But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. - Acts 15:1-2, ESV
What Should We Do When People Are Trying to Add to or Distort the Gospel?
Christians are called to overlook many things, and we often need to graciously agree to disagree and respect one another's differences. Some of us are led by Scripture to practice covenant child baptism. Others believe strongly in believer's baptism. Some are convinced of a congregational form of church government, while others favor bishops, and still others of us see the Presbyterian form of church government as the most biblical. Some churches have a more formal and traditional approach to worship, emphasizing reverence. Other churches have a more casual and contemporary approach, favoring freedom and spontaneity.
Despite these and other differences, we can enjoy fellowship and we can co-labor for the kingdom of God as long as we agree on the authority of the word of God and the centrality of the biblical Gospel. Once people start undermining the authority of Scripture, discussing and evaluating differing opinions becomes impossible. Once people start distorting or adding to the Gospel, the salvation and assurance of believers is at risk. On differences like these we cannot simply agree to disagree and continue to enjoy fellowship unhindered. So what can we do?
When "some men came down from Judea" and taught "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved," Paul and Barnabas immediately engaged in refuting them. In wonderfully restrained, understated language, Luke says they "had no small dissension and debate with them." Whenever someone says, "Unless you __________________, you cannot be saved," we have a real problem that needs to be addressed right away.
People say variations of this very troubling statement all the time, sometimes explicitly and sometimes only implicitly. Some people think and say . . .
- Unless you are baptized, you cannot be saved.
- Unless you are a member of a church, you cannot be saved.
- Unless you speak in tongues, you cannot be saved.
- Unless you quit smoking or drinking, you cannot be saved.
- Unless you vote Republican, you cannot be saved.
- Unless you belong to my kind of church and worship in a certain way, you cannot be saved.
Another way of distorting the Gospel can be done by replacement and not by addition, such as when people say, "If you are baptized and are a member of the church, you are saved." Only Christ can save us, and we are saved only by faith in Him- nothing else besides Him and nothing else in addition to Him!
So, what do we do when someone distorts the Gospel or adds to it? We oppose them and "have no small dissension and debate with them." If that doesn't work, we continue to follow the example of Paul and Barnabas and take the false teachers before the elders of the church. We need to pray for our elders and trust that the processes God has established will work to accomplish His will for His church.
Heavenly Father, protect Your church from Satan's deadly attacks. Preserve Your Gospel and strengthen our faith in Christ and Christ alone for salvation. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Prayer Based on Proverbs 18:1-8:
Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire;
he breaks out against all sound judgment.
Heavenly Father, there is real danger in isolation,
so lead us into true community and give us the real relationships we need.
Keep us from foolishly thinking we don't need other people,
that we can lead our lives on our own, according to our own wisdom.
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,
but only in expressing his opinion.
When wickedness comes, contempt comes also,
and with dishonor comes disgrace.
Lord, foolishness is deadly, a snare that traps,
and we need Your Spirit to help us escape its snare.
Father, save us from deadly wickedness,
from the disgrace that Satan would heap upon us and Your people.
The words of a man's mouth are deep waters;
the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook.
It is not good to be partial to the wicked
or to deprive the righteous of justice.
A fool's lips walk into a fight,
and his mouth invites a beating.
A fool's mouth is his ruin,
and his lips are a snare to his soul.
The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels;
they go down into the inner parts of the body.
Father, what power is in the tongue, power of life and death.
Save us from the deadly snare of false speech.
Keep us far from foolish speech and the sinful power of gossip and slander.
Save us from ourselves, O Lord, in Jesus' name, Amen.