others by sound doctrine, and refute those who oppose it. 

There were people in the church in Crete, Paul is saying, who opposed sound doctrine.  Now in verses 10-16, Paul teaches Titus who these people are and how to refute them.  Go ahead and read Titus 1:10-16, and see if you can discover why Paul is so concerned. 

Verse 10 presents a very negative view of a certain group of people in the church.  Who were they?  He calls them, “rebellious, mere talkers, and deceivers.”  Paul’s mention of rebellious people needs to be seen in the context of what he has just talked about in verse 9, sound doctrine, which is the true faith.  The rebellious ones are rebelling against that true teaching, as Paul will go on to describe in the verses that follow.

Paul describes them as mere talkers which conveys the idea of idle talk, empty talk, that they are foolish babblers.  They talk a good game, and likely talk a lot, but it is empty, and it is not in line with the true faith.  Think about babbling.  It is what infants do when they are learning to talk.  They love to hear themselves make sounds.  But their noises have no meaningful content.  Paul says those rebellious people in the churches in Crete are teaching something that has the doctrinal equivalency of baby talk. 

Finally, he says they are deceivers.  That flows from the rebellious description and from the mere talking.  By being rebellious and by their empty talk, they are deceiving the church. 

Next he points out a subset of the larger rebellious group.  Paul has a special name for them: the “circumcision group”.  That’s a pretty focused word, and it is not coded at all.  Paul is talking about Jews.  They were Jews who said that they believed in Jesus, but also the believed that Christians must still follow the Old Testament Law.  Do you know the outward sign that indicated that a person was a Jew who followed the Law?  Circumcision.  All male babies in Jewish families would be circumcised on the eighth day after their birth, showing that they were a part of the covenant God made with Israel.  It was a special mark that distinguished Jews from others. 

There on the island of Crete where Titus was going to appoint leaders in the churches, many people were not Jews, and thus were likely not circumcised.  Paul is saying that the circumcision group, the Jewish Christians were especially the problem in the church.  We’re going to see why in the next post.