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Fight Valiantly! Dedicated Missionaries of Error

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Posted by Lee Gatiss, 1 Apr 2019

In John’s second epistle, we are encouraged not to help those who promote false gospels.

In his second epistle, John urges believers to be discerning about false teachers. “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 7). Therefore, he exhorts them to “Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward” (verse 8). This reward is lost if one follows the false teaching because only the one who remains with apostolic doctrine “has both the Father and the Son” (verse 9).

Crucially, John then instructs his readers to “watch out!”, and tells them what to do if a false teacher visits them (since they have “gone out into the world”, on a mission to spread their message). “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works” (2 John 10-11).

The false teaching these people are especially promoting is that they “do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh” (verse 7). They “bring” this message, as missionaries, rather than simply being led astray by it themselves. As John Stott says, “Christians may surely welcome and entertain someone who holds false views, and will seek to bring him to a better mind. It is those who are engaged in the systematic dissemination of lies, dedicated missionaries of error, to whom we may give no encouragement.”

What is this error? Certainly it is some form of Christological heresy, to do with the person of Christ, possibly a denial of his human nature, perhaps the heresy known as doceticism. To deny the coming of Christ in the flesh would imperil someone’s salvation, so presumably these warnings also apply to other heresies which might imperil someone’s salvation.

What we must not do, says John, is receive such a false teacher into our homes or churches, or give them a greeting. This is what normal Christian hospitality would offer to those who travel around speaking about Jesus; but this hospitality is to be denied to those who are antichristian deceivers. As David Jackman says in his commentary on John’s letters,

“Probably, in this verse we should think of the messenger as being welcomed into the church, rather than into an individual’s home. It is less likely that the travelling teachers would be involved in door-to-door work than that they would arrive at a church meeting and ask to speak or participate in open worship. Of course, the church would be meeting in a house. To take the stranger in would therefore mean to accept his teaching and to welcome him into the fellowship of the church. To welcome him would similarly imply more than a formal politeness or recognition. It would be to express delight in his arrival, to foster friendship. But if that sort of behaviour is extended to false teachers, it is not so much Christian love as spiritual suicide. It does not show love to the rest of the flock, because it exposes them to heresy’s insidious undermining of their faith. It does not even show love towards the ‘deceiver’, since it simply confirms him in his error, which he might now never be brought to admit. Above all, it does not express love for God, because it sides with evil in actively encouraging the spread of that which is most destructive of the truth.”

We must not do anything which “takes part in the wicked works” of those who promote soul-destroying heresy. Love demands that we deny them platforms and the ability to continue propagating their deception.

Questions for Reflection

1. Why is it spiritual suicide rather than Christian love to follow false teaching, or let it into the church?
2. Is there any way in which you or your church fosters friendship with or helps false teachers? If so, how can you stop doing that?
3. How aware are you of the leading heresies being promoted by people or groups in churches at the moment?

Catch up on the whole series here.

Lee Gatiss is Director of Church Society and the editor of Gospel Flourishing in a Time of Confusion, the latest book from Church Society.

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