Prior to the advent of the Internet and social media, the life of a religious charlatan was easy. Ministries built on preposterous prophecies, outlandish miracle claims, and bizarre Scripture twisting could continue unabated without the fear of any serious scrutiny.
And while heresy is still lucrative, the modern heretic has to be shrewd about disguising his schemes and covering his tracks. They could once trade on spiritual gullibility, short-term memories, and isolated audiences. Now, the Internet—and social media in particular—offers a global and perpetual platform to expose false teachers and warn against their teaching. Today, the long-term survival of false teachers hinges on their ability to cloak their error in enough truth to avoid zealous bloggers and to clear customs at the church gate.
The bar has been raised—doctrinal deception requires going to a whole new level. And it has. Shallow and spiritually immature churchgoers are not the only victims. Solid, biblically grounded believers are also vulnerable to dangerous doctrines when they’re packaged in enough truth. The spiritual casualties in the church are widespread, creating a mission field right under our noses.
There are few responsibilities more challenging than evangelizing those under spiritual deception. But the difficulty of such a task in no way excuses us from this critical mission field. John MacArthur points this out in his study of Jude: “Our duty in the Truth War is not only to oppose the false teachers but also to rescue those who have been led astray by them.”John MacArthur, The Truth War (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), 177.
Jude describes three types of victims requiring three types of evangelistic response: “And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh” (Jude 22-23).
The first type Jude mentions are “some, who are doubting” and in need of mercy. John MacArthur explains:
They have been exposed to false teaching, and it has shaken their confidence in the truth. They aren’t committed to the error yet, just doubting. Perhaps they aren’t truly committed to the truth yet either. These may well be people who have never fully and savingly believed the gospel. On the other hand, they could be authentic believers—either young or spiritually feeble. Either way, exposure to false teachers has revealed a dangerous weakness in their faith by causing them to doubt.
Have mercy on them, Jude says. Don’t write them off because they are weak and wavering. They are confused because they are absolutely open to any and every teacher, and they are utterly devoid of any discernment. They are the most accessible and the most vulnerable. They need truth, but they are being offered (and duped by) almost everything else. . . .
And, of course, the chief mercy they need is the mercy of the gospel. Once they lay hold of that truth, they will have a foundation for true discernment and the endless cycle of confusion will be halted.The Truth War, 178–179.
Genuine believers can go through temporary seasons of wavering or confusion. These are true victims who require the ministry of gentle truth and generous patience. Biblical truth can and will prevail in their lives as you bring it to bear on the lies of the enemy.
The apostle Paul described that approach in his second epistle to Timothy:
The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:24-26)
While it is critical that our lives exhibit that sort of character as we reach out to the victims of deception, Jude 23 commends a far more urgent and abrupt approach when dealing with the deceivers themselves and those who unreservedly buy into their lies. They are toxic with deception and on the precipice to hell. Next time we’ll discuss how to operate in that dangerous corner of the mission field.