Weekly Insights about the Quarterly Lessons from the 1888 Message Study Committee.
Friday, June 09, 2017
INSIGHT #11 JUNE 10, 2017
Second Quarter 2017 Adult Sabbath School Lessons "False Teachers" June 10, 2017
This week's Sabbath School Lesson addresses the issue of false teaching in the church, and the importance of maintaining doctrinal integrity, in the midst of growing apostasy, questioning of God's Word, altering God's Word, and perverting the truth and message that God has for us. I Timothy 4:1, 2 Thessalonians 2:3, and Matthew 24:11-13 all warn of a "falling away" or apostasy in the last days, with the growing intrusion of "false prophets", and even a nation called the "false prophet". We would do well to remember Matthew 4:4. "Man shall not live by bread alone but by EVERY word of God." We also need to remember John 7:17. "If any will do His will, He will know of the doctrine." In other words, we must approach Scripture from a surrendered viewpoint, willing to do whatever God's Word reveals, for if we approach the text with preconceived ideas, particularly if we are "walking in the flesh", we are guaranteed to pervert the pure teachings of the word of God. This all began in the Garden of Eden, when Satan tempted Eve with the idea that God's Word was not to be trusted, that "You will not surely die." He was, in essence saying, God's Word is a lie, for "sin won't hurt you", and this lie is at the heart of all alteration of Scripture, for if He can replace the Word with his own, He has largely done what He has wanted to do, and that is to take God's Place.
In the opening of the great controversy, Satan had declared that the law of God could not be obeyed, that justice was inconsistent with mercy, and that, should the law be broken, it would be impossible for the sinner to be pardoned. Every sin must meet its punishment, urged Satan; and if God should remit the punishment of sin, He would not be a God of truth and justice. When men broke the law of God, and defied His will, Satan exulted. It was proved, he declared, that the law could not be obeyed; man could not be forgiven (E. G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 761.4).
We have much to thank in the courage and faithfulness to Scripture that was shown by the Protestant reformers. They grew more and more to realize the importance of the Scriptures and faithful teaching of those truths, to eradicate the errors and false teachings and practices that had corrupted the medieval church. John Wycliffe was one of the earliest of the reformers. He fearlessly exposed the evils of the monks and friars, and with a holy boldness exposed the evils of the pope himself. Before reaching the age of sixty he fell ill, worn out by a life of unceasing toil, study, and assaults. Yet his greatest work and contribution to the reformation lay ahead. "He lived to place in the hands of his countrymen the most powerful of all weapons against Rome—to give them the Bible. . ." After Wycliffe, other men arose inspired by the Spirit of God to restore to the people, step by step many of the Bible doctrines that had been taken away during the dark ages. Bible study, prayer, baptism by immersion, the priesthood of believers, Christian witnessing, and other Bible concepts, were all restored as the reformers worked relentlessly to point the people back to the Word of God.
Martin Luther would arise after Wycliffe to restore that important Bible doctrine, justification by faith. Martin was an excellent student but it may have been his prayer life that gave him his ultimate advantage. Martin often said, "To pray well, is the better half of study." He would often spend hours in prayer. Martin would later declare that "Christians should receive no other doctrines than those which rest on the authority of the Sacred Scriptures." In that statement, we hear one of the fundamental principles of the Protestant Reformation, in which Luther would reluctantly become a champion.
"It is presented to me that spiritual fables are taking many captive. Their minds are sensual, and, unless a change comes, this will prove their ruin. To all who are indulging these unholy fancies I would say, Stop; for Christ's sake, stop right where you are. You are on forbidden ground. Repent, I entreat of you, and be converted." — Letter 231, 1903. (Medical Ministry, 100, 101.)
The Christian Church needs to ask itself a question. If churches are all teaching different things, can they all be correct? Someone has to be wrong. It is important to note that Once Saved, Always Saved, Predestination and Election, the Secret Rapture, the elimination of the Law of God, and many other doctrines have as their essence that "sin won't hurt you." In reality, God told us that the "wages of sin is Death." Romans 6:23. If we indulge the flesh, we will alter the Bible to satisfy the clamorings of the flesh. In the area of Woman's Ordination, without getting into the specifics of that discussion, many of the arguments were not Biblical arguments, but ones of preference, personal desire, cultural pressures, etc. We MUST decide every doctrinal issue from a "Thus saith the Lord", and not from "I feel like it." As Jesus said in the Garden, "Not my will, by thine be done." To make very clear just how Satan brings deadly errors into the church such as this one, Ellen White wrote this: "It is when Satan appears as an angel of light that he takes souls in his snare, deceiving them. Men who pretend to have been taught of God, will adopt fallacious theories, and in their teaching will so adorn these fallacies as to bring in Satanic delusions. Thus Satan will be introduced as an angel of light and will have opportunity to present his pleasing fables.
"These false prophets will have to be met. They will make an effort to deceive many, by leading them to accept false theories. Many scriptures will be misapplied in such a way that deceptive theories will apparently be based upon the words that God has spoken. Precious truth will be appropriated to substantiate and establish error. These false prophets, who claim to be taught of God, will take beautiful scriptures that have been given to adorn the truth, and will use them as a robe of righteousness to cover false and dangerous theories. And even some of those who, in times past, the Lord has honored, will depart so far from the truth as to advocate misleading theories regarding many phases of truth, including the sanctuary question." — Manuscript 11, 1906. (Evangelism, 360, NOTE especially the last sentence, "even some of those who, in times past, the Lord has honored".)
Ellen White has also given us this warning to protect us from the omega deception: "The time has come when we cannot depend upon the doctrine which comes to our ears, unless we see that it harmonizes with the Word of God. There are dangerous heresies that will be presented as Bible doctrines; and we are to become acquainted with the Bible so that we may know how to meet them. The faith of every individual will be tested, and everyone will pass through a trial of close criticism." — The Review and Herald, May 3, 1887. (Evangelism 590, 591.)
Memory Text: "While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage." 2 Peter 2:19
In his first epistle, Peter, with great pastoral concern, sought to encourage readers in regard to the perils of persecution. Though we don't know exactly what form of persecution he was specifically addressing, we do know that the church would face terrible trials as the pagan Roman Empire sought to extinguish the growing movement of people called "Christians."
But Satan launched a two-pronged attack. Certainly, persecution from the outside-that is, brute force and violence-was a powerful tool. But the church faced another threat, one perhaps even more dangerous than outside persecution. And that was the threat from inside. Just as the Jewish nation in the past had to deal with false prophets, the follower of Jesus in Peter's day had to deal with false teachers "who privily shall bring in damnable heresies" (2 Pet. 2:1) into the church itself. And, even worse, Peter warned that many would follow these "pernicious ways" (2 Pet. 2:2).
We thank God for the faithful ministers in His church, and we pray for revival and reformation in His church. Let it begin with me, but let us not forget to pray for the leadership, the pastors and elders who will find in the day of judgement much pain and suffering if they do not repent of their false teaching. It is more serious than most believe. "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed." Galatians 1:8,9.
"But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not." (2 Pet. 2:1-3).
Whatever these false teachers were presenting, they were leading their victims-people who had recently found the Lord Jesus-back to their old sinful way of life. It's easy to imagine some kind of cheap grace gospel that downplayed the need for purity and holiness, something that caused them to be caught up again in the very "corruption" (2 Pet. 2:19) of the world they had just escaped from. No wonder Peter spoke so sharply and strongly against these teachings and warned about what the result of following them would be. Perhaps the echo of the words of Jesus in 2 Peter 2:20 is intentional (see Matt. 12:45, Luke 11:26). Jesus tells the parable of a man who has been freed from an unclean spirit. The spirit wanders without a place of his own, and then returns to see "'my house from which I came'" (Matt. 12:44). He arrives and finds it empty and put in order. He then moves back in, but he brings with him several other spirits more wicked than himself. As Jesus says, "'the last state of that man is worse than the first'" (Matt. 12:45). The danger Jesus illustrates and Peter describes is real. The new believer needs to ensure that the things of the Spirit replace the things that used to dominate his or her life. If involvement in church and the sharing of the new faith does not replace the earlier secular activities, it is too easy to revert to one's old ways.
Read 2 Peter 2:6-16. What other examples does Peter use to give his warning about what wickedness will lead to?
The first substantive reference to Sodom in the Bible is Genesis 13:12-13. Lot and Abraham decided to separate for "financial" reasons. Lot chose the Jordan valley, and "pitched his tent toward Sodom" (Gen. 13:12). The Bible then comments, "Now the people of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD" (Gen. 13:13, NRSV). Later, when God warned Abraham that He was planning to destroy Sodom, Abraham negotiated an agreement that God would not destroy it if 10 righteous people were found there (Gen. 18:16-33). The unlikelihood of finding even 10 righteous people in Sodom was amply demonstrated by what happened to the messengers sent to visit Lot. The city was duly destroyed; only Lot and his two daughters escaped (Gen. 19:12-25).
Peter derives two lessons from this story. First, the two cities provide an example of the punishment coming to the ungodly (2 Pet. 2:6). Second, it shows that the Lord knows how to rescue the righteous from trial (2 Pet. 2:7-9). Peter then notes some of the characteristics of those who were destroyed at Sodom and Gomorrah: they indulge their flesh in depraved lust, despise authority, are bold and willful, and do not hesitate to slander the angels (2 Pet. 2:10-11). These characteristics have similarities to how Peter describes the false teachers and their followers.
The story of Balaam is found in Numbers 22:1-24:25. He had been hired by Balak, king of Moab, to curse the Israelites. At first reluctant, he was eventually persuaded to take on this task by the offer of a larger sum of money (Num. 22:7-21). On his way, he was confronted by an "angel of the LORD" and was saved from death only when his donkey turned aside. Balaam then beat his donkey and realized his mistake only when his eyes were opened, and he saw the "angel of the LORD" himself (Num. 22:22-35). In the end, Balaam ended up blessing Israel (Num. 23:4-24:24). Peter used Balaam as an example of those enticed by adultery and greed (2 Pet. 2:14, 15). Such people are like Balaam. They have left the path that they should follow.
So often we hear Christians talk about "freedom in Christ." And, of course, this is a valid concept. To be free from the condemnation of the law and to have assurance of salvation because of what Christ has done for us and not from our own works is indeed to be free. The story of Martin Luther and the bondage from which he suffered before he understood grace is a great example of what this freedom can mean. However, as we saw in Peter, the wonderful truth can be twisted. "The great truth of our entire dependence upon Christ for salvation lies close to the error of presumption. Freedom in Christ is by thousands mistaken for lawlessness; and because Christ came to release us from the condemnation of the law, many declare that the law itself is done away, and that those who keep it are fallen from grace. And thus, as truth and error appear so near akin, minds that are not guided by the Holy Spirit will be led to accept the error and, in so doing, place themselves under the power of Satan's deceptions. In thus leading people to receive error for truth, Satan is working to secure the homage of the Protestant world." - Ellen G. White, Christ Triumphant, p. 324.
Meditate on 2 Peter 2:19 and the other things Peter says about the results of the false teaching. Why must we be sure to learn for ourselves the crucial truths we believe? How important is it that we all agree exactly on what we should believe? When does it become "dangerous" to think ideas that are different from the rest of our fellow believers?
Look at some of the strong language of Peter in regard to the whole question of punishment and judgment: "bring upon themselves swift destruction" (2 Pet. 2:1); "shall utterly perish in their own corruption" (2 Pet. 2:12); "to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished" (2 Pet. 2:9); "and their destruction does not slumber" (2 Pet. 2:3). What should these texts tell us about not only the reality of judgment but about how strongly God condemns those who will lead His people into error?
What do you think it means when those who talk about "freedom in Christ" generally do so, not in the context of the law in general (though some do) but in the context of keeping the fourth commandment, the Sabbath commandment? How does this argument help us to see another way that the idea of "freedom in Christ" can be twisted?
True freedom is total trust in Christ, His Word, and His ultimate victory in the Great Controversy.