By Dr Paul M Elliott
Part 5 of a series. Read part 4.
Today we continue to address questions that trouble growing numbers of Christians: “My church is no longer true to the Word of God on essential Christian truths. What should I do? Should I leave? Should I stay and try to fight error? Will I be guilty of schism if I do either one?” Today’s focus is on the proper response when a church is controlled by false teachers.1
Recognizing the Conditions in Which We Live
We live in a time when many nominally Evangelical churches have ceased to bear (and in some cases have never borne) the marks of a true church of Jesus Christ that we discussed in a previous article. Neo-liberals — false teachers concerning the Gospel and much more — are in control of individual churches and even entire denominations, with the aid of the doctrinally indifferent. Typically this does not happen overnight. The downgrade takes years, sometimes even decades.
Under such conditions, there can be but one possible Biblical response from those who continue to stand for the truth. Scripture commands true believers to separate from apostasy. Separation involves a Biblical attitude toward a church that has failed to recognize false teachers for what they are, has failed to deal with them in accordance with the commandment of God, and instead has actually placed them in charge.
Scripture also commands true believers, once separated, to realign on sound principles in sound church bodies. Isolation is not a Biblical option.
The Example of Israel
Just as Israel was commanded to make no covenant with the pagan nations of Canaan (Deuteronomy 7:2), Christians are commanded not to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. The church at Corinth had made such compromises, but Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 instructed the Corinthian believers on the imperative of separation:
Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial [literally, Satan, or a pagan god]? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them, and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
Therefore, “Come out from among them and be separate,” says the Lord. “Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.” “I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters,” says the Lord Almighty. Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
Fellowship With False Teachers Is Never Christian Fellowship
We are commanded to recognize that fellowship with unrepentant false teachers and their adherents cannot possibly be true Christian fellowship. We are commanded to separate from a church that has not dealt with the evil in its midst; it is, in fact, no longer a true church of Christ. We are commanded to recognize what is at stake: light versus darkness, truth versus error, belief versus unbelief, worship of the true Christ versus worship of an Antichristian counterfeit. It is a matter of spiritual life versus spiritual death. Those who remain in the truth can have no part with false teachers — no communion, no harmony, no accord with them. We are commanded to come out from among them, to be separate, to stop even touching that which is spiritually unclean. Only then, says the Lord, can true believers themselves be in proper fellowship with Him.
Not The Easy Path
Truly these are hard sayings. This is not the easy path. But these are the commandments of God. We must rely on God to tell us the truth about the situation in which many Christians find themselves today, and to enable us to do what must be done.
Man looks on the outward appearance. We tend to rely on our own variable opinions and emotions, and the opinions and emotions of others. But God looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). He has told us what is really in the hearts of false teachers — even when they themselves are blind to their own heart-condition. We tend to make judgments based on human standards. But the Lord has been gracious to give us an infallible standard by which to clearly identify false teaching and false teachers.
The question is: Will we read it and heed it? God has warned us to separate ourselves from them, just as the children of Israel were commanded to get away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram when they rebelled against God, lest they be destroyed with them (Numbers 16). Ministers of Satan are masquerading as apostles of Christ in many places in Evangelical and Reformed churches. Separation from apostasy is imperative in our time.
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