Romans Chapter 14 speaks a great deal about the lengths to which we ought to go to protect our brethren from stumbling and being shaken in faith. This echoes Jesus’ condemnation, when he says, “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”
What, then, of people who seem to make a living causing others to stumble? I speak, of course, about false teachers.
What makes one a false teacher? The simplest definition is given by Paul: “For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.” A false teacher comes teaching alternative methods of grace, alternatives to the Law, and all manner of wicked and pagan rites which we are not called to.
Alternatives to Grace
What do I mean by alternative methods of grace? According to the Scripture, “All who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved,” and “There is no other name under heaven given unto men by which we must be saved.” This tells us two important things: Christ is the only one who can give grace, and all that is required to receive this grace is to call on Him. Any alternatives to these are, quite frankly, false.
Now, many who teach alternatives do so out of ignorance, for they do not know the Scripture. Baptism is not required to receive grace, nor communion, nor confession, nor penance, nor any other rite or display. Those he foreknew he predestined, those he predestined he called, those he called he justified, and those he justified he glorified. No other requirements. However, in the spirit of keeping stumbling blocks out of our brothers’ way, if they wish you baptized or communed (which are good and commanded by our Lord, anyway), by all means partake of these things. At the same time, it is good to gently reason with them from Scripture, so that they might learn and guard themselves from causing others to stumble.
However, many teach alternatives which are destructive. As we have learned, there is no other name by which we must be saved. If you look to your affiliation with particular churches or teachers, or call upon other gods for salvation, you do so in vain. The Buddhist does not receive grace through meditation, nor the Hindu through their many gods, nor the Scientologist through…whatever it is Scientologists believe, for there is but one way, and one truth, and one life. No one comes to the Father except through Christ.
In the days of the Apostles, there were Jewish Christians claiming that you had to be circumcised to receive grace. This is another Law, one that Christ did not give, and so the Apostles condemned such teachings. This is a common problem within the Church, and one that should be thoroughly considered.
Take, for instance, the Catholic Church, which has said that outside of the Catholic Church there is no salvation. They also are inclined to say that certain works are required to maintain your salvation, or that certain rites must be performed to absolve you of sin. Many of these added rules are good to follow, for they lead to goodness and communion with the brethren, but to call them preconditions to salvation is to make them a new Law.
Such teachings are, by their nature, a stumbling block for believers. They are taught to focus on things which God does not require instead of that which he does, and so they are unduly burdened. Christ himself condemned such among the Jewish teachers of the law, and so we should also be wary of the same.
In the same way, some come claiming that there is no Law. They don’t usually say it in that way, necessarily, but they will teach that there is no need to feel any sort of guilt or seek sanctification. “You can’t love one another unless you love yourself,” and similar teachings, tend to go hand-in-hand with this lawlessness. However, if there is no law then there is no condemnation, and if there is no condemnation there is no salvation, and if there is no salvation then Christ died for nothing.
Foreign Rites and Rituals
This is a popular problem among many factions of proclaimed Christians. Those who are unsatisfied with the Truth seek comfort in pagan practices and rituals, thinking themselves wise. There are many flavors of foreign rites, but I will attempt to cover some popular ones quickly.
The first is pagan prayer and meditation. Now, the Scripture praises the man who meditates upon the Word day and night, but this speaks of one who ponders the Scripture and the nature of God. “Christian Yoga,” “Christian meditation,” “Contemplative prayer,” and similar practices are simply pagan customs with “Christian” slapped onto them in order to confound the less discerning. Take it from a former pagan, these practices have no connection to Scripture and every connection to secular religious rites. The Scripture gives guidance on how we are to pray in the Lord’s Prayer and the Sermon on the Mount; it is simple and direct, for we have but one mediator between God and man in Christ and He hears us.
The next is prayer to the saints/dead/angels/etc. To begin with, prayer to the dead is called by scripture “necromancy,” and in the Hebraic law it is punishable by death (in this we include prayers to the saints, for they now sleep until the day in which Christ returns in glory). The angels have no power other than that given to them by God, and any spirit which is willing to accept worship and prayers is fallen and depraved, so such prayers are both meaningless and depraved. We have no reason to pray to anyone other than our Lord, for he always hears us and loves us.
The third I want to mention is demonology of all kinds. Some believe certain rites and practices are required to drive out demons, or to keep them at bay. Many are the charlatans who sell talismans and services to dispel demons, and many are those who buy their services. In the first place, the sale of the gifts of the Spirit is called the sin of Simony, after Simon Magus who attempted to buy the Holy Spirit and was condemned (though he repented and was spared); as only God can drive out demons and give authority to do the same, selling such a gift is also Simony. Second, look to the Apostles and Christ – when they commanded a spirit out, it fled in fear of God’s holy wrath. The sons of Sceva tried to drive out demons without authority, and the demons stripped and beat them. And, third, know that while the demons are around and work evils in this world, their presence is known in the Spirit and a simple rebuke drives them away.
The final is directly attempting to incorporate paganism into Christianity. I’ve known “Christians” who attempt divination, channel reiki, practice wicca and/or conjure spirits, engage in voodoo and spiritism, and many other directly pagan practices drawn directly from pagan sources. It should be obvious that these are not of God, but I continue to run into such people on a regular basis.
There is usually a common thread throughout these, a failing as old as Eve: wanting to be as God. Those who practice pagan rites tend to seek to draw down blessings or drive out hardships through some power they possess. Witchcraft, at its core, is the desire to replace God in controlling the world; prayers to spirits are attempts to force God or other powers to bend to your will; demonology is an attempt to assert authority; contemplative prayer tends to be an attempt to awaken to new truths and realities in order to avoid the truths we are given.
Side note: meditation can have its place in a Christian’s life. Nothing wrong with relaxing, and meditation can help you learn focus and willpower, which are good things. Yoga movements, controlled breathing, and similar exercises can have excellent health benefits, but all of these things are secular benefits. We have the Holy Spirit, who provides all the enlightenment and spiritual enrichment we could ever need.
Teachers bear more responsibility than others, for they are accountable not only for themselves but what they have taught. For this reason, teaching is not something to be entered into without prayer and careful meditation, lest you unwittingly cause many to stumble. Many teachers do not take Christ’s warning about this seriously, and so take too little caution and preach out of ignorance; this is not good, and those of you who teach should be increasingly earnest in seeking truth.
Many other false teachers do not believe, and so teach falsehoods without fear. It tends to be pretty lucrative – you can look to any number of popular teachers of heresy and see mansions, fleets of cars, and other adornments of wealth. This profits them in this world, but I fear the judgment will not be so kind to them. It behooves the brethren to pray for discernment and consider carefully all teachings, so that they do not fall prey to the wiles of evil men and women (many female teachers in this category who shall remain unnamed).
Take heart, however, for if you have fallen for false teachings you are yet forgiven. Many of the saints now asleep have fallen for false doctrines at one point or another, and many living have broken free of these teachings and now preach rightly. God is our refuge and strength, our deliverer from all evils, and he will deliver you as he has so many others. Pray, then, for discernment and wisdom, that you be awakened to the truth at all times and in all places and be guarded against deception.