Ever since the earliest days of the church there has been the problem of false teaching twisting the truth of the gospel. One of the strongest challenges was from the Gnostics. They professed to have knowledge that was secret to the less spiritual but revealed to them. One of their beliefs was that things of the earth, material things, were inherently evil. Because of this they denied that Jesus had actually come in the flesh. This resulted in their becoming either extremely ascetic and legalistic, or conversely, self-indulgent libertines. The books of First John and Colossians answered this heresy.
Though answered in scripture, some of these false ideas persisted. It can be argued that the medieval Church adopted some of their concepts. One example was the idea that only the Church could correctly interpret scripture. Laymen were forbidden from reading the Bible because they did not have the higher knowledge required to truly understand. Their salvation was left in the hands of the church. If they did what they were told, said the prayers, attended mass, made confession to the priest, they could be reasonably sure they would be accepted by God.
When Martin Luther challenged the Church, he rejected these remnants of the old heresy and insisted that the gospel of Christ was freely available to those who would live by faith in Jesus. Shaking free from the shackles of the Dark Ages, people found freedom to come to Christ by simple faith in His finished work. The Son of God had come to earth, lived a sinless life among men, was betrayed, crucified for the sins of man, buried in a tomb, but was raised in triumph on the third day. Believers were free to live as simple followers of Christ, not as wards of the Church dependent on prescribed works for their salvation.
But the Gnostic spirit continues to raise its head. Although they are encouraged to study the scriptures, thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses do so, but not without the watchful eye of the Watch Tower Society which along with their well-trained surrogates tell the people how to think about what they are reading. And similar to the Gnostics who denied that Jesus actually came in the flesh, they say it was not the eternal Son who came to earth, but Michael the archangel. To show that you are saved, you must continue your servanthood and witness for Jehovah. Is it ever enough?
Joseph Smith received “new light” that none of the churches were preaching the true Gospel. He continued with this secret revelation until he established a new church. His Jesus is the spirit brother of Satan himself. And if you follow Mormon teaching you may attain to godhood, having your own world to populate with the spirits that are offspring of you and your celestial wife, or wives. Being worthy of such an honor takes a lot of, well, work. Salvation by the finished work of Christ that you receive simply by faith? Not so much.
Why am I discussing this concept of gaining some kind of new light that gives a superior spirituality to certain chosen people? Because the gnostic impulse is not far from any group, even the group you are in. Consider what Paul said about one who felt he was more spiritual than others. “I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church” (3 John v.9). Here was a super-spiritual leader who ruled others with an iron fist. Of course people had to obey him. He had superior knowledge.
What Diotrephes did was not much different than those church leaders who tell their people what to wear (even in their bedroom), who they can visit and who to shun, and even insist on giving thumbs up or down to whether someone may marry or not. They have the “inside knowledge” that others don’t. Like the Gnostics, they know.
What they don’t know is the harm they are doing. Which is why the Bible gives this instruction: “Preach the word.” There are the “unsearchable riches of Christ.”
There is the gospel. There is the story of Jesus. This is where there is hope for the soul. There is also a warning to those who preach a false gospel. Paul, under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, says, “Let him be accursed.”
There is a positive ring to the phrase “preach the word” but it also carries with it a restraint. Don’t preach what is not in the word. If one is not pointing to the scripture when he is preaching, he is beating the air. More than that, he is bringing confusion, for if one claims to be representing God but is only representing himself and his own spiritual journey, he will likely bring confusion. Which is why Paul wrote, “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:5).
Notice that Paul’s preaching the word had a definite focus: Christ Jesus the Lord. When I pastored, I would periodically look over the messages I had been preaching. Was I being too focused on one thing? Was I balancing what I preached with compassion? Was I being Christ-centered? Was I really preaching because I loved Jesus and the wonder of the gospel? Was I emphasizing the sufficiency of Christ or was I putting guilt-trips on people? Was I subconsciously making myself a hero? Was I really preaching the word or was I “preaching my heart?” After all, I was not to preach myself, but Jesus. Plus, the proverb says, “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool” (Pr. 28:26a). Sometimes I felt better than other times as I reviewed what I had been preaching. I’ve come to the conclusion that we cannot preach Jesus too much.
We don’t need new light coming from those who are super spiritual. We don’t need a new Jesus who is less than the Christ of the Gospels. We don’t need more regulations coming from a modern Diotrephes. We don’t need new freedom to follow the gnostic libertines. We need Jesus. He is enough!