Wednesday, January 17, 2024

What is the most Pervasive False Doctrine in the Body of Christ Today?

What is the most pervasive false doctrine in the body of Christ today?

In particular, we're looking at Western evangelical Christianity, and in particular Christianity within the United States. So in Christianity, in the United States, we've seen two trends that have shaped the theological field of discussion and debate.

The two trends are this, one, the rise of Calvinist mega churches across the country. We've seen numerous Calvinist mega churches grow and multiple. From Tim Keller, who recently passed away to Andy Stanley, to John MacArthur, Mark Driscoll, Craig Groeschel, Matt Chandler, David Platt, Bill Hybels, and so on. You think of people like Francis Chan. He's sort of an outlier. He's not really firmly ideologically Calvinist, but more instinctually. 
So first of all, the rise of Calvinist mega churches affected our theology. 

Secondly, and just as much was the rise of non denominational churches. Most of these non denominational churches are functionally Baptist in theology. I think the reason they've taken off so much and sort of supplanted other denominations is because they have remained biblically conservative in their theology, when many other denominations have strayed liberal in their theology. 

When churches stray from the Bible, they shut down. Plain and simple, that's what we've seen with the decline of mainline protestant churches. The rapid decline of mainline protestant denominations was succinctly matched by their total embrace of gay marriage, gender ideology, and critical race theory based social justice. 

Now, there is a lot to like with both Calvinist and Baptist churches and theology. They've remained close to conservative biblical theology. They've emphasized personal salvation. They've emphasized the need to share the gospel with others (missional). They've clarified a gospel message around penal substitutionary atonement that makes it starkly clear that salvation is based on the finished work of Christ on the cross. There is a lot of good in all of it. 

If we were looking at church theology in general in the west, and what is the biggest red flag, the answer would almost certainly be gay marriage, and the massive swing of the church toward promoting homosexuality. The swing has been truly seismic and devastatingly destructive. It's the most astonishing shift for the church in two thousand years. 

So you could say the most pervasive false doctrine in all of Christianity right now is gay marriage, the promotion of total inclusion.  Hundreds of churches have simply decided, 'we will deny what the Bible says about marriage.' 

But what about evangelical Christianity, the vein of Christianity that holds most firmly to the word of God?  What is the most pervasive false doctrine in evangelicalism?

I believe the most pervasive false doctrine within biblical Christianity is the doctrine of "once saved, always saved." 

This doctrine comes from the fifth point of the Calvinist TULIP acronym which is titled the "perseverance of the saints." And it asserts the idea that is it impossible for a born again Christian to fall away and lose their salvation.

The doctrine also finds a home in Baptist churches, which teach as a point of theology, salvation cannot be lost. Many Baptist (non-denominational) churches would reject the first four points of Calvinism, but they would still agree on the last point and teach that a believer cannot lose their salvation. 

It's a very surprising thing when you think about it. I'm sure many reading of us were taught this doctrine in their churches. But the doctrine is fairly rare outside of Calvinism and Baptist churches. It's a view that rejects free will and asserts a believer can never do things mentioned in scripture like renouncing Christ or denying Christ, or practicing willful active sin. 

If we go back to the early church, we see that the early church fathers agree that a believer can backslide. It was a basic teaching of the early church, to hold fast to Christ, to remain with Christ, and to reject sin, and to die for Christ if necessary, before ever denying Him. 

As Irenaeus wrote, "But to the righteous and holy, and those who have kept his commandments and have remained in his love…he will by his grace give life incorrupt, and will clothe them with eternal glory" -Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book I, Chapter 10:1. 

But it was a difficult issue to deal with. How does a believer know they are safe in Christ's arms? For the Catholic church, they dealt with this issue by instituting confession. The believer would confess their sins to the Priest. The Priest would then give forgiveness along with penance. This would be practiced monthly, even weekly, or daily if necessary.

So for Catholics, it became a question of salvation security, what kind of sin is deadly to my salvation? So sins were divided up into two categories, mortal sins and venal sins. 

Still the question persisted, what happens for a Christian who is living in active sin? So pretty soon purgatory was invented by the Catholics. If a Christian is active in sin, or has unconfessed or unrepented of sins, they will be taken to a sort of temporary hell, where they will be tormented to make up for their sins until they are cleansed and taken to heaven. 

That lead to the sale of indulgences. Christians fearing their loved ones were in purgatory, would purchase indulgences to free their loved ones from purgatory early.  

As Johann Tetzel the famous seller of indulgences said it: "When a coin in the coffer rings, another soul from purgatory springs."

But it all went back to the salvation security issue, how do I know if I'm secure in my salvation? What about sins I've committed after becoming a Christian? 

You could say this issue may have single-handedly spawned the great protestant reformation. Martin Luther went over and over and over to the priest to confess his sins when he was a monk. He was tormented by the fear of hell. It drove him to study and learn and grow. And Martin Luther found one day in the book of Romans, that salvation was in Christ alone. And we're all grateful for that today. 

But what was Martin Luther's view on once saved always saved? Did you know Martin Luther believed a Christian could lose their salvation? It's true. 

Here is what he wrote in his commentary on the book of Galatians:
"Verse 4, "Ye are fallen from grace." That means you are no longer in the kingdom or condition of grace. When a person on board ship falls into the sea and is drowned it makes no difference from which end or side of the ship he falls into the water. Those who fall from grace perish no matter how they go about it. ... The words, "Ye are fallen from grace," must not be taken lightly. They are important. To fall from grace means to lose the atonement, the forgiveness of sins, the righteousness, liberty, and life which Jesus has merited for us by His death and resurrection. To lose the grace of God means to gain the wrath and judgment of God, death, the bondage of the devil, and everlasting condemnation." -Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, 5:4.

So Martin Luther had to find a careful balance between salvation in Christ, and the reality of the believer's free will and ability to fall from grace. 

We in the body of Christ must make that same effort. We can't fall into the trap of teaching people that they can never lose their salvation. This is dangerous, unbiblical, and invites complacency and a lack of zeal in service to God. A believer must know that when they sin, or depart the church, or even renounce Christ, they are putting their salvation at stake. 

Yet we must also avoid the trap of teaching believers that their salvation is lost very easily. This would invite believers to be tormented as Martin Luther was before the reformation, constantly running to the priest, or to God, fifty times a day crying out, "Am I still saved?"

Instead we must a find a balance, the same balance the scripture actually teaches. This balance is that a believer may hold a sense of security in Christ that their salvation is secure in Him. But, that they should balance this security with a sense of vigilance. As the scripture says, "If you believe are standing firm make sure you don't fall!" 1 Corinthians 10:12. A believer must be challenged to guard against sin, repent quickly if necessary, and to understand that renouncing Christ under pressure/persecution is in fact tantamount to lost salvation. This balance of security and vigilance will help Christians to both be amazed by the love of God in the security of salvation and also encourage Christians to tremble at a Holy God who shows no favoritism and will judge sin as sinful. 

This balance is absolutely vital. Because if a believer is taught that they can never lose their salvation every command of the New Testament suddenly becomes optional, a suggestion, a good idea. But the believer finds there is little affect if they transgress them all. 

Many pastors teach that violation of commands, willful sin, or even outright renouncing Christ as savior, simply causes problems in the relationship between the believer and God, but has no affect on salvation status. 

Yet it says clearly in the book of Romans, chapters 11:19-22, "You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.

Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off."

And again it says in John chapter 15, in the teaching on the vine and the branches, that the believer is the branch, the vine is Jesus, the gardener is God the Father. If a believer (branch) abides in Jesus (the vine) then the believer produces much fruit. But if the believer drifts off and doesn't remain in Christ, they shrivel up. And if a branch shrivels up, it is removed from the vine and is burned (John 15:6).  

This was one of the last teachings that Jesus gave to His disciples in John's gospel. He had already explained to them that by obeying His teaching they were clean, but lastly he explained how to abide in His love, by remaining Him, and obeying His commands, believers would abide in the vine. But if they did not abide, they would shrivel, and lose their salvation, and in the end be burned.

Why is this so challenging for us as evangelical Christians in the west to understand? Why do we teach believers they can never lose their salvation? 

I think it comes right down to one simple fact. I recall watching the Calvinist documentary called American Gospel. And early on a chart was shown on a line indicating a believer's salvation, and they showed it going up and down, and then showed their view which was that it was better to view it as never straying below the line of saved vs. unsaved, because it more psychologically stable. And I realized at that moment, that is why we embrace once saved always saved, despite the fact that so many scriptures make it plain that it's not true. 

It's this: It's just too scary to think we could lose our salvation. 

It's simple psychology. It's mental health. 

We want to hear what we want to hear. Our ears are itching for a comfortable answer.  And what could be more comfortable? Sin as much as you want as a Christian, you can never lose your salvation. And suddenly, my duties as a Christian are nil. Zero.

I have no responsibility to share the gospel. I can keep drinking, partying and sleeping around. I can run my own life, God doesn't have to really be in charge. In fact, I don't even need to attend church.

It's mental health in the end. We want to believe it. In fact honestly, I would prefer, if I were choosing based on what I like, and what feels good, I would jump on board for 'once saved always saved.' It feels great. But it's just not true. And the Holy Spirit kept saying that to me over the years. For my first few years as a Christian leader, I taught OSAS. I taught past, present, future sins are already forgiven. But the Holy Spirit just kept whispering to me, and I had no peace about it. The Spirit kept saying: Something isn't right here. 

Scripture after scripture jumped out at me... John 15, Hebrews 6:6, Hebrews 3:12, Revelation 2-3, Romans 11, Hebrews 10:26-27, 1 Cor 9:27, 1 Tim 4:1, and on and on it went.

Yet at the same time I saw scriptures which spoke of a believer's security in Christ, John 10:28, Hebrews 10:14, 1 John 5:13, Romans 8:38-39, 1 Peter 1:23, and on and on it went. 

Revereing God, I knew I couldn't teach once saved always saved. If it wasn't true I didn't want to teach it. And I knew the scripture which said, "Not many of you should become teachers because you know we teachers will be judged more harshly" (James 3:1). 

We as biblical evangelical Christians must find a way to teach salvation security and vigilance against falling away/apostasy at the same time. If we teacher OSAS we allow people to become complacent and sinful in their Christian practice. We may even lead people to hell. Then again if we teach falling away too severely, believers will fear constantly they are not truly saved, and may even stray into works salvation apart from Christ to try to make up the difference. So a sacred balance is needed here. 

If we can address this as evangelical Christians and find a better balance, we may find a new level of maturity among believers, who both love and fear God, who are both joyous in their security and vigilant in their battles against sin, Satan, and false teachings. But it shouldn't come down to a risk benefit analysis. We should most highly of all want to teach what is in alignment with God's word. And we can do that. We will do that. The ship must be righted, and we can only do it together.