Saturday, November 13, 2010

Holy Unbelief (1 John 4:1-6)

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1 John 4:1-6 (NIV)
"Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood."

*** *** ***
A debate starts with a proposition. One will be on the affirmative side; another on the negative side. A college debate may have this proposition: “Charter change will be beneficial to our nation”. One will agree with the proposition, one side will disagree. Then the debate happens.

When the Word of God expressed in propositions is preached, we must accept it as it is. We have no right to reject it. We don’t even have the right to propose amendments to the word of God. The word of God is perfect, so to modify it or revise it is indeed to destroy it. Spiritual people are believers. They say “AMEN” to biblical propositions.

But there is also a sense where spiritual men must not believe. The Macarthur Study Bible describes it as “healthy skepticism”—“doubting the validity of what is being said". Aside from John Macarthur, I will quote other respected bible teachers who espouse the same thing:

S. Lewis Johnson: "just as belief is an aspect of spiritual maturity so is unbelief a mark of spiritual maturity. In other words, to believe not certain things is just as significant as to believe other things" (from a sermon titled "Test the Spirits")

Ray Stedman: "To be a Christian you must be a believer, but it is equally true that every Christian is also called to be an unbeliever. There is a time when unbelief is the only right thing. The very same Scriptures which encourage us to believe likewise urge us not to believe. In fact they not only urge us, they command us not to believe. This is no contradiction, any more than to say that in order to live it is necessary both to inhale and to exhale. These are contradictory things: you cannot inhale and exhale at the same time, but both are absolutely necessary to maintain life." (Life in the Son, Expository Studies in 1 John)

You see, not all propositions are true. Some are lies such as:

“Ang uling ay kulay puti”

“Ang yelo ay mainit”

“Si Bro. Manny ay guwapo” 
(I hope my mother will take the affirmative side;
How about modifying the proposition by adding the word “medyo”… LOL)

Not all propositions stated by a teacher/preacher are biblical. There are times when what is being taught has no scriptural basis. Even worse, there are times when a doctrine being stated directly opposes what the bible teaches. There are times when the holy man must withhold his “Amen”, even when everybody shouts “Amen”. In some circumstances, to believe is evil and to doubt or disbelieve is holy.

The Source of False Teachings
Apostle John commands believers not to believe every spirit. Rather we are asked to “test“ the spirits. The Greek word is dokimazo- “to try to learn the genuineness of something by examination and testing” (Louw & Nida lexicon). For not everything that glitters is gold; I know at least two store owners in our baranggay who were deceived by nice looking fake 500 peso bills. Same is true when it comes with doctrines. Not everyone who looks like an angel of God is from God.

Our text says that many false prophets have come into the world. “marami”—naglipana—nagkalat kung saan-saan at sila ay naghahasik ng lagim. They are not harmless. In his farewell address to to the Ephesian church, Paul referred to them as savage wolves (Acts 20:29).

They are the initial installments of the final anti-christ. In the end times, someone will emerge to ”oppose" and “exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped”, and shall proclaim himself to be God (2 Thess. 2:4). He will be hostile to Christ and to truth. That is the future anti-christ. Yet smaller versions of him are already in the world by means of false teachers, promoting doctrines that are hostile to God.

As to the source of these anti-God ideas, it seems clear to me that here in our text and elsewhere, that such thoughts are diabolical.

1 Tim.4:1 “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons”(Yikes!!!)

2 Cor. 11:13-15For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness.

—If your idea of demons is drawn primarily from watching horror films (yung mga biglang sumusulpot sa likuran; duguan ang mukha kasabay ng nakakakilabot na sound effects; o di kaya ay yung halimaw na lumalabas sa banga—at sabi ni Matet ay “Takot ako eh,”) then you know very little about demons.

One of the main activities of Satan and his minions is deception. He was present in Eden to deceive Adam and Eve and he would be present in Gog and Magog to deceive the nations. So Scripture testifies that from the beginning of history (Genesis) to the end (Revelation), Satan and his assistants are active deceivers.

These are not merely differences in opinion:
“behind the false prophet or false teacher is an evil spirit. Men simply do not speak out of their own intellectual attainments. Quite unconsciously they are being guided--really misguided--by an evil spirit, a “spirit of error,” (Ray Stedman)

Herbert Armstrong, founder of the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) now Grace Communion International (GCI) taught some perverse doctrines during his lifetime: Legalistic observance of Mosaic feasts; Saturday as the only true worship day; dietary laws; WCG’s exclusivity as the true church. He also define God as a family (Father & Son are members). After resurrection, believers become a part of that God-family. And when you finally become a member of the God family, you will not find the Holy Spirit there for he is not a person but a force.

After his death, WCG moved to more orthodox positions on various essential issues of the faith. Yet WCG never declared Armstrong as a false teacher. I have read two books written respectively by WCG/GCI’s current leaders: Transformed by Truth (Joseph Tkach Jr.) and Liberating the Worldwide Church of God (J. Michael Feazell). In both books, it is implied that Armstrong was saved and is in heaven!

I was disturbed. So I asked my WCG friend if he himself is hopeful that Armstrong was saved. He affirmed it.

In defense of Armstrong, he reasoned out that his former shepherd was just uneducated that’s why he fell into such ideas. I replied gently that though we are not the judge of men’s eternal destiny, we should also hold that a man who has rejected the gospel is presumed to be lost. I would add now based on 1 John 4 that the source of Armstrong’s false teachings is not his lack of education. By John's apostolic authority, I believe that Satan gave birth to such dangerous doctrines.

In fact, you can be very educated and still teach anti-God and Anti-christ ideas. Bart Ehrman is a case in point. He is a top scholar. He studied at some of the best evangelical theological schools: Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College. He studied under top textual critic Bruce Metzger. Yet he now denies the reliability of Scriptures. He is now an agnostic.

Good education or lack of it is not the source of false doctrines-- demonic influence is.

The Creed Test
The first test that we have to do according to Apostle John is the creed test— what do they believe?; what are they teaching?

Is it consistent with Apostolic doctrine (Galatians. 1:8-9)?
Is it in harmony with previous revelation (Acts 17:11)?

In our text, John was addressing a particular Christological problem in their day—“a combination of elements, including emerging Gnosticism, docetism and Cerinthianism” (Craig Blomberg, The NT Definition of Heresy, JETS Mar. 2002). This is the reason why he laid down a Christological test.

Yet John does not intend here that the creed test will only be Christological. There are many other things that the Bible lays down as essential tenets of the faith. One helpful tool for this matter is Robert Bowman’s A Biblical Guide to Orthodoxy and Heresy (Parts 1 & 2).

The suggestion of Bruce Demarest and Gordon Lewis is also worthy of consideration. They stressed the importance of using provisional authorities like confessions of faith and historic Christian creeds:

when new in the faith. Like young children under the authority of their parents, Christians wisely depend rather heavily on their received traditions… They function as authorities until we have been able to check out their faithfulness to Scripture for ourselves” (Integrative Theology, Vol.1)

The Congregation Test 1: Worldly people listen to worldly teachers with worldly messages
In this test, we will ask these questions:
Who listens to them?
Who celebrates when they teach?

They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world,
and the world listens to them. (1 John 4:5 NIV)

For the unspiritual message of unspiritual persons will be received by an unspiritual congregation.

Nasa likas ng makasalanang tao ang ipagbunyi ang masama:
"Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” (Romans 1:32)

What does John mean when he says “they are of the world”?
Worldliness is opposed to what is heavenly and it appeals to carnal pleasures: envy; self-seeking; sensuality. It is associated with the demonic (James 3:13-15)

False teaching is enjoyed by sensual people; by a congregation hostile to God. Ang mga nakikinig sa mga gurong makasanlibutan ay yung mga kapwa nila makasanlibutan.

Nasa likas ng makasalanang tao ang ipagbunyi ang masama :

"Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them." (Romans 1:32)

So a rapper can release a perverse album and receive a platinum award.

So an ungodly book like Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code could sell 80,000,000 copies.

That’s why they love documentaries such as James Cameron’s “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” which would tell them that Jesus’ bones were found in the Talpiot Tomb. They like those lies very much because if Jesus’ bones were found, that means the resurrection was a hoax. And if Jesus is dead, that means there is no Lord to obey. They could do whatever they want.

John 3:19 says ”men loved darkness instead of light” that’s why they love men from the dark.

Same is true with regards to false teaching.
Minsan, naiisip natin: “Kawawa naman, niloloko sila ng false teacher na ito”. But the bible reveals that they are not innocent. They are willing participants in the crime

2 Timothy 4:3-4: For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

From these verse we glean the following:
a. The demand for false teachers increases the supply. They collect false teachers around themselves
b. They listen to satisfy their itching ears; they want messages which are suited to their carnal desires
c. They deliberately turn their ears from what is true to listen to what is false.

~ What they want is not God. What they want is a BMW, that’s why they hired Kenneth Copeland so that someone will frequently tell them that God wants them to have a BMW.

~ They want to belittle Jesus, and so they hired an executive minister who will deny the deity of Christ. And when that executive minister dies, worldly people in the government will declare a National Day of Mourning in honor of the one who belittled Jesus Christ.

~ They love cursing that’s why they will gladly listen to their Sugong Palamura At habang pinagmumumura ng kanilang pinuno yung katunggali sa debate, nagdiriwang sila kasi mahilig sila sa pagmumura.

~ Who will celebrate at Brian Maclaren’s call for a 5-year moratorium on making pronouncements on homosexuality ? Only worldly people will celebrate that.

~ Who will celebrate Antinomianism? Who will rejoice over a notion that a a thief converted in 1999 can remain as a thief until 2009?

The unspiritual message of unspiritual persons will be receive by an unspiritual congregation.

The Congregation Test 2: Holy People listen to holy teachers with holy messages
Spiritual messages from spiritual teachers will be received by spiritual men

John 10:27: "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me."

John 10:5: "But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice."

The word of God will come upon his people with great conviction (1 Thess. 1:4-5)

In the process of testing, we should also ask,"What is the church's attitude towards this teaching?"

“if the community we have always trusted, if the church as the historic custodian of truth refuses this prophesy, we should be warned” (Gary Burge, NIVAC)

In the Roman Catholic church, the final authority is Sola Ecclesia- whatever the church says. As evangelicals, we are for Sola Scriptura. Yet it is wrong to think that the church has no value in teaching the truth.

“Those who claim that the church has no value and isn’t instrumental in teaching Scipture are wrong. The church is the pillar and foundation of truth and this “community of God” is instrumental in keeping us in check with the rest of the Christian community.” (Ray Aviles, BARM Public Square)

On his appearance on the June Cain Miller show Dr. Walter Martin pointed out that though he wrote a book on cults (The Kingdom of Cults), he was not the one who classified groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism, Cristian Science, etc. as cults. He said that it was the Christian Church who classified theses groups as cults.

My favorite contemporary statements on the essentials of the evangelical faith is.
Aside from contemporary statements, ancient documents are also helpful: the Heidelberg and Westminster cathechisms; The Apostles creed, Nicene Creed and Athanasian Creed.

These are helpful tools for testing the spirits.
Ano ba ang paniniwala ng mga taong banal noon at ngayon?

I have a friend from Grace Communion International (GCI), formerly the Worldwide Church of God (WCG). He is very much into theology; we discuss theological issues once in a while. Recently, GCI has embraced Karl Barth soteriology. What I am trying to do is to show my friend that Barth’s view is far from the evangelical consensus. I’m trying to warn him about the effects of these recent developments within GCI. This will surely affect GCI's standing in the evangelical community. I even think that GCI’s position is worse than Barth’s now, for they mix it with their long-held error of post-mortem salvation.

Test everything. Hold on to what is good. Shun evil.
Let us ask ourselves:
Will godly Christians celebrate this teaching?
If they treasure this doctrine, why would I reject it?
If they abhor this doctrine then why should I accept it?

Godly men will accept truth; and when you offer the same to ungodly men, they will reject it. They will find no beauty in it.

“He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God" (John 8:47)

The One in us vs. the one in them
The ministry of discernment can be a very intimidating task. Some leave it ONLY for the gifted. But you know what, you may not be especially gifted in this field of ministry, but I want to assure you that you can discern. Yes you can.

1 John 4:4 "You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world."

You have overcome them, not because of anything inherent in you. Our text sets out the reason why: because he who resides in us is greater that those whose resides in them.

Rom.8:14, “because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God”

The same Holy Spirit who leads you to a holy living will also lead you into holy believing, and if necessary, he will also lead you to holy unbelief.

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