Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Two Traits of False Teachers and Ungodly Leaders (2-3 John)

My massage therapist tells me I need to do stretching exercises 3 days a week. And so I have started. I'm told that being flexible and maintaining balance will keep you moving well into old age. A lot of people work out but are not very flexible. That describes me. I can barely do the stretches I've been asked to do and yet can already feel a difference. God bless all of you who are working on this too. We can do it!

This morning I was in 2-3 John. As you know, John wrote these two letters because he longed to protect his readers from both error and evil. He warns them against deviation from the truth both in their thinking and in their practice. It took me maybe 5 minutes to read through both letters in the Greek. This morning my attention was drawn to two verbs that seem to me to encapsulate John's warnings against ungodly leadership. They are proagō and philoprōteuō

Here are some renderings of proagō:

  • NIV: "anyone who runs ahead"
  • NLT: "anyone who wanders away"
  • ESV: "Everyone who goes on ahead"
  • NASB: "Anyone who goes too far"

The Message brings out the force of the verb as follows:

"Anyone who gets so progressive in his thinking that he walks out on the teaching of Christ, walks out on God."

As for philoprōteuō, consider the following:

  • NIV: "who loves to be first"
  • NLT: "who loves to be the leader"
  • ESV: "who likes to put himself first"
  • NKJV: "who loves to have the preeminence"
  • GW: "who loves to be in charge"
  • Phillips: "who wants to be the head of everything"

Now, put these two verbs together, and you get an excellent picture of a false teacher. Ungodly leaders are always marked by intellectual arrogance on the one hand and personal vanity on the other. The latter was certainly true of Diotrephes, "who loved to be first," forgetting that in all things only Christ Jesus should have the preeminence (Col. 1:18). On the other hand, intellectual arrogance well describes those who are so far "advanced" in their understanding of theology that they've even left God behind. They have "run ahead" of the truth, their superior gnōsis enabling them to move past apostolic doctrine. 

I well recall the theological crisis that occured in the 1970s among various Christian denominations, not least among Southern Baptists. Their departure from biblical authority is well documented in a chapter in Harold Lindsell's landmark book The Battle for the Bible

Just who were these "progressives" in Southern Baptist life? I would describe them as academic wanna-bes. The scholars they looked up to had impressive university doctorates. They had run-of-the-mill seminary degrees. The scholars they sought to emulate had been published in the world's leading refereed journals. They had published, at best, in their denominational magazines or Sunday School quarterlies. These "true" scholars were famous. But they were complete unknowns in the scholarly world. How, then, to become an "insider"? You had to pay your dues. Primarily, this meant adopting "progressive" theories that denied the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible. On page 92 of Lindsell's book, one of them is quoted as saying:

Many who promote infallibility of the Bible are simply dishonest. They know better through education and reading but find it advantageous to exploit the uninformed whom they say they have been "called" to serve and save. They parlay this false doctrine into success, fame and large churches. Such moral dereliction is far too common in many public religious activities .... To this type of deceit there is no response except contempt and rejection.

Here's another quote from a different Southern Baptist leader on page 97:

I do not believe that Adam and Eve were one man and one woman. I believe that the terms Adam and Eve represented mankind and womankind. There are volumes and volumes of Biblical scholarship which document this theory many years back.

So you see, we are now to follow these pseudo-scholars because of their supposed "education" based on "volumes and volumes" of liberal writings. Thank you, but no thank you. No one can read Luke or Paul without realizing that they believed in a historical Adam. And I'll stick with Luke and Paul over "scholarship" any day. Moreover, both Luke and Paul were the antithesis of intellectual arrogance and personal vanity! 

My friend, don't get sucked into the game. Be countercultural. Be the opposite of proagō and philoprōteuō. As believers, we love each other not because we are naturally drawn to each other but because of the truth we share. Not only have we come to know it, we live in it and perpetuate it. Let the "scholars" and the heretics and the false teachers leave us and go back into the world (1 John 2:19). We simpletons will remain faithful.