Galatians 1:8-9 (ESV): “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed…”
In the last post, we explored many of the false gospels that were prevalent in the early church. These views rejected Christ’s divinity, added to or subtracted from salvation, or twisted the simplicity of the gospel in some manner. These concepts gradually made their way into more organized contexts, eventually becoming part of much larger movements. In this post, we’ll explore some of these directions.
Theologies and Doctrines
It’s important to understand what we mean when we state “church.” The Greek word for “church” is “ἐκκλησία” (ekklēsia) which is derived from its components:
- “Ek” (ἐκ): This preposition means “out of” or “from,” and
- “Klēsia” (κλησία): This noun is related to the verb “kaleo” (καλέω), which means “to call” or “to summon.”
When you combine these components, “ekklēsia” can be understood as “those who are called out” or “the called-out ones.” In the context of Christianity, it refers to the assembly of believers who are called out from the world specifically for the three primary purposes of the Church of Jesus Christ:
- Exalting God – 1 Corinthians 10:31 “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
- Edifying Believers – 1 Corinthians 14:26 “When you come together…Let all things be done for building up.”
- Evangelizing the Lost – Matthew 28:18-20 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me [Christ]. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”
Throughout time, churches began to identify with various doctrinal and theological commonalities. While many of these divisions were based on scriptural truths and others on ordinary familial differences, some were more malevolent and resulted in false gospels. Understanding and identifying these divides can help you in your spiritual discernment.
Most mainline denominations; Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Baptists, and Lutherans, would claim to be “reformed.” Reformed theology emphasizes the doctrines of God’s sovereignty, predestination, and the total depravity of humanity, that is, that man inherited the sin of Adam. It also taught the 5 Solas: “We believe in salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to Scripture alone, and for the glory of God alone,” which was an outgrowth of the 16th-Century Reformation. Although some have remained true to the ideals of the Reformation, it is clear that many have little regard for the original reformed principles and have drifted into liberalism. Liberalism may acknowledge that the bible is a good guide for Christians in understanding their faith; they, however, will likely interpret passages differently to fit modern society and thus devolve into false gospels.
Universalism is the belief that all individuals are basically good and will eventually be saved and reconciled to God, regardless of their faith or actions. Some even go so far as to teach that Satan and the demons, after a time of punishment, will also be redeemed. This leads to a false gospel in general and is prey to easy believism.
Cessationists vs. Continuationists
Here we have a division between the cessation or continuation of the Apostolic spiritual gifts; tongues, healings, and miracles. Where these gifts are necessary for salvation or are over-emphasized, we also experience the emergence of false gospels.
Calvinist vs. Arminianism
Is salvation by God’s sovereign election of spiritually depraved men which cannot be lost, or is it through the free will of intrinsically good men, which is ratified by God but may be lost? This argument goes back to the 5th century with Augustine and Pelagius and continues to this day. Man-centered salvation often results in easy believism, which is a different gospel, and either side of this argument will potentially impact the evangelistic efforts of the church.
Dispensationalism vs. Covenant Theology
Dispensationalists interpret the Bible literally and hold that God has separate plans and promises for Israel and the Church. They believe in a future literal fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies concerning the restoration of Israel and the end times of Revelation, which forecast a Rapture followed by a 7-year Tribulation, a return of Christ, and a 1,000-year Millennium.
Conversely, Covenanters believed that the gospel was conquering the world and bringing in the Kingdom with worldwide missionaries, worker rights, women’s rights, schools, and hospitals of the 19th – 20th century, but was destroyed by the heresy of Dispensationalists, notably the study bibles of Scofield and others. They believe in an interpretation of Old Testament prophecies, where the Church inherits the promises made to Israel. To accomplish this, they allegorize the Old Testament and Revelation to reach their preferred conclusions.
It is only reasonable to conclude that any belief that permits allegory will lead to multiple interpretations and foment confusion and false gospels.
The End-Time Debate
Actually, this is an aspect of the above dispensational versus covenant division, a literal interpretation of the end times (Premillennialists), believe there is a Rapture, an actual 7-year Tribulation, with 144,000 Jewish evangelists and two witnesses, the second coming of Christ, followed by a 1,000-year Millennium and the creation of a New Heaven and New Earth.
One of three (or more) metaphorical interpretations of the end times exist where we may now be in the Millennium, the Tribulation was in 70 A.D., and the Rapture and 2nd Coming will be simultaneous events.
All of the Old Testament prophecies that have been fulfilled have been satisfied literally. There are no reasons to believe that end-time predictions are exceptions and should be allegorized.
The Majority Text vs. the Critical Text Controversy
The Majority Texts were the six Greek New Testament manuscripts that were used by Erasmus (along with the 1560 Geneva Bible) to develop the KJV of the Bible in 1611. The Critical Texts combine the Majority Texts, along with some 6,000 plus discovered manuscripts, some going back to the 2nd century, and were used to develop newer versions of the Bible – ESV, NIV, NASB, etc. Although the distinctions between the two are slight, this is a serious issue for many.
In some churches, this controversy, known as the “KJV-only” controversy, has taken on a life of its own that, in many cases, would seem to supplant even the gospel itself. This, tragically, is legalism at its apex and is dangerous and destructive.
The Rise of Feminism
Women, as well as LGBT pastors, are certainly in opposition to the word of God. Yet this is a growing and popular trend today. It is not difficult to extrapolate that churches, in violation of God’s word, will not be blessed and can easily perpetuate a false gospel.
Although this is not a comprehensive listing of modern-day doctrinal and theological divisions, we can see how the simplistic first and second-century false teachings have grown and enveloped the theological and doctrinal churches of modern times.
It’s critical to comprehend what it is that you believe, what your pastor thinks, and what the authors and lecturers of the books and seminars you read and attend assume. In this vein, scripture encourages everyone to follow in the footsteps of the Bereans mentioned in Acts 17:11.
“Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”