Doctrinal Division & Discernment*


"The second part of Satan's program [the first being the hindering of the plan of God in salvation], is once a person does come to believe in Jesus Christ, he wants to prevent him from taking in the pure milk of the Word -- he wants to turn him aside from the simple commitment to following Christ and being obedient to His Word [2 Cor. 11:3,4] ... His [Paul's] concern for the Corinthians, as those who have come to believe in Jesus Christ, is that they might be turned aside from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ by paying attention to false teaching, to the corrupted gospel that was being promoted by false teachers. They need to be alert and aware ... This is the concern that is on Paul's mind as he addresses the Romans [Rom. 16:17,18].

"... He wants to remind them [the Romans] and warn them of the danger of false teachers who would turn them aside from the truth of the Word of God. They [the false teachers] would hinder their growth and mar the testimony for Christ ... Paul is saying that we are, as believers, to keep our eye on, to look over carefully, to watch out for, these kinds of people. In other words, we are not allowed to be casual or indifferent as God's children in regard to those that would cause dissension [division] and trouble in the body of Christ. We ought to be aware of those, who by their wrong teaching, would divide the body, would cause trouble in the body. We are to recognize them, know who they are. We are to keep our eye on them ... Believers are to know what's going on. We're to understand the issues. We're to discern and recognize true teachers and false teachers ... Believers are to be discerning -- it's not an option.

"... Now, how do we know who's doing this [bringing division]? Any time you have doctrine presented, you're going to have division occur -- doctrine divides. What's the standard here? Well, Paul gives it very clearly in Romans 16:17, when he says, 'contrary to the teaching which you learned.' Those who teach contrary to the teaching that has been given through the Apostles and Prophets, are those who are causing dissensions and conflicts. I want you to note this -- it's NOT those who are teaching sound doctrine, it's NOT those who are teaching the truth of the Word of God that are divisive, that cause trouble. Rather, it's those who teach contrary to the Word of God, contrary to what has been revealed by God. They are dividing the church. They are dividing believers. They are causing trouble and preventing the growth of the body of Christ. That's important to keep in mind, because any time we get into a doctrinal issue, a doctrinal conflict, the question comes, 'Well, should we be divisive over this?' If you're presenting the truth of the Word of God, it's not divisive. What brings division and dissension is those that bring teaching contrary to the Word of God. And you cannot sacrifice the truth of God for peace, unity, or harmony.

"... The response to these people? -- very simply, verse 17 -- 'Turn away from them' ... We as believers are to pay close attention, to watch out for, those who are causing dissension and hindrances by teaching contrary to the Word of God, and we are to turn away from them. Have nothing to do with them ... Anyone who advocates doctrine contrary to the Word is creating conflict within the body of Christ ... And dissension/division is always the result ... We must carefully, carefully evaluate the content of what is being presented. There is no other way to discern evil.

". . .you cannot tell whether the doctrine being presented is true or false by the personality of the speaker. You can only tell by analyzing the doctrine in light of the Word ... You see the issue here? -- false teachers wooing away believers from their devotion to Christ; this is a serious matter ... This is the plan and program of Satan in the world today -- to develop counterfeits to the plan and program of God in salvation ... and he can adjust it so it is appealing to us, so it sounds good to us. And we have to be discerning lest we be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ ... Some of those kind of teachers come up from among the church. They profess to be believers; they appear in so many ways to look good. The only way to deal with satanic counterfeits is to sift the doctrine carefully, carefully, carefully through the Scripture. The better the counterfeit, the more discerning you have to be.

"... '[But] this person may be a believer.' You know, the Scripture doesn't call on me to make that final decision. Some of these teachers promoting wrong doctrine, I can't tell whether they're believers or not ... But you know what the Scripture tells me to do -- discern their doctrine. If their doctrine's not correct, turn away from them. It doesn't tell me to make a subjective decision -- 'If you feel good about the fact that they're probably believers, then forget the doctrine.' If they're teaching contrary to the truth of the Word, turn away from them. And if you don't, over time their smooth, flattering speech will deceive your heart, and you will be amazed at how far adrift from the truth you can end up.

"... You note here, you're to contend earnestly for the faith [Jude 3]. 'Believers aren't to be divisive, are they?' We're not to cause dissensions, no. How do we avoid that? We constantly just present the truth. That means we will be constantly battling against error. People will say, 'Well look, I don't want a church where they have conflict, and I don't want to have division.' What they're looking for is a nice squishy, emotional bath where people will throw doctrine out the door for good feelings. And all that matters is that we 'come together and have love.' And love and peace supersede doctrine. But you take doctrine out of your love and what do you have? ... What is your love without truth? ... There is no love apart from truth! ... Biblical love only functions in the context of truth. There is no sacrificing of doctrine for any reason, because then you've turned aside from purity of devotion to Christ.

"... And having a good testimony as a church does not mean now that you can sit back and take it easy. It means that you must now be all the more alert, all the more careful, because there's all the more danger that you would be turned from your obedience ... We're often gullible because we think we know better than God. 'Well, I know but I don't want to be a doctrinal nitpicker here. My goodness, can't we just love one another for a while and forget this doctrine?' No you can't. Satan won't go away ... One of his tactics is to wear us down ... The servants of Satan cannot change. Any compromise has to come from us -- compromising God's standard and God's truth. And God has not given us the right to compromise his truth -- not even the smallest jot and tittle can be compromised ... What is taking place with this false doctrine and this false teaching is the activity of Satan. These are doctrines of demons that are being promoted. That's why it brings dissension. That's why it troubles the body and brings hindrances to growth. You cannot mix the doctrines of Satan and the doctrines of Almighty God.

"... We are called to peace as God's people. We are called to war as God's people. We are called to peace with those who are like-minded in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are called to war with those, to contend for the faith against those, who oppose the truth of the Word of God."


* Taken from a commentary on Romans 16:17-20, preached 12/8/91 (Gil Rugh).


Biblical Discernment Ministries - 12/91

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