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TEXT: Titus 1:10-11
SUBJECT: Heresies #1: Judaism
For the last several years, we've spent one Sunday afternoon each month looking at some aspect of Church History. Last month, we finished our long study of the Puritan view of life. The Puritans-as I said over and over again-were not perfect men, but they were good men who thought with a depth and consistency that few modern believers can match. Insofar as they followed Christ, I exhort you to follow the Puritans. You could do a lot worse.
Today, we'll take up a new historical study, but unlike the last one, this is one I hope you won't follow. There's something to be learned, not only in good examples, but also in bad ones. Speaking of a bad man in the Bible, J.C. Ryle wrote,
"The Holy Scriptures, which were written
for our learning, contain beacons as
well as patterns. They show us what
to avoid as well as what to follow".
What's true of the Bible is also true of Church History. There are men and movements and doctrines and practices you ought to stay clear of. They destroyed souls and split the Church in the past-and if they're taken up again, they'll have the same effects on us-if not worse. Maybe worse because unlike the Christians who first heard them, we should know better.
George Santayana put it well,
"They who do not know history
are doomed to repeat it".
Our new topic, then is heresies. I was tempted to call it old heresies because we'll be looking at the Early Church, but I decided against it because heresies are never old or new-they're timeless. Satan is not original. Today's heresies are nothing but the old ones re-named, re-packaged, and re-gurgitated!
What is a heresy? It's a false teaching, of course. But that's too loose to help us much, so two other qualifications are needed:
One more thing: we'll study big heresies in chronological order. They all entered the Church, of course, but-thankfully-- not all at once.
THE HERESYThe first major heresy in the Church was Judaism or the religion of Israel. It was found as early as A.D. 50; it affected both the churches of Palestine (that were mostly Jewish) and the ones in Asia Minor (that were mostly Gentile). To appreciate how deceptive and powerful the heresy was, remember this: Even Barnabas and Peter accepted it for a time!
Most heresies reject or pervert major doctrines. But not this one. These men accepted the full inspiration and authority of the Bible. They affirmed the sacrificial death and physical resurrection of Christ. They believed in salvation by grace alone through faith alone. They demanded holiness of life. They anticipated the Second Coming of Christ, the resurrection of the body, the Last Judgment, heaven for the saved and hell for the lost. On every one of these points-and many others-they were right on the money.
Yet they were guilty of the first-and one of the most dangerous heresies-to affect the Church. What was it, exactly? Acts 15:1 hints at it,
"And certain men came down from Judea and taught
the brethren, `Unless you are circumcised according
to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved".
What is hinted at here is developed in the Book of Galatians. They believed that a sinner was justified by trusting Jesus Christ. But if he wanted to complete his conversion-and really please God-he had to submit to the Law of Moses. He had to be circumcised; he had to keep the dietary laws; observe the Sabbath, and stay away from people who didn't!
Where did these ideas come from? Every one of them came from the Bible. Here they are:
As originally given, every one of these verses meant exactly what the heretics said it meant! Circumcision was a command of God; to work on Saturday was sinful; to eat certain kinds of meat was forbidden; to have fellowship with non-Jews was not allowed (unless they converted to Judaism). You can see why so many people were attracted to it-especially people who took the Bible seriously and wanted to live holy lives!
The heresy was not only deceptive; it was dangerous. Had it been left to grow, it would have had two deadly results:
"It is like telling a new convert that he or she must
also become a Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian,
etc., before the conversion process is truly complete
and acceptable to God. When this sort of thing takes
place, the message itself is changed; it is no longer
`Surrender to Christ', but `Join our group'. The
focus of salvation shifts from Christ to Movement".
Just twenty years after the Day of Pentecost, heresy had gotten into the Church and Satan had nearly won the day. But not quite.
THE PUBLIC REFUTATION
Some members of the Antioch church came to Jerusalem to discuss the issue. Were these new doctrines Apostolic? Or were they a perversion? For some time, the church met and heard all sides of the story. A letter was then drawn up. Here's part of it,
"Since we have heard that some who went out from us
have troubled you with words, unsettling your soul,
saying, `You must be circumcised and keep the Law'-
to whom we gave no such commandment!"
When the letter was read in Antioch,
"They rejoiced over its encouragement".
We can rejoice in the decision, but how can explain it? The verses I cited a few minutes ago are still there.
The letter we have in the Bible might have been much longer than that-but we don't know. What we do know is that two Epistles-Galatians and Hebrews-explain how it's possible to accept the full inspiration of the Mosaic Law while at the same time not keeping its dietary code, not observing its holy days, not submitting to circumcision, and having fellowship with believing Gentiles.
In super short summary, what Galatians and Hebrews teach is this: The Mosaic Law is inspired, authoritative, useful, and.temporary.
It does not bind the Church-not because it's bad, false or worthless, but because it was never meant to!
Galatians 3:24 is the key verse. In the KJV, it says,
"Wherefore, the Law was our schoolmaster
to bring us unto Christ, that we might be
justified by faith".
What does this mean? Many say the Law bring us to Christ by convicting us of our sins and showing us we cannot save ourselves. This is a true doctrine. But not the one taught here.
The "us" does not refer to sinners, but to Israel under the Old Covenant. What the Law did-Paul says-is kept and directed the People of God until Christ came and justified them through faith in His Gospel. The RSV is much better,
"So that the law was our custodian until
Christ came that we might be justified by faith".
So, what do we do with all these rules and regulations?
But what about wearing seat belts? Is that also commanded by God? When I ride my bike, must I wear a helmet? If you use a skillsaw, does God order you to wear eye protection? How do you know?
How should believers under the New Covenant understand the Laws of Moses? Matthew 11:13 opened my understanding,
"For all the prophets and the Law prophesied
What did they prophesy of? The Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, the Separation Laws (which Israel often broke) foresaw a Man who would separate Himself from every sort of uncleanness. Hebrews 7:26 tells us who that Man is,
"For such a High Priest was fitting for us,
who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate
from sinners, and has become higher than
The first heresy to trouble the Church was Judaism. Its mistake was not rejecting the Bible, but by reading it as though Jesus Christ had not come.
The answer to the heresy, therefore, is to remember that Jesus Christ has come. And, as the Messiah, He has become the Prophet, Priest, and King of His Church.
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