In the 1930’s an ominous power was rising in Europe. Adolph Hitler was consolidating his power and preparing his campaign to devour Europe and eliminate the Jewish People. Great Britain’s prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, tried everything he could to avoid war. He coddled and appeased Hitler, trying to make peace with an evil man. As Hitler moved forward, he stepped back, and the curse of Nazi Germany spread. Finally, under the leadership of Chamberlain’s successor, Winston Churchill, Great Britain took a stand against the Nazis. America and other nations eventually joined them and the Allies were able to stop the scourge of Hitler.
There is an important lesson here. People who love Jesus do not like to fight. But there is a time when each of us must stand and be counted. We cannot appease evil, or coddle it; we must stand against it. Evil must be opposed. No matter how much we desire to be loving and tolerant, there are some battles that have to be fought. Of course, we always need to be kind and tactful, but there is a time when we must pick up the “Sword of the Spirit” and go to war. If we tolerate doctrinal error, it will spread in the church the way Nazism did in Europe. The consequences will be severe.
Centuries ago, the Emperor of China became concerned about the Mongol bands that were raiding and pillaging his nation. He embarked on one of the architectural wonders of the ancient world. He built the Great Wall of China to protect the Chinese people from those who would destroy them.
The Christian community needs just such a wall; a wall of orthodoxy to protect us from our enemies, those who would come in and destroy the work of God. There is some truth around which we must construct a brick wall of separation and protection. Jude 3 says, “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” The truths that make up our faith are worth fighting for. Sometimes, we have to contend with those who teach what is false, even to the point of separation. God’s word is a sword, and swords divide – right from wrong, truth from error. This world is hostile to our God and to the gospel. We must contend for the faith by holding fundamental doctrines without compromise. Some truth everyone must believe – if not, they have denied the faith. There can be no unity in the body of Christ with those who promote doctrines that threaten the very existence of that body.
A young couple sat before me telling me they were leaving us for another congregation. As they described the church, I realized that it was not just another Christian denomination. It was church with a skewed view of every fundamental doctrine of the faith. This young couple was shocked as I confronted them. “You are not just leaving this church,” I said. “You are abandoning the faith that saved you.” This was not just minor false doctrine – it was fundamental error. They were hurt by my forcefulness, but God worked in their hearts and they turned away from that which was false. There comes a time when we have to take a stand. It would not have been an act of love to let them embrace error. Love required a firm rebuke.
It seems to me that some Christians are willfully ignorant of the many scriptures that warn us about false teachers – those who come into the church and teach what is contrary to God’s Word to try to lead astray the children of God. They are horrified that a pastor might call something heresy – that is too divisive. How many must be deceived before we take these warnings seriously? Matthew 7:15 says, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” This is a clear warning that wolves would come among God’s sheep, intent on destroying and devouring the flock. They would pretend to be part of the Body of Christ, to be serving our Lord, but would actually be intent on destroying it. We are commanded to watch out for them. When we erect a brick wall of doctrine, it identifies the false teachers and protects the people of God. When we fail to erect a brick wall of separation around these basic doctrines, we disobey the clear command of God’s Word.
However you read passages about the end times, you must notice that nearly every passage that speaks of the events of the Second Coming of Christ carries a warning about false teachers, false prophets and false apostles. Matthew 24:11 warned that “Many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.” 2 Thessalonians 2:9 predicts, “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders.” There will always be falsehood in the church, but as the days near to the end, scripture indicates that there will be an increase of deception.
Perhaps the warning in 2 Peter 2:1-3 is most direct.
“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words.”
Peter promised that there would be men who would bring destructive heresies in the church to lead astray the people of God. If the “Community of Faith” has no wall of protection, the inhabitants of the city become prey for those who would seek to exploit and destroy by way of these deceptive teachings.
Diving into Danger
When I was in college, I took a scuba diving class. Our first ocean dive was at “The Wrecks” off the Palm Beach coast. We were diving into 60 feet of water to an artificial reef formed by derelict sunken ships. I flopped off the boat, and headed down the rope toward the bottom of the ocean. When I got about 10 or 15 feet down, I had a sharp pain in my ears – the pressure would not equalize. Norine, the dive instructor, came over to me and pulled my mask off. I put my mask back on and cleared it. To clear a diving mask underwater, you press in on the top of the mask, and blow through your nose. The air drives the water out the bottom of the mask and it clears. It worked. When I cleared my mask, my ears equalized. I headed to the bottom and had a wonderful time diving around the old wrecked ships.
I had only one problem. My mask kept filling up with this green fluid that looked like algae. I cleared my mask time and again. It kept filling up. Finally, my air began to run low and I headed up the rope back toward the surface. When I got about 10 feet from the surface, I remembered something they taught us in training. The first color you lose when you go underwater is red. The fluid in my mask was not algae, it was blood. Equalizing the pressure in my ears had caused a nosebleed. So, the whole time I was scuba diving in the Atlantic Ocean, I was putting out a signal to every shark in the area – Lunch! It is not smart to swim in shark-infested waters with a bloody nose.
It is just as foolish to walk through life without a solid understanding of the basic teachings of God’s Word. Christians who are not grounded in the truth are meat for the spiritual predators, becoming lambs for the wolves. There are few things as appealing to the enemy as a biblically illiterate believer. They are easy to deceive and lead astray.
Willful and Foolish Ignorance
Some Christians are unwilling to admit that this level of truth even exists. They refuse to exercise discernment, opting for the Rodney King philosophy of church life – “Can’t we all just get along?” I cannot count the number of times I have been told, “Let’s forget doctrine and just love Jesus.” But, it is not an act of unity to ignore false teaching. It is an act of ecclesiological suicide. It is tantamount to swimming in shark infested waters with a bloody nose.
We must stand against false doctrine to protect the church from its enemies. When someone violates a Level 1 doctrine, we must contend with them. We must erect a brick wall of separation. We can be kind, but we must also be firm as we contend for the faith.
Doctrines of First Importance
What are those doctrines, the truths that require a brick wall? We look to 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 as a guide.
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”
Paul tells us here that there are two essential facts that comprise the gospel, each verified by the events of history. First, Jesus Christ died for our sins. This is established as an historical fact by His burial. Second, Jesus rose from the dead. His resurrection was proved by his appearance to the disciples and as many as 500 people, then finally to Paul himself. In verse 3, Paul defines these truths as “of first importance.”
Brick Wall doctrine is essential to the gospel of Jesus. If you compromise this truth, you compromise the gospel and no longer have a saving faith. John gave a clear warning to his listeners in 2 John 10-11,
“If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.”
If anyone would come into the church teaching doctrines that disagree with the fundamental teachings of the faith, Christians were to have nothing to do with them. To welcome them into the church and treat them as fellow Christians would be to take part in their wicked works. We cannot treat those who chip away at the foundation of our faith as if they are brothers or sisters in Christ. We cannot welcome the wolves in among the sheep.
We must erect a brick wall of separation around the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith – those doctrines essential to our salvation. On other doctrines we may be gracious, but around these fundamental truths we must stand without compromise.
What is a Brick Wall?
What does it mean to erect a Brick Wall? How, in practical terms, would we do this?
First, when we erect a Brick Wall, we withhold the blessing of fellowship from that person or group. We do not accept them as our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. This was the process just described in 2 John. In the early church, there were teachers who would go from town to town, enjoying the hospitality of the church and instructing it. Some of these were false teachers. As we just saw, John instructed his readers not to allow these folks into their homes, not even to share a meal with them. They were not to provide hospitality to false teachers or share the Agape meal or any other fellowship with them.
Churches should not allow in their membership those who proclaim or promote false doctrine. Church discipline has gone the way of the Model T, but it is needed. Churches must enforce conformity on these fundamental doctrines. When someone compromises these doctrines, we must contend with them. We must not do anything that will give people the idea that we confer the blessing of fellowship on these folks. I will also not participate in public worship, fellowship, or ministry events with those who deny the fundamental doctrines of the faith.
Confront and Rebuke
The second aspect of this is probably the most unpopular. We must publicly confront and rebuke false teachings. In 1 Timothy 1:20, Paul publicly identified Hymenaeus and Alexander. He told the Galatians (Galatians 5:12) that he wished that those who were trying to force Jewish law on Gentile believers would be castrated. Not very politically correct, was he? He was very willing to publicly confront those who promoted false doctrines. Peter, John, Jude – all publicly confronted those who were advocating fundamental error in the church.
It is my job as a pastor to identify and confront heresy in my church. It is easy to take this too far. I heard a tape of a sermon by a well-known pastor. It consisted of him condemning a series of groups he considered inimical to the faith. He blasted Hollywood, the communists (it was a long time ago), political and theological liberals, and anyone whose morality did not match the biblical standards. There was nothing but condemnation in his sermon. That is not what people need. But they do need their pastor to identify false doctrines and dangerous practices. It is the shepherd’s job to protect the sheep from predators.
When I lived in Cedar Rapids, I spent 11 years trying to establish a lawn on the acre lot on which we built our home. As fast as the grass grew, the weeds grew even faster. So, I put down “weed and feed.” I put down fertilizer to help the grass grow. But there was also a poison in the fertilizer that killed the weeds. The Bible is our spiritual “weed and feed.” It feeds the soul while it also confronts false doctrine. We must do both. We must feed people the positive truths of God’s power and grace, but we must also confront heresy. We must publicly rebuke false teachers.
Finally, the Brick Wall prohibits partnership. The Old Testament law prohibited yoking two dissimilar animals together to plow a field. Only like animals could join together under one yoke to pull a plow. Paul used this illustration in 2 Corinthians 6:14. “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers,” he warned. A Christian’s life, his convictions, his passions should be so different from the unbeliever’s that it would be impossible to partner. Whatever they call themselves, we must regard those who compromise the basic doctrines of the faith as unbelievers, and refuse to partner with them for ministry.
Soon after I began to pray with the pastors of Cedar Rapids, I was asked to lead a public prayer at a community prayer service at a city park. I said I would be glad to do it. I knew the others who would be participating were from a variety of churches with lots of doctrinal perspectives. I was looking forward to partnering publicly with them to pray for our city. Then, I was informed that a leader from the local Mormon church would be on the podium. I sadly refused to participate. I cannot stand in public to partner with a group I believe is outside the Brick Wall.
Rancor NOT Required
A wall of separation does not require rancor or hostility. There is no reason for a Christian to ever be unkind or abusive to another, even if that person holds or advocates heresy. It is possible to be direct and even confrontational without being obnoxious. I appeared on a discussion panel for a local television show. The subject was homosexual adoptions. To my right sat a lesbian who had adopted a child and proudly claimed that her church was supportive and affirming of her lifestyle. I had no choice but to directly confront her with the truth from scripture. But, the discussion, while pointed, was never angry. I never called her names, never raised my voice. Even though my message was offensive to her, I did not have to be.
We need to establish uncompromising doctrinal standards around the fundamental truths of our faith. If someone denies one of these doctrines, we can be kind to them, but we cannot recognize them as fellow-citizens of the Kingdom, as brothers and sisters in Christ. We cannot cooperate in ministry with them. For the sake of the body of Christ, we must confront their falsehood and expose it publicly. Christians today, to protect the church from the work of these false teachers, must be willing to take a stand. Lines must be drawn and battles must be fought.
If someone denies the basic doctrines of the faith, I must withhold the blessing of Christian fellowship with them, confront them in a loving but firm way, and refuse to yoke myself together with them in Christian ministry.