Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Errors of Good Men

It has been said that in the Christian church it is the errors of good men that are the most dangerous. I am convinced this is frequently the case. The ancient Christian church was besieged by alternative forms of Christianity that distorted its basic doctrines. The New Testament shows this was a problem from the very beginning of the church. Now many of the members of the church at the time were poor and uneducated; many were slaves. How could they be protected from being lured away by false doctrine? They were encouraged to listen to their leaders; they would steer them right. But the problem was that the opposing viewpoints also had leaders who taught their beliefs. How would they know which leader to follow?

It was noted that Jesus had instructed the apostles, and the apostles then instructed those who followed them. Who were you going to believe, the church that could trace itself back to the apostles or some new group coming out of left field, claiming to be in possession of the real Christian message? Now this idea does have a certain degree of sense to it. It is one useful criterion for evaluating new teaching. Can we believe that the early church got Jesus' teachings totally wrong, only to have the truth discovered by someone in recent times (Jude 3, Galatians 1:8,9; Isaiah 8:20)? But as the sole basis for deciding on truth, this has problems. It assumes that, unlike Israel in the Old Testament, which had a habit of drifting away from the truth of God, the Christian church could not do so. But this flies in the face of what we already see even in New Testament times (Galatians 1:6,7; Colossians 2:16-19; Revelation 2:12-29). This became more questionable the further removed the church became from New Testament times. Also, as time went on, this developed into the concept that the church descended from the apostles could not be questioned, in spite of the Biblical requirement of holding leaders responsible to follow the Word of God (Acts 17:11; Galatians 2:11-16; Jeremiah 8:8,9). This led to many unbiblical errors. It took the Protestant Reformation to correct these.

Now I say this, not simply to point out the historical error, but to encourage us to avoid falling into this same trap in the present day. There is a temptation for current leaders to walk this same path if they are not careful. It is easier to teach people to just follow their leaders than to do the hard task of really educating them in the truths of the Christian faith. But it is only the second way that will produce the strong Christians we are called to produce (Matthew 28:19,20; Acts 20:27; 2 Timothy 4:1-4). Now I am not saying we should not value and consider the wisdom of great Christians from the past. But we should not strive to produce mindless followers, but strong Christian warriors, who know what they believe and why they believe it.

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