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Examining the "Toronto Blessing" - Chapter 7
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The "Toronto Blessing"

A Theological Examination of the Roots, Teaching and Manifestations, and Connection Between the Faith Movement and the Vineyard Church

By Stephen Sizer

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CHAPTER 7: HOW SHOULD WE RESPOND TO ERROR?

How we should respond to those who appear to teach theological error? Is it right to criticise them, and if so, in what way and on what grounds? In Mark 9, for instance, the apostles came across someone, not from among their number, who was casting out demons in Jesus name. They tried to stop him and complained to Jesus.

    "Teacher," said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us. Do not stop him," Jesus said. "No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, For whoever is not against us is for us." Mark 9:38-40

Jesus rebukes them for their narrow, sectarian attitude. He is not advocating the tolerance of false teaching, but insisting that it is not necessary for his followers to all wear the same badge or belong to a particular group in order to be on His side.

In the New Testament, there is a spectrum of teaching on how we should relate to people with whom we disagree. At one end of the spectrum are passages like Mark 9, which warn us not to be too exclusive. We should warmly accept people who labour for the Lord Jesus in different ways, or unusual places, or who use unconventional methods to our own. We should not censure them just because they're "not one of us".

However, at the other end of the spectrum are passages such as Galatians 1:6-9 where the condemnation of false teaching could not be stronger nor clearer.

    "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel - Which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!" Galatians 1:6-9

There are several other passages which could be placed along the spectrum between Mark 9 and Galatians 1, which help us understand our responsibility, such as the following:

    "It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defence of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice." Philippians 1:15-18

Even though the gospel is being preached from poor motives by Paul's opponents, Paul rejoices that at least Christ is being preached.

    "Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgement on disputable matters......Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.....You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgement seat." Romans 14:1,4,10

Paul exhorts the Roman Christians not to be hyper-critical of each other, but show generosity and tolerance in disputable matters.

    As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer. Nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God's work - which is by faith. 1 Timothy 1:3-4

Part of the responsibility of an elder is to silence those who promote false doctrines and idle speculation. (see also Titus 1:9-11)

    And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, And that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:24-26

In dealing with opponents, Christians must resist the temptation to be resentful or unkind. We must gently correct those who are in error and instruct with the hope and purpose that the Lord would bring opponents to repentance.

    "I hope you will put up with a little of my foolishness; but you are already doing that. I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough." 2 Corinthians 11:1-4

Here Paul is jealous for the Corinthians because he is very worried that they are in danger of being deceived and of accepting a false gospel.

What follows is a more detailed list of what the Scriptures teach us about how to respond to those who propagate theological error.

7.1 We must heed the strong language used to describe false teachers

    "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. "Woe to you, blind guides! You say, 'If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.' You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?......."Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness......You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Matthew 23:15-17, 27-28, 33

    "Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which men walk over without knowing it." Luke 11:44

    You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. John 8:44

    Then Peter said, "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Acts 5:3

    "You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Acts 13:10

    Then Paul said to him, "God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!" Acts 23:3

    They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good. Titus 1:16

    He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work. 1 John 3:8

    But every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. 1 John 4:3

7.2 We must warn of and watch out for false teaching

    "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. Matthew 7:15

    Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceives you.......For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect - if that were possible. Matthew 24:4-5, 23-26

    Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

    I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Acts 20:28-29

7.3 We must have nothing to do with false teachers, and realise that to do so shares in their wickedness

    I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Romans 16:17-18

    Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 2 Timothy 2:23

    Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. Titus 3:10

    In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us......If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. 2 Thess 3:6, 14

    If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work. 2 John 1:10-11

7.4 We must realise that false teaching is very destructive, indeed demonic

    For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve. 2 Corinthians 11:13-15

    The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 1 Timothy 4:1

    The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, And in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 2 Thessalonians 2:9-11

    But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them - bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 2 Peter 2:1-22

    He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work. 1 John 3:8

7.5 We must recognise that God's wrath falls upon those who suppress the truth and that those teaching a false gospel are eternally condemned

    But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! Galatians 1:8-9

    The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, Romans 1:18-19

7.6 We must at all times use our minds and test all teaching by the Scriptures

    Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Acts 17:11

    Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:1-2

    Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1

    Test everything. Hold on to the good. 1 Thessalonians 5:21

With Mark 9 at one end of the spectrum and Galatians 1 at the other, it is not always easy, when faced with error, in the heat of the moment, to work out the appropriate response, especially given our fallen nature and the deceit of Satan. However, respond we must, loving our opponent, but hating his error, praying for his repentance while distancing ourselves from both it and him, and warning other believers to do the same.

(I am indebted to Phillip Jensen for material used in this chapter)

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Arrow Appendix 1
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