The “heresy” or “wrong knowledge” objection to movements

One of the challenges that crops up from time to time is what I refer to as the ‘heresy’ or ‘wrong knowledge’ objection. It comes in a variety of forms:

  • How do you know these people are getting taught the right things, or ‘well discipled’?
  • I don’t think I’m adequately equipped to teach people – what if I teach them the wrong thing and they go off into heresy
  • How do you keep people from going into heresy, from believing the wrong things
  • How do you train all the pastors, etc?

Let me just mention a few nuances I’ve come to keep in mind when dealing with this challenge:

  1. We can fall into the trap of equating the reality (or perception) of error with soul-killing sin. I’m not sure there’s ever been a pastor, teacher, evangelist, whatever, who hasn’t taught something wrong at some point. Or ever been a believer who hasn’t believed something wrong at some point. We all have a “little heresy” in us – if not in fact, then at the very least in the eyes of someone else. (There’s a number of things I freely confess that I rather disagree with Paul on, and I know that’s dangerous and arrogant.) But just because I get something wrong today (what was the date of Christ’s return, again?) doesn’t mean I’m go to keep on being wrong (I do learn with time), or that I’ve somehow “lost my salvation.” Even Peter got it spectacularly wrong (more than once!) and somehow managed to come out right in the end. The important thing is to keep pursuing truth, and be willing to admit when we were wrong and correct it.
  2. We can fall into the trap of prioritizing ‘knowledge’ over ‘obedience.’ The important part of following Christ is not how much knowledge of specific doctrines we gain; doctrines do not save us. The important part is following, listening to Him, and obeying Him. If we are earnestly pursuing Christ – living in fellowship with others, reading the Scriptures, seeking to obey – ‘heresies’ will tend to straighten themselves out in the end. Rather than teaching people knowledge correctly, we can rest easier in the simpler idea of teaching people to read the Scriptures, listen to the Holy Spirit, and obey as best as they know how.
  3. We can fall into the trap of over-complicating the task. The Gospel is very simple. Jesus summed it up in two elements: Love God, and love your neighbor. (Obviously there are a few other things in there too–love your brothers and sisters in Christ; love our spouse; etc.) Discipleship movements rest on the foundation of simply obeying God. DMM isn’t opposed to learning and growing–not as an ends, but rather as the means to following Christ better.
  4. And, perhaps controversial: While I am not in favor of wrong teaching, I also know that some wrong teachings are closer to the truth than others. The correct answer to “2+3” is “5”; but “2+3=23” is closer than “2+3=banana.” While it is fair to say that I am completely opposed to prosperity gospel teaching, I’d rather you were an earnest believer daily in the Word, seeking to obey Christ, and attending a strongly prosperity-gospel church, than that you were practicing a completely non-Christian faith altogether. If you’re daily seeking to obey Christ and listening to the Holy Spirit, I firmly believe bad doctrine will generally sort itself out.

You don’t need a seminary degree to teach people to read a passage of Scripture, ask a few simple questions, and get something that is both (a) immediately applicable and (b) shareable with others in their friends-and-family network. I could teach you the basics of doing that in 15 minutes (I do that segment every time I teach Lesson 9 in Perspectives). The challenge then is not knowing how to do it, but, as always, actually doing it.
(Want to hear from someone who’s been involved in a massive movement in South Asia–who’s not only done this, but taught others to do it, and seen the implementation passed on to many generations and thousands of churches? Register for Beyond’s next Discipleship Nugget event, March 5th.)