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Lessons from Jude Pt.3: The Subtlety of False Teachers

 

“For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”

Jude 1:4

Church can be messy. Because it is a community of imperfect people – a melting pot of personalities, age groups, and variable life experiences – it is simply inevitable that a church will experience conflict among its members at times. Yet, it is also this mixture that makes the unity of the church so remarkable and beautiful: a community of individuals meeting together, worshipping together, studying together, praying for one another, bearing one another’s burdens, helping one another with physical needs, and forming close bonds that can transcend even the bonds of family. This type of unity –  which, in any other environment, may seem ludicrous if not impossible to achieve – is but another testimony to the power of the Gospel, for the unity and love of the church body is founded upon the truths of the Scriptures and transcends all physical and psychological dimensions.

The true threat, then, to the church is not a difference in personalities or life experiences so much as it is a deviation from Biblical Truth. Indeed, the great tragedy is that, when Biblical Truth is not followed, the church body is not unified in salvation. There are some who, at times for personal gain, lead Christians away from the truth of Scripture, wreaking havoc among Christians corporately and individually. Identifying these types of people and familiarizing ourselves with their ways is imperative for spiritually protecting our church body and ourselves. While the psychology of false teachers can be multifaceted, I want to look at one particular trait among them that Jude describes: their subtlety.

“For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4).

Jude provides a curious description of how false teachers entered the assembly. He states that they did not waltz or barge into the assembly, but rather that they “crept.” The word “crept” is translated from relates to entering through a side door or originating from a place that no one can see. What were they trying to be secretive about? Their doctrine. They probably did not come into the congregation boastfully and pugnaciously declaring their denial of Christ. Had they done so, it is unlikely they would have found any acceptance in the assembly at all. Instead, they slithered in so no one could lay eyes on what they truly affirmed, befriending other true believers and forming emotional ties with them.

This subtle approach may also be practiced by other false teachers today. You will notice that not all false teachers spout obvious heresies. Rather, they are generally packaged up and hidden within shards of truth. As a matter of fact, most of what they say may be true. But, due to the systematic nature of theology, all it takes is one wrong doctrine to sway someone from the straight and narrow path. And it is much easier to follow the wide path when it is painted to look like the straight and narrow one.

Furthermore, another component of false teachers’ subtlety is their external decorum. Generally, false teachers are well-polished. They are polite, kind, respectful, and well-dressed, having a pleasant demeanor. Some are experts at communication, and others have fantastic – perhaps even unparalleled –leadership skills. How else can some have ministries of enormous size? The fact that they are so well put together hides their sinister intentions. Truly, their appearance can be so polished that anyone who criticizes them becomes vilified.

Finally, this type of subtle deviation from Biblical Truth is reflected in a diminished reverence for the local church. Yes, it is reflected through deceased church attendance. But it is also reflected through dress and interior design. The shift from wearing suits to T-shirts in a church, even among pastors, is an example of this. The design of modern churches seems to mimic live music venues more than actual places of worship. Historically, the atmospheres of churches have included stained glass, crosses, pews, paintings, and rich, vibrant décor, with large, towering pulpits that exhibit a sense of awe. In contemporary times, the designs include buildings with reclining chairs, fog machines, ambient lights, no pulpits, and large screens on which images are projected.

This is certainly not to say that décor legitimately matters to one’s salvation, nor is it to say that a pastor’s outfit, whether it be a suit or t-shirt, is truly a theological problem. I do not wish to argue that point, as I don’t think it is a theological issue. However, it is certainly a sociological issue. The culture of churches has shifted from one of veneration and worship to an increasingly casual culture. Preaching has changed from something declarative and authoritative to something casual and conversational (hence the removal of pulpits). Churches and their leaders yearn to be accepted by the surrounding culture, and too often their doctrine takes a backseat. The soil is tilled for the seeds of false teaching to be planted, to be grown, and to thrive.

The subtlety of such false teachers is emphasized again in Jude 1:12-14: These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever.”

Being aware of false teachers’ subtlety is one of the ways in which we can insulate ourselves against the harm they pose. However, the surest way to shield ourselves from them is to be intimately familiar with the Scriptures. May we read, study, know, and revere the Word, that we may, like Jude, be able to identify and call out false teachers and therefore protect the spiritual unity of our churches.

For further reading
Strange Fire by John MacArthur
A Field Guide on False Teaching by Ligonier Ministries
Expository Apologetics by Voddie Baucham
Across the Spectrum by Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy
Elijah Cisneros

Elijah Cisneros

Elijah is a member of Faith Baptist Church in Longview, Texas, where he teaches Sunday school. He and his wife, Taylor, have one son, Ezra, and two cats, Calvin and Luther. Elijah graduated summa cum laude from Liberty School of Divinity with a Bachelor of Science in Biblical Studies and Theology with a minor in psychology. He currently works in the mortgage industry and has a passion for systematic theology and historical theology.

March 13, 2024

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