Error in the Church

This post is part of a series of posts that I’m writing that track some of my thoughts through the letter of 1 Timothy and in this post I’m going to tackle the often thorny issue of error and deception within the church. Once again, Paul is writing to the young pastor Timothy and here is what he says:

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

1 Timothy 4:1-5

Paul opens the chapter with a reference to “later times” – a period of time from the ascension of Jesus to the future return of Jesus. Thus, we are currently situated in this period of time. Paul warns that during this time period there will be some who will depart from the faith. I don’t believe that this is a reference to those who depart from THE faith (i.e. people become unsaved) but a reference to the idea that the core doctrines of the Bible are given up. Remember that he has just been writing about the gospel (chapter 3) and the fact of the life, ministry and work of Jesus. So this is very much in view as Paul writes.

So this is a warning from Paul, to us, about staying the course. How we should be vigilant in these days is something that should concern every follower of Christ.

The Source of Error

In verse 1 Paul clearly identifies the source of false teachings as demonic. People, according to Paul, have been:

devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons

A couple of things spring to mind when I understand this:

  1. Being able to spot erroneous teaching in the church is critically important because eternal destinies are at stake.
  2. Judging erroneous teaching should be done with great wisdom because we are judging the teachers’ source

The Deception of teachers

The way that these erroneous teachings come to life in the church is through:

through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared

These are men and women who and spread lies (cf v7) and whose consciences are seared. They claim to be spreading the truth. Isn’t this what Paul said to the very church leaders he is also now writing to? In Acts 20 he told them:

I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.

Acts 20:29-30

False teaching is rampant. The church is full of theology that is unbiblical. Let me give you some quick examples:

  1. Prosperity theology – God only desires for you to be healthy and wealthy, anything short of that is an indication of sin and lack of faith.
  2. Contemplative Spirituality – this is a mystical form of meditation that has the goal of emptying the mind. Don’t get confused, biblical meditation is encouraged (Joshua 1:8).
  3. Christian Universalism – no hell, no ultimate judgement. In the end, all people will recognise and embrace the love of God and live in eternity with God
  4. Ecumenicalism – Catholic and Protestant unity. This should not be confused with Christian Unity where protestant believers are united in Christ and can freely worship and fellowship and be on mission together. This is to be encouraged. Ecumenicalism is the joining of Catholic and Protestant religions.

There are just a handful of areas where I think the church is in error. Be on guard against them.

The Grace of Warning

Given that Paul warns us about teachers teaching we should not be surprised when we hear accounts of it. We’ve been warning about it. If we know our Bibles (that’s the best way to protect ourselves against false teaching) it shouldn’t take us by surprise. Paul writes about it often, as does Peter (2 Peter 3:14-18) and John (1 John 2:19). We’ve been given the Bible to protect ourselves against this kind of teaching that does so much harm to the church and the witness of Christ.

So, given these things above, what should we consider when weighing up false teaching? Inverse 4-5 Paul encourages us to ask two questions:

  1. What do they do with the goodness of God?
  2. What do they do with the Word of God?

These are the two things that Satan challenged in the Garden of Eden and Paul highlights them both in the church – false teachers were restricting what could be eaten and what people can do (get married). Paul countered those claims by saying that both food and marriage are given by God for good, and we should be grateful for both. This is the way false teachers work – they add to the Word of God, or take away from the Word of God.

In my next post, I’ll look at verses 6-16 where Paul gives us three ways we can combat falsehood.

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