Responding to False Teachings in 2 Peter: Part 2

Last week’s post was on Peter’s first stage in responding to false teaching. Peter’s first concern was the growth of his readers, before he turned to the false teachers. This week, we will look at the second stage in his response.

His response to the false teachers in chapter 2 actually falls into four sections:

First, Peter introduces and describes the false teachers (2:1-3a). Their presence in the church was the main reason Peter wrote the letter. He compares them to false prophets in the OT and describes their teaching as destructive. They deny Jesus Christ and thus bring judgment upon themselves (2:1-2). Many will follow them, and the way of truth will be blasphemed because of their teaching. They are greedy, and they exploit people with false words (2:3a).

Second, Peter condemns them and also reminds his readers that the fate of the false teachers is not pretty (2:3b-10a). Their destruction is a sure thing (2:3b). Peter again turns to OT examples of God’s judgments on the wicked (2:4-10a) to make the point that God will surely bring judgment on these false teachers just as he did then.

Third, Peter points out their character flaws: arrogance and sensuality (2:10b-16). Peter takes time to shine light on their sinful lifestyle. Indeed, they were claiming the grace of God as an excuse for sin (see also 2:19-20). They resisted authority (2:10-11), and were involved in all kinds of sins of the flesh (2:13-16; cf. 2:18-20).

Finally, he again gives a description of them and points out their condemnation (2:17-22).

In 2 Peter 2, there are several things that stand out in his response to false teachings. 1) He is not too concerned with the content of their teaching. He does not address it at all as he describes them. All we know about what they were teaching is in his call on his readers to hold fast to their conviction that Christ will come again and will bring judgment. It follows that these false teachers were denying the truth of the return of Christ. 2) Peter does not address the false teachers directly. His audience in describing the false teachers and their destiny is his readers. 3) His aim is to warn his readers of the danger of listening to the false teachers and also to assure them that God is in control.

Again, the focus is on the spiritual health of the church. This leads to a conscious effort to teach and remind believers of the truth to which they hold. In doing so, the emphasis is on the truth that is being challenged by the false teaching. Here, we place that truth in its biblical context for better understanding. The spiritual growth of believers is important and should be guarded against teachings that hinder it. In Peter’s approach, he does not engage the false teachers, for that is not what matters. His goal is not to convince them that they are wrong. Rather, he describes them for who they are and points out their destiny. In doing so, he wants his readers to be warned, see how they are wrong, and continue to hold onto what is the truth.

 

There is much to be learned from Peter’s response to false teachings. A careful study of 2 Peter will provide solid guidelines for responding to false teaching in the church. At the core of the response is calling believers to remember what they already know as truth. That will protect them from false teachings (see 2 Pet. 1:12, 13, 15; 3:5, 8; cf. Eph. 4:11-16).

Responding to False Teachings in 2 Peter: Part 1

In light of our discussions in the last posts, how should the church respond to false teaching? In this post, we look at 2 Peter to see the apostle Peter’s reactions.

The situation of 2 Peter is this: the letter was written by the apostle at the end of his life. On his death bed, Peter writes to remind his readers of the truth they are to continue embracing (1:12-15). He wrote to a church that was facing the challenges of false teaching. What Peter emphasized in his letter is key for knowing how to address the church in the face of false teaching. Peter’s response to false teaching comes in two stages. His concern is their continued growth in the faith. His purpose is for his readers to grow in knowledge and grace of Jesus Christ (3:18). Thus, his first approach is to call them to this continued growth. Second, while he is encouraging them to grow, he also speaks against the false teachers and their teachings. He probably saw the need to do this because the presence of false teachers and false teaching was a hindrance to their growth. I will treat the first stage here and the second next week.

First, Encouragement to Grow in Faith

First of all, Peter reminds his readers of who they are and what they must continue to believe. We see Peter’s encouragement for growth in the following areas:

Appeal to knowledge (1:2, 3, 5, 8; 3:18). Why this appeal to knowledge? Knowledge is necessary for the growth that Peter calls them to. Thus, he reminds them over and over of the knowledge that they have.

Emphasis on holding fast to what they have believed (1:16-21; 3:1-13). He wants them to take seriously the fact that Jesus will come again (1:16-21). He supports this truth with his own experience (1:16-18; cf. Matt. 17:1-8) and the teaching of the prophets (1:19-21). They must hold fast to the conviction that Christ will return and will judge the world (later it will be clear that the false teachers were rejecting this truth about the return of Christ).

In 3:1-13, Peter again reminds his readers and encourages them to “remember” the teaching of the Lord and the prophet who clearly taught that Christ will come again and judge the world. God will surely intervene again in the world just as he did in the creation account and during the flood.

In between 1:16-21 and 3:1-13 is chapter 2, where Peter turns to the false teachers. His approach here is unique and offers much as a way of responding to false teachers. More about that next week.

We conclude here that in responding to false teaching, Peter first of all cared about the dangers posed by such teachers. He then writes to encourage the church to stand strong on the truth of Scripture. He pointed out the specific truth that was being challenged by the false teachers and supported it with the teachings of the rest of Scripture. Thus, in responding to false teaching, the church (pastor or teachers in the church) should be people who first of all care for the body of Christ, care that right doctrine is maintained, are sensitive to the  doctrinal challenges faced by the church, call the body to remember the truth on that matter, and encourage them to hold fast to their convictions as taught in Scripture. We cannot go wrong if we begin first and foremost with the body of believers before ever turning our attention to the false teachers themselves and their teachings.

Excerpts from Students on False Teaching

Last week I explained the situation of false teachings in Cameroon (and the same is true of many places around the world). This week, I want to give you excerpts from two students, Ervais Fotso and Wirsiy Kingsly, on their observations on the Christian television programming that people watch in Cameroon. It is amazing how accessible these programs are. Even people in poor houses in the middle of remote villages, own televisions and get most of their teachings from these preachers.  Both of the students are looking for ways to help the church address the issues of false teaching in their context. Both believe that the gospel is not central in the church and that often, preachers have motivations other than proclaiming Christ. You will notice that their excerpts are from watching “Christian television stations” but they say that what they found, is also in existence in their churches. Their concern is that the church is not addressing these issues adequately, and therefore is not helping her people to grow.

These excerpts illustrate what is taught on television and what many church goers are hearing during the week. The same people come to church every weekend and instead of hearing a rebuttal from the pastor or help on how to deal with it, there is silence.

Next week, I will look at the response to false teachings in the New Testament.

Excerpt from Ervais Fotso

“New challenges to the clarity and sufficiency of the gospel arise in each generation. Distortions of the gospel are present in our Cameroonian context, ranging from the “worldly prosperity gospel” to an “a feel-good human potential gospel.” The new emphases are on miracles, healings, prophecies, power encounters …etc. On the 12 of November, 2011 from 10:30 to 11:45, we looked at some “Christian” channels available from the dish in the town of Ndu, Cameroon. Here are the channels and their broadcasts: Unity Broadcasting Network, African Christian Broadcasting Network, Chosen, Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries, SWC, Emmanuel TV, and Messiah were all broadcasting on healing. KLN, Miracle TV, and Messiah were broadcasting on prophecy. Deliverance sessions were going on the following stations: UBN, World Restoration Service, Emmanuel TV, and Messiah. African Broadcasting Network was teaching on “success in life.” It is interesting to note that none of these channels talked about the gospel message and had a large crowd attending the services.  Phrases such as “sin,” “repent,” “Christ died on the cross,” “lost,” “salvation,” and similar terms were rare if not absent. These new ministries are popular and attract crowds but have put aside the gospel.”

Excerpt from Wirsiy Kingsly 

“Most of our churches and other Christian institutions have people who serve as pastors, Christian educators, and teachers of the Word of God with motives that are not glorifying to God.This is an implication of a series of messages listened to by the researcher from some “Christian” channels on April 23rd. Different messages were listened to from different channels. On Emmanuel TV, it was prophecy time and the focus was on signs and wonders. On the Messiah TV precisely the Divine Appointment Ministries Int’l, the focus was on prosperity and the emphasis from the “man of God” were that, “The life that is failing is not the life from God;” “the life that is not succeeding is not of God;” “Therefore, as a child of God, you must send those tragedies back to sender.” On Faith: Miracle TV, it was all about prophecy, miracles, and healing. On ABN TV, the focus was on miracles and the “man of God” will call all the people with any court cases to come out and he will only touch them and ask them to go back and take their seats because the cases are all canceled in Jesus’ name; and will do this to people with all types of problems. From the ACBN TV, it was miracles and prosperity. The emphasis from the “man of God” was that every child of God should get connected to his or her success, healing, and rightful possession. Any child of God should not struggle with anything in life. From the WRS TV, CWC—Thohoyandou, it was a Miracle Service and the “woman of God” after performing all the miracles, gave gifts to the people on whom miracles were performed.”

How Should the Church Respond to False Teachings? The Situation in Cameroon

This is the first of a series of posts on the presence of false teaching in the church, and the church’s response to it. My approach is 1) to give a glimpse into one location where this is a reality (Cameroon), 2) give excerpts from students research on actual false teachings, 3) take a look at how biblical authors dealt with false teachings, and 4) the role of the church in responding to false teaching.

The Situation of False Teachings in Cameroon: An Introduction

I am supervising the theses of two students at the Cameroon Baptist Theological Seminary, Ndu, Cameroon, West Africa. One is writing on “The Centrality of the Gospel in Galatians” and the other on “Paul’s Motivation for Preaching the Gospel.” In order to do this, they have had to look at their own context to see what is preached and how that relates to the truth of Scripture. They took time and watched many television programs that broadcast “Christian Programs” and claim to be preaching the gospel. They have found that these television stations are “Christian” only in name and not in content. What is proclaimed on these stations is appealing to people, and they receive it as the gospel. Even people who attend regular church services are looking for what the television preachers provide and promise, and some pastors are moving toward becoming like the television preachers. The most common evidence of this move is their constant emphasis on health and wealth gospel: promises that faith in Christ brings many physical blessings from God, that any situation of poverty is never from God etc.

From my own time of serving in Cameroon, I observed the popularity of the false gospel and its destructive nature. Its promises are sweet and its claims unattainable, but all is done under the premise that it is the revelation of the Spirit to men of God, who now pass it on to the people. I attended a service where a pastor unashamedly was preaching that faith in Christ means that health, wealth and prosperity is the portion of believers. At the same time, he was assuring the people that he was not preaching a health and wealth gospel.

One day in class a student objected to my interpretation of a passage. I asked him the source for his view on the text and he quoted a prosperity television preacher whom he watched religiously. I realized that some of my students would sit in class and listen to me but get their actual knowledge of what is true from the “men of God” as they call them. We regularly met people who were sick but would refuse to accept that fact. Some would refuse to consult and receive treatment. Their response was, “This sickness is not my portion ‘in Jesus name.’” I learned they were simply repeating what they were hearing on television.

The church in Cameroon is not adequately addressing these issues. There is unexplainable silence and this, I believe, is destructive for the health of the church. The presence of false teachings in the church is not a new thing. What is new is the silence of the church in responding to them.  If the church in Cameroon and throughout the world is to maintain the purity of the gospel and help her members keep from being blown away by false teachings, she must respond to such teachings. The question then is, what ought to be the response of the church and how should it be carried out?

Next week’s post will include excerpts from the two students on their findings about false teachings.