False teaching. Heresy. Harmful doctrines robbing people of their salvation. There’s nothing new under the sun.
The New Testament warns us of the dangers, but also the reality of false teachers. Scripture tells us that they will rise up, that the Evil One will attack through preachers and teachers deceiving people and leading them astray.
“At that time many will fall away and will betray and hate one another, and many false prophets will arise and mislead many. “
Matthew 24: 10-11.
“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”
2 Timothy 4:3-4.
These are just a few of the many New Testament warnings that in the time between Christ’s first and second comings, many will try to lead God’s people astray.
The Early Church faced the reality of these false teachings. As the faith began to establish itself in the Roman empire, false teachers spread with the true faith. Orthodox Christians were soon writing documents called Adversus Haereses, literally ‘Against Heresies.’ These documents preserve many of the heresies that arose during the early years, and Tertullian’s work of this name had this to say of these false teachings:
“Some men prefer wondering at heresies, which bring with them eternal death and the heat of a stronger fire… but heresies would have no power…”
Tertullian, Against the Heretics, 2.
Tertullian knew that many people came under the sway of these teachings, but he also knew they had no power. They had no true promise of eternal life, their end was destruction.
One of the earliest and most famous heretics to arise in the church was Marcion. This man taught that there was a god split into two parts: a higher being ruling a lower, creating god. This teaching rejected the commandments of Scripture, the divinity of Christ, and the wonder of the Gospel. Yet many believed this man and his false teachings. Many were led astray. And he was not alone in teachings lies and falsehoods. Heretics arose throughout the Roman world. Some, like the Emperor Elagabalus, incorporated Jesus into the Roman pantheon of gods. Some, like Marcion, led hundreds astray. Others, like the leaders of the Arian or Donatist movements, beguiled thousands. In contrast others merely corrupted the local church, twisting Scripture in order to line their own pockets and feed their own bellies.
But all of these men and women had one thing in common. Their teachings were untrue, their spirituality a fraud, and their end was in the promised destruction of all who corrupt the truth of the Gospel.
False teaching was a serious problem as the Church established itself in the ancient world, but it was not unexpected. And in confidence, the Church could proclaim the Gospel, clinging faithfully to Scripture in the knowledge that their God was faithful to keep them, redeem them, and do away with the false teachers. Just as He had promised.
“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 depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.”
“For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)— if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment. This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the flesh and despise authority.”
2 Peter 2:1-10.