“And what I do I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.” – 2 Corinthians 11:12-15
“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” – Jude 3-4
“Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” – Ephesians 5:6
One of the primary ways Satan works to destroy the church is not through the persecutions from outsiders like secular relativists in the public square (like here in the West), or oppressive governments (like in Indonesia), although Satan does that of course too. But the primary way Satan works to destroy the church is from the inside out. He shows himself as an angel of light to believers, working in the “sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 5:6) to introduce a message that is similar to (sometimes blatantly opposed), but not quite the Gospel. How does he do this? He does it the same way he did it in the Garden of Eden with Eve. Let’s review:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3:1-5
Pay close attention to what Satan is doing here. Does he outright attack Eve physically and persecute her, or does he start bashing God in her presence? No, he is much more crafty than that. Rather, he just changes words around that God spoke concerning the tree they were not to eat of. He changes the nature of God’s statements (the doctrine God spoke beforehand concerning the tree) just enough to derail her from staying the course and not eating of the fruit. And then Satan adds in an appeal that she will become like God and her eyes will be opened. Who wouldn’t want that? And Eve succumbed to the temptation.
In the same way as in the garden, Satan works in the “sons of disobedience” to go into churches as false teachers, false pastors, speaking something that sounds like the truth, using the same Christian phrases, tickling the hearers ears, giving them a warm fuzzy and affirmation they are on the right path when they are being derailed from the Gospel altogether. Most of the warnings given to the readers of various letters in the New Testament are to watch out and be on guard against those who speak false truths. 1 John is riddled with these warnings. The book of Jude is a warning in itself against those creeping into the church posing as true teachers of the Gospel. So this very thing has been going on from the beginning of the church.
You could think of this activity of Satan like a Trojan horse, sent into a city as a gift, and then those pernicious warriors inside the horse burst out, bringing the whole city down from within. So it is with the church. Satan actively works to bring down the church from within by sending “messengers of light” who speak a half-truth which, as shown from history, is an utter and total lie. Legalism, Gnosticism, Arianism, Pelagianism, Socinianism, Sabellianism, amongst others, are all heresies from church history proving this to be the case, where people from within the church bring in false teachings and errors, straying from the truth of the Scriptures, and so bring condemnation on themselves and those who adhere to their message; and this because they have believed a lie from Satan. And these errors were the very reason the church, in all ages for 2000 years, have defined (in confessions and declarations) the things they authoritatively believed to be what the Scriptures taught against these errors. Jude goes on to poetically describe these people’s fate, and it is just awful:
But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. – Jude 10-13
Satan’s primary way of destroying the church and dividing it is by bringing in false doctrine that appears to be of the truth, even using scripture to attempt to back up their theology (albeit out of context usually), and is yet totally a different gospel. And Satan does this both slow at times and fast at others. The slow moving false truths start out as changing something that seems minute, may not be a big issue of controversy at the time. There are usually a small minority of people who warn and argue against this small error, seeing the potential for decay down the road. Most ignore them though and tell them they are just too critical. Then those adhering to this “small” truth, take it a step further, and a step further, and on and on it goes over time, until there is blatant heresy in the church itself, hindering people from the truth of the Gospel, so as people might be saved. Other times though, the error slips in at an extremely fast rate, and people wholeheartedly take it in, without a second thought. Fortunately though, this type of error doesn’t last a long time and fizzles out pretty fast because of the quickness of which people bought into it. Somehow though it seems to reemerge at some point later on, in a different form.
It is sad, but the American church is flooded with these very pastors and teachers, presuming to be proclaimers of the Word of God, the Gospel, who speak a ton of half-truths, which amount to declarations that undermine the progress of the Gospel.
One blatant form of this teaching is the prosperity gospel, or health and wealth gospel. It’s leaders make the aim of the Christian faith your abundance, happiness, and prosperity in this life, using God as a means to your own materialistic, idolatrous end. God is turned into a fortune cookie of sorts. And this message is being spread (under the guise of the Gospel) in Africa at an alarming rate. Man this breaks my heart!
Another false gospel is that of liberal mainline churches. Their gospel is that Jesus lived and died on the cross merely as an example. While evangelicals hold it as certainly an example of Christ’s love and how we should imitate Him in that, oh how much infinitely more than this was the work of Christ! This is the half-truth thing I was talking about. Though the nature of their message has changed from modernist times, where people totally discounted the supernatural based on science, their message amounts to the idea that Jesus was just basically an amazing teacher, someone worth following as an example. And so they omit the idea that Jesus is also God. They omit the nature of the atonement as being an effectual substitutionary sacrifice. They omit the idea of the resurrection … on and on it goes of things they omit as essential to the faith. This guts the Gospel of any supernatural power needed in order that people would be born again as a result of the Holy Spirit working in a Biblical message.
Now the next movement or collective thinking that is good in some ways and bad in others is the Emerging Church. The good that the movement (or conversation, whatever you want to call it) has brought to the church is addressing the issues within the mega-church circles. I am in agreement with their assessments concerning these things. However, just like their parent liberal theology in attempting to accommodate the culture in the church, so also many within the Emerging movement are accommodating postmodern thinking as the means to reach the culture. It looks like a great idea, and yet this is the very thing Jude, John and Paul all warned their readers (and us) of; people slipping in unnoticed, bringing in destructive heresies that hinder the Gospel, instead of progressing it. We must not compromise the truth of the Scriptures and its message, the Gospel.
These quotes really hit the nail on the head concerning the church using discerning judgment as well as what the purpose has been throughout the history of the church in writing up creeds and doctrinal statements:
A shepherd protects his sheep from their enemies. Wolves enter in among the sheep. The wolves which harass the church of God are emissaries of false doctrine and of evil practice. Satan is never out of his diocese and his specialty is to destroy the pure witness and the fellowship of the church of God. Perhaps there is no more ominous feature of members of the church than the lack of discernment; they can listen to what is good and true, and to what is bad and false, without discrimination. If we are to live in a world where the enemy is active and error is rampant, we must be imbued with a good measure of critical faculty, and here the elders in tending the flock must cultivate for themselves, and inculcate in the members of the church, that sensitivity to truth and right, so that they and the people will be able to detect the voice of the enemy.
Jesus said of His sheep, “a stranger will they not follow, for they know not the voice of strangers” (John 10:5). But this discernment does not operate in a vacuum, and it does not act mechanically; it acts in the context of intelligent apprehension and understanding of the truth.”
– John Murray
A Creed, or Rule of Faith, or Symbol, is a confession of faith for public use, or a form of words setting forth with authority certain articles of belief, which are regarded by the framers as necessary for salvation, or at least for the well-being of the Christian Church.
A creed may cover the whole ground of Christian doctrine and practice, or contain only such points as are deemed fundamental and sufficient, or as have been disputed. It may be declarative, or interrogative in form. It may be brief and popular (as the Apostles’ and the Nicene Creeds), for general use in catechetical instruction and at baptism; or more elaborate and theological, for ministers and teachers, as a standard of public doctrine (the symbolical books of the Reformation period). In the latter case a confession of faith is always the result of dogmatic controversy, and more or less directly or indirectly polemical against opposing error. Each symbol bears the impress of its age, and the historical situation out of which it arose.
There is a development in the history of symbols. They assume a more definite shape with the progress of biblical and theological knowledge. They are mile-stones and finger-boards in the history of Christian doctrine. They embody the faith of generations, and the most valuable results of religious controversies. They still shape and regulate the theological thinking and public teaching of the churches of Christendom. They keep alive sectarian strifes and antagonisms, but they reveal also the underlying agreement, and foreshadow the possibility of future harmony.
– Philip Schaff
Two modern day declarations and confessions for our time are the Together for the Gospel statement of 2006 as well as the Cambridge Declaration of 1996. Both of these address modern day errors that have crept in and we would all do well to read and understand what is said in these statements. As Jude says, “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints,” and may we hold to our doctrine even though it is not popular in order that the Biblical Gospel may be proclaimed in our land of compromise.
A Survey of Heresies – Phil Johnson
Bad Theology Section on Monergism.com
Satan Corrupts the Mind with Doctrinal Error – William Gurnall
Theology section of Westerfunk.net – Look for the section entitled, “Canons, Creeds, Confessions, and Declarations From Church History” and read through some of those declarations. So incredible for the strengthening of our faith!