In the last post I described how most false doctrines are spread from person-to-person like the flu. It is quite natural for our fallen nature to seek to craft gods of our own liking. As we begin to look at the hidden causes or precursors of false teachings we will see that we have all been guilty of too easily embracing belief systems that though pleasing to our humanity are not worthy of the God of glory.
All people are theologians. We all have opinions about God. It’s just that not all of our opinions are based firmly what God has revealed about Himself, His purposes, and His ways. Much of what we think we know is really the projection of our own nature and desires.
Before we consider how wrong beliefs spring from mishandling the Scriptures, I want to first deal with a more fundamental problem: issues of our own hearts.
1. Jealousy, power struggles, and greed.
If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. (1 Timothy 6:3-5)
The first sentence above could be paraphrased as, “If anyone teaches false doctrines that are not firmly based upon the clear teachings of the Bible….” Paul then goes on to describe why people fall into the trap of mishandling the truths of the gospel. The first thing he lists is “an unhealthy interest in controversies…” This and the other descriptions that follow it relate to pride and selfishness in the heart of those who are fault-finders.
There is nothing quite like jealousy and/or greed to motivate people to see the Scriptures “in a new light” (i.e. manipulate the text for their own advantage). Sadly, the human heart is capable of doing this without even consciously realizing it (See Jeremiah 17:9). This is the deceptive power of the flesh, which is inevitably self-justifying and self-promoting.
This is specially true when it comes to developing one’s theology. Satan himself, the father of lies, is the chief example.
Satan’s jealousy evidently deceived his own heart into thinking that lifting himself above God was in his own best interests.
Think of the lies that the father of lies had to embrace on his way to moral, spiritual, and eternal suicide. And he is very much at work in the world today.
It seems that at some point in Lucifer’s past he became offended at God’s authority and leadership structure. It must have seemed oppressive and unfair to him. So he felt self-justified in revolting against it.
Church history is riddled with power struggles between leaders who were on ego-trips. Often what we observe is that leaders who are vying for power and control, in an effort to gain the support and respect of rank-and-file believers, must differentiate themselves in some way from their opponents. This usually takes the form of fault-finding. This fault-finding, which often (at least in part) stems from jealousy, competition, and resentment, is the mother of many false doctrines that divide people.
2. Abuse of authority, hypocrisy, and dead formalism.
The world is full of ex-Christians. Perhaps they were only religious and were never really “saved” in a truly biblical sense. Regardless, many people in our world who once considered themselves Christians and church-goers, do so no longer. Many of them blame the hypocrisy they observed, the abuse they experienced, or the resistance to needed change they saw in the church. Because of the deep disappointments they’ve experienced, they’ve turned away from orthodox beliefs. Some have even embraced atheism or some non-Christian religious system.
Some who have been deeply disillusioned have not left the faith altogether but rather have splintered off to form their own reactionary group. Often these groups are more characterized by pointing out the faults of the “established” church, than by life-giving proclamation of the gospel of God’s grace. Their growth as a group or movement depends on being able to convince those who are still “ignorant” within the larger group to come out to them on the periphery.
Part of the danger of living on the periphery is that you lose the healthy interaction and input from those who think differently than you do. You become your own authority.
If you are part of a group whose leaders spend most or much of their time finding fault with the group they came out of then beware.
It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry… (Philippians 1:15)
It is absolutely true that we should contend earnestly for the true faith. But this does not mean that our ministries should be characterized by always talking about what we are against and how other Christian groups are so wrong.
Bitterness and jealousy are poor motivators for true objectivity and proper theology. Remember, Satan is smarter than all of us and he somehow justified breaking away from Jehovah.