Discern When Differences Are Dangerous

Recently, a talented writer I respect posted about a book she read on Instagram. The book was authored by someone who many (including myself) consider a heretic. To be clear, I don’t object to her recommending the book. Thanks to common grace, all people have the capacity to demonstrate facets of truth about God. Christians should be well-rounded readers! What didn’t sit well with me, though, was when the writer responded to lash back she received by saying she didn’t see a problem with sharing the imperfect words of a sister in Christ who simply ran in a different theological stream.

It’s one thing to be in different theological streams, it’s quite another to be in entirely different oceans.

It’s true that we should beware of Christian tribalism, wherein we disparage the theology of anyone who comes from a different faith tradition. Within the body of Christ, there is room for disagreement about doctrine. Scripture is infallible, but we are not. We can and should have strong and spirited debates—pushing each other to dig deeper into Scripture until we better understand it. This is good for all of us, because let’s be honest: most Christians don’t struggle with thinking too deeply or studying too much.

We need to be sharpened by one another! We need to address assumptions that may be more linked to cultural tradition than sound theology. We need to know why we believe what we believe, and sometimes the best way to reach that point is by being confronted by those who disagree with us (on the flipside, this can also reveal where we’ve misunderstood and misapplied God’s Word and help us adjust accordingly). And when—based on our best study of Scripture—we still disagree, we can part in peace as the brothers and sisters that we are.

That said, we also need to faithfully address the problem of false teachers. Though some might consider this harsh and judgmental, it’s faithful. The New Testament is clear that false teachers will have influence among us—that is, the danger to the church isn’t just “out there” in the world, but among those who look like sheep. Most of us aren’t going to be seduced by Satanists or led astray by atheists.

We’re going to be tempted by proclaiming Christians who hide heresy between layers of truth.

This is why I bristled at the writer’s statement about “different theological streams.” I run in a different theological stream than paedobaptists. I run in a different theological stream than egalitarians. I run in a different theological stream than some of the charismatics flanking me on one end, and the cessationists flanking me on the other. And yet I can look to them, thankful for their place in the body of Christ. I can be challenged and stirred. I can disagree—passionately—while still affirming our union in Christ.

What’s admittedly hard is knowing where to draw the line. And I don’t have clear answers on this. How do we discern between those we merely disagree with and those false teachers who are a danger to the church? While I don’t know exactly where that line starts, I do know where it’s been crossed. Where the inerrancy of Scripture is attacked, that line has been crossed. Where sin is celebrated instead of confessed and renounced, that line has been crossed. Where it’s taught that Jesus was a prejudiced product of his patriarchal culture who had to grow and change (which denies the utter perfection required for his substitutionary atonement) that line has been crossed.

And so yes, while the heretical teacher in question may have written a good book able to benefit those who read it with discernment (as we should read all things), we cannot say we simply swim in different theological streams when one person’s stream is so polluted it snatches people away from the river of Life.

Seeking unity across theological circles is a God-honoring pursuit. But dismissing the damage of false teachers is not.

It does not glorify God—the source of all truth—to downplay the destruction of those who ignore or alter explicit Biblical instruction.

It does not glorify God—the giver of salvation—to live as if those leading others into destruction aren’t that dangerous.

Jesus taught a narrow way. And the most loving thing we can do is call others to join us on the narrow way. The broad road might look appealing and accepting and affirming and make us feel all warm inside, but its end is a fiery pit.

If others call us close-minded, so what? Better to fear God than fear man.

I pray that God will bring influential false teachers to repentance—but until He does, we must remember that for the purity of the church, the protection of our witness, and the preservation of the gospel, we must call heresy what it is.

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