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Truth Amidst Turmoil: Discerning and Defending the Faith in the Age of Subtle Spiritual Deception

by | Apr 14, 2023 | Blog, Opinion, Religion, The Church, Theology | 0 comments

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During the early days of Christianity, the fledgling Church faced numerous obstacles and disagreements over its teachings and doctrines. Much of the professing Church found itself at odds over how to interpret scripture and understand doctrine, eventually giving rise to what would be known officially as “heresies”—beliefs or teachings that went against the accepted teachings of the Church.

While these challenges seemed daunting, the true Church’s steadfast response to these invasive false teachings played a pivotal role in shaping and strengthening its core teachings. By standing firm against these deviations from the faith, the Church laid a solid foundation for the development of Christian theology and doctrine that has continued to thrive up to the present day. This ongoing commitment to preserving the integrity of the faith has been instrumental in maintaining a unified Christian belief system, despite the ever-evolving landscape of religious thought.

One of the earliest and most significant heresies was Gnosticism. Gnostics believed that salvation could be achieved through secret knowledge or enlightenment, rather than through faith in Jesus Christ. They also held that the material world was inherently evil, in stark contrast to orthodox Christian teaching that God had created the material world and declared it to be good. Early Church Fathers, such as Irenaeus and Tertullian, recognized the danger of these heresies and actively combated them, writing extensively against Gnosticism and refuting its teachings with sound biblical and theological arguments.

Arianism emerged as another notable challenge to orthodox Christianity, postulating that Jesus Christ was not divine in nature but rather a created being, lacking the co-eternality and co-equality shared with God the Father. To counter this doctrinal threat, the Church gathered at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, culminating in the establishment of the Nicene Creed. This declaration of faith fortified the orthodox Christian stance on the Trinity and asserted the unequivocal divinity of Jesus Christ.

The early Church’s struggle with false teachings persisted, as other unbiblical beliefs like Docetism and Pelagianism surfaced. To confront these challenges, the Church employed a multifaceted approach, encompassing the formation of creeds and the assembly of councils. Despite these efforts, the battle against heresies was far from resolved, as new doctrinal challenges ceaselessly arose.

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As the modern Church faces a unique set of challenges, it grapples with the increasingly refined and hidden forms of false teaching infiltrating what has become known as the Evangelical Church. (In this article, Evangelicalism refers to the broad spectrum of mainstream Protestant, Baptist, and non-denominational churches that claim to hold the Scriptures as their authority.) These elusive doctrines, often veiled and hard to recognize, pose a significant risk to the Church’s stability and vitality. Subtle contemporary heresies, including the prosperity gospel, easy-believism, and teachings that place our own virtues and ethical actions above God’s grace and kindness, may not be immediately apparent. However, these insidious threats demand the Church’s unwavering vigilance and astute discernment to safeguard its foundational beliefs.

In recent years, the phenomena of “deconstruction” and “faith shifts” have gained momentum within Evangelicalism, as an increasing number of professing believers begin to grapple with doubt and disillusionment, prompting them to re-examine and reassess their long-held beliefs. The process of honest questioning and the pursuit of truth—so long as it is done according to the Scriptures—is certainly a commendable endeavor, as they encourage personal growth and a deeper understanding of one’s faith. After all, this is the reason the Bereans were called “more noble” than other Christians in Acts 17:11.

However, these deconstruction movements, instead of examing one’s faith in light of the Scriptures, tend to do so in light of one’s personal opinion or in accordance with the modern culture, and ultimately result in the outright rejection of biblical Christian teachings and the dilution of the gospel’s core message.

Sometimes, these subtle, aberrant movements can be difficult to identify and address, as they often cloak themselves in the language of Christian piety and well-meaning Christians can even be caught up and duped by them. However, the Church, especially its pastors and leaders, must remain vigilant in guarding against false teaching and in proclaiming the truth of the gospel message with clarity and boldness.

In a world filled with various religious and philosophical beliefs, it is becoming increasingly important for Christians to exercise biblical wisdom and discernment, testing all things against Scripture. As the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:21, “Test everything; hold fast what is good.” This means that we must be careful not to blindly accept every teaching that comes our way, but rather to critically evaluate it in light of the clear teaching of God’s Word.

We must watch out for those who cause division by teaching doctrines that are contrary to Scripture. While the early Church Fathers had to contend with blatant heresies that were easily recognizable, the modern Church often faces more subtle forms of false teaching that can be difficult to identify. However, the Bible is clear that false teachers will always seek to sow division and confusion within the Church, and we must remain vigilant against their tactics.

At the same time, it is important not to lose heart, even when we’re faced with backlash for exercising discernment. The Bible is clear that it is false teachers who cause division, not those who point out false teachings. Sadly, some within the Church may accuse those who speak out against false teachings of being divisive themselves, but this is a misunderstanding of what Scripture teaches. In fact, Paul warns the church in Romans 16:17-18 to “watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites.”

Ultimately, the key to discernment is a deep and abiding knowledge of God’s Word, and a willingness to submit our own opinions and beliefs to the authority of Scripture. As the psalmist wrote in Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” By grounding ourselves in the truth of God’s Word, we can be sure to avoid the subtle and dangerous teachings that can lead us astray, and remain faithful to the true gospel message.

As followers of Christ—each and every one of us—we bear the responsibility of safeguarding and contending for the faith against the infiltration of subtle heresies and false teachings that can permeate the Church. We must exercise discernment, rigorously examining everything in light of God’s Word and steadfastly embracing that which is good. Equally important is our commitment to voicing opposition against false doctrines while championing the veracity of the gospel, even in the face of unpopularity or resistance.

By upholding these principles, we contribute to the enduring health and vibrancy of the Church, and help preserve the unadulterated essence of the gospel message for future generations. In this way, we honor our faith and fulfill our duty as vigilant guardians of spiritual truth.

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