Dealing with Doctrinal Error in the Church
Doctrinal error doesn’t have a favourite church. Neither does it have a favourite denomination. Error would love to be present in any and every church regardless of the persuasions of its members. Therefore, the only church that is a safe haven for Christians is a church that esteems the word of God and honours it.
In my perspective, there are two kinds of errors:
1. Institutionalised error
2. Sensational or trendy error
Institutionalised Error is mostly found in churches that have a long history of keeping their traditions and culture. I would refer to these churches as Sequoia (tree) churches. Jesus said this about the Pharisees in Mark 7:8 “you leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men”. Here Jesus posits that church tradition can very much be in contradiction with the commandment of God. Therefore, the continuous upholding of tradition over the commandment of God is what I have loosely termed as institutionalised error. The Pharisees in the New Testament were guilty of this.
Sensational or trendy Error is mostly found in churches (and propounded by men of God) that spring up seemingly from nowhere and suddenly emerge into prominence. I refer to these churches as mushroom churches. In 2 Timothy 2:7. Paul speaks of two individuals (Hymenaeus and Philetus) who were spreading a false doctrine and leading people into more ungodliness. I don’t know how long this movement lasted but from what Paul said, we can tell they had some followers. In Acts 5, Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, also mentioned 2 men (Theudas and Judas the Galilean) who emerged on the scene with false doctrines. Both of their movements garnered the support of the people. Gamaliel was even specific in the case of Theudas; he said Theudas’ movement had a following of 400 men (Acts 5:36). But the 2 movements died when the two men died. Sometimes this is what happens when the error is sensational and trendy. Because the movement was based on a false doctrine and had no deep roots in scripture, it easily topples over when the leader is no more.
Mushroom churches often idolise the man of God and Sequoia churches idolise church tradition. Both of these cultures are recipes for error. If we are going to have a holistic view of error we need to understand that it can breed in any and every church so long as Jesus isn’t the center of the ministry and sound biblical teaching is not upheld in high esteem. One can make the case that Sequoia churches are Mushroom churches that have stood the test of time and have institutionalised the sensational error they preach. This could be true, my focus, however, isn’t to point out this progression but to state that these two extremes in doctrinal errors and churches exist at every point in time. Therefore, a good church is a church that regularly takes inventory of its doctrines, culture and traditions and ensures that they still align with the word of God no matter how long they have been upheld or practised. Where there is the need for change, change must be effected. And where there is the need to further institutionalise or crystalise a doctrine or tradition, measures must be put in place to ensure this.
Do not think you are safe from error merely because of the denomination you belong to. Do not think your church is too old to be in error. Or your church is too young to slip into error. Do not think your pastor is too trained to slip into error. Do not think your pastor is too anointed to slip into error. Do not think your church is too institutionalised to allow error to find its way into the pulpit. Your church’s traditions could be so institutionalised and crystalised not because the integrity of the word of God is being protected, but because the traditions of men are being regarded more highly than the word. It takes a lot to deal with both kinds of errors mentioned above, but it must be done and done well.
We should all commit to the discipline of studying the word thoroughly and regularly and be guided by it, especially in the selection of the church we attend and the men of God we listen to. A well-balanced prayer and bible-study lifestyle is key in submitting to the leading of the Holy Spirit and discerning error no matter how trendy or institutionalized it is. We should be led by the Spirit and not by our own thinking as to what is sound teaching and what is not. Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the spirit of truth for a reason. We find the truth of God’s word when our studies are guided and led by him. He is ever ready and willing to lead us into all truth.
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