Safeguarding the Sheep
FF Chong―London, U.K.
One theme that runs through the entire Bible is “to safeguard ourselves.” One reason behind the need for safeguarding is man’s inclination to sin. When the first progenitors were created, they were commanded not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God warned that failing to obey would result in death (Gen 2:17). The divine command was absolute and immutable. The first couple enjoyed abundant blessings when they faithfully obeyed. But when Adam and Eve violated this command, not only did they suffer the consequence of being separated from God, they also doomed their descendants―generation after generation―to death. God, being full of mercy, could not bear to see the struggle of His people caused by their severance from His grace and abidance. Time and again, He raised up deliverers, such as prophets, judges and kings, to rescue humanity from their plight. Although God’s salvation has been unceasingly provided in the history of humanity, the fight to stay in the Lord poses a real challenge to believers in every generation.
The second reason necessitating
safeguarding is the rise of false teachers. We have seen this recur through the
history of the elect. Not only had the people of God strayed, more
frighteningly, those who were supposed to render help to God’s people had themselves
veered horribly off the path of the Lord. In the Old Testament, they hailed
from the ranks of the prophets, priests, and kings (Zeph
3:3–4). Likewise, in the New Testament, false teachers and prophets alarmingly
emerged from within the community of faith (Acts 20:28;
Christ has already warned His followers of the inevitable rise of false teachers. There will be clear signs of the relentless increase of falsehood (Mt 24:5, 11, 24). This is the great tribulation and the severest test facing the true believers of God. Satan’s deception will emerge from within the church of God. So persuasive will the prince of darkness’ deception be, there is a danger that no flesh would be saved. So for the sake of the elect, Christ will shorten those days (Mt 24:23–24).
A TEST FROM GOD―SAFEGUARDING OURSELVES
Some may wonder why God would allow this to happen to His elect. The struggle with falsehood in the church is a test from God to disclose who we really are (Deut 13:3). The battle for truth will also be a moment of truth that reveals how much we love God. Genuine love for God is always reflected in the will to walk in His way wholeheartedly, regardless of cost (Deut 13:4). Holding on to the doctrines for salvation imparted to us by God through the church, and shunning the suppositions and deductions of man are essential manifestations of our love for and faith in Him.
When falsehood appears in the church, inevitably, some believers would be affected. This occurs because in their capacity as shepherds, false teachers are well-placed to develop strong bonds with believers. Inspired by their eloquence and charismatic preaching, and touched by their affability and personal charm, some believers start to root their faith in these human pastors, rather than solely in God. Unlike the Berean believers, they do not search the Scriptures to find out for themselves whether what they have received from the church is accurate (cf. Acts 17:11). Such trusting sheep put themselves in a precarious position because they are unable to discern the truth. Hence, to safeguard the church, believers must be properly and comprehensively taught the word of God. On their parts, believers must make every effort to root themselves in the basic beliefs of the church.
As humans, we are wont to be influenced
by the things we see, read, and hear every day. Thus, we must shun away from reading their
writings and listening to their words. Such false teachers are experts in
twisting facts to champion their cause. Paul once taught Timothy to reject
profane and old fables (
SAFEGUARDING THE CHURCH
Clearly, false teachers have been able to reach their level of insidious influence because they were able to hide their true intentions and employed deceitful plots to achieve their selfish ends (cf. Eph 4:14). Therefore, besides equipping believers with God’s word, the church has the duty to employ precautionary measures to deal with these false prophets.
Expose the False Prophet
A lengthy section of the Mosaic Law is devoted to safeguarding against falsehood (Deut 13). A prominent message is about exposing the false prophet, who is termed the evil amongst the people (Deut 13:5). The reason is straightforward―he is able to influence the community of faith to turn away from the LORD, to walk on a path other than that God has instructed. His influence can be contagious for he comes with signs and wonders, which lend credence to his false claims.
Some people may consider exposure of these false teachers “draconian.” Citing the need to show consideration for these false teachers and their families, they advocate not exposing the matter. However, the Law of Moses starkly clarifies: ‘You shall not consent to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him or even conceal him; but you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be the first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people’ (Deut 13:8–9).
Those who are spiritually alert must be prepared to take the drastic measure of exposing false teachers and their ploys (Deut 13:8). This is to allow the community of faith to steer clear of them. The longer false teachers are tolerated, the greater the damage they shall inflict on the church. If timely action is not taken with faith in God, the word of God will be confused and desecrated beyond recognition (cf. Rev 2:20). The pattern of the word of salvation will be clouded and blatantly twisted in denial of what God has done for the church. The spiritually alert must thus also consistently knock down the pillars of false teachings propagated by these teachers.
The moral lesson we can gather
from Moses’ instruction is that when we hear of people spreading words contrary
to the beliefs of the church, we should diligently investigate this (Deut 13:14)
and identify the recalcitrant perpetrators of falsehood. To some, this may appear
to be a witch-hunt. But the Bible itself provides a precedent for naming false
teachers. Tracing and removing all possible sources of and contributors to
heresy is an act of love for the household of God. False teachings can cause
division amongst brethren and drive a wedge into the church (
Stand Against the False Teacher
To sway more people to their cause, false teachers may appeal to the believers’ emotions and/or use examples of human relationship issues. They use conflicts as the smokescreen to cover the trail of their false teachings. They always present themselves as the victims, suffering for Christ. Once believers show pity on them, their sense of discernment will be clouded. If the church is to maintain the unity of faith, she must help believers clearly distinguish between false doctrine and human relationship problems. Also, the one body of Christ must use the word of God to repair broken relationships while continuing to battle false teachings. The false teachers always strive to split up the church when given a chance, creating conflicts to support their twisted beliefs.
The importance of unity in faith bears reiterating. In fact, the Bible teaches us to strive for unity of the church in the bond of peace (Eph 4:3). This means giving priority to the interest of the church above our own, and doing all things for her good. In contrast, false prophets seek to further their own interests and are even prepared to destroy the church by saying the True Jesus Church (TJC) is no longer the only true church that is saved. However, Prophet Ezekiel declared that anyone who says that Judah―a reference to Mount Zion and the church (cf. Ps 78:68)―is just like other nations, would have to face the full force of His judgment (Ezek 25:8, 11). While the church is not perfect yet, those who truly love her will seek to build her up, not destroy her.
Re-educating Religious Educators
To safeguard the church, we must check on one another’s spiritual well-being. One area the church needs to pay particular attention is Religious Education (RE). Children are not mature enough to discern doctrinal truth for themselves. They are particularly vulnerable and their minds can be easily polluted by inaccurate teachings. Secular history is replete with examples of politically-indoctrinated children who turned on their parents or who were even trained to carry out terrorist acts. As RE teachers are a key channel by which our lambs receive the word of God, the former’s grasp of doctrine must also be sound lest they end up drawing children away from the truth. If there are RE teachers who are known to have been influenced by false teachings, they should be re-taught the word of God.
FALSE TEACHINGS: WOULD YOU HAVE BEEN DECEIVED?
False Claim 1: Satan is self-existent.
The Bible clearly teaches that “I am the LORD (self-existent God), and there is no other” (Isa 45:5–6, 18). This is the self-declaration of the LORD, which completely rules out the possibility of Satan’s self-existence. To claim that Satan is self-existent is tantamount to calling God a liar. This is blasphemy.
False Claim 2: History is in the past. Even the all-powerful God is not able to change the history of the TJC.
This claim is designed to support
the idea that God does not know the way of the wicked. Such a claim not only
denigrates the power of God, but even subtly redefines the infinity of God.
This claim fails to recognize that God does not change history, not because He
is incapable, but because He is a principled God. For example, God did not
reverse the fate of Adam after he sinned. God always has a purpose for allowing
things to happen. He does not relent as human being do (Num 23:19;
False Claim 3: The Holy Spirit comes upon the believer at baptism and not when he speaks in tongues.
In the New Testament, the receiving of the Spirit is always accompanied by the speaking in tongues. This is evident when Peter ascertained that the Spirit had come upon Cornelius and his household upon hearing them speak in tongues, like the apostles did on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 10:44–48, 11:15, 15:8). Speaking in tongues is the sole evidence used to determine the receiving of the Spirit in Acts.
Finally, false prophets who remain intransigent are no longer in the truth. An indication of their intransigence can be gleaned from their unceasing attempts to attack the core doctrines of the church. One example is the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. This is very dangerous because confusion and any dilution of the teaching on the Holy Spirit will lead to the lifeline of the church being cut off. Scripture clearly commands that recalcitrant rebels must be excommunicated (cf. Deut 13:9—put to death).
According to Paul, no truth shall
ever come out from those who are reprobate concerning the faith; they will only
grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived (
Biblical Precedents of Excommunication
In Galatia, there were people who preached a gospel other than what the apostles taught. What they were saying amounted to denying the efficacy of the work of Christ on the cross. They were thus confusing believers regarding the right way of salvation. Paul told the Galatians that such false teachers must be accursed (Gal 1:8, 9). The original word for “accurse” is “anathema,” which literally means to be “cut off.” The cutting off here is to be severed from Christ. This is excommunication. Paul, in fact, did not just mete out this judgment once. He had done it before (Gal 1:9), signaling the seriousness of the case. In fact, Paul repeatedly accursed those who troubled the church with falsehood (Gal 5:10, 12). They were to bear their own judgment.
In our context, claiming that the True Jesus Church is not the only true church is tantamount to saying God has established His church inconsequentially. The false prophet is guilty of making the blood of Jesus common (Heb 10:29–30). He has tasted the goodness of God and yet has willfully gone against what he has been brought up with. This is not just a case of going against man. But rather, it is a case against the very work of salvation, which Jesus has achieved on the cross. It is against God himself. This is intransigence at its worst state. Thus the church has to exercise her authority from God to excommunicate. This is in line with the apostolic practice.
Another example is Hymenaeus and Alexander (
To stop them from further
blaspheming against the church and the word, Paul handed Hymenaeus
and Alexander to Satan. This in effect is to excommunicate them since “belonging
to Satan” indisputably signifies severance from the body of Christ. Excommunication
was necessary so that their heresies would not spread like cancer (cf.
To safeguard the church and ourselves, the beliefs of the church must be upheld. This is the pattern of sound words that God has given to the church to save (Rom 6:17–18). Warnings must be issued against those who preach another gospel. The church is duty-bound to rebut and root out every false teaching that arise in church, and to ensure that these false teachings have no place in believers’ hearts. Such a practice was common in the early church. The followers of deviant beliefs were identified and made known to the community of faith (cf. 2 Thess 3:14) that they may be ashamed.
Scoffers will abound in the
 See False Claim 3.