I’m in the middle of reading a very hard book, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. I heard of this book years ago and always meant to explore it, but never took the time. It’s a challenge. It was originally published in 1563 and recounts the lives of persecuted believers from the time of the early church until the Protestant Reformation. It’s written in the English language of the day, and you have to exercise your brain to understand what he’s saying.
It ought to be required reading for every Christ-follower. It’s the history of the price our spiritual ancestors paid to hand down the biblical truths and doctrines to which we claim faith. It cost them not only their livelihoods but their very lives, and they were not easy deaths. The kind of pain and suffering and demonically inspired torture that was perpetrated on those who dared to stand for biblical truth is beyond comprehension. I had no idea.
The people in the pages of this book took the apostle John’s words in 2 and 3 John seriously. These two short, personal letters have the same theme – the importance of guarding the truth.
2 John is addressed to a “chosen lady and her children;” a local believer he knew well, or perhaps had hosted the church in her home. 3 John is addressed to Gaius, also a leader in his local gathering of believers. In those days, it was common for people to host traveling teachers and ministers of the gospel. I imagine John, as an elder in the early church, had spent time in both their homes, mentoring and discipling new believers and teaching the words of Jesus. He wrote to impress on them both how vital it was to maintain the purity of the gospel – truth. They had a dual responsibility; they were to welcome and care for true ministers of the gospel and send them on their way well-provided for, and they were not even to receive false teachers into their homes or even give them a greeting.
2 John 1:10-11 – If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.
3 John 1:5-8 – Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers; and they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth.
Does this mean that when someone knocks on your door and wants to tell you about his faith you should slam the door in his face? I don’t believe so. To stand on your front porch and have a conversation with someone who wants to talk about spiritual things is an opportunity to share the gospel. Paul prayed for open doors to speak the truth. In the context of this letter, John is talking about welcoming false doctrine into your home – accepting erroneous teaching as equally valuable as the infallible gospel taught in God’s Word. The lady to whom he wrote was not discerning; she was welcoming false teachers to stay and visit without recognizing their deceptive doctrine.
How does that happen today? It happens when we read or listen to those who preach a false gospel (directly and openly opposed to biblical truth), or a hidden gospel (proclaiming a belief in the fundamentals of the faith but failing to teach the “offensive” parts like the repentance of sin). It happens when supposedly biblical teachers align themselves with other false religions publicly or give approval to their doctrine without examining it carefully; it happens when we repost catchy sayings of false teachers or support their ministry by purchasing their books or listening to their music. It happens when we don’t know what we believe; we haven’t studied God’s Word enough for ourselves that we can’t recognize error when we hear it.
I could name a few popular teachers and false churches that fit in this category, but I’ll leave you to do your own research. What I want to communicate is that people died so that we could know the truth. They stood up to the Roman Catholic Inquisitions. They faced lions and wild dogs in arenas. They were arrested, beaten, stripped naked, raped, burned, strangled, stretched on the racks, and had their limbs torn from their bodies. Many saints suffered horribly before being released to their death – all because they wanted the pure gospel to be preached and believed. We do a disservice not only to Jesus and the price He paid on the cross, but to the countless faithful who were murdered in His name when we muddle the truth with prosperity ideology, syncretism, false spirituality, and (old) New Age beliefs.
Know the truth and protect it. Don’t allow false teaching into your life just because it sounds good. Test the doctrine and theology of the people you are listening to, holding it to the inerrant standard of the Bible alone. If they do not teach truth, turn away.
Our time to protect the gospel and pass it down to our children and grandchildren has come. What will your descendants believe? Will they know the truth, or be given a weak imitation as a substitute for the true gospel that has the power of salvation?