Sunday, October 08, 2006

What's the problem with false teaching?

In the 21st Century saying that someone is cursed is very politically incorrect. Our tolerant age just cannot handle having someone branded as wrong (or worse). That of course is a somewhat intolerant tolerance, since for all its virtuous noises it doesn't quite tolerate everything.

When it comes to Christianity this raises a whole host of problems. And here's one of them. The Bible is not ashamed to say that there are things that are worthy of being cursed. And the curse the Bible speaks of is not something mystic or strange, but rather God's rightful punishment of our sin. If we think we should not be cursed then this betrays that we have not begun to see the depth of our sin.

Three curse moments happen in the book of Galatians. Firstly, Paul says that if anyone - even an angel or himself - preaches a gospel contrary to the genuine apostolic gospel (Galatians 1:8) then they should be cursed. Isn't that a bit strong? Secondly, Paul declares Peter to be accursed (Galatians 2:11) - over the incident of the bacon sandwich at Antioch. Isn't that a bit strong? A bit confrontational? A bit over the top? And thirdly, Paul says that Christ became a curse for us (Galatians 3:13), to redeem us from the curse of the law. Which is to say that we were cursed by God, but Jesus' curse bearing death changes things so that we recieve God's blessing instead of God's curse - a blessing that includes at its heart being counted righteous by God and receiving the promised Holy Spirit.

It seems to me that all three here are interconnected. Paul shows us that the essence of the gospel is that God will bring a blessing to all peoples through his promise to Abraham. This is God's desire - to show favour to the peoples of his world. But, there is a problem - namely that the peoples are slaves to sin, rebels against God. If God is to be favourable to human beings then that curse must be removed. The only way to remove the curse from human beings is for Jesus to take our place, hanging on a tree, cursed in our place. Thus, he is cursed and we get blessed! If it could have been done another way, it would have. This was the only way.

Peter's problem was that by imposing food laws on Christian believers from among the peoples of the world he was denying the curse-bearing power of the Cross of Christ. That is to say, he was teaching them that God's favour to them was conditioned upon them keeping certain rules and rituals... and Paul says that if that is the case then Christ's death was meaningless, because it would mean that he had not in fact borne the curse of God at all. Thus, for all his good motives and intentions Peter was denying the one thing that could be of any help. Cross denied, curse remains.

And this is the same when we find Paul in Galatians 1 speaking about gospel preaching in general. If someone alters the gospel then they will have a different one. They will have a gospel to preach that either adds to or takes away from the true gospel. In so doing it will marginalise and ultimately deny the meaning of the death of Jesus. When this happens the curse of God remains upon people... cross denied, curse remains.

Taking God's word and twisting it for our own ends is a terrible crime. But it goes deeper than just being a crime against God's revelation. Modifying the gospel produces "a new kind of Christianity" - "non-Christiaity" (as Mark Driscoll puts it). If we start to play fast and loose with God's revealed gospel we do great violence to the one thing that can remove God's curse from us, and bring us the awesome blessing he would show to us - to life in Christ, to life in the Holy Spirit. To life with God forever.

Paul is not in the business of witch-hunting after false teachers. Rather he writes a deep and personal and truth-saturated appeal to the Galatians. He seeks to draw them away from what is false and cross-denying. He wants only that their hearts would be drawn back to the joys and freedom and divine blessing. False teaching is a problem because it denies the wondrous Cross of Jesus, and so leads men and women to nothing better than the curse of God. And God delights to pour out his blessing, and the Cross is the one way to this blessing.

Think further: Martin Downes - Against Heresies | Link to Phil Johnson's Talks on Heresies in the history of the church

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  1. By using the phrase 'A new Kind of Christian', are you deliberately trying to imply that Brian Mclaren is a heretic? No witch hunts against false teachers?
    There is a difference between changing the message of the eternal Gospel, and re-telling it for a new age.

  2. The phrasing is Mark Driscoll's not mine. Driscoll being a friend of McLaren... albeit they are somewhat estranged in ministry these days. The story of which is very informing - told in Mark Driscoll's excellent "Confessions of a Reformission Rev" which I expect you'd enjoy.

    The question for re-tellers of the gospel is have they kept the content when they changed the language... the challenge every bible translator has to remember, for example.

  3. Apologies...having now read a few of Mclarens books, perhaps it would be fair to read something like that.

    The analogy of bible translators could be helpful, yes. Perhaps after all we do argue too much about the words we use isntead of getting on with the content?