What is the Meaning of Anathema? Can a Church Pronounce an Anathema Upon Me?

By Dr Paul M Elliott

Our series on the subject of how Christians should deal with false teaching in the church generated some followup questions from readers. We take up the first today: “What is the meaning of anathema? Can a church pronounce an anathema upon a person or group?”

Several Related Questions

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Is Your Church a Spiritual Titanic?

By Dr Paul M Elliott

Part 12 of a series. Read part 11

In our current series we’ve been addressing these questions: “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?”

Presently we’re dealing with some of the un-Biblical responses that are common today. In this installment we focus on the untenable position of those who say that there is safety in remaining in a larger church or denomination despite its errors, rather than becoming part of the remnant that comes out and separates from apostasy. Today many Evangelical and Reformed church-goers believe it is safer to remain on a large but apostate sinking ship, rather than trust their lives to the safety of a small but sound Gospel lifeboat.1

The Safety of a Large But Sinking Ship?

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Is It Wrong to Leave a Church Because It Hasn’t Officially Endorsed the Heresy Within It?

By Dr Paul M Elliott

Part 11 of a series. Read part 10.

Our current series addresses these questions: “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?”

Presently we’re dealing with some of the un-Biblical responses that are common today. In this installment we focus on the untenable position of those who say that a church doesn’t become a heretical body unless it officially endorses heresy.1

Another Fallacious Argument

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Who Has the Right to Call False Teaching Heresy?

By Dr Paul M Elliott

Part 10 of a series. Read part 9.

Our current series addresses these questions: “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?”

Contrary to what many church leaders are saying today, the Bible assigns the right — and responsibility — to call false teaching by its right name, not to a handful of theological specialists, but to every believer.1

The Definition of Heresy

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Should You Stay and Fight?

By Dr Paul M Elliott

Part 9 of a series. Read part 8.

Our current series addresses these questions: “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?”

Scripture tells us that to “stay and fight” in a church that has become apostate is itself an act of schism that God condemns. He declares, “You are separating yourself from Me.”1

Can the Battle Be Won From Within?

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Are You Really Looking for an Exit?

By Dr Paul M Elliott

Part 8 of a series. Read part 7.

Our current series addresses these questions: “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?”

Some people adopt what they call an “exit strategy” attitude in the face of clear apostasy in their churches. But a recent example shows that often those who adopt this strategy aren’t really looking for an exit. Far too often, they’re looking for an excuse to disobey God.1

A Recent Example

Like the wait-and-see response we discussed in our last article, the “exit strategy” response is another proposed way to supposedly deal with apostasy that rests on the false notion that separation is somehow always premature. Perhaps I can best illustrate the foolishness of this response by recounting what happened earlier in this decade when the once-sound Orthodox Presbyterian Church (in which I was at the time an elder) demonstrated clear apostasy on the Gospel and the doctrine of Scripture.2

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Wait and See? What Are You Waiting For?

By Dr Paul M Elliott

Part 7 of a series. Read part 6.

In our current series we’re addressing these questions: “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?”

Presently we’re dealing with some of the un-Biblical responses that are common today. In this installment we focus on the position of those who want to adopt a “wait and see” attitude in the face of clear apostasy in their churches.1

It Is Way Past Time

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Do Contemporary Problems Mean ‘The End of the Church’?

By Dr Paul M Elliott

Part 6 of a series. Read part 5.

In our current series we’re addressing these questions: “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?”

Thus far, we’ve presented the only response that Scripture clearly mandates. Today we begin addressing some of the un-Biblical responses that are common today. We find that Scripture is just as clear in telling us that other “solutions” are unacceptable to God. We begin with the non-solution promoted by cult leader Harold Camping, who says that today’s problems signify “the end of the church.”1

A False Prophet

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What Must Christians Do When False Teachers Control a Church?

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.

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How Are Christians to Deal With False Teachers?

By Dr Paul M Elliott

Part 4 of a series. Read part 3.

Today we continue the discussion of questions that are troubling 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 Biblical response to false teachers.1

Scripture Gives Clear Instructions

The Holy Spirit has not only instructed us clearly on the marks of a true church and how to recognize false teachers; the Lord also requires believers to adopt a Biblical attitude toward false teachers and conduct ourselves accordingly.

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How Can We Recognize False Teachers in the Church?

By Dr Paul M Elliott

Part 3 of a series. Read part 2.

Today we continue the discussion of questions that are troubling 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 use of the Bible as our sole standard in identifying false teachers.1

Three Marks of a True Church

Scripture teaches that a true church of Jesus Christ bears these three essential marks:

  • the faithful proclamation of the authentic Gospel (Matthew 24:14; Mark 16:15; Romans 1:16-17; Galatians 1:6-9);
  • the faithful administration of Christ’s ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 28:18-19; Acts 2:38-39; Romans 6:3-4; Ephesians 4:4-6; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26);
  • the faithful exercise of Biblical discipline (Matthew 18:15-18; Romans 16:17; 1 Corinthians 5:11-13; 2 Corinthians 2:6-8, 6:14-15, 13:1; Galatians 6:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15; 1 Timothy 5:20, 6:3-5; Titus 2:15, 3:10-11; 2 John 10-11; Jude 22-23).

Much of the false teaching in the church today centers on problems in these three areas:

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Why Did Jesus Tell His Disciples to ‘Beware of the Leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees’?

By Dr Paul M Elliott

Part two of a series. Read part one.

Today we continue the discussion of questions we receive more and more frequently: “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?” Our focus in this installment is on the pernicious nature of compromise.1

Why Beware?

Jesus warned His disciples to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” By this, He meant their heretical doctrine (Matthew 16:5-12). Their doctrine, like much that is found in today’s Evangelical church, was founded primarily on two false principles: preaching a counterfeit salvation by adding works to faith, and debasing the authority of Scripture by subordinating it to the words of fallible men. Why was it necessary for even these men, the twelve who were closest to Christ, to “beware”? It was because they were men of sinful flesh, as we are. It is easy to be deceived.

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What Happens When Truth Becomes Optional?

By Dr Paul M Elliott

I’ve counseled Christians from many parts of the world who all wrestled with the same critical question. They express it in many different ways, but the essence is this: “My church is no longer true to the Word of God. I’m not talking about matters on which Christians may legitimately differ. I’m talking about 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?”

In a series of questions and answers beginning today, we’ll deal with various aspects of this issue, from the pages of Scripture.

What to Do In Obvious Circumstances

First, let’s deal with the obvious case. Are you in an independent church, or a church that is part of a denomination, that no longer holds to Biblical truth? Does your church, the pastor or teachers in it, the denomination with which it is associated, or colleges or seminaries associated with that denomination, do any of the following? —

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Taming a Wild Church

Grace Unlimited – Alan Lester

It is not uncommon for whole churches to lose focus of the real thing. But at the same time, while they search, the real thing evades them.
Painfully absent is a clear presentation of the Gospel, and a deep appreciation of that Gospel. Without this, churches must drop into one of the various ditches that line the road. Either legalism or liberalism. Either joyless slavery or emotional burnout. Both are exhausting because they pursue a non-existent paradise.

Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Heretic?

Evangelical Apathy and the Danger of False Teaching
by John MacArthur

The following is excerpted from The Truth War (Nelson, 2007, pp. 165-68)

Why do so many evangelicals act as if false teachers in the church could never be a serious problem in this generation? Vast numbers seem convinced that they are “rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’; and do not know that [they] are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17).

In reality, the church today is quite possibly more susceptible to false teachers, doctrinal saboteurs, and spiritual terrorism than any other generation in church history. Biblical ignorance within the church may well be deeper and more widespread than at any other time since the Protestant Reformation. If you doubt that, compare the typical sermon of today with a randomly-chosen published sermon from any leading evangelical preacher prior to 1850. Also compare today’s Christian literature with almost anything published by evangelical publishing houses a hundred years ago or more.

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