In the last 200 years humanity’s technological progress has made huge advancements. Two generations removed from some of us, our world went from riding in a horse draw carriage to watching the landing on the moon. In fact in the last 50-60 years, we’ve taken computers from big immovable objects to handheld devices that we use in everyday life. They even say that one smart phone has more computing power than the Apollo 11 space mission had.
With that advancement in technology, our society as a whole has been changing as well. Most of this societal change has happened in less than 60 years. Whereas our culture once held strong biblical footing, it is now extremely secular and in a lot of cases, hostile towards the biblical worldview.
With that change we have also seen a rise in anti-biblical teachings. These anti-biblical teachings fall into three categories: religions that are in opposition to the teachings of Scripture, secular humanistic world views and heresy/apostasy.
With this surge in both opposition religions, secular humanism, and heretical teachings, it can feel like Christianity is being attacked from all sides. It can get discouraging and our natural reaction is to get angry and fight. But today I want us to explore how we are to stand against these attacks against Scripture and see how these attacks are nothing new. More specifically, I want us to deal with one of the three anti-biblical teachings. So today, we’re going to explore what heresy is, and how the New Testament shows us how we should deal with it.
But first and foremost we’re going to discover that this struggle that we face today, is nothing new and the immense flood that is sweeping against modern Christendom has been prophesied about.
So if you would, open your Bibles up to Revelation chapter 3, we’ll be focusing on verses 14-22. As you open your Bibles up to Revelation chapter 3 verse 14, I want to give you a little introduction to this area. Revelation is written in prophetic language and like with most prophetic language it can have dual meanings. Meaning, that it can deal with the circumstances in which it was written, and at the same time, have future implications.
To catch us up to where we need to be, we’ll review what’s happening so far in the first three chapters of Revelation. John, the beloved disciple of Jesus and the writer of the Gospel of John, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John, is also our writer here. In the writing, John is taken to heaven and is shown both past and future events. But before that happens Jesus appears to John and requests him to write to seven churches in Asian minor. The first five of these short letters to the churches have a similar structure to them. They have an exultation or encouragement and then they are told of something they need to work on. The sixth church is given and exultation but are given nothing that they need to improve. The seventh and final church is the one we are going to focus on.
The churches at this time were all dealing with their own problems which are addressed in the text, but just like with all prophetic language and illustrations there is more to it. When looking back at these churches and church history we can see parallels between the two. Each church has striking similarities to different times and movements within Church history: Ephesus matches with the Apostolic Church of the first century. Smyrna matches with the persecuted church that was in full force at the end of the first century and continues today. The Pergamum church matches with the rise of the state church around 300 AD, which has since all but dissolved in Europe except maybe Britain. Thyatira matches the rise of the Papal church of the Roman Catholic tradition which is still around to this day. Sardis is similar to the Reformation church that came about in the 1500s. The sixth church, Philadelphia, closely resembles the Missionary Churches that began in the 1700 hundreds and of which we in this church’s denomination, are a product of.
Finally we come to our last church, the church of Laodicea. And it’s here that we pick up in the book of Revelation. Read with me.
14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
In this passage we can see the essence of heresy. Tim Lahaye, the co-writer of the Left Behind book series, equates the church of Laodicea with a future representation of the church that will happen in end times. He calls it the Apostate church which, in his timeline, is a church that appeared roughly around the early 1900s. But I disagree. Apostasy has been around from day one of the Church. Apostasy basically means, that people have abandoned the calling of Jesus for their own ideas. This has been happening since the disciples first received the gift of fiery tongues at Pentecost, and ever since then, apostasy has been gnawing at the heels of Jesus’ true Church of born again believers.
In other words, people who fall into apostasy find themselves following teachings that are contrary to that of Jesus. It has been happening since the Church was founded at Pentecost and it will continue until God makes all things new.
As I look at Scripture and as I see the world around us, I see that the apostate church isn’t just now being founded, but rather it is flourishing. But we can be at ease, because this is nothing new. Have you realized that the New Testament, starting in Acts and going through the book of Jude really boil down into two categories? The first is Christian Theology that is to be applied to life; the second category is Christian theology in response to apostasy/heresy.
Much of the New Testament is written as a response to people bringing in different teachings into the Church. Peter tells us in his second letter, “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.”
John echoes this in his second letter, “I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. 9 Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.”
Are we seeing this today? Yes, but it’s nothing new. Heresy and apostasy have been around since the beginning of the church. Rather than being angry and fearful of the apostasy and heresy that surrounds us, we are called on by Scripture to not only know the word of God, but to stand by it, and defend it.
We can see in Scripture that heresy and apostasy has been around since the beginning of the Church. We’re also told in Scripture that it will continue and grow as we get closer to Jesus’ return.
But how can we tell the difference between apostasy and heresy and true teachings of Jesus Christ? Because, I don’t know if you recognize this, but anyone who can put words on a page, can publish a book these days. Anyone who has access to a video camera, can make a video and put it online. Our job as followers of Jesus is to be able to sift through the teachings of this world and hold onto the true Gospel of Christ.
So let’s clarify what heresy and apostasy is and what it isn’t.
A simple definition of heresy is this, “…the appearance of Christianity, yet [it] contradicts its essence.” So, heresy is anything, anything that contradicts the core of Christian belief. To add to this definition of heresy, let’s add apostasy which is, “…one who forsakes his religion or faith…defection, desertion, rebellion.” In other words, someone who has take the core of Christian belief and has moved away from it.
So apostasy and heresy is what happens when a person starts walking away from the core teachings of Jesus and begin to follow their own ideas.
So what kind of teachings would fall into apostasy and heresy? Well, what about the teaching of Brigham Young in The Journal of Discourse, where he teaches that God was once a mortal man? This teaching is heresy because Scripture states in Numbers 23:19, God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind.
Or what about the teaching from the Jehovah’s Witness’ book, From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained, that teaches that a person must be perfectly good to achieve salvation? This is heresy because Scripture states in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Each of these teachings use Scripture to prove their points, but the problem stems from not looking at the Scriptures in it’s context. Each of these teachings were developed by people taking a Scripture out of context of the original writer and out of the context of other passages of Scripture. This is heresy, a tweaking of Scripture and the ideas that it holds.
But what is not apostasy or heresy? We tend to think that anyone that has a difference of opinion on a subject is heretical or an apostate. The reality is that Christianity has a lot of give when it comes to non-essential teachings. Teachings like, is there a rapture and when is it? We get divided on this topic as if it were a core belief of Christianity. But the reality is that this debate within Christianity didn’t even begin until the early 1800s. So how can it be a matter of core Christian teachings?
Rather we need to recognizing that there are about five core teachings of Christianity. These are:
1) God: Creator, Sustainer, the only being who is Needing of Nothing, and Judge. In addition, the Holy Spirit: Is God and not just a force of God’s power.
2) Jesus Christ: Fully God and Fully Man, came to earth through a virgin, lived a physical life, died a physical death, resurrected in a physical body, will return physically and is the only way to salvation.
3) God’s Word the Bible is true and is our light that guides us in this dark world. It contains all that we need to know and follow God
4) Humans are sinful, breaking the eternal law of God, they are in need of Jesus’ saving work on the cross, once they are saved they are brought into to be apart of the Church and are to grow in their relationship with God.
5) Salvation is a free gift, we cannot earn it. But those who reject the gift will be separated from God for eternity.
Now there is more to those five essentials, but realizing what the core teachings of Christianity is, it shows us that there is a lot of debatable subjects too. So just because someone disagrees with us on the Rapture, doesn’t mean they are a heretic. Yet if someone denies Jesus is fully God and Fully Man, then there’s a real problem.
Finally, what are we to do about heresy and apostasy? Well, Peter gives us 3 ways of dealing with heresy and apostasy. First, in Peter’s first letter chapter 3, verse 15 we are told, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”
In other words, heresy is self made teachings. Teachings that are made up by men to prove their own points. Peter says to revere Christ, or honor him. We need to submit to God’s teaching and leave our own ideas at the door. Also, Peter tells us to be prepared to answer. How do we do that, but to study and learn and apply the words of God to our lives. So when we come into contact with heresy or come into a situation where we can share the truth of the Gospel, we are ready. Thirdly, Peter also tells us to do all this with gentleness and respect. It’s easy for us to condemn someone who is following heretical teachings, but God desires us to show them their errors in a way that lifts them up and not tears them down.
Paul echoes this in 1st Corinthians 16:13-14 where he says, “13 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. 14 Do everything in love.”
We must stand again the heresies and apostasy that enters into the Church. We do this by knowing the truth of Scripture, not worrying about those things that are not core essentials to Christianity and correcting others in love and gentleness.
Heresy and apostasy have been apart of the Church since it’s founding at Pentecost. It continues to be in the Church to this day. God has called his people to recognize what heresy and apostasy are and to be able to stand against it. We can debate the non-essentials of Christianity, and correct those things that go against the core of our Faith. But in doing so, we must remember that the point of correction is to bring others into a deeper relationship with God. We should not run in fear of the heresies of today, Our Lord has victory over all of it and if our faith is true then nothing can stand against us.
Now may the Lord, Who’s Word is eternal, bring you into his understanding. That you may stand firm for his Kingdom, that the world may know him, and bow willing before him. Amen.