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The Two Gospel Heresy

The Two Gospel Heresy
AKA Hyperdispensationalism AKA Bullingerism

I have been surprised by the extent to which this doctrine has permeated Bible-believing churches on every continent. In some cases the followers of the doctrine prefer to remain within orthodox churches where they quietly and subtly spread their ideas. At the same time there are hundreds of churches that have formed around these teachings. These churches, at first glance, appear to be orthodox and not unlike other fundamentalist, Bible-believing churches. Some of these churches operate under the banner of the “Grace Gospel Movement” and favor names such as “Grace Bible Church” or “Berean Bible Church”.

This heresy is old and yet, seems to have been able to fly under the radar for decades. This is partly because the language they use sounds orthodox and partly because their arguments are intended to befuddle and confuse. Here are a few phrases that may hint at someone holding to this doctrine:

  • Paul’s Gospel vs Jesus’ Gospel
  • Gospel of Grace vs Gospel of the Law
  • Gospel to the Jews vs the Gospel to the Gentiles
  • Gospel of the Kingdom vs Paul’s Gospel
  • Etc.

Roots
It seems that the heresy finds its roots in E. W. Bullinger in the 19th century and has been picked up and modified by others. One of the main promoters in the late 20th and 21st century is Les Feldick, a popular radio and YouTube teacher.

What They Believe
My intention in this article is not to analyze their doctrine in detail, but rather to focus on sound doctrine that counters their main errors. Others have gone into much more detail (see the sources at the end of this article for more information). The main problem areas are:

  • Jesus and the apostles preached the gospel “of the Kingdom” to the Jews.
  • Paul received the revelation of the true gospel – the gospel of grace to the Gentiles.
  • The change happened around Acts 9 or 13 (Bullinger said Acts 28). Hence the descriptor “hyper-dispensationalism”. According to them the dispensations change, not at the cross, but somewhere in Acts.
  • This results in two gospels – one to the Jews and another to the Gentiles (some proponents have up to four gospels).
  • Thus the church Jesus founded (Matthew 16:18) is not the church of Paul.
  • The teachings of Jesus (in the four Gospels), Acts and the books from Hebrews to Revelation are not binding on us. (Feldick believes that Paul wrote Hebrews but because it is written to the Jews it is not applicable on the Gentile church). Therefore, only the 13 books from Romans to Philemon are binding on us. In this process they have virtually created a different red letter edition with the words of Paul in red and have all but deleted the words of Jesus.
  • There are many consequences of these fallacies, but the practical ones are that repentance, baptism and the Great Commission are part of the Law and therefore not relevant to the Gentile church.

Hyper-dispensationalism
These teachers like to refer to themselves as “dispensational” but this is not classical dispensationalism but rather hyper-dispensationalism.

Covenant and dispensational theology people are agreed that the covenant (testament) or dispensation changed at the cross. There has never been any dispute on that truth. Since covenants are “cut” by blood, Jesus, facing the cross, said “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.” (Luke 22:20). Paul confirmed that the change from the curse of the Law to the blessing of Abraham coming to the Gentiles happened at the cross (Galatians 3:13-14). There is no Scripture for the idea that the covenant/testament/dispensation changed at any other time. The fact that they differ on the timing (Acts 9,13,28) shows that they have no Scripture to define a change, other than what was instituted at the crucifixion.

Two Churches
The idea that the church Jesus founded, and that was inaugurated at the day of Pentecost, is different to what Paul established is absolutely preposterous. To even suggest that when Jesus said “I will build my church”, he meant a temporary, Jewish only church is to put it kindly, ridiculous. The Lord’s very statement that “…the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) is a clear statement of permanence – He was not building something temporary and inferior that would be replaced by something more superior, not built by the Lord Himself, but by a man!

Two Gospel people make much of the mistaken notion that the word “Ekklesia” changed its meaning. Again there is no Scripture for this at all. The church Paul persecuted in Acts 8 in Jerusalem and the Church he addressed in Acts 20 (Ephesus) is the same church. Paul says to the Thessalonians: “For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans,” (1Thessalonians 2:14). Paul does not draw a distinction between the mainly Gentile Thessalonians and the Jewish churches in Judea but rather, says explicitly that they are the same and he calls the Judean churches “ekklesia”, the same word he uses for the Thessalonians (1Thessalonians 1:1). Paul does the same in Galatians 1:22.

Two New Testaments
The idea that there are two New Testaments – one for Jews and one for Gentiles is equally ridiculous. This is one of the reasons I call this a heresy since it denies that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, emphasis mine). The unity of Scripture is one of the fundamentals of the faith. They attack that foundation by creating conflict and contradiction between books that is not there.

Paul confirms that the words of Jesus are binding when he quotes Jesus (Acts 20:35; 1Corinthians 11:24-25)

Hebrews is clear that Jesus, and not Paul, is God’s final revelation to us: “GOD, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;” (Hebrews 1:1-2). Furthermore Hebrews contains a severe warning if we neglect the words of Jesus: “For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him,” (Hebrews 2:2-3).

While we do not in any way minimize the fact that Paul wrote by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and that the Lord revealed much to him, it was only of Jesus that the Father testified “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Luke 9:35).

Note that I took the above quote from Luke. Feldick is badly mistaken when he calls Luke and Acts Jewish books. They were written by a Gentile to Gentiles. The books are specifically addressed to Theophilus – a Gentile (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1). So, if the words of Jesus have no relevance to Gentiles, why did Luke write, and why did the Holy Spirit inspire him to write these two books addressed to a Gentile? But more, it is commonly agreed that the Gospel of Luke was written after the events of Acts, around AD60 (at the earliest). According to these men by AD60 Paul had received his revelation of the two gospels and churches. According to them by then the church was the Gentile church of Paul and the words of Jesus were irrelevant. So why then, did the Holy Spirit inspire the writing of two complete books (Luke being the longest of the Gospels) when the events in Jerusalem and the words of Jesus were no longer of relevance to “Paul’s church”?

Surely the words of Jesus apply to these teachers: “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19).

Great Commission Rejected
They are adamant that the Great Commission, including the command to baptize was given to the Jewish church and that this is part of the Law (everything before “Paul’s revelation” is Law to them). The first part of the command says: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19). Note that the command is to make disciples of all nations (ethnos) – the Gentiles. Again this makes no sense unless the Lord’s intention was for the church to be one church, made up of Jews and Gentiles.

Two Gospels
The idea of two gospels comes from the mistaken idea that Jesus preached the Gospel of the Kingdom and Paul preached the gospel of grace through faith and that these were two different gospels to different groups of people. This is further distorted by the lie that Paul did not preach repentance while John the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostles preached repentance as a part of salvation (See below). Once again, this can easily be refuted by anyone who has at least read the New Testament.

They correctly emphasize that Paul defines the gospel in 1Corinthians 15:1-4. But then they try to say that this is different to the gospel of the apostles. Let me be clear, you can only come to that conclusion if you did not read the whole of 1Corinthians 15! In verse 5 it mentions Peter (Cephas) and the twelve, in verse 6 it mentions 500 brethren, and in verse 8 it mentions James and the apostles (again). Then in verse 11 he says: “Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.” (1Corinthians 15:11). The “they” are those mentioned in the preceding verses and Paul says “they” and he preached the same gospel and that the Corinthians are established in what was preached by Peter, James, the twelve, the 500 and Paul. There is no difference!

This is the whole purpose of the letter to the Romans. Paul goes to great lengths to prove that Jew and Gentile has both sinned (one with the Law and the other without) (Romans 2:12). Thus all are guilty and all have sinned (Romans 2:23) and both are condemned to death (Romans 5:12). Paul takes two entire chapters (3&4) to prove that those under the Law and Gentiles are both saved in exactly the same way – by faith. Not only they, but Abraham, who came before the Law, was also saved in the same way – by faith. The whole point of Romans is to teach that there is only one gospel for both Jew and Gentile. In fact, he opens the book by saying “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” (Romans 1:16). There is only one Gospel for both Jew and Gentile.

It is Paul whom these people lift up higher than the Lord Jesus who said: “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. “And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more.” (Acts 20:24-25 Emphasis mine). Paul preached both the Kingdom and the gospel of grace. They are the same thing, preached by the same apostle. These are clearly not two messages or gospels but simply different aspects of the same gospel.

In Galatians 2 Paul proves that the message he preached and that which was preached by Peter and the other apostles is exactly the same gospel. He stresses that he did not receive his message from those in Jerusalem but directly from the Lord. But, then after 15 years he went to Jerusalem to check his doctrine against theirs only to discover that the twelve and he were preaching exactly the same message: “But from those who seemed to be something–whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows personal favoritism to no man–for those who seemed [to be something] added nothing to me.” (Galatians 2:6 My emphasis).

However, the two gospel people hang their whole argument on a misinterpretation of the next verse: “But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter” (Galatians 2:7). From this they build the idea that there are two gospels. But they wrest verse seven out of the context of verse six which says the message is the same. Secondly, they willfully misinterpret the verse when its obvious intention was to say that “Paul would take the gospel to the Gentiles while they would take the gospel to the Jews”. There is not two gospels, but two audiences.

Once again, would these men only read a couple of verses further, the meaning would be clear: “and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.” (Galatians 2:9, emphasis mine)

On a personal note, I never cease to be amazed how people who cannot even read one chapter in context get to become influential and popular “teachers”! But that is the key to this whole heresy: verses must be understood in their narrow and wider context – it really is that simple. This is not even about understanding the original languages, but simply reading the entire Bible and understanding individual verses in the context of the entirety of the Word of God.

Paul Preached Repentance
One sign that a person holds to the two gospel error is often visible in the idea that repentance is not part of the gospel to the Gentiles.

Before looking at Paul’s teaching, part of the Lord Jesus’ instructions to the disciples as recorded by the Gentile, Luke, and written to Gentiles is: “and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:47, My emphasis). Repentance was not just to be preached in Jerusalem but to all nations (ethnos).

In defining the gospel to both Jew and Gentile Paul says: “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).

The word “trinity” does not appear anywhere in the Bible, and yet the concept is all over its pages. In the same way, Paul does not use the word “repentance” much, yet the doctrine is in every one of his letters: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:1-2). Is that not a command to repent? Or: “For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,” (1 Thessalonians 1:9). If that is not a description of repentance then what is?

Luke is very specific that Paul did indeed preach repentance to the Gentiles:

  • In speaking to Greek philosophers at Athens he said: “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent,” (Acts 17:30).
  • how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, “testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 20:20-21). Notice, the messages to Jews and Greeks is the same: Repentance and faith.
  • In testifying before Agrippa (a Gentile) Paul says he “…declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.” (Acts 26:20).

Paul Declares Them Heretics
It is almost as though Paul had these people in mind when he wrote: “If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a [means of] gain. From such withdraw yourself.” (1 Timothy 6:3-5).

They do not consent with (agree with) the words of the Lord Jesus and clearly contradict Him on many issues. Paul, their idol, says their minds are corrupt, they have no truth and we must withdraw from (excommunicate) them.

Additional Resources
Bob DeWaay wrote an excellent article on the subject: https://cicministry.org/commentary/issue108.htm


Harry Ironside wrote an entire book on Bullingerism (before the modern iterations) which is very helpful in understanding and rebutting this error and is available free: http://www.biblelineministries.org/onlinebooks/wrongly-dividing-the-word-of-truth/index.html

Anton Bosch
Los Angeles
26 February 2021

False Prophets or Just Mistaken?

Prophets being wrong about their predictions is not new, but at no time in history have more prophets been so dramatically wrong about the same thing. The same prophets who all prophesied that 2020 was going to be a great and wonderful year, and who did not see Covid-19 coming, predicted that Donald Trump would be reelected and would have been installed for the second term. Not only was he not reelected, he was not installed and on the contrary, he has been impeached and may even be barred from public office for the rest of his life. Also, one of the most infamous events in the 245 year history of the United States has to be the 6th of January 2021. Not one of these prophets predicted the events of that notorious day, even though they all contributed towards its shame.

So how do we deal with the endless string of prophets who were not only wrong four times in a row (100% failure rate) but through their false prophecies contributed directly to the insurrection of the 6th of January 2021? And what of the hundreds of thousands who believe their prophecies and empower the prophets by subscribing to their lies with their pocket books?

At least 40 charismatic Christian leaders predicted Trump’s reelection starting around 2018, according to J. Gordon Melton, the compiler of the Encyclopedia of American Religions and an American religious studies professor at Baylor University. They range from Franklin Graham, who said at Trump’s inauguration that the rain was a sign of God’s blessing to Paula White who resorted to summoning demons from Africa to cause Trump to prevail. Some of them speak as though they are God’s direct mouthpiece: “thus saith the Lord” while others under the banner of “prophecy updates” take a more cerebral approach and analyze Scriptures and world events onto which they project their political fantasies.

Quite a few Evangelical leaders, like Dr Michael Brown, are rushing to the defense of these prophets saying that they’re not false prophets but were simply “mistaken” (remember that they had a 50/50 chance of being right!). Much of their defense is based on the work of Wayne Grudem The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today, a work that has merit and that I have also quoted from in the past. The argument is that a New Testament prophet may be mistaken without being branded a false prophet. I agree with that premise – to a point. But the warnings concerning false prophets in the New Testament make it clear that there is such a thing as a false prophet (Mark 13:22; Revelation 2:20 etc.) and there is a difference between a true and a false prophet. So, at what point is someone a false prophet?

The Old Testament sets two tests for prophets:

1. “when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:22)

2. “…and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods’ – which you have not known –‘and let us serve them, you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 13:3-4).

So the argument is that since there are differences between Old Testament prophets and New Testament prophets (and I agree that there are differences), prophets of today should not be judged by the tests of Deuteronomy. But, there are two problems with that argument:

First the principles contained in Deuteronomy never change. Therefore if a prophet is constantly wrong, as most modern prophets are, they are clearly false prophets. And, if they divert you from following, worshiping and serving the Lord, they are false, even if their prophecies come true.

Second, these modern prophets do not style themselves on the New Testament prophets like Judas and Silas (Acts 15:32), but rather style themselves after the Old Testament prophets. I can give you many reasons for this statement but in the interests of brevity will confine myself to a couple:

OT prophets were part of the government of Israel. The Lord mostly spoke to the king through them, and they frequently acted as counselors to the king. Even Daniel fulfilled this role to a Gentile king. We do not see the same relationship in the NT. Not one of the NT prophets (or other ministers), including Jesus and Paul, were attached to the court. The only time they spoke to the authorities was when they had been brought before them to be judged. All NT prophets and preachers stood clearly detached from earthly rulers. Not only were they detached from them, they stood opposed to them.

But, these modern prophets have one and all attached themselves to the court of Donald Trump. Some have physically laid hands on him (and become partakers of his sins – 1Timothy 5:22), others have prophesied to him, and over him, and others have promoted him from their pulpits. This places such prophets clearly in the OT and not the New and therefore they must be judged by the standards of Deuteronomy. It is really quite simple: They have predicted that Trump would serve a second consecutive term and Biden has been inaugurated. They were wrong in a spectacular way. So that makes them wrong about 2020, Covid-19, January 6th, and wrong about Trump. Therefore they are false prophets.

The reason given why NT prophets may be mistaken is that the prophecy comes as a vision, a dream, a thought or a “burden” which the prophet then has to interpret and it is in the interpretation that mistakes could happen. There is just one small problem with that argument. These prophets have spoken in the first person “Thus saith the Lord…” Several others claimed that God, or Jesus, appeared to them personally and told them that Trump would be inaugurated for a second term. There is no interpretation – God told them Trump would reign again. This is neither how New Testament prophets operate, nor is it the truth. They have lied. God did not tell them and He did not appear to them. End of story.

They have also committed the second sin which describes them as false prophets: They have encouraged millions to follow another god! I know they (and possibly you as well) will deny this, but they have made Trump into a god. Yes, they say they still worship Yahweh and do not worship Trump, but please stay with me for one more paragraph.

The Children of Israel made a golden calf and declared “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!” (Exodus 32:4). I have lost count of how many (probably hundreds of times) I have heard and read that Trump is the man who will deliver the church from the bondage of liberalism and will set America free. For example, John MacArthur has said that choosing Biden is effectively choosing Satan and choosing Trump is choosing God. Trump has been upheld as the savior of the American church. His son declared that his father “literally saved Christianity”. The worship of this man went so far that many conferred honorary born-again status on him in spite of clear evidence that he is less saved than my shoes. Oh, we do not worship Trump, we worship the Lord they say. That is what Israel also said. The celebration around the calf was a “feast to the Lord (Yahweh) (Exodus 32:4).

These prophets have preached another gospel, the gospel of American nationalism, they live by another Bible – the Constitution and they have another kingdom – America. They have literally seduced the American church to follow another god and they are therefore false prophets. (Deuteronomy 13:3).

So was Trump not “the chosen one” as he himself claimed (after being so convinced by the prophets)? Yes, I believe Trump was indeed chosen by God: “… you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 13:3-4). Yes, God allowed Trump’s ascendancy, not to save the church, since only Christ can save it, but to test it. And the church failed the test miserably!

Since it has become clear that Trump will not serve a second term, these prophets are responding in one of three different ways: Some are doubling down and against reality and truth insist that he will still serve the second term. Such foolishness does not warrant a response. The second group are adjusting their prophecies to extend to 2024 or by saying that Trump was elected and is therefore the president but the election was stolen. This is no different to the Millerites, and other cults, who had set dates for the Lord’s return and when it did not happen, spun it to say He came in the spirit. They are all false prophets and should be isolated and deprived of their following and money. The third group are admitting they were wrong and are publishing their apologies. I am sorry, but they do not have my sympathy either. How are they going to undo the damage they have done in the lives of their followers, in churches and to the Gospel? I have not seen one of those apologies, as sincere as they appear, offering to return the money they made out of their false prophecies! I also do not see any of them publishing a caveat with every future prophecy, warning that they were very wrong concerning Covid-19, the storming of the Capitol, and the election of Trump. Neither am I hearing any of them say that they will cease the foolishness of trying to read the tea leaves and stick to preaching the Scriptures. In fact, several of them have already pivoted to promise the destruction of America and the church under Biden.

The fact that Trump did not serve a second term means only one of two things: Either God is weak and the Democrats were able to defeat God’s purpose or the prophets have prophesied falsely. Since the first is blasphemy, the second must be true. There are no other options.

Working hand-in-hand with the false prophets are those who operate so-called “prophecy updates”. This has become the quickest path to building a massive following and bank balance. The only difference between the false prophets and the prophecy updates is that one adopts a more “spiritual” approach while the other is more cerebral – watching Fox news and reading Qanon and squeezing what they see into the mold of twisted Scripture. Amir Tsarfati is a prime example. On December 15th he declared that Trump would be confirmed as the president on January 6th and then proceeded to explain how Congress would reject the legitimate electors and overthrow the results of the election in order to elect Trump (https://youtu.be/_R4kUuJtqdQ). The problem was that he was totally wrong about how the process works and blatantly misled the 280,000 viewers who watched that video. Now, here’s the problem: How do you trust a man about future things when he will blatantly lie about facts (what the Constitution says) that can be verified in a ten minute search of the internet? Sadly his subscribers and viewers are still supporting him! All I can say is if you are willing to be led by, and support, a man who will lie to your face, you deserve what you get!

But Tsarafti is not alone. Many others ply their filthy trade of twisting current events and Scripture to suit their political, or private, agenda, and suckers flock to their sites by the hundreds of thousands. Indeed the real prophet has been proven right: “An astonishing and horrible thing has been committed in the land: The prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule by their own power; And My people love to have it so. But what will you do in the end?” (Jeremiah 5:30-31)

I know that the thousands that are being misled by these prophets claim they are innocent victims of these deceivers and therefore not responsible. What does Scripture say? Well, in the church of Thyatira there was just such a false prophet. This is what the Lord Jesus Himself says about those who followed her: “Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. “I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.” (Revelation 2:22-23). Those who believe and follow false prophets are guilty and will suffer the same judgment as the false prophets because they have the Bible but choose to believe, and follow, men, rather than God.

But this is all part of a bigger picture. The book of Revelation tells of a false prophet (in fact, The False Prophet) who will persuade millions to follow the Antichrist and to take the mark of the Beast. (Revelation 13). What has happened in the past five years is a mini-fulfillment of this prophecy. The false prophets have convinced millions to follow a lawless man and a man of sin and to take his mark(s). This has been a conditioning process to train people, churches and preachers, to not follow Scripture but to follow men. My fear is if you have been deceived by the current crop of false prophets, you will most likely be deceived by the The False Prophet who will be much more convincing and actually perform signs and wonders to verify his “authenticity” (Revelation 13:13).

It is time for you to take stock of who you are listening to and who you believe. He who has an ear – let him hear.

To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (Isaiah 8:19-20)

Anton Bosch – 22 January 2021

Discerning Good and Evil

In order to know who and what to trust we need a number of important spiritual tools. First we need to look at the fruit of someone’s life. For this we simply need a pair of eyes and some basic good judgment. Sadly, unbelievers are able to look at many of the false prophets of today and recognize them for what they are, while Christians are being deceived.

Secondly we need the Bible against which to measure the doctrine. We live in times of relativism where truth has become relative to culture, political expediency and profitability. But truth is not relative and changeable. It cannot be manipulated. Truth is absolute, just as a wall is either vertical or not and it’s trueness can be measured by a plumbline or a spirit level, so a man’s doctrine is either true or false and the measure is the Plumbline of God’s Word (Amos 7:7,8).

But then we need a third tool called “discernment”. Unfortunately in the last thirty years Christianity has become very sensual and subjective and much error has crept in because it “felt” right. This kind of subjectivity is very dangerous in the hands of those who are unskilled or immature and yet godly discernment remains an important tool to the true child of God. Sadly, many who have been burnt by the subjectivity and emotionalism of modern Christianity have over corrected resulting in a cold, heartless and intellectual form of Christianity.

If you watch a skilled craftsman you will notice that he has developed a “feel” for his craft. He can often “sense” that something is not straight or square and will then apply the straightedge or square to confirm or refute his “feeling”. BUT he cannot go by his ‘gut feel’ alone. There are a few amusement places in California where gravity does not seem to operate and where water seemingly flows “uphill”. This is an illusion to fool one’s senses into believing something runs uphill when, in fact, it is running downhill.

One of the realities about being a Christian is that we are led by the Holy Spirit. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” (Romans 8:14). The problem is that most of us are so fleshly that we often think we are being led by the Spirit when we are actually being led by the flesh. Thus, discernment becomes an unreliable tool in the hands of the carnal or fleshly believer.

However, Hebrews speaks of “those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Hebrews 5:14). The writer is speaking about spiritual senses that need to be exercised or practiced to discern what is good and evil. Just as one has to exercise one’s mind or body to develop, so our spiritual senses need to be exercised to be useful. In order to develop our muscles or mind we have to use them. If we don’t they become weak and ineffectual, so it is with spiritual senses. In the same way as most of us are very good at hearing the flesh because we are attuned to it, we need to “learn” to listen to the Spirit, tune out the flesh, and hear that still small voice warning us and directing us.

I am not advocating a mystical, airy fairy, dazed eye, mumbo-jumbo, feelings-based religion. But each of us has, at some stage, felt uneasy about someone or something. This uneasy feeling often turned out to be a warning we should have heeded.

This sense or witness does not stand on its own and is not sufficient to accept or reject something but it is an early warning that we need to be alert. Whenever you have that sense, it is an indication that more questions need to be asked. This is when the Plumbline and the microscope needs to be dusted off and applied. If you do this every time you will soon learn to recognize the warnings that come from the Holy Spirit or from other “static”.

Those who are mature and have their ‘spiritual senses’ exercised, are not only able to discern evil but also good. If all we can do is recognize the toxic, we may not die of poison, but we may well die of starvation. We need to sharpen and hone our abilities at recognizing good spiritual food and messengers when they come our way. Again, we cannot just trust our discernment and accept a teaching because it “feels” right. We need to subject everything to the test of the fruit and the Plumbline of the Word.

The ability to be discerning is a spiritual one. This means that it cannot be learnt in a school and it cannot operate in a carnal believer and definitely not in an unbeliever. “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things…” (1Corinthians 2:14-15).

Discernment is a direct result of spiritual maturity and a close walk with the Master. The closer we get to Him; the more we will see things the way He does – the further we walk away from Him; the less we will understand and perceive. Solomon asked for “understanding to discern justice” (1Kings 3:11) which the Lord gave him. Nevertheless, as time went on, he began to obey the flesh rather than the Spirit until his judgment became so clouded that he started worshiping idols and plunged Israel into war and spiritual ruin. Samuel, on the other hand, began by confusing God’s voice and that of Eli but as he grew; he became very adept at understanding exactly what the Lord was saying.

“The Lord is my shepherd… He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:1,3).
Anton Bosch

Christ our Passover

Most Christians probably know that Jesus is our Passover Lamb and that he fulfilled the type of Himself as shown in the Passover lamb. Yet, when I started looking for a list of the aspects that were fulfilled in the crucifixion, I could not find a complete list. Therefore, this is an attempt to compile a fuller list:

Jesus is called  “the Lamb of God”: “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! ” (John 1:29)

  • The lamb was to be selected on the 10th of the month Nisan (the first month of the year). It was then to be examined until the 14th to make sure that it was without blemish (Exodus 12:3-5). Deuteronomy 17:1: “You shall not sacrifice to the Lord your God an ox or a sheep which has a blemish or any defect, for that is a detestable thing to the Lord your God”. Jesus entered Jerusalem on the 10th of Nisan, riding on a donkey. He was examined by the same chief priests who were examining the lambs until the 14th when He was crucified.
  • Just as the Passover Lamb was to be perfect and without blemish, Jesus was found to be perfectly sinless (Matthew 26:59-60; John 19:4,6; 1Peter 1:19).
  • In preparation of the Passover, the Jews would go through their houses in search for leaven (leaven represents sin and impurity – Matthew 16:6-12, Luke 12:1, 1Corinthians 5:2-8) and clean all the leaven from their houses. In Matthew 21:1-13, Jesus went into Jerusalem and cleansed the temple. Thus at the same time the Jews were cleaning the leaven from their houses, God was cleaning the leaven (sin) from His house.
  • The lamb was to be a year old, meaning it was to be in its prime (Exodus 12:5). Jesus was 33 years old – generally accepted to be when a man is in his prime.
  • The lamb was to be a male just so Jesus was a male (Exodus 12:5).
  • The Passover Lamb was to be slain on the eve of Passover, on the afternoon of the 14th of Nisan. Jesus was hanging on the cross and dying at the very moment that the Passover lambs were being killed in Jerusalem (Matthew 27:45-50).
  • Just as the lamb died in the place of the oldest of the family – Jesus died in our place.
  • The killing of the Passover lamb prepared the way for Israel to be delivered from the bondage of Egypt. The Jews call the Passover, “the festival of redemption”. (The Jewish Festivals by Hayyim Schauss). Jesus’ death also sets us free from the bondage of sin (Galatians 3:13, Titus 2:13-14 etc).
  • The Passover lamb had to be killed in Jerusalem, but outside of the city gates. (Deuteronomy 16:5-6). Christ was killed in Jerusalem, but outside of the city gates. (John 19:16-19, Hebrews 13:10-13)
  • The last words from the high priest as he cut the Passover lamb’s throat was “It is finished” (The Seven Festivals of the Messiah by Eddie Chumney). “So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.” (John 19:30). That means that at the same time that the high priest was saying, “It is finished” (referring to the Passover sacrifice), The High Priest (Jesus) was saying the exact words (referring to the sacrifice of Himself).
  • Not a single bone of the Passover lamb was to be broken. (Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12). In spite of the tremendous trauma He endured, and the custom to break the legs of the crucified, not a single bone of Christ was broken. (John 19:31-36). In both cases it would be expected for bones to be broken, yet contrary to what would be normal, no bones were broken in the Passover lamb and Jesus (Psalm 34:20).
  • The blood of the Passover lamb was to be applied to the wooden doorposts and lintel (Exodus 21:7). The blood of Jesus was shed on a wooden cross.
  • The Passover lamb was to be roasted in fire (Exodus 12:9). Fire is always a symbol of God’s wrath. Jesus endured God’s wrath on the cross (Romans 5:9).
  • Just as the blood applied to the doorposts saved the inhabitants of the house from God’s wrath (Exodus 12:13), so the blood of Christ, applied to the life of the sinner, saves him from God’s judgement (Romans 5:9; 1Peter 1:18-19).
  • The eating of the flesh (body) of the Passover lamb was to be an everlasting memorial of their deliverance (Exodus 12:14). In the same way the eating of Christ’s body, symbolized in the bread, is to be a perpetual memorial of our salvation (Luke 22:19; 1Corinthians 11:24).
  • The Israelites were to remain inside their houses, trusting in the efficacy of the blood to protect them. We cannot work for our salvation. We need to remain “under the blood”, trusting in the blood for our salvation. It did not matter who (even an Egyptian) was behind the blood, he would be safe. It does not matter who we are or how much we have sinned. All God is looking for is the blood in order that his wrath my pass over us. But should an Israelite not apply the blood, he would die, meaning that our spiritual or ethnic heritage does not save us – only the blood of Christ.
  • The Lord decreed that the whole assembly of Israel shall kill the Passover lamb. (Exodus 12:6). In the same way, the whole world, everyone who ever lived, is responsible for the death of Christ through our sin.
  • The lamb had to be consumed entirely on the Passover evening. Nothing was to remain overnight (Exodus 12:10). Jesus was taken off the cross on the same evening of his crucifixion and was not to hang overnight, contrary to custom (John 19:31-36).

Once again, we can only marvel at the unity of the Scriptures and how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament types in the minutest detail. The Bible and our Gospel are not the fabrications of human minds but were marvelously planned and executed by an all-knowing and all-powerful God.

Doctrine Does Not Divide

After writing the last article (Who’s the Heretic?[1]), I gave more thought to the question of dividing on the Non-essentials: If we ought not to divide on the non-essentials, why then is there so much division amongst Christians and leaders, often on non-essentials?

The common misnomer is that it is doctrine that divides. This misleads many to avoid doctrine since it appears to be such a divisive issue. (A search of the internet will deliver a plethora of articles that support the notion that doctrine divides and must be avoided.) Both extremes of the argument repeat the mantra that doctrine divides: Those who are weak on doctrine will emphasize love and use the argument to discard all doctrine because it is “divisive”. On the other hand, those who are more rigid will say that it is right that doctrine divides since truth and error cannot be in fellowship. Thus, the same saying is used both to avoid doctrine and to over-emphasize doctrine. Yes, doctrine can be over-emphasized – if it is simply a cold, hard set of facts, void of love, grace, and transforming power. And no, I do not believe that our fellowship should be based on the lowest common denominator and that doctrine should be scrapped for the sake of unity, nor do I believe that true love removes the need for, or mitigates against, sound doctrine. (When I refer to “doctrine” in this article, I am referring to what we define as the Non-essentials – see the previous article for a fuller definition.)

The fact is that doctrine does not divide but doctrine has become the great scapegoat on whose back is laid a multitude of sins that are the real cause of division. I know this sounds like “heresy” but follow my argument: Division is the product of bad attitudes and bad behavior and not of bad doctrine.

If the differing parties both exhibit the spirit of Christ (Philippians 2:1-11) and are humble and respectful in their treatment of the other, then no matter how big the doctrinal differences, those differences can be worked through in order to arrive at the truth. However, if just one of the parties is arrogant, legalistic and judgmental, no matter how small the difference – unity will be fleeting and is guaranteed to be destroyed sooner or later.

“… with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace… till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:2,3,13). The unity of the Spirit here refers to the unity we have by virtue of our salvation. Since we share a common salvation, we have the unity of the Spirit. Ephesians 4:4-6 lists seven things that all true believers have in common and that is the basis of our spiritual unity. Note that Paul says we need to keep the unity of the Spirit. You can’t keep what you don’t have, but because all believers have the unity of Spirit simply because Father, Son and Spirit cannot be divided, we are urged to maintain the right attitude and preserve that unity.

Later Ephesians 4:13 speaks of the “unity of the faith”. The term “the faith” refers to our doctrine[2] and in this context speaks of the time when there will be unity in what we believe. While verse 3 says we need to keep the unity of the Spirit, verse 13 says we need to come to (arrive at) the unity of the faith. Note that Paul says to keep the unity of the Spirit “till” we come to the unity of the faith. Thus, we are not to divide even if we do not believe exactly the same and are to maintain the unity of the Spirit until we come to the unity of the faith. Here is my paraphrase these verses: “As Christians we have a common salvation, Lord Jesus, Father and Spirit. We must have the right attitude towards one another in order to preserve our unity of the spirit until we have all matured and believe exactly the same.”

There is therefore no excuse for division on the basis of differences on the non-essentials and any division on these issues is rank disobedience to the plain teaching of Scripture. Note also that we do not arrive at the unity of the faith by consensus, negotiation or intimidation but by submission to the ministry gifts of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12).

When we do not have the right attitude (or spirit), division becomes inevitable, not because of doctrine, but because of arrogance, unteachableness, selfish ambition, jealousy or hurt. Then, because we do not want to appear to divide on such carnal things, we begin to nitpick the other’s doctrine until we find something that we can use as the scapegoat for the division! Many times, I have witnessed how brothers begin to pick at various minor issues until they find a doctrinal issue they can blow out of proportion so that they are “justified” to break fellowship or denigrate the other party. In addition, because the doctrinal issue is tenuous, at best, they will exaggerate the differences by using straw man arguments. The idea is make it appear as a violation of an essential doctrine, thereby making you a heretic, which “justifies” them in turning others against you. But, what they are really doing is allowing the Devil to use them to do his dirty work of destroying the work of God. Sadly, they pride themselves in being “defenders of the faith” when in fact they are the exact opposite.

Even if such people are one hundred percent correct doctrinally, they are still one hundred percent wrong:

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:13-18).

True wisdom is manifest in meekness. Wisdom that divides and destroys comes from selfish ambition and is ultimately demonic – plain and simple!

Paul says: “…though I… understand all mysteries and all knowledge… but have no love, I am nothing” (1Corinthians 13:3). Thus even if one had perfect knowledge of all doctrine, but had no love the knowledge is useless and invalidated.

In fact, Paul says we should withdraw (break fellowship) with those who are argumentative and whose doctrine does not agree with, and produce godliness (1Timothy 6:3-5). In using the word ‘godliness’ here, Paul does not just have holiness in mind but specifically points to the fruit of the Spirit. Here are some of the things that the context defines as godliness: “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness”. (1Timothy 6:11). Therefore, Paul says, anyone who claims to have the true doctrine but does not exhibit love, patience and gentleness is to be avoided. The reason for this is, as I have said, because no matter how correct their doctrine, if they have the wrong spirit, or attitude, their knowledge is empty and they become a tool of the Devil to sow discord among the brethren.

It seems that as we get closer to the Lord’s return, there is a proliferation of those who pride themselves in their hardline, legalistic, and unchristian attitudes and who boast in those things as though they are desirable attributes when in fact, they are simply evidence of their immaturity and carnality (1Corinthians 3:3).

Finally, lest you accuse me of being soft on doctrine: I am fully committed to purity of doctrine and the defense of the faith, but that is only part of the true faith. True wisdom and true knowledge is proven by the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) and not by boastfulness, bluff, bluster and bullying. Jesus said the fruit will separate the true from the false prophets (Matthew 7:15-20). Our doctrine shapes our behavior therefore the true measure of our doctrine is in our actions more than in our words. Remember that even demons and unsaved academics can learn to recite correct theology, but that does not mean they are saved.

Paul calls his lifestyle to witness to the correctness of his doctrine (1Thessalonians 1:5) and John says “He who does not love does not know God…” (1John 4:8). Therefore, those who wish to demonstrate their spiritual superiority need to do it through the right attitude. Knowledge proves nothing. Computers and the Internet contain more knowledge than anyone who ever lived but they are cold, heartless and devoid of any spirituality. Those who boast of their supremacy on the basis of their superior doctrine but who cannot apply that knowledge with love, patience and meekness are simply walking automatons, programmed by Satan to do his work.

Please permit me to challenge you to think about those with whom you have broken fellowship since becoming a believer. Did you reject them because of jealousy, pride, anger, selfish ambition or any other carnal reason; did you show them the same love, patience and gentleness you expect from the Lord for yourself? If not, don’t use your “pure doctrine” as a cover for your carnality but rather repent and make things right.

Oh Lord, preserve us from those who simply want to use Christianity as a means of proving their superiority and to satisfy their lust for endless arguments, and may I not be one of those. Teach me your kindness, love, gentleness and patience and the true wisdom that comes from above and not from below. Amen.

Anton Bosch

 

[1] http://antonbosch.org/who-is-the-heretic

[2] See Colossians 2:7; Titus 1:13; Jude 3.

Who is the Heretic?

As I was preparing to teach a course on Apologetics (the defense of the faith) recently, I realized that I did not have a good definition of “heresy”. A search of the internet also produced nothing that seemed to be exactly right. The terms heresy and heretic are very much abused and mean many different things to different people. Some people label anything that doesn’t agree with their narrow doctrinal position as heresy, while others are reluctant to apply the label to beliefs clearly outside the Christian faith. What a Catholic would regard as heresy is very different to what an Evangelical would regard as heresy and what one Evangelical regards as heresy is different to what another Evangelical would count as such.

As a result, I set about attempting to define this term we all use, mostly with little understanding of the meaning or implications of the word.

The term is derived from the Greek word hairesis, literally meaning a choice, but referring more specifically to a sect, party or division. Luke uses the term in Acts to refer to the sects of the Sadducees (5:17), the Pharisees (15:5; 26:5), and even the Christians – called Nazarenes or the Way (24:5,14; 28:22). When Paul uses the term in 1Corinthians 11:19 and Galatians 5:20, he refers to the divisions and factions which cause strife in the church, while Peter links the term to false prophets and teachers (2Peter 2:1).

Paul uses the term in Titus when he explains how heresy should be dealt with: “Reject a divisive man (Gr: aihretikos, heretic in the KJV) after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.” (Titus 3:10-11).

The New Testament sense of the word therefore combines two things: A doctrine outside the norm that becomes the basis of a division. However, our modern understanding is slightly different in that the word tends to lay the emphasis on unorthodox doctrine which requires that the heretic be excommunicated.

So here is an attempt at a definition: “Heresy is a teaching or practice which denies and/or adds to one or more essentials of the Christian faith, divides Christians, and deserves condemnation.” John gives a good example of such a doctrine: denying the true nature of the person and work of Jesus Christ (IJohn 4:1-3; 2John 1:7-11).

Note that in the definition I said that it is a teaching or practice that denies and/or adds to an essential of the Faith. The idea of “essentials” comes from a quote by a 17th Century German Theologian who said: “In Essentials unity, In Non-Essentials liberty, in all things charity”. This says then that there are “essentials” and “non-essentials” and the statement, when applied in practice, is generally stated in reverse: “We must divide when the Essentials are violated and maintain the unity when someone has a different view on the Non-essentials”.

Non-essentials are clearly things like whether the hymn book has a blue or green cover, whether the service starts at 10am or 11am etc. The problem is that most Christians struggle to agree on what are Essentials and what are not. Some will elevate things like which translation to use, or whether men should wear neckties to the services, whether Adam had a navel, and a host of other less-important things, to the level of Essentials and will divide on those. (More on this later).  Because of this confusion, I felt the need to briefly define what the Essentials are, for my own benefit, and for those of my students:

Generally heresy falls into four main areas:

  • A wrong Christology (a wrong view of the person and work of Jesus Christ)
  • A wrong Theology (a wrong view of the nature of God)
  • A wrong Soteriology (a wrong understanding of salvation)
  • A wrong Bibliology (a wrong understanding of the inspiration and authority of Scripture)

While this may seem simple, it is not. As you may appreciate, there are many details and nuances of the above that may, or may not, be defined as heresy. While even agreeing on whether the above four areas are the Essentials is problematic, defining when someone has crossed the line on any of these is even more difficult.

What is clear is that we dare not use straw-man arguments nor extrapolation to “prove” a heresy. It is common to hear that if this or that teaching is taken to its logical conclusion, it is heresy and therefore the teaching (before being extended to its conclusion) is heresy. This is simply not true. For example; because someone believes that God is loving and gracious, if extended to it “conclusion”, could mean that everyone will be saved (Universalism) and therefore those who teach the love and grace of God are all heretics. While an emphasis on grace certainly could lead to heresy, it is not necessarily heresy when it is balanced by a clear understanding of the holiness and righteousness of God. Thus, to take one statement and declare someone a heretic without understanding the balance that person may bring through a counter-balancing doctrine is unrighteous judgment. The fact is that a lot of genuine heresy is simply the overstatement of one truth without bringing the counter-balancing truth into view. Thus overemphasising the three persons of the Trinity is polytheism (worship of many gods) while the over-emphasis of the oneness of God leads to several opposite heresies.

The difference between truth and heresy is often a very fine line and we must be careful before branding someone with such a label without unequivocal evidence, righteously and objectively weighed by those who are skilled to do so.

On the other hand, once heresy has been established, there is no recourse but to excommunicate such a person unless the heretic repents. This procedure is clearly spelt out in Scripture (Titus 3:10) and cannot be done capriciously or at the whim of just anyone.

Finally, there is an opposite form of heresy to the above – those who make non-essentials the basis for division: There are many who will gladly divide on non-essentials even though we may agree on the Essentials. These people are guilty of heresy even though their doctrine on the Essentials may be quite acceptable. Their heresy is that they have turned non-essentials into essentials. Thus those who readily divide on the King James Version Only, whether the bread at the communion is unleavened, or whether baptism is by immersing three times or once, or any of the thousands of other non-essentials on which people divide so easily, are by definition, heretics.

However, unlike the first kind of heretic who must be excommunicated, these people excommunicate themselves by rejecting anyone who does not agree with them and their pet ideas. They are self-destructing in that they typically excommunicate themselves into a corner with one or two others who have an equally critical spirit. Once they have isolated themselves, they begin to turn on each other until they have consumed one another (Galatians 5:15).

Diotrephes is a good example of this kind of behaviour: “… Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church.” (3John 1:9-10).

Even though these people finally destroy or isolate themselves, the damage they cause is still serious because they bring unnecessary divisions and hurt to the body of Christ, disrupt the work of the Gospel, and bring dishonour to the name of Christ among the Gentiles.

Truth and heresy, and maintaining fellowship, are serious matters and should never be a cover for pride, a divisive spirit, or selfish ambition. Heresy and sin must be dealt with justly and decisively, with love. The same applies to those who boast in their exclusiveness, elitism and narrow-mindedness. These attitudes are simply a manifestation of carnality: “… For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” (1Corinthians 3:3).

Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled ” (Hebrews 12:14-15).