February 28, 2011

False Teacher Traits, Part 1

Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties. Jude 8

If you work in a bank, you need to be able to recognize counterfeit bills. In fact, bank tellers usually get some level of training in doing so. They are shown some common marks of a counterfeits, and given some easy ways to discern a fake. And that is much the same kind of training Jude provides in the eighth verse of his epistle. In very short order, he rattles off some of the obvious marks of a false teacher; some of the easiest ways to spot a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Indeed, he list four marks of such a man (or woman). That is not to say that every false teacher will necessarily possess all four. Nor that these are the only four marks. But it is to say that these are some of the easiest things to spot. Even before you begin to pick up on question marks in the content of his teaching, a false teacher is often discernible because there are question marks in his behavior and character; and in the very methods with which he pursues his ‘ministry’.

So, without further adieu … four characteristics of false teachers

First, they are dreamers. Not dreamers in a good, visionary kind of sense. No, these men are dreamers in that they base a significant amount of their teaching, not on the plain reading of the Bible, but upon visions that they have had; or upon ‘special insights’ into the Bible (to which the common man is not privy). These are the kind of men who are often heard to say things like: ‘the Lord spoke to me’ … and then who make whatever the Lord ‘spoke’ law for their hearers. Watch out for men like that … whose ministry is based on what ‘God said to me’ in prayer or in a dream, rather than what God says to all His people on the pages of the Bible!

Second, false teachers are often unclean in their character. “Dreaming, they defile the flesh.” In other words, it is no coincidence, Jude says, how often the dreams of these self-appointed prophets end up being of such kind that they make the ‘prophet’ above the law. Or, to put it more simply, isn’t it strange how these special messages from God so often seem to mean that the recipient of the message has a special anointing, and therefore plays by a different set of rules? Sometimes the different set of rules has to do with authority in the church; sometimes with financial responsibility; and sometimes with sexual and marital ethics. But it’s always the same. ‘God speaks to me differently than He speaks to others. And therefore, my boundaries are different from those of others, too’!

Third, Jude says that false teachers reject authority. They usually run their churches or organizations as a one man show; as an autocracy. And why shouldn’t they? After all, God speaks to them differently than He does everyone else! They have special insights that no one else has. So they cannot be expected to be made accountable to a group of elders, or to regular congregational approval. “Touch not the Lord’s anointed” is their battle cry. And it’s no surprise. These men and women have already, in large measure, rejected the Scriptures (since God speaks to them directly!). So, if they are not going to listen to the Bible, why should we ever expect they listen to a bunch of ‘normal’ Christians?

Finally, says Jude, false teachers have a habit of pride. In the first century, they reviled angelic majesties. In other words, they thought so highly of themselves that even the angels should bow down to them; even the angels should walk at their heels. And, of course, that especially goes for the dark angels, or demons! And there are men and women like this today. They’ve got the devil by the tail! They know the magic words. And, of course, they have the special anointing. So there is no need for them to follow the biblical injunction and “resist the devil”. No, no. They are strong enough to make a full frontal attack on the price of darkness! And the same is true of other people who oppose them. ‘Don’t these people realize that I have an anointing? I am invincible. I am the unique servant of God!’

O, how we should beware! And how we should be watchful of a man’s character and method of ministry. If we do, we often won’t even need to wait around long enough to see that his words contradict scripture. It will be obvious in his character, and in the fact that he does not appeal to scripture for his authority … but to ‘the anointing’! So beware, I say! And stay close by the Bible!

February 21, 2011

Damnable Heresy

Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe. And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. Jude 5-7

Jude is now getting down to the nitty-gritty. Remember, this little letter was written, primarily, to warn the church about false teachers and their teachings. Verses 1-4 have simply been introductory. But now the persuasion, the warning, and the arguments really begin. Jude is going to pull out all the stops (or at least all the stops one can pull in a 25-verse letter) to try and convince his brothers and sisters in Christ not to fall into the trap of heresy. And the first thing he does; the first stop he pulls out is to remind the people that heresy is damnable. That’s what verses 5-7 are about. They are a reminder that those who turn away from “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (v.3) are destroyed. And Jude uses three examples to demonstrate this awful reality.

First, he reminds us of the children of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness for forty years in the book of Exodus. Yes, God had been merciful to them. Yes, He had delivered them from slavery. But some of them still “did not believe”. Some of them still worshipped idols, and murmured against the true God. And verse 5 reminds us that every last one of those privileged, but unbelieving, Israelites perished in the wilderness – at God’s hand, and under His judgment. He left them out there until all the unbelieving adults died off.

And, in bringing that up, Jude’s point is simply to say to New Testament Christians: ‘If God did that to the Israelites; if, even after showing them such mercy in rescuing them from Egypt, He was willing to destroy them for their unbelief … what do you think will happen to us? Yes, we are greatly privileged. Yes, we get to hear the gospel week after week, and benefit from so much that the church is and does. But if any of us turns away from the truth; if any of us believes a false gospel … all the privileges we have been given will not be enough to save us. We must not simply be blessed by God. We must believe Him … and shun false teaching and practice!’

And then Jude teaches a similar lesson in verse 6. Not only was God willing to destroy humans who turned from the truth … but angels as well! And think of the privileges angels have. They worship around God’s throne. They deliver His messages in the world. They minister to the saints. They fight wars in heavenly places. And yet if they – even they! – turn from the truth … their end is hell; they are “kept in eternal bonds under darkness.” And if angels can go to hell, surely church folks can, too … if we’re not careful to believe and practice truth!

And then, in verse 7, Jude says, in effect: ‘And don’t forget Sodom and Gomorrah.’ In other words, if it seems far-fetched that God would really destroy people; if it seems like God is too nice to wipe people off the face of the earth … just read Genesis 19! God hates sin! Indeed, He hates it enough to burn its unrepentant practitioners away like kindling wood. Never doubt that! And, therefore, be very careful that you do not turn away from the truth. Be very careful that what you believe – and how you live – is biblical. Do not be led astray by unbiblical teachings. Because belief in unbiblical propositions leads to destruction of biblical proportions!

So, I urge you – know and cling to the truth; especially the truth as it is in Jesus. Know what the Bible teaches about Him! Know the biblical Jesus with clarity and precision, and believe in Him with all your heart. And cling to Him, and Him alone, with all your hope.

Believer's Baptism

What does the Bible say about baptism? Is it for believers only? Or is it legitimate to include the infants of believers as well? Here's John MacArthur laying out the details.

February 14, 2011

The Value of Reminders

Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all Jude 5a

Isn’t that interesting? Jude knows that what he is about to say is known to his readers already. He knows they have it down pat. Perhaps they could write the next few sentences for him … so familiar are they with what he is about to say. And yet, in spite of that; and perhaps at the risk of having them say: ‘Here he goes again’ … Jude still says “I desire to remind you”!

Next week, Lord willing, we will take time to think out the things about which Jude wanted to remind them. But today let it suffice to notice that he wanted to remind them. I find it instructive that the great early church leader found it necessary to say some things twice, three times, and more. He found it necessary to re-go-over the same territory which he knew his listeners had heard umpteen times before. It did not bother him to remind them, again, of the forty years that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, or of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. And the fact that he didn’t mind reminding them is, conveniently, a reminder to us!

Jude’s reminders are a reminder that reminders are not a bad thing! Did you get that? It’s not a bad thing for us to hear the same old Bible stories again and again; or to hear sermons on the same old themes again and again! Precisely because we are forgetful! That is not to say that we will easily forget the story, say, of David and Goliath. But we are very prone to forget to apply its truths to our lives, are we not? If we weren’t, we’d never fret when faced with difficulties, now would we?

Similarly, we will surely not soon forget how God delivered His people from slavery in Egypt. But we may forget that not all of them actually entered the Promised Land. And we may forget what that means for us: namely that we must press on in faith – not turning back; and not simply experiencing an initial exciting religious flourish!

And, of course, we will not forget that Jesus died for our sins. We won’t forget the cross, and the whips, and the thorns, and the tomb, and the resurrection! We won’t forget that Jesus died so that we might be forgiven and set right with God! But we may forget to apply those facts to our daily lives. That is to say that we may live, for many days, as though our relationship with God depended upon how well we’re doing this week; how often we read our Bible; how well we behaved, and so on. O, I know we know better. But we still sometimes carry on this way just the same. And, after a week of feeling defeated and discouraged and distant from God, how wonderful it can be to walk into church on Sunday morning and hear the same old story of Jesus, and of free grace, and of justification by faith and not by works of the law! How wonderful a reminder can be … even if we what we have forgotten was not necessarily the truth itself, but simply its daily application to our lives!

So remember this in days ahead, when your pastor seems to be re-covering the same ground, sometimes Sunday after Wednesday after Sunday after Wednesday. It’s not a bad thing. We all need reminding of the same old things sometimes … and especially of ‘the old, old story of Jesus and His love.’

February 8, 2011

Heretics and Heresies

The bulk of the book of Jude is a warning concerning heresies and heretics. But what do those words mean? Well, a heresy is a false theological belief that, if held, damns a person. And a heretic is the person who believes such a thing. For instance, if a person claims that there is more than one God; or that Jesus was only a mere man; or that we may be saved by our good works … that person is a heretic. Because what he or she believe means that he cannot possibly saved. That is a heresy. It’s not simply a matter of a person being wrong, say, on the mode of baptism, or on the unfolding of the end times, or even regarding spiritual gifts. A heresy is not just an incorrect belief. It’s an incorrect belief that damns a person; a belief that is in no way compatible with biblical Christianity. So Jehovah’s Witnesses are heretics, but some of the most wild-eyes charismatics (even with all their sad mistakes) are not. And we must be careful to make a distinction.

It’s a distinction that is important in the book of Jude. The men Jude has in mind, as he levels condemnations in the middle portion of the book, are not just men who have a few things out of place in their theology. They are men who, because of what they believe (or fail to believe) are going to hell. And they are men who are intent on dragging others there with them!

So what does Jude say about such heresies and heretics? Four things in Jude 4:

First, Jude says heretics and heresies often creep into the church “unnoticed”. In other words, it’s not simply that we have Mormons or Unitarians out there, but that often times heresies creep up inside the church, and rear their ugly heads before anyone realizes what is happening. Now, of course, that fact speaks to the cunning of the devil. But it also speaks to each local church’s need to be careful about who becomes a member, and who does the teaching. It’s why we have a process that all new members must go through. We want to have as few unnoticed heresies and heretics creep in as possible.

Second Jude says that heretics and heresies should be no surprise. God knew about them “long beforehand”. And Jude himself tells us that they will creep in. So we shouldn’t be na├»ve. Heretics and heresies will try and nestle into the membership of our church, and bring as many people to hell with them as they can. So we must be vigilant. And we must not think, ‘O, this could never happen in our church’ and thus turn a blind eye to what we know is false, because ‘it just can’t be. He surely doesn’t mean what it sounds like he means.’

Third, Jude informs us that heretics and heresies are licentious. Specifically, they “turn the grace of our God into licentiousness.” They say, in other words: ‘We’re saved by grace, not works. And so it doesn’t matter so much how we live. In fact, all this talk about living a holy life is just legalism!’ Heretics love that argument. And we must beware of it!

Finally, Jude tells us that heretics and heresies “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” That is to say that most heresies (but not all!) stem from false beliefs about Jesus Himself. Some believe that He was just a mere man (as in the JW’s, and the liberal Protestants). Others, particularly in the ancient world, have argued that the Messiah was no man at all. Perhaps Jesus was a man, they say; but the Christ was someone different; a separate spirit that simply came upon the man Jesus, but was not a man itself. Still others, like the Mormons, call Jesus God … but believe that He is no more god than you and I may someday be; and certainly not one and equal with the Father.

There are many heresies in the world today. But so many begin with a failure to believe in the biblical Jesus. And so we must be all the more careful to know our theology; to understand the Trinity; to be students of the scriptures … lest we be carried away by a doctrine that we don’t even realize is damnable; lest we (perhaps even with good intentions) end up denying “our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ”!