The 10 Most Deadly Heresies Affecting American Churches in These Last Days
One of the distinguishing marks of a follower of Jesus Christ is a love for the truth. The believer’s testimony should be (Psalm 119:128): “Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way.” The Lord Jesus called Himself “the truth” (John 14:6) and the apostle whom He loved most dearly proclaimed (3 John 4), “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.”
The new believer must be diligent to add to faith, virtue, and to virtue, knowledge (etc., 2 Peter 1:5-10) to insure that he doesn’t fall from service. I believe it is far more profitable for a Christian to know a very few true things than to know much, with errors mixed in. The most deadly heresies afflicting American churches today are listed below, along with a very brief assessment of the damage done by each to the saving Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Since each heresy properly warrants a book-length treatment to analyze and refute it, I have included a suggested reading list. I have restricted my recommended authors to those that tend to be sound in areas other than the topic in question. Other books on these subjects can be helpful, but some authors are guilty of heresies in other areas, and so I decline to recommend them.
The purpose of this article is to very briefly summarize the key elements of these damnable heresies. The Christian that understands them in light of Biblical truth will both save himself and his family from great trouble, and will be equipped to help those that have fallen into the snare of the devil (1 Tim 4:16 and 2 Tim 2:23-26).
How many of the heresies below do you embrace? Do you think that you are immune because you know that you are born again, you love the Lord, and work to serve Him? Consider that you know some “good, solid” Christians who have some peculiar errors. Is it just possible that you also have a blind spot? Satan is deceptive and has more experience that you or me. If you are a young believer (in your twenties, and raised up in a conservative church, for example), you likely have built your theology from pulpit and Sunday School teaching. You very likely don’t know your Bible as well as you think. How many times have your read the Bible through carefully? Have you even memorized 1000 verses yet? (What – do you think that’s unimportant?) It takes much work to construct your theological foundations directly from the word of God, while treating the teaching from your elders as the Bereans rightly treated the apostle Paul. Please consider these points with all humility.
1. Salvation by faith plus works
a. The problem: Multitudes in Christendom profess that they have faith in Jesus Christ and believe that He died on the cross for their sins. Nevertheless they believe that their salvation depends on living righteously and, perhaps, performing some particular “good works.” Thus, their salvation depends on Jesus plus themselves. Exactly how righteous one must be and how many works are required are rarely defined. In contrast, the Bible teaches unequivocally that our part in salvation is repentance and faith. A humble, repentant heart that turns to the Lord Jesus Christ, trusting in His shed blood for salvation, will be born again by the Spirit of God.
b. Scripture: John 3, Ephesians 2:8-10, Titus 3:5-8, Gal 2:16, 3:10-11, and hundreds of other references could be cited. Scriptures cited in opposition are easily explained, such as James 2, in which it is clear that genuine faith produces a changed life that manifests itself in good works – as stated explicitly in 2 Cor 5:17.
c. Major groups infested with this heresy: Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, liberal Protestantism, Church of Christ, Mormonism, (so-called) Jehovah’s Witnesses – all of the cults.
d. Impact: Embracing this doctrine sends one to hell. Trusting in works to any degree is self-righteousness, and precludes the humility, repentance, and faith in Jesus Christ necessary for salvation.
e. For more reading: Much material on various cults can be found at www.chick.com. Probably the best book exposing the errors of Roman Catholicism is Dave Hunt’s, A Woman Rides the Beast.
2. Baptismal regeneration and/or infant baptism
a. The problem: Infant baptism is often performed as a “means of grace,” particularly the grace of making one a child of God. The perception is that one becomes a Christian at this point, even though the baby is clueless. Other groups insist that baptism is a necessary part of salvation, whether for infants or adults – repentance & faith aren’t enough. One major heresy that motivates infant baptism is the heretical idea discussed in my article, “Inherited Sin Nature — A Devilish Lie.”
b. Scripture: Infant baptism is refuted by all the Scripture that indicates that one must believe and/or repent to be saved, something impossible for an infant. These include John 3:36, 5:24, and Mark 1:15. Furthermore, ALL examples of baptism in the New Testament involve people old enough to understand the Gospel. These include Matthew 3, Acts 2:41, 10:47-48, 16:25-34. Note in this last case, which some use to argue in opposition, that the jailer “rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.” Namely, his household were all old enough to believe. No infants are in the picture. (Also, no dogs or cats are reported as baptized. If you use an “argument from silence” to presume that infants were baptized in this case, why not dogs and cats?
Regarding the addition of baptism to faith for adults – see Luke 23:39-43 (thief on the cross), John 6:37-40, 1 John 5:11-13, Rev 22:17, and countless others that speak to the spiritual nature of salvation with no hint of external water required. Scriptures used in opposition, such as Acts 2:38 and Mark 16:15-16, are easily explained by pointing out that baptism is commanded as an act of obedience upon conversion and, of course, this should be done immediately. Note that those Scriptures do NOT teach that without baptism one is lost.
c. Major groups: Infant baptism — Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, other Protestants; Adult baptismal regeneration – Church of Christ, some Pentecostal groups.
d. Impact: Those holding this heresy consider themselves saved either completely or in part by the act of baptism. They have missed the simplicity and the gravity of the Gospel. Ceremonies don’t save. Only Jesus does – John 14:6, Acts 4:12. The impact is the same as in item #1 above – self-righteousness leaves one under damnation.
e. For more reading: David Cloud’s books, Defense of the Faith and A History of the Churches , have considerable material on the history, errors, and consequences of infant baptism.
3. Calvinism / reformed theology / so-called “doctrines of grace”
a. The problem: TULIP theology – 5 untrue propositions – The Calvinist believes he is (“T”) Totally Depraved, sinfully wicked with the inability to believe the Gospel and repent until God has first regenerated him. (“U”) Unconditional election specifies that only an elect few are foreordained from eternity to be chosen for salvation, with the other billions of humans throughout history foreordained for damnation – there is nothing they can do about it. (“L”) Limited atonement follows from unconditional election in that if only an elect few are to be saved by decree, then the atonement, Christ’s sacrifice, was only for the elect. (“I”) Irresistible grace is what God uses to convert the elect while they are in their totally depraved state. There is nothing of man’s choice or will about this. (“P”) Perseverance of the saints is the evidence of the elect’s salvation by living righteously and doing good works, without falling. This sounds a bit like eternal security, but isn’t at all. “P” is man’s work, but Biblical security is God’s work (1 Peter 1:5). It is also important to note that the heretical idea of an inherited sin nature helps to motivate TULIP. Please read my article, “Inherited Sin Nature — A Devilish Lie.”
Finally, to TULIP should be added an overarching principle – the Calvinist view of God’s sovereignty is that everything in history is foreordained. Every thought, word, and action has been decreed in the eternal plan of God, including every kindness & unkindness, every blasphemy, every murder, every rape, and every vile deed ever performed. What a terrible accusation to levy against God!
Many Calvinists and “reformed” churches will insist that they believe in “man’s responsibility” at the same time that they believe in Total Depravity (= Total Inability) and Unconditional Election (= Unconditional Damnation for everyone else). They insist that the simultaneous “truths” of man’s inability and man’s responsibility constitute a “mystery.” It’s NOT a mystery, but rather a CONTRADICTION. There is a serious difference between a mystery and a contradiction. The Trinity is a mystery . . . it’s beyond our comprehension. The incarnation of Jesus Christ is a mystery . . . the details have not been revealed to us and may also be beyond our comprehension. What our “mansions” will look like in the New Jerusalem is a mystery . . . we haven’t been told yet. What an electron is actually doing while in orbit around a proton in a hydrogen atom (along with all other quantum phenomena) is a mystery.
Contradictions are different. 1 is not equal to 2. I am either married to my wife or I am not. Sin is not the same as righteousness. I cannot be eternally saved and eternally condemned at the same time. And I cannot be UNABLE and RESPONSIBLE at the same time. Consider the legal concept of depraved indifference. If a man watches as a little child falls into a pool and drowns . . . and does nothing to save her . . . you will judge him to be vile and guilty and prosecutable for depraved indifference. But what if you are told that he was watching from a wheelchair, totally disabled from a degenerative disease, and even unable to speak? Is he guilty? Of course not – he was Totally Unable to help the child. ABLE means RESPONSIBLE. NOT ABLE means NOT RESPONSIBLE. Everyone understands justice in such matters. God is not less just than we are.
You cannot be both UNABLE and ABLE at the same time. Why don’t Calvinists just “man up” and stand by their doctrines of unconditional election and sovereignty? Why do they throw in the contradiction of claiming man’s responsibility? Those that do “man up” are labeled HYPER-CALVINISTS. Not many want that label, but at least they are clear about where they stand. Face it . . . once you assert Unconditional Election / Unconditional Damnation and Total Depravity / Total Inability, then any claim about men and women having their own choices to make regarding salvation is completely bogus. In short, Calvinist doctrines negate both Biblical teaching and every man’s day-to-day experience that he has choices to make – free will – about all moral matters.
Calvinism cannot hide behind a bogus claim that man is genuinely responsible IN THE FACE OF total inability, unconditional damnation, and alleged predetermined “sovereignty” over every thought, word, deed, and event in the history of the world. And once their unbiblical doctrines are completely exposed to any reasonable man, his conscience will properly recoil in horror that the God of the Bible is represented in this way. In fact, atheists and other skeptics have long ridiculed Christians on the basis of Calvinist doctrine. The truly born again Christian can easily refute such ridicule by proclaiming, “Those are doctrines of devils! Jesus saves WHOSOEVER will repent and believe and is not willing that ANY should perish!” . . . as Scripture teaches from Genesis to Revelation.
I asked a Calvinist pastor whether he explained the ‘whole truth’ to lost sinners, perhaps like this: “Sir, you were born totally depraved, compelled to live an unrighteous life by your inherited sin nature, and UNABLE to repent and believe in Christ for salvation. The Good News is that if you are one of the elect chosen by God from before the foundation of the world, then Jesus died for your sins. If you’re not elect, He didn’t, and you will be cast into the Lake of Fire for eternity. Too bad, but there is NOTHING you can do about it. But if you are elect, then God will regenerate you and give you repentance and faith in your heart. That’s irresistible grace. That’s totally His doing and you have no part in it. If He does, then you will demonstrate it by persevering in a Christian life of good works. So, if you get regenerated, let me know and you can join our church.”
That pastor was horrified. “I would never go there,” he said. He would never lay out the truth, he means, even though he believes it. Some honest Calvinists call TULIP ‘the Gospel itself’. If TULIP were true, then it is indeed the Good News, but only for the unconditionally elect. The TRUTH is that God’s TRUTH need never be hidden. The Biblical call to willful repentance and faith can be explained fully. God’s TRUTH always makes sense. God is rational! Calvinists are not.
b. Scripture: The entire Bible speaks to man’s ability to repent and believe. God commands repentance many times (Acts 17:30, Matt 4:17, Acts 3:19). God is grieved when man does not repent (Ezek 33:11, Ezek 18:30-31, Matt 23:37), is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9, 1 Tim 2:4). Jesus died for the sins of all men (John 3:16, 1 John 2:2). Jesus came to save all the lost and anyone may be saved, although few repent and believe (Matt 7:13-14, Luke 19:10, Luke 5:32, John 6:40, John 12:32, Rev 22:17). Salvation is a gift, an offer of grace, and the Bible makes clear our choice – grace is resistible (Eph 2:8-9, Deut 30:19, Joshua 24:15, Mark 16:16, John 3:36).
c. Major groups: Presbyterians, Reformed Baptists, Sovereign Grace Baptists, some Lutherans, many non-denominational churches – for example, many evangelicals under pastors trained at John MacArthur’s Master’s College & Seminary.
d. Impact: If a child is trained up in TULIP theology, she will come to believe that she is one of the elect and that all of her beliefs were implanted within her via irresistible grace. Her “religious” life will help support her belief that she is foreordained for heaven. She is unlikely to recognize her personal accountability, willful sinfulness, need for humility and repentance, and have no personal urgency to trust the shed blood of Jesus Christ for her salvation. In short, Calvinism is a damnable heresy. Yes, there are saved Calvinists, but most of these come to believe the Gospel before they are polluted with heresy. One terrible consequence of Calvinism is that it makes evangelism pointless, not to mention prayer and anything else that we “think” we might do, since to the Calvinist everything is foreordained. Some Calvinists evangelize anyway, but many don’t because they recognize the fatalistic consequences of their system.
e. For more reading: Dave Hunt’s What Love Is This? effectively slays the Calvinist dragon. A shorter treatment is David Cloud’s The Calvinist Debate. The exhaustive treatment can be found in The Other Side of Calvinism, by Laurence Vance.
4. Loss of salvation by sinning / so-called “Arminianism” / eternal insecurity
a. The problem: Some that believe that salvation is a gift, and our part is repentance and faith, also believe that if you sin badly enough, you can lose your salvation. They cite such passages as Hebrews chapters 6 and 10 – out of context. “Hebrews” is written to the Jews, who are warned that if they neglect the shed blood of Christ for their salvation, they have nowhere else to go. The challenge with the “eternally insecure” is to determine how much sin cancels out your salvation. And then . . . must you get saved again, or just ask forgiveness? One Church of Christ pastor admitted to me that he feels like he’s on a sawtooth or a roller coaster – up, down, up, down . . . Some insist that to lose salvation one must willfully reject Christ and salvation. “Ordinary sins” don’t condemn you.
b. Scripture: If sin can re-condemn a Christian, how much sin would it take? James 2:10 makes one sin overturn the whole law. Do not even Christians break the two greatest commandments every day? See Matt 22:34-40. Who succeeds in loving God with the whole heart, soul, and mind and your neighbor as yourself – every day? Break these two laws and you’ve broken them all. Eternal security is crystal clear in the Bible. John 3:16 and 3:36 and 5:24 make everlasting life a present possession. How long does everlasting life last? John 10:27-30, along with Eph 1:13 and 4:30, describe our triple seal / security, guaranteed by each person of the Trinity. 1 Peter 1:4-5 mention our reserved inheritance and Whose power keeps us. Romans 8:35-39 makes clear that NOTHING can separate the believer from Christ.
c. Major groups: Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, Church of Christ, most Pentecostals, all of the cults.
d. Impact: True born again Christians that subscribe to this heresy should lose sleep at night, over wondering whether they are living righteously enough to maintain salvation. Many promises in the Bible are neglected, including those in Ephesians 3 which describe our position in Christ, our inheritance, and our fellowship with Christ. More significantly, those that are taught this heresy from the beginning of their instruction must fail to recognize that salvation is in Christ alone. If you maintain that your salvation is by works, then you are no better off than the heretic who mixes works with faith for salvation. Thus many in this camp are not saved at all.
e. For more reading: Just get to know the Gospel of John, Galatians, and the rest of the New Testament. For the lover of truth (God’s word), this heresy should be seen for the foolishness it is.
5. Repentance – less Gospel / antinomianism / “easy-believism” / “quick-prayerism”
a. The problem: Many fervent Christians are reaching out to the lost with a Gospel presentation that produces false converts. The biggest error made is an attempt to “close the deal” by provoking the sinner to pray a “sinner’s prayer.” The Bible knows nothing of this. Salvation comes as a work of the Holy Spirit when a sinner repents from sin and trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ for his salvation. A “sinner’s prayer” does not save, but rather can deceive someone into thinking that he “did what it takes” regardless of what goes on in the heart. The second greatest error is a weak presentation of sin and the need for repentance. Some believe that repentance from sin has no part in salvation – a sinner can simply trust in Jesus for salvation, but continue to live a wicked life. In short, they see the sinner getting his “ticket to heaven,” but keeping his “party” going on down on earth.
b. Scripture: Scripture is repeatedly clear that repentance and faith go together. To agree with God about sin and obtain forgiveness, necessarily means a change of mind toward sin and self. When you’re born again, life changes, you go from darkness to light and from ungodliness to godliness. See for example: John 3:16-21, 2 Cor 5:17, Titus 2:11-14, Acts 20:20-21, Acts 26:18-20, and many others. In Matthew 12:38-41 the Lord Himself defines repentance as that which happened in Ninevah. See Jonah 3. This was no empty profession. Repentance produces a change of mind that leads to a changed life. Ezekiel 18:30-31 defines repentance and couples it to making a new heart – the new birth. Along with Ezek 36:26-27, these verses explain why Nicodemus, a teacher of Israel, should have understood Jesus’ teaching on the new birth. Finally, you can’t love Jesus without loving righteousness and, conversely, hating unrighteousness. There are two roads (Matt 7:13-14). Salvation means changing roads.
c. Major groups: Many independent Baptists, especially those in the Jack Hyles / Sword of the Lord camp. However, many independent Baptists are on the Scriptural side of this issue. Southern Baptists and most evangelicals fall prey to this heresy.
d. Impact: Multitudes of false converts will be surprised to wake up in hell. Thus we have a damnable heresy. It is vital for the “soul-winner,” the preacher of the Gospel, to plow the ground with the law, make sin / judgment / repentance / the cross / the resurrection / the new birth clear, and then leave the issue between the sinner and the Saviour. Note in Mark 10:17-22 that Jesus focuses on the one big sin in the man’s life – his love for money over his love for God – and sends him away lost. A “modern” soul-winner would be aghast – why not lead him in a sinner’s prayer and hope that he can overcome that sin later? Bottom line: It’s impossible to repent from sin “in general.” Almost anyone will admit that he’s a sinner. But to repent from his favorite sins and admit that he deserves hell for his willful wickedness – that’s why the apostles and Scriptural preachers have been hated through the centuries. Contrast John 7:5-7 with John 15:18-20.
e. For more reading: The Way of the Master and The School of Biblical Evangelism, by Ray Comfort, and David Cloud’s Repentance and Soul-Winning.
6. Pentecostalism / Charismatic movement
a. The problem: The biggest offense is the claim of Pentecostal preachers that they receive new revelation. They profess that God is giving them new prophecies, new words, and even new doctrine. Some claim to have personal meetings with Jesus, or visit heaven, or get dreams with a special message for all of us little people. Secondary problems include such silliness (although it’s occasionally demonic manifestation) as “tongues,” spirit-slaying, phony healings, and hyper-emotionalism. New “revelations” tend to destroy the authority of the Bible. Why study the old book when your preacher got a new word from God this week? The other errors distract from the simple truth of the Gospel, leaving true Christians weak and ineffective and potential converts confused about what’s important. “Christian TV” is dominated by Pentecostals, and they bring great discredit to Christianity through their constant money grubbing and performance-oriented preaching.
b. Scripture: Rev 22:18-19, at the close of the canon of Scripture, warns of God’s curse on those who would add to or subtract from the word of God. Deut 18:20-22 levies a standard of perfection on the presumed prophet and a death sentence if he proves to be false. Your typical Pentecostal “prophet” has proven himself false many times, but the money keeps rolling in.
Acts 2 proves that Biblical “tongues” were real languages given to the apostles for the purpose of preaching the Gospel to lost Jews who were in Jerusalem from all over the world. 1 Cor 14:22 supports this case by pointing out that tongues were used as a sign for the lost. 1 Cor 14:40 – “Let all things be done decently and in order” – is violated consistently by most Pentecostal churches.
c. Major Groups: Pentecostal churches and Charismatic evangelical churches come under many names. Assembly of God churches may be the largest single group. But there are charismatic Southern Baptists, Episcopalians, Roman Catholics (that should give one pause!), and there are even some Charismatic Calvinists. Most seeker-sensitive mega-churches and emergent churches allow charismatic teaching and practice, because they find it difficult to preach against anything.
d. Impact: The Charismatic movement is a huge unifying influence for ecumenism, producing fellowship among all kinds of denominations, at the expense of doctrine. With emotionalism and pseudo-gifts (such as tongues) pervading Christendom, Charismatics bond together regardless of denomination or doctrine. Thus doctrine becomes unimportant. One can be a true Christian and succumb to Charismatic heresies, but he will not grow strong and will tend to associate with those far deeper in error. Worse, people attracted to Pentecostalism often miss the “needle” of the Gospel in the midst of the “haystack” of phony miracles, emotionalism, and superstar TV prophets. Thus, there are fewer and fewer people coming to saving repentance and faith in this movement.
e. For more reading: The Other Side of the River, by Kevin Reeves, The Pentecostal-Charismatic Movements, by David Cloud.
7. Atheism / theistic evolution / modernism / post-modernism / emergent church movement
a. The post-modern emergent church movement is little more than “old fashioned” modernism, which is a close spiritual relative to atheism. In all of these philosophies, the Bible is discarded for the humanist fashions of the times. For example: The atheist denies creation (as described in Genesis), the virgin birth, and the resurrection of Christ. The modernist allows for some form of God, but denies the same doctrines – atheistic evolution has been replaced with theistic evolution, which also denies the God of the Bible. The post-modernist may allow for the possibility of creation or evolution, virgin or non-virgin birth, a physical or non-physical resurrection, but the “truth” is not important – in fact, it’s anathema to the post-modern to allow that “truth” exists. While some emergents profess the Gospel as the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, they also affirm that salvation is available in other belief systems. So let’s lump them all in the same bin of unbelief.
b. Scripture: God exalts His word above even His name (Psalm 138:2). The apostle John, and the Holy Spirit inspiring John, proclaimed that he has no greater joy than to hear that his children walk in truth (3 John 4). God’s word is “truth” (John 17:17). Jesus is given the title of “truth” (John 14:6). Jesus affirmed the Genesis account of creation (Mark 10:6-9), so if Genesis is corrupt, then Jesus is not Deity. Those that reject the truth of God’s word are not born again Christians (1 John 5:10, John 12:48, John 8:47).
c. Major Groups: Unbelief in these forms is affecting all churches. Most obvious are those churches identifying themselves as emergent. But old-line denominational churches, such as United Methodist, Lutheran, and Episcopalian, plus liberal Baptists and many others are going emergent rapidly. Furthermore, the seeker-sensitive mega-churches are rapidly turning emergent. Seeker-sensitive market-driven churches are pandering to the worldly inclinations of the lost world, and not establishing their foundations on Biblical truth. Scripture has much to say to condemn this approach (1 John 2:15-17, James 4:4, 2 Peter 2:1-3). Even fundamental churches have members succumbing to post-modern “tolerance,” often because preachers do not adequately warn against heresies.
d. Impact: The “unbelief” movement emphasizes “positive” messages, and so deliberately avoids preaching against sin and warning of the coming judgment. And attacks on Biblical truth push people away from saving faith. Therefore, these damnable heresies, while filling churches, are sending multitudes to hell.
e. For more reading: What is the Emerging Church, by David Cloud; Many Infallible Proofs – Evidences for the Christian Faith, by Henry Morris; and The New Answers Book & The New Answers Books 2 & 3, (broad treatments of creation / evolution) by Ken Ham, et. al.
8. Textual criticism / Bible version confusion
a. The problem: The multiplicity of modern Bible versions, with new ones coming out every year, is destroying knowledge of God’s word among Christians, is discouraging memorization (which we are instructed to do – Ps 119:11), sows confusion in Bible study, waters down the truth and gravity of God’s revelation, and provides ammunition for skeptics to ridicule and reject preachers and soul-winners. Comparing multiple versions reveals contradictions, additions, and subtractions. Key doctrinal passages are changed or deleted. The first cause of these problems is the adoption of corrupt Hebrew and Greek texts for use in translating modern versions. The old-fashioned King James Bible of 1611 (refined slightly through 1768 as English spellings changed), was the culmination of a century of serious scholarship, using the ancient Hebrew Masoretic text as the basis for the Old Testament and the Received Text in Greek for the New Testament.
The manuscripts that form the basis of the Greek Received Text represent literally tens of thousands of manuscripts, fragments, lectionaries, and quotations that have remarkable (miraculous) consistency, even though their sources are scattered over 3 continents and many hundreds of years. The so-called “critical text” that forms the basis of all the modern versions – including the ESV, NASV, and NIV — is a polyglot of a mere handful (5-10) of manuscripts mostly discovered in the 19th and 20th centuries, and have thousands of disagreements within their tiny “family.” There should be no contest regarding the proper source documents for the Bible. But Satan has questioned, attacked, misquoted, and misapplied God’s word from Genesis 3 onward. Most pastors have been educated in Bible colleges that use textbooks written by unbelieving scholars!
To compound the problem, the modern versions not only use corrupt source documents, but they also take interpretive liberties with the translation, an approach termed “dynamic equivalence.” The idea is that people are too stupid to understand God’s words directly, so they need an interpreted version. Thus God’s words are doubly hidden in the modern versions, and “ordinary Christians” are dependent on a priestly class of scholars.
Finally, many key Scriptures are not only perverted, but are simply left out. Many of these corruptions serve to attack the Deity of Christ and the Trinity, such as the deletion of 1 John 5:7 and a word change in 1 Tim 3:16. Others turn the message upside down, as in Phil 2:6. There are thousands of changes in the New Testament between the Received Text and the amorphously ever-changing critical text. How many errors make too many for you?
b. Scripture: God commands that no one add to or subtract from His word (Deut 4:2, Rev 22:18-19). He promises to preserve His word, even to the punctuation marks (Matt 5:18, Ps 12:6-7, Matt 24:35). He instructs us to have enormous respect for His word (Ps 19 and Ps 119). Many churches profess their belief in the “inerrancy” of the Bible as given in the “original manuscripts.” This is a copout. There NEVER was a time in history when all of the “original manuscripts” existed at the same time. If God allowed man to corrupt His word in the copying and transmission from generation to generation, then nobody has EVER had a Bible that could be entirely trusted.
The 1st thing for the Christian is to trust God that He preserved His word as He promised. Secondly, through a study of history, it’s not hard to determine that the Masoretic / Received texts in the original languages, and the King James Bible in English, constitute the ways God has preserved and used His word. (Consider the King James Version to be a completely accurate English translation of the preserved texts. There are many other such versions in other languages – see the references below.)
c. Major Groups: The only groups not afflicted by textual heresy are some of the independent fundamental Baptists and Bible churches. Essentially all of the evangelicals, not to mention modernists/post-modernists, use corrupt versions. Ironically, some cults like the Mormons and the Apostolic Lutherans use only the King James Bible – but they exalt other writings and their traditions above the Bible, so they don’t get a pass.
d. Impact: For Christians, faith is weakened – how could it not be so (Rom 10:17, Ps 11:3)? A sinner gets saved through repentance and faith, regardless of who the preacher is or what version he uses. But a Christian’s growth is tied intimately to the purity and truth of God’s word and the leading of the Holy Spirit – Who leads only in accordance with God’s word. Consequences of multiple versions in use in any given church include poor Bible knowledge and little respect for the importance of God’s word. Thus we do not have a damnable heresy, but weak Christians produce little to no fruit. Therefore, the Gospel is definitely hindered and souls are lost.
e. For more reading: Touch Not the Unclean Thing — The Text Issue and Separation, by David Sorenson (medium level), The Bible Version Issue, by David Cloud (medium level), Things That Are Different Are Not the Same, by Mickey Carter (a simple, popular level treatment); Defending the King James Bible, by D. A. Waite (medium level); The King James Version Defended, by Edward F. Hills (medium); and Forever Settled – A Survey of the Documents and History of the Bible, by Jack Moorman (more difficult, but more thorough).
9. Authoritarian leadership / Nicolaitinism / popery
a. The problem: The obvious stereotype is the popery of Roman Catholicism. But the really sinister problem occurs when this heresy slinks into fundamental or evangelical churches. The first indicator is when a church has one senior “super-pastor.” All authority flows from the senior pastor, while “assistant pastors” (not a Biblical term) have very limited authority. They defer to the super-pastor on even trivial matters. The super-pastor tends to involve himself in the personal lives of his staff and his members, even to the extent of what careers individuals should pursue or whom they should court or marry. Now certainly, a pastor / elder should be ready to advise believers on all such matters when they seek his counsel. The line is crossed when there is an expectation that permission should invariably be sought on personal matters.
Another indicator is that when a doctrinal matter arises among members, the first thought is to see what verdict the senior pastor will render. The Bereans were deemed noble in Acts 17:11 because they first went to the Scripture to evaluate what the apostle Paul was teaching. Should not leaders be motivated to train their brothers and sisters to be Bereans? Is not the mission from the Lord to perfect the saints for the work of the ministry, so that we come to unity in Christ and avoid being tossed about with every wind of doctrine (Eph 4:11-15)? Besides, Scripture is clear (1 Pe 2:9, Rev 1:6) that all believers are priests, with direct access to God and their own personal accountability to Scriptural truth. Also, all believers are to be ministers, as in Heb 10:24-25, Col 3:16, and 1 Cor 14:26. The elders — plural — are to be of the brethren, not to lord it over the brethren.
A sure-fire clue that popery has infiltrated is that there is great fear about questioning the pastor, assuming that what the pastor is teaching or what policies he is implementing are “from the Lord.” Especially when he says as much, we see the same problem as described above in Pentecostalism – extra-Biblical revelation. Fundamentalists can be quite guilty of this, too.
Finally, a danger sign is a pattern of topical preaching. The Bible is best taught in context, as it was written (!), so that God’s word can reinforce and explain itself. The super-pastor rather loves to take a single text (or very few) and launch off on a variety of matters. This often leads to errors in the interpretation or application of his text, since he has divorced it from the context. The motivation for topical preaching is often to generate decisions and commitments, as evidenced by regular altar calls. Such decisions can be transitory if obtained by emotional or bombastic appeal and not by conviction of the Holy Spirit through the clear teaching of His word.
Additionally, in topical teaching, the believers are missing the opportunity to understand the Bible, verse by verse, chapter by chapter, via expository preaching. Is there a time for topical teaching? Of course. But the lion’s share should be expository. We see even among fundamentalists a woeful lack of Bible knowledge, in part due to topical preaching, but especially because members merely sit and listen to a salaried lecturer, rather than develop their own teaching gifts and work to encourage and admonish each other. Finally, topical preaching is certain to produce imbalance, since topics are chosen by the preacher. Alternatively, in preaching major portions of the Bible verse by verse, it’s the Lord who determines the balance of topics by the canon of Scripture.
b. Scripture: The Scriptural pattern for church leadership is a collaborative group of elders (Acts 20:17, Phil 1:1, Titus 1:5, 1 Peter 5:1). This is necessary because the NT pattern, as in Antioch and Ephesus, is to organize a ‘local church’ as a network of house churches, requiring cooperative leadership. See my article “Local Church vs. Universal Church“. Note that Paul’s epistles are written explicitly to the saints in the churches (1 Cor 1:2, 2 Cor 1:1, Gal 1:2, Eph 1:1, etc.). If the one-man pastor were as preeminent as we find in modern churches, he would be addressed and cited much in the apostolic writings. In fact, he is nonexistent, except possibly for the negative case of Diotrephes in 3 John. Those in the office of pastor / bishop / elder (3 different roles for the same person) certainly are given leadership authority by God in Scripture. We see this explicitly in Heb 13:7 and 13:17. Naturally, super-pastors emphasize these 2 verses above all others. Note that in Heb 13:7-8 that we are to follow the elder’s faith in so far as their conversation is centered on Jesus Christ. (Super-pastors tend to accept much adulation from men, distracting attention from the Lord.) And in Heb 13:17 we are commanded to obey and to submit to those who are watching for our souls, because they are mindful of the account they must give to the Lord at the Judgment Seat of Christ. In both passages, “remember them” and “obey them” clearly denote plurality in leadership. So even these two favorite verses of the fundamentalists go against their pattern of one-man authoritarian rule.
Often neglected is the passage in 1 Peter 5:1-3, in which the elders are to feed the flock (teach the word), not to constrain the flock, but to lead them willingly, to avoid a motivation of filthy lucre (money), and especially to avoid acting as “lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.” Thus, along with 2 Tim 4:1-5, 1 Tim 3, and Titus 1, we see that the primary authority of the elder is two-fold: The elder teaches the word of God so that the believer understands what God wants of him – not what the elder wants; and by living a godly example (including doing the work of an evangelist himself – on the streets), the believer sees how to work out his own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12).
Regarding topical vs. expository preaching, the one time in the Bible that the word pulpit is used (observe that fundamentalists emphasize the centrality of their “pulpit ministry”), Nehemiah reads the law of Moses distinctly, gives the sense, and causes the people to understand the reading. It sounds like expository preaching is the model for the only time a pulpit is used in Biblical history!
Rather than one man dominating a pulpit, and pretending that regular lectures are equivalent to Biblical discipleship, Scripture teaches that every man and woman is gifted by God for the ministry of the saints. In addition to previous citations, see for example, 1 Pe 4:10-11, Romans 12, 1 Cor 12, and Titus 2:3-5. The elder women are to teach the younger, and the younger are to teach their children, and all are to exercise gifts. Ironically, in many churches women do get opportunities to exercise their gifts to some degree, but the men are stifled because only ordained clergy are allowed “to preach.” And some women resent the privilege that these super-pastors have to preach from a pulpit. The irony is that the super-pulpit-preacher should not exist at all, because discipleship doesn’t work via pulpit-to-pew lectures! But this irony also suggests a reason that Christian women tend to be a bit more mature than Christian men, who are expected by their evangelical or fundamentalist clergy to show up, shut up, and pay up.
c. Major groups: The ones to be concerned about are the fundamental Baptists and the conservative evangelicals. The cults and the emergents and the Pentecostals have this problem too, of course, but they have bigger and more deadly problems.
d. Impact: The growth of believers is stunted. There is spiritual death in over-centralized authority, in that errors increase without check. There will also be a limited variety of personality types attracted to churches with super-pastors: people that like to be told what to do (by a man), because they won’t take the responsibility before God for their own spiritual growth.
e. For more reading: I highly recommend The Christian Ministry According to the Apostles, by Thomas Hughes Milner, written in 1858, but republished recently. It can be obtained through thomashughesmilner.org. Also visit The Dissenting Church, which has much Biblical exposition on the New Testament plan for the church. Good examples of Scriptural church polity can be gleaned from the experience of the Chinese churches under persecution since the Communist takeover. I recommend The Heavenly Man – the remarkable true story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun, with Paul Hattaway; Three of China’s Mighty Men – leaders of the Chinese church under persecution, by Leslie Lyall; and a fictional treatment backed by sound research – Safely Home, by Randy Alcorn.
10. Catholic / Protestant view of history
a. The problem: Most Protestants take a “Catholic view of history.” They see Roman Catholicism as the main stream of Christianity, which gradually got corrupted, leading to the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. Thus they erroneously buy into the Catholic perversion of apostolic succession, whereby Rome claims to trace its leadership one Pope at a time all the way back to Peter. The Reformers such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox are seen as restoring “the Church” to its Biblical roots.
In fact, the Roman Catholic Church grew as a state-sponsored institution very gradually, beginning with Constantine in the 4th century. The bishops of Rome took centuries to extend their power over like-minded churches until, in 1054 A.D., the split between the Roman and Eastern Orthodox branches occurred, which persists until today.
A fully-informed view of church history begins with the Biblical example of independent, autonomous churches, as evidenced by the churches established under Paul’s ministry. Note that he writes letters to the church at Rome, the church at Corinth, etc. The seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3 are independent. Elders are to be established in each church – see part 9 above. History records a stream of such independent churches, following the Biblical pattern from the 1st century until the present. Ten waves of persecution were visited by the Roman empire upon the Christian churches until Constantine – disastrously – made Christianity respectable and supported it by state mandate. Nevertheless many churches stayed independent and suffered much persecution by the state church.
Augustine was a notable persecutor of independent churches, a fact neglected by Roman Catholics and Protestants, all of which see him as a principle founder of their systems. (John Calvin, also a persecutor, admitted that he got his Reformist theology from Augustine.)
Roman Catholics and Protestants have not only persecuted each other, but also have persecuted independents that have come under many names, including Anabaptists, Waldensians, and Lollards. Such persecution is consistent with their view that state and church should be married. Thus the sword can enforce the dictates of religious leaders. This is both unbiblical and wicked.
b. Scripture: Revelation 17 describes the worldwide religion of the antichrist and its judgment from God during the tribulation. Large denominations and state-sponsored religions, combined with the ecumenical spirit of this age, will easily allow the formation of this “whore of Babylon.” Churches are to be independent, as noted by the apostle Paul in 2 Cor 1:24 where he affirms that he does NOT have dominion over their faith, but that they stand on their own faith.
Roman Catholicism was NEVER part of Biblical Christianity. In Acts 10:25-26 Peter refuses worship, but the Pope of Rome demands it, with people kneeling before him and kissing his ring and even his feet! Further the “rock” on which Jesus established His church in Matthew 16:18 is clearly the declaration by Peter in verse 16 that Christ is the Son of the living God. Peter affirms this in Acts 4:7-12 and explicitly in 1 Peter 2:6-9 that Jesus is the Saviour AND the rock and that all of the saints comprise the priesthood.
It is therefore a shame that Protestants identify with a movement trying to reform Roman Catholicism, which is a pagan anti-Christian religion, promoting salvation by sacraments, works, and indulgences to minimize time in a fictional Purgatory.
c. Major Groups: All Roman Catholics, all Protestants, and almost all evangelicals have missed the true stream of independent, Bible-based churches that have glorified God for almost 2000 years.
d. Impact: In addition to making it easy for the antichrist to take global power, Christians today are weakened by identifying with denominations, “national leaders,” and minimizing the differences between Biblical church polity and denominational systems. Evangelicals typically refer to “the church” as the sum total of all the Christians in the country (or the world), leading to the adulation of “church leaders” who have “national ministries” via the media. But the word “church” means a called-out assembly. All of the Christians worldwide and through history will not be assembled until the Lord’s return.
God’s plan for evangelizing the world hasn’t changed – the local church is the ONLY institution established for this. Even Bible colleges and seminaries, missions organizations, and other para-church ministries that are not under the ministry of a particular local church have no Scriptural foundation. This heresy is not damnable, but does great damage to the propagation of the Gospel. God simply cannot as greatly bless efforts that go outside of His holy word.
e. For more reading: The Trail of Blood, by J.M. Carroll (a must have!); A History of the Churches from a Baptist Perspective, by David Cloud; Rome and the Bible – The History of the Bible through the Centuries and Rome’s Persecutions Against It, by David Cloud.