Question of the Week: Why are polls concluding that 1/3 of “evangelical Christians” don’t believe Jesus was God, but merely a good teacher?
It was once observed by Mark Twain that the problem with most folks isn’t what they don’t know, but what they do know that just isn’t so. The ever growing number of self-identified Christians that wouldn’t know the difference between Christianity and Islam/Buddhism/Paganism if you explained it to them are the result of three factors; poor teaching, poor teachers, and poor students.
The Coexist bumper sticker, much like other things that make people feel good about themselves, can be considered a good thing as long as truth isn’t a priority. Christianity, especially in the United States, has been progressively watered down in order to appeal to a broader audience. This compromise has cost more and more doctrines to be thrown out the window in order to avoid “offending people.” It was only a matter of time until the very nature of Christ ends up being thrown out in order to follow this policy. If the truth doesn’t matter, then there’s no reason to insist on something remaining the definition of Christianity. The only price to be paid is that these churches can no longer teach Christianity, and thus can’t call themselves Christians. Whatever they are teaching, it isn’t Christ.
The culture is always going to attempt to stamp out the truth in favor of its own agenda. The problem is when people within the church, who should know better, make themselves a part of that process. The Bible regularly takes the time to warn those who are being informed about who Jesus is and what He said about Himself that people would attempt to distort or dismiss this message. People were trying to do so even during the lifetimes of the Apostles.
But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.
2 Peter 2:1-3 (NKJV)
Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jude 1:3-4 (NKJV)
Notice that both the Apostle Peter and Jude, the half brother of Jesus, both acknowledge that the crux of a false teacher’s message is denying the Lord Jesus Christ. The dismissal, distortion, or denigration of the Son of God isn’t going to be as obvious as the internet tends to be. The enemies of Christ who reject Him openly are at least consistent. A teacher who comes in the name of Christ, but teaches a false or different Christ then the one of history is far more dangerous. Someone who rejects Jesus is far more consistent then someone who has been convinced to follow a fake Jesus that can’t save them. Both are heading towards an eternity separated from Him, but only one knows it. That is why false teachers are treated much harsher than those merely rejecting Jesus.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
Matthew 7:15-20 (NKJV)
I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.
Galatians 1:6-10 (NKJV)
These harsh words are not going to win friends and influence people regarding those teaching a different Jesus then the one established in history. Nor are they meant to. Jesus Himself notes that these people specialize in looking like good teachers, and even sounding like them. The only way we’re going to recognize a wolf in sheep’s clothing is their fruit. What naturally comes out of their ministry? A consistent denial of the claims of Christ are a start. And the motive? Paul the Apostle puts himself in contrast to a false teacher. He doesn’t seek to please men. He is a bondservant of Christ even if it makes him unpopular. This is an exhortation to every bible teacher to keep their priorities in line. The people under the teachings of these teachers aren’t Christians because they’re not being taught Christ. This is where our attention turns to the third guilty party in this statistic.
You can have a bad teacher and still learn the material if you’re willing to take the time and effort to study the things they’re distorting for yourself. In the age of the internet and total accessibility to scripture, no one has any excuse to not know what Jesus said and did in order to verify those claims.
Jesus claimed the right to forgive sins, which His detractors rightly concluded belongs to God alone.
Against You, You only, have I sinned,
And done this evil in Your sight—
That You may be found just when You speak,
And blameless when You judge.
Psalm 51:4 (NKJV)
Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.” And at once some of the scribes said within themselves, “This Man blasphemes!” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—then He said to the paralytic, “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” And he arose and departed to his house. Now when the multitudes saw it, they marveled and glorified God, who had given such power to men.
Matthew 9:2-8 (NKJV)
Jesus claimed a title for Himself that God uses exclusively for Himself in the Old Testament.
“Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel,
And his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
‘I am the First and I am the Last;
Besides Me there is no God.
Isaiah 44:6 (NKJV)
And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.
Revelation 1:17-18 (NKJV)
If Jesus does the sort of things only God can do, and calls Himself the sort of things only God can call Himself, it follows naturally that He is God. C.S. Lewis dealt with this false teaching in England and presented his “Lord, Liar, or Lunatic” Trilemma to those who would hold this ridiculous position.
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
C.S. Lewis in “Mere Christianity”
If you proactively neglect or ignore learning more about someone in preference to hearing about them from someone else, you don’t have a relationship with them. False teachers will be dealt with. False doctrines will pass as quickly as they arrive. The key is to not find yourself carried away with them. Root yourself in the truth and seek out solid and accountable Bible teachers. Take the time yourself to check up on every word they say. Only then will you avoid becoming a part of this statistic.
I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
2 Timothy 4:1-5 (NKJV)
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