Heresy Hunting: Mountains or Mole Hills?
Several springs ago, I went out into my yard and I noticed little mounds of dirt like these ones dotting the landscape. How many of you know what was going on? That’s right. I had MOLES in yard. Now, they may look cute and cuddly but don’t let that tiny adorable little face suck you in. These things are lawn terrorists! They went from my back yard to my front. Then to a side yard. Then across the street then back again. And I tried everything to get rid of them.
I tried flooding them out with water. I tried traps of all sorts. I filled in their holes and tunnels. I bought smoke bombs to smoke them out. But nothing was working. My wife will testify that I became a bit obsessed with the battle against the mole. I would get up in the morning and rush into he yard to to see if new mounds had emerged. I searched extensively online as to how to get rid of them. I became obsessed with rooting out my mole.
At one point, Meg and I were moving a heavy piece of furniture together and I saw a mound starting to push up meaning that the mole was close to the surface. In an act of sheer love toward my dear wife, without letting her know, I dropped my end of the heavy bookcase and rushed toward my yard grabbing a shovel and literally trying to play a real-life game of “wack a mole!” But nothing I was doing was working.
Eventually I called a pest control company and when he came out to look he said “you know what your problem is… You have a healthy lawn. Moles are attracted to healthy lawns. Moles don’t care about lawns that have no nutrients or are dry or dying. They like to get in there a ruin healthy ones.” Which I took as a compliment but was on no help to me at all with my mole problem! So I enlisted the help of my neighbour and we both became obsessed with the mole. Then one day, the mole reared its head in his yard, and he had a shovel at hand and bang, no more mole.
You might ask, why a story about lawncare strategy when we are talking about false teachers and false teaching (sometimes called heresy)?
We are studying a small book of the Bible at the end of the New Testament called the book of Jude. It was written by Jesus’ brother who asks a poignant question “who are you listening to?” What’s getting in your life?
Jude has two main concerns that he wants to raise for his readers. The first one was false teaching, which we talked about last weekend and we’ll say more about next Sunday. But today, we’re going to focus on the middle section of the book and we’re going to talk about the danger of the people who, like moles, weasel their way into healthy places – healthy lives, healthy families, healthy churches - and begin to ruin things. Jude has some very strong words of warning for false teachers and for us. And the reason is that Jude doesn’t want our lives to be ruined by these people.
Let’s look together at what the Scriptures say. Open your Bibles or your devices and turn with me to the book of Jude. It’s right at the end of the Bible, it’s short – you’ll miss it if you blink or flip too fast. And we read last weekend that Jude had actually intended to write a word of encouragement, but instead, because he was starting to see some mounds of dirt in the lawns of peoples’ lives, he had to change to tone and content of his letter and instead write a word of warning. Look with me at Jude 1:3-4
He uses mole-like language… That people with wrong-headed ideas about God and about life have dug their way into the churches and are spreading bad ideas that are having a negative impact on people’s lives when the follow them. Today we’re starting at verse 8 where Jude is going to help us understand how to spot a false teacher and why they are so dangerous.
Last week, we talked about the origin of the demonic – and we reminded ourselves of the reality of the spiritual world. One of the things that false teachers do is to promote an ideology that suggests either that angels and demons and God and Satan do not exist OR, on the other end of the spectrum, they talk so much about Satan and demons that they over-emphasize them and everyone lives in fear. Jude says they scoff at the supernatural. And yet, at the very same time, these people are claiming special authority from their dreams. So here’s the first of three warnings that Jude gives us about false teachers...
1. Be extremely warry of people who claim authority or knowledge you can’t access or challenge in any way
In the first century world, there was a group that Rose talked about two weeks ago who gained a lot of traction because they claimed to have
- Ancient: Gnostics (secret knowledge) about God
- Modern: “God told me that you should…”
In our day and time, you might have encountered people who use the phrase “I had a dream and God told me that you were to do this or that”.
Now, we have to be careful here because God does speak through dreams, visions, pictures and images. So that’s not the problem Jude is addressing. The problem is how people use that language. In the case Jude is speaking about, the false teachers claimed authority from their dreams. So they were saying things like “God told me I’m to lead this church” or “God appeared to me and gave me new revelation beyond the Bible that you are all to follow unequivocally and unquestioningly.”
As Christians in the Anabaptist tradition, one of hallmarks of our stance toward these kinds of declarations is that we employ something called a community hermeneutic. Hermeneutics is the study of Scripture together. So a community hermeneutics means that we do this together as a family. We explore the Bible together while asking questions like “what is God inviting us into as a community?” as opposed to authoritarian leadership saying “thus saith the Lord”. That’s why things like our AGM in 3 weeks is so vital. Because here at Jericho, we discern and process decisions together as a community. It’s a bit of a funny thing for a pastor to say in our culture. But as a person who has taken extensive training in the study of the Bible, my job is NOT to tell you what to think. My job is to help you learn how to think and to think clearly and how to hear from God clearly.
When you have religious leaders who says things like “well, don’t pay any attention to what other people say. God spoke to me in a dream and told us all to move into a commune and drink the Kool Aid.” Those people are dangerous because they are claiming knowledge or authority you can’t challenge in any way of can’t access in any way. We call those people cult leaders. In Jude’s day, these false teachers were saying “God gave me a vision in a dream.” Be careful when people pontificate without process.
Let’s keep reading because things get every crazier! Look at Jude1:9-10
Here we have a fascinating discussion about some kind of argument that happened over the body of Moses, who was one of the leaders of God’s people in the Old Testament. We don’t know much about this discussion so here’s where we need to adhere to Jude’s second point:
2. Be extremely warry of people who speak with certainty about things that are a mystery
False teachers not only claim authority, but they claim authoritative knowledge of things they do not and cannot fully understand. They take obscure passages and build whole theological systems around them. They say things like “well, you might find that hard verse to understand but I know exactly what that means! And let me tell you…”
Friends, I have no idea what this argument over Moses body was about. I’ll be putting that on my list of questions to ask when I get to heaven. And trust me: I have a lot of them. This isn’t because I don’t’ study or think that the Bible is clear or that God’s revelation is inadequate. On the contrary, I believe fully that God has given us everything we need for life and Godliness. It’s just that I also believe that there are things we just will not and cannot know on this side of heaven. I Cor 13 says now we see in part and we know in part. And so I get very, very nervous around people who say they have absolutely no questions about faith or about God. That they have things all figured out and they have a theological system that will give them an answer to any and every question about God. I don’t have that. The reason I don’t is that I am a big believer in Deuteronomy 29:29
“The secret things belong to the Lord our God but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever” (Deuteronomy 29:29)
In other words, there are some things we just can’t know. Get comfy with that. If you need a church that answers every question, that dispels all mystery and has certitude as the highest of all values, JRCC is not for you. There are things I do not understand. There are questions I do not have a good answer for. There is room in my theology for mystery and ambiguity.
I remember being at the bedside of Meg’s grandfather, Desmond, several years ago as he was dying. He has pastored for decades and was a Godly man, and I remember his saying “Brad, I still have so many questions.” He was certain of His saviour and God’s love for him, but there were lots of things he was willing to let stay in the category of mystery. I love that. Life goal: I want to die with some questions still unanswered.
Let’s keep moving. Because Jude is going to do here what he did last week and that is give us a few case studies to learn from. In one verse, in fact, Jude gives us three examples of bad dudes from the Old Testament who fall into this category of people he is warning us about. Cain, Balaam and Korah. Let’s read Jude 1:11
So who are these guys and why does Jude include them a warning for us?
Cain & Abel – Story from Genesis 4. They are the first sons of Adam and Eve. Cain & Able take different vocational pathways. Abel becomes a shepherd and Cain becomes a farmer. God invites them both to bring and offering to the Lord. Able brings his best and Cain brings left-overs. And the text says that God rejected Cain’s gift. But God gave Cain an invitation: “You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, watch out! Sin is crouching at your door, eager to control you.”
In his anger, Cain takes his brother out to the fields and kills him. Cain’s core problem is that he knows what God asked him to do. He just doesn’t want to do it. He is also jealous that his brother does it and God responds favourably to Able. And so sin gets the better of Cain.
The second story is the story of Balaam. This is from the book of Numbers 22-24. Balaam is an ancient witch doctor. People go to him and pay him to curse their enemies. We see this in our work in Tanzania all the time. A local politician wants to get re-elected and so they go to a person who communicates with evil spirits and they pay money to acquire spiritual power over their adversary. This is what Balaam is faulted for: he takes money from people and he deceives them using spiritual trickery.
The third story is the story of Korah’s rebellion. This is from Numbers 16.
Korah is one of the Levites, a person with close access to God, knowledge of God’s rules and laws and a prominent position in the community. But it isn’t enough. Korah gathers 250 prominent people together and challenges Moses’s leadership. He says “Moses: the whole community of Israel has been set apart by the Lord and He is with all of us. What right do you have Moses to act as though you are greater than the rest of us?”
Here’s the thing, though, Korah, disguises his protest and his pride in the language of democracy & equality. “You know Moses, we are ALL capable of hearing from God. You don’t get to be the only one who tells us what God is saying”. And Korah is almost right… Except that his half-truth is based not on his desire for all of God’s people to have direct access to God, but on his jealous and selfish ambition. Korah wants to replace Moses. He wants to be the leader and the one in charge.
But the showdown backfires because Moses says “OK, we’ll just let God decide this then… If you guys all die a natural death, well then, God has not appointed me as leader. But if God has issues with your request, then something new and unusual is going to happen.” And at the moment, the ground opens up and swallows Korah and his protest whole.
So in these three stories, we see Jude’s third warning:
3. Be extremely warry of people who openly violate God’s instructions
- “The condemnation of such people was recorded long ago” (1:4)
- “They bring about their own destruction” (Jude 1:10)
“They perish in their rebellion” (1:11)
Jude has six rapid fire images in two short verses that he uses to help us understand the dangers (Jude 1:12-13
People who act like that are like dangerous reefs… Imagine a ship, navigating the way to the shore. Harbour is at hand, but all of a sudden, the ship hits a hidden reef and the hull is ripped apart. Water starts pouring in and the ship goes down. They are dangerous – steer clear of them!
They are like shameless shepherds who care only about themselves.
Jesus uses this kind of language in John where he says that some people in spiritual leadership are like “hired hands” not shepherds. They care only about getting a paycheck out of the gig and cares nothing for the people. False teachers care about their platform and how many retweets and likes they are getting (although it’s harder to see on Instagram now). They are using their sheep, their congregations, to build their own brand. They don’t actually care for or about people. They care about themselves. Danger!
They are like clouds, blowing over the land without giving any rain. Imagine living in a desert, a place where you are eking out a living on subsistence agriculture. You are barely surviving an extended dry spell when suddenly on the distant horizon you see it. You can’t quite believe it but your heart begins to lighten and your shoulders begin to straighten. Yes, you can firmly and clearly see it now. It’s a cloud. It’s definitely coming toward you and the parched, cracked plot of ground you call home. It comes closer and closer and you can see that it is a rain cloud. It’s pregnant with precipitation. You go outside and you wait to be drenched in its life giving water. And then, after all that, it simply blows over without sharing a single drop of life-giving water. It promised something that it could not and did not deliver. Think of how devastated you would be. How betrayed and angry you would feel. Jude says “that’s what its like when you sit under a false teacher. You come spiritualty hungry and thirsty and you leave with no meal. You come to worship ready for your parched soul to receive the life-giving water of the Holy Spirit and you get fog machines, lazer light shows and empty hype.
But Jude isn’t done. They are like trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots. Imagine you own an orchard and your livelihood depends on that crop that you anticipate in the fall. After bud-break, you wait and you watch and your nurture the trees with nutrients and the right climatic and soil conditions. You go into the summer and you ensure they are properly irrigated and the drainage is good. Then you come to the autumn and you go out into your orchard expecting to find a bumper crop, and instead, you find nothing.
The trees are barren. There is no fruit. And on top of that, these trees not only didn’t’ produce fruit this year, they are dead. They are pulled up by the roots – so they will not be producing next year either. Your livelihood is ruined. You counted on them for sustenance and provision that they did not deliver. That’s what it’s like to sit under false teaching.
But Jude is STILL not done! “They are like wild waves of the sea, churning up foam of their shameful deeds”. I am always fascinated with what washes up on the seashore. One of things that I was following for a while in the news was that items from the Tsunami in Japan were washing up on our coast! Someone else’s debris was carried along by the waves hundreds of thousands of kilometers until it surfaced on a beach in Tofino.
Here he is referencing another Old Testament reference – God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah says in 57:20 – “those who still reject me are like the restless sea, which is never still but continually churns up mud and dirt. There is no peace for the wicked” says God.”
Jude is saying “these teachers try to conceal their shameful deeds. But the current keeps depositing that stuff back onto the beach for all to see. They try to hide it at the bottom of the ocean, but the tides and the churn of the waves keeps bringing it back up so that they are exposed”.
And finally, James throws out his last analogy about how bad these people really are. This is his 6th word picture in 2 verses!!! He is really amped up about this. ‘they are like wandering stars, doomed forever to the blackest darkness” They’re like black holes that will gobble up anything that is near.
“Enoch, who lived in the seventh generation after Adam, prophesied about these people. He said, ‘Listen! The Lord is coming with countless thousands of his holy ones to execute judgment on the people of the world. He will convict every person of all the ungodly things they have done & for all the insults that ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.’”
One of the continual invitations of the Scriptures is to look not only or just at what people say, but also how they live. And so Jude, looking at the lives of these false teachers, points out – you know what, things they say might sound darn attractive BUT Their lives bear no good fruit. And when God comes, God always performs a fruit inspection.
Everyone’s life bears fruit. The better question is “what KIND of fruit is my life bearing?”
The fruit that the lives of these false teachers are bearing is
Don’t Let These Things Take Root
- Grumbling & complaining
- Living only to satisfy your desires
- Bragging loudly about yourself
- Flattering others to get what you want
All kinds of rotten fruit that can grow in our lives. Bitterness. Pride. Lust. Envy. Gluttony.
But the fruit that is produced when God’s Spirit is at work is things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control. Paul says in Colossians 1:10
Let “the way you live always honour and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit.” (Colossians 1:10)
So what kind of fruit is my life producing?
- Pastor Brad
NOTE: This sermon was preached at Jericho Ridge on Sunday, May 5, 2019 but due to a technical difficulty, the audio was not recorded. Brad's sermon manuscript is provided here as a way of helping keep you up to speed on the sermon series that will conclude on Sunday, May 12.