by John Ritenbaugh (1995)
Today, the largest body of the true church of God is rapidly
being swept away by damnable heresies from the faith once
delivered. Christians are warned of destructive and blasphemous
doctrines being brought into the church in 2 Peter 2:1-3:
But there were also false prophets among the people, even as
there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly
bring in destructive [damnable, KJV] heresies, even denying
the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift
destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways,
because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By
covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for
a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their
destruction does not slumber.
It is instructive for us to study these verses more closely
because they show us in a general way that traitors will come
from within the church and subvert many to following their carnal
Peter uses the word "but" to provide a contrast with the
preceding section about the "sure word of prophecy" (2 Peter
1:19, KJV). These traitors to the faith are not led by the Holy
Spirit as were those God inspired to write the prophecies (verse
21). The apostle immediately warns that these "false teachers"
will come from within the church, or as Peter writes, "among
you." The implication is that "forewarned is forearmed"!
Therefore, be on guard!
In 2 Peter 2:2, "destructive" or "pernicious" (KJV) is more
accurately translated "lascivious." Lascivious means "to excite
to lust or lewdness." These heresies will seem to provide
something we carnally consider very desirable for our well-being.
But all the while the liberties (verse 19) they promise in their
false teachings will be so destructive that they only serve to
deny Jesus Christ (verse 1).
We find in verse 3 that the false teachers are themselves
driven by covetousness. They desire to get something for
themselves - power over people, possibly the perception of being
a scholar, maybe popularity or money. With that motivation, they
prove they are not led by the Holy Spirit.
Why are false teachings so deserving of condemnation? False
teaching perverts the direction and outcome of our lives, unless
we reject or repent of it, if we had once accepted it. On the
other hand, possessing true doctrines and beliefs is of exceeding
importance because what a person believes determines his attitude
and conduct. Right thoughts precede right actions. Our beliefs
express themselves in social relations, daily work and home life.
Alarming as 2 Peter 2:1-3 is, Peter neither tells us what heresy
is in general, nor indicates what the future heresies will be.
Besides these, he does not identify the real source of heresy
Heresy is the translation of the Greek "hairesis" meaning
literally "choice" or "selection" - which has an interesting
secular as well as biblical history. Until its biblical use, it
had no evil connotation. Even in the Bible, it is mostly used to
refer to a party or a philosophy with which a person had chosen
to identify or ally himself. Thus, "hairesis" is frequently
translated "sect." In Acts, Luke applies it to the Sadducees
(5:17) and the Pharisees (15:5; 26:5). Outsiders also used
"hairesis" in Acts 24:5,14 and 28:22 to identify the Christian
church. However, when Paul and Peter's writings began circu-
lating, "hairesis" meant a destructive element within the church
that creates division through consciously formed opinions and
ideas in disagreement with the orthodox teachings of the
apostles. Paul condemns it in Galatians 5:20 as one of "the works
of the flesh." Sometimes it is translated "factions" or "party
spirit," but regardless of its translation, Paul says that people
who practice such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God
In the ordinary course of secular life, heresy was of little
consequence; one person's opinion or choice about most things in
life is just as good as another's. A person can be given any
number of alternatives, any one of which he may be perfectly free
to believe. However, in Christianity we are dealing with
revelation, with God given truth, with absolutes. When God's
truth comes to men, we either have to accept or reject it. Thus,
a heretic is a man who believes what he wishes to believe instead
of accepting the truth of God that he ought to believe.
The Real Source of Heresy
From the Bible's point of view, a heresy is a lie. No matter
how attractively it may be wrapped or how appealing it may be to
our vanity, it is a deviation from the truth of God that promotes
or actually produces schism - division - in the church.
Lies and division within the church make it very easy to
identify the real source of heresy. In John 8:44 Jesus says of
the Devil, "He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not
stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he
speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar
and the father of it." John adds in Revelation 12:9, "So the
great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil
and Satan, who deceives the whole world."
Satan introduced heresy into human life through Adam and Eve
when he induced them to sin by telling them, "You will not surely
die" (Genesis 3:4). They believed this perversion of God's truth,
and upon sinning, the destructive course began. By being cast
from the Garden of Eden, they were almost immediately separated
from God. They did not live and prosper as Satan's cruel
perversion led them to believe. Instead, the Devil exploited them
through their innocence and desires, and through sin they became
his slaves. Hundreds of years later, they died just as God said
The Devil's attempts to deceive through false teaching have
never stopped. Jesus warned in Mark 13:22 that, as we approach
the end, it will be especially intensive; "For false christs and
false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive,
if possible, even the elect." He warns that, if it is possible
for us to be deceived, we will be deceived by false doctrines.
The source of false doctrine is demonic. Paul writes in I Timothy
Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will
depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and
doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having
their own conscience seared with a hot iron.
Paul is writing of men who listen to, consider, follow and
then teach doctrines twisted from their biblical base (2 Peter
He adds in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 that, though the false
doctrine comes through a man, the real source is Satan. The man
is just a servant:
For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming
themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan
himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore
it is no great thing if his ministers also transform
themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will
be according to their works.
As far back as Leviticus 17:7, God warned through Moses
that, when the Israelites sacrificed before an idol, they were
really sacrificing to demons. The apostle Paul picked up on
this, using it to express his concern over the behavior of some
in the Corinthian church:
But I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they
sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to
have fellowship with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the
Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord's
table and of the table of demons. (I Corinthians 10:20-21)
To use Paul's analogy, our spiritual diet must not be a
mixture of true and false doctrines. In this area of life,
a mixture produces nothing good (James 3:11-12). We must make
every effort to separate the true food from the false if we are
to grow and qualify for the Kingdom of God. This is a
responsibility that falls on each of us - we cannot leave it to
others! We must acknowledge the source of the false teaching -
Satan, his demons and his false ministers - to truly appreciate
the seriousness of heresy.
Like Peter, Paul warns about heresies within the church:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will
depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and
doctrines of demons (I Timothy 4:1).
The Greek word "planos," translated as "deceiving" (NKJV) or
"seducing" (KJV), is the same word from which we derive the
English word "planet." It conveys the idea of wandering. To the
astronomers of ancient Greece, the planets appeared to wander in
a heaven populated by other, relatively fixed lights. Thus, evil
spirits induce people to wander from the true path of God's Word.
These are the principalities and powers against which we wrestle
Heresy is not always easily detected because Satan usually
camouflages the lie with a large measure of truth. He is a master
of deceit. Because the world is so ignorant of God, Satan can
tell them virtually anything, and they will believe it. But with
us he generally does not directly challenge or obviously and
blatantly misquote Scripture. His confrontation with Jesus in
Matthew 4 is a classic example. He subtly twists the intent of a
scripture to bend it into a wrong application or understanding.
At other times, he will appeal to our vanity to get us to react
to his suggestions without thinking.
The Bible gives only a few specific doctrines with which
seducing spirits, heresy or false ministers are directly
associated. However do not be fooled that so few doctrines are
directly mentioned with the word "heresy" attached. No doctrine
is sacrosanct to demons. They will attack the people of God in
any spiritual area. The Bible makes it very clear that demons arc
our major, major enemies, and deception that leads us into sin is
Heresy and Apostasy
Some think that, when someone accepts heresy, he will "leave
the church." That may occur on some occasions, but this confuses
hairesis with "apostasia." In 2 Thessalonians 2:3, "apostasia" is
translated "falling away" in both the KJV and NKJV, giving the
impression that it refers to leaving an organization. But
apostasia means "to depart from truth"! One can remain in an
organization and be departing from truth all along.
This is vitally important to us living at the end time!
Notice what Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 about this:
The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of
Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with
all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because
they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might
be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong
delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all
may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had
pleasure in unrighteousness.
Loving the truth so intensely that it motivates us to pursue
it carefully and diligently - so much that we make it an
operative part of our everyday life - will prove to be the
difference between being saved and perishing in the next few
years. Each of us will have to be concerned enough about the
spiritual teaching we receive to search the Scriptures
prayerfully and diligently to verify it (Acts 17:11). Proving all
things (I Thessalonians 5:21, KJV) is so much better than lazily
accepting the word of someone who appears to be trustworthy.
The Bible plainly indicates the thrust and purpose of
Satan's heresies. The first and clearest example is shown in the
account of his seduction of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:1-5). His
opening parry (verse 1) cast doubt on the veracity of what God
had directly told them: "Of the tree of the knowledge of good and
evil you shall not eat" (Genesis 2:17). When he detected they
were wavering, he countered by skewering them with a bald-faced
lie (Genesis 3:4).
The key is getting a person to doubt. It removes conviction
and replaces it with uncertainty. Doubt stifles courage and
promotes fear. By sinning, Adam and Eve immediately showed their
faithlessness to God.
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 11:3, "But I fear, lest
somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your
minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ."
Simplicity means single, without ulterior motive, pure,
sincere and unambiguous. Vincent's Word Studies (vol.3, p.346),
defines it as "single-hearted loyalty." It is the opposite of
deceit, guile, error and wandering.
Some things in God's Word are difficult to understand (2
Peter 3:16), but the Bible nowhere tries to produce doubt,
confusion or division by any means (I Timothy 6:3-5; 2 Timothy
2:14). Even Balaam knew that "God is not a man, that He should
lie" (Numbers 23:19)! Jesus says, "[God's] word is truth" (John
17:17). The doctrines of God follow a logical and true sequence,
locking together like a picture puzzle to comprise the true
Another factor in most heresy is that it offers something
appealing to human appetites or vanity. Notice the heady appeal
in the heresy Satan taught Adam and Eve: "So when the woman saw
that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the
eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its
fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her. and he
ate." (Genesis 3:6)
Their imagination and desires built upon Satan's subtle
suggestion that God was not being totally honest. If they
followed the serpent's teaching, they could possess the benefits
God was withholding.
We find these same basic elements in Satan's temptation of
Jesus. But here the Devil also challenges Jesus to put God's Word
to the test to get something for Himself (Matthew 4:5-7; Luke
4:9-12). Satan is saying, "You say You believe that God cannot
lie, that He will indeed do what He says. Go ahead- test Him!"
Never mind that Satan twisted the spirit of Psalm 91:11-12
into what amounts to tempting God through an evil motivation.
Satan's Plan of Attack
These examples clearly show the modus operandi of the father
of lies (John 8:44). Because he is leading, guiding and inspiring
his ministers, they will be using the same basic approaches, even
though they appear as angels of light. Satan hates God's law
because it is the way of righteousness (Psalm 119:172). This is
why the carnal mind of man is not subject to the law of God
(Romans 8:7). Through his ministers' false teaching, Satan will
make every effort to deceive people to break God's laws.
From what has occurred within the church of God, we can see
how Satan has attacked and continues to attack through heresy.
First, he inspires a steady stream of small changes called
"adjustments," "clarifications" or "refinements" to revealed and
established doctrines. Several of these may slip by without
notice, but the overall effect will be to begin to cast doubt on
what was previously believed. Careful and disciplined submission
to God will begin to slacken as people become uncertain about
what is right. For a member who is becoming aware of the
threatening nature of the "refinements," this is a critical
juncture. He may either opt to scrutinize the changes more
closely or to ignore them.
At this point Satan's ministers may "adjust" a fairly
important doctrine to test the reaction of the membership. The
doctrine may not be critical to salvation, but may nonetheless
shed important light on the process.
Second, he inspires his ministers to make a "refinement" to
the overall message of Jesus Christ and the apostles. In altering
the focus of the teaching from what the Master plainly said is
the message He brought from God, Satan redirects the church
toward a teaching essential to salvation but not the overall
Third, he moves to obscure the nature of God. This combined
with altering God's purpose, will cast a member into deep
confusion about how he is supposed to conduct his life. In the
Bible's first chapter, God clearly states that He created us in
His image (Genesis 1:26-27), and the New Testament makes clear we
are being transformed into the very image of Christ (Romans 8:29;
2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 3:21). But the "new" teaching
changes what are the Father and Son like, and thus changes how a
Christian conducts his life.
No wonder God was so angry when Israel, just after leaving
Egypt, made a golden calf! "These be our gods 0 Israel," they
proclaimed (Exodus 32:4). The Israelites redefined the nature of
God according to their own imagination! Because they felt more
comfortable with a god with the nature of a calf, they rejected
Genesis 1:26 in favor of a form more acceptable to the masses.
Fourth, if people are still accepting the heresies, Satan
begins teaching that we no longer need to keep some of God's
laws. This is especially effective if the laws chosen are ones
that seem to give members more immediate control over their time,
money and destiny. On the surface, at least, such teachings give
people more freedom to make choices and appeal to their devotion
Most will accept these major changes, if they are announced
under the right conditions:
When they are made at the end of an extremely long,
When members are practically brain dead from
too much information at one time.
When members cannot follow the argument closely in their
Bibles because of the dim light and rapid delivery.
When the argument is camouflaged by much that is indeed
true, leading the people into an agreeing attitude.
In the cold light of reality, these changes would make God
look bad. Some members would question why these doctrines had
never been adequately explained before. Others would wonder why
God had not been powerful enough or cared enough to institute
them before. Instead, they would reason, He had allowed His
end-time church to suffer for generations without these wonderful
teachings. But Satan lays the blame on the shoulders of the
former administration which was not nearly as "scholarly" or
"understanding" as the present one.
This is exactly what happened in the first century! Notice
what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1l:l-4,13:
Oh, that you would bear with me in a little folly and indeed
you do bear with me. For I am jealous for you with godly
jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I
may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear,
lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness,
so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is
in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom
we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit
which you have not received, or a different gospel which you
have not accepted, you may well put up with it ... For
such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming
themselves into the apostles of Christ.
What had happened? Paul had to deal with the Corinthian
congregation because they had fallen under the sway of false
apostles! These false ministers had convinced many of the
brethren that they knew more and better than the apostle through
whom they had heard, believed, teamed and been converted to the
gospel. They were in the process of throwing aside what they had
learned from Paul in favor of what they were hearing from these
Paul was not the only apostle who had to confront this
problem. John writes this toward the end of the first century:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard,
which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon,
and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life -
the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness,
and declare to you that eternal life which was with the
Father and was manifested to us - that which we have seen
and heard we declare to you, that you also may have
fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the
Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we
write to you that your joy may be full. This is the message
which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is
light and in Him is no darkness at all. (I John 1:1-5)
Notice his frequent use of "we" and "our." What is John
doing? He was establishing his authority for what he was
teaching! He is saying that what he writes in this epistle he
received firsthand from Christ! During his day, false teachers
were contacting Christian congregations claiming that John was a
one-hundred-year-old fuddy-duddy who was "out of touch" with
reality. What they were teaching was the truth, they said. John
later labelled these people as antichrists (I John 2:18). His
first epistle is an exhortation to re-establish their faith in
the original beliefs and doctrines by and into which they had
Finally, Jude makes it abundantly clear what was happening
within the first-century church:
Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you
salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting
you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for
all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept
in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this
condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God
into licentiousness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord
Jesus Christ. (Jude 3-4)
The lesson is written in the Book, recorded for our
admonition. Is it being repeated, now, in our time? I think there
is only one answer to that.
The Dangers of Heresy Today
A major part of the Church of God is losing its uniqueness.
It is blending back into the world from which it was once
separated, It is no longer capable of making a witness to the
world because there is nothing different for the world to hear in
its message and observe in its conduct. Our distinctiveness lies
in the fact that we really do believe God, love Him and show it
by keeping His commandments - including the Sabbaths. We also
show our distinctiveness in that we really do love each other in
a warm, family relationship.
The apostatizing portion of the church is putting itself in
very grave danger. Notice God's warning in Revelation 13:16-17:
[The false prophet] causes all, both small and great, rich
and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right
hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell
except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the
number of his name.
Later, He adds:
And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and
they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and
his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name." Here
is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the
commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. (Revelation
The mark of the Beast identifies those who are devoted to
the Beast. They have given their lives in worship and obedience
to him, and have received his mark. The Beast will be the leader
of the new world order now forming. And ironically - tragically -
members of God's church are now being led back to that world and
away from keeping His commandments.
Our responsibility remains clear, however. God's Word
identifies the distinctive difference between those who worship
Him and those who worship the Beast. Those who worship God keep
His commandments. We must do everything in our power to keep from
sinking into the same spiritual vortex that has already swallowed
Prove all things, hold fast to that which is good! Keep
God's Ten Commandments - all of them!
In Christian love,