With Diverse and Strange Doctrines
For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace;
which have not profited them that have been occupied therein.
We have an altar,
whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle.
tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine,
by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness,
whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things,
which is the head, even Christ:
It is an age-old deception. Adding to the Scripture is one of the easiest ways to deceive believers. Why? Because error is cleverly brought in as "new information" that it is claimed will "illuminate" the Word and enrich the life of a believer. Sola Scriptura is being challenged by many new modes of augmentation. Adding to Scripture with supplemental "diverse and strange doctrines" is a form of heresy.
Today's evangelical leaders are adding to Scripture in every possible way. The rush is on! Things that would have been considered unimaginable even ten short years ago are rapidly being incorporated into the Christian faith. The Bible plus. Adding to Scripture is a popular pastime, very lucrative, and exciting to the senses, particularly as it pertains to speculating about biblical prophecy, envisioning new revelation, or attaining deeper levels of spirituality. But what did the early reformers think about adding to Scripture? And what does the Bible have to say about it? Today's post takes a look at Matthew Poole's 1600s Bible Commentary* on the verses above.
"Added to the Gospel"
According to Matthew Poole, "diverse and strange doctrines" are things that add to the Gospel in Scripture:
"Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines": the doctrine of Christ being immutable, it is but necessary to dehort [dissuade, ed.] His subjects from deserting it, which the apostle doth here; that they should not be wheeling or whirling about with an unstable and inconstant motion of judgment, faith, and practice, about such human doctrines which are vain rules to lead to God, such as are different in nature from Christ, one and the same rule, and those very numerous and various, strange and untrue, taught by false apostles and teachers, taken out of Gentilism and Judaism, and added to the Gospel by them, as necessary, together with Christ, to justification and salvation. [bold added]
The Gospel is being added to by those claiming that their new information is necessary, "together with Christ," as supplementary material that enriches and enhances the plain doctrine of Jesus Christ. The following Scriptures are among those cited by Poole as evidence that believers should exercise caution lest they "carried about," "corrupted" or "beguiled" by these added-on "diverse and strange doctrines," i.e. heresy:
through his subtilty, so your minds
should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.
(2 Cor. 11:3)
Now the Spirit speaketh expressly,
that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith,
giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;
Speaking lies in hypocrisy;
having their conscience seared with a hot iron;...
But refuse profane and old wives' fables,
and exercise thyself rather unto godliness.(1 Timothy 5: 1,2,7)
But there were false prophets also among the people,
even as there shall be false teachers among you,
who privily shall bring in damnable heresies,
even denying the Lord that bought them,
and bring upon themselves swift destruction.
And many shall follow their pernicious ways;
by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.
(2 Peter 2:1-2)
Have you noticed? These verses, and others like them, are seldom taught in churches anymore. There is a carefree, even careless and lax attitude about warnings regarding "diverse and strange doctrines." Many evangelicals think they can handle the adding-on of extra-biblical material and still stay sound in the faith. Some flatter themselves that they are immune to heresy. Others seem to think that the modern-day church is perfecting to the point where it doesn't need to be concerned about heresy anymore. Their focus has shifted to all of the exciting methods being brought into the church world, or the "new" revelations being unearthed, or the rapidly changing global or cosmic events happening. This flood of information substantially alters how the Bible is viewed. The Bible is deemed insufficient and must be augmented with data pouring in from all sorts of spurious sources.
However, Scripture is true and it doesn't change. It warns believers that they can be "beguiled," "corrupted," and "tossed to and fro." It warns believers they are susceptible to the "sleight of men," and can be seduced and "deceived" by "cunning craftiness."
In Ephesians 4:14-15 the Apostle Paul uses the word "children." This is referring to those who are weak, immature or unstable in the faith. These tender ones are most susceptible to being "tossed to and fro" when Scripture is added-onto with enticing allurements. They are most apt to be "carried about with every wind of doctrine." They are easier to manipulate by "sleight of hand" or "cunning craftiness." Matthew Poole, commenting on the phrase "whereby they lie in wait to deceive," points out:
...ambush; the word here used, is translated wiles (Eph. 6:11), against which the apostle would have them fenced with "the whole armour of God," and seems to signify a laying in ambush, or assaulting a man behind his back; a secret and unseen way of circumventing, a laying wait to draw them that are weak from the truth.
In our era of pervasive Humanism, where evangelicals now believe that human beings are basically good at heart, it is hard to grasp this sober scriptural warning. No one seems worried about being spiritually ambushed. But this is what Scripture says, and unfortunately we hear many examples of shepherds fleecing and abusing sheep -- their own flock as well as the sheep of other shepherds. Popular leaders sell their add-on wares in the great evangelical marketplace. They have thrilling new books, exciting new programs, arousing new theologies, provocative new revelations, unveiled new secrets, decoded new mysteries, stimulating new understandings, etc. There is great profit to be had by ambushing immature sheep with their own ***exclusive*** add-ons to Scripture.
"PUFFED UP" with "A SHEW OF WISDOM"
There is a specific danger of adding to God's Word with "diverse and strange doctrines." Believers are prone to becoming "vainly puffed up" with a "shew of wisdom." Matthew Poole explained this phrase in Hebrews, and cited additional verses to make this point:
"Not with meats": doctrines of meats and ceremonies, which are divers, and strange from Christ's cannot make the heart agreeable to God, but only distract and divide it from Him; for whoever is not in and from Christ, is strange to God, and abhorred by Him...
and worshipping of angels,
intruding into those things which he hath not seen,
vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,...
Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship,
and humility, and neglecting of the body;
not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh. (Col. 2:18, 22)
But shun profane and vain babblings:
for they will increase unto more ungodliness.
And their word will eat as doth a canker:(2 Tim. 2:16-17a)
A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.
"Meats" here refers to adding-on requirements to the faith that "beguile" believers into feeling they need to do more spiritually. It can lead to a "puffed up" feeling of elitism, especially when a believer feels he is privy to exclusive new information that is superior to to the old outmoded plain Bible teaching. There is a temptation to make "a shew of wisdom in will worship." Indeed, there is a mad scramble in the evangelical world today to try to out-do one another in being hip ("puffed up") by jumping into any new-fangled, spiritual-sounding thing. No need to exercise discernment; everyone's doing it so it must be okay, right? As long as it is "spiritual" it must be Christian, right?
Following "divers and strange doctrines" eventually ends up in some sort of legalism, which is why the writer of Hebrews stated "not with meats" in the context of discussing "diverse and strange doctrines." Adding-to Scripture may not seem like legalism on its surface, but a believer soon discovers that additional teachings come equipped with additional requirements. There is a point when a believer may begin to notice an unsettled "carried about" or "tossed to and fro" feeling. How much energy is spent engaged in the added-on commitments of time, talents and money! "Diverse and strange doctrines" are man-made add-ons that promise believers a heightened spirituality, greater insights, the acclamations of man, and even prosperity if believers do certain things. Following the latest blog postings, book publishings, conferences and spiritual-sounding pronouncements of the leaders who are busily adding-on to Scripture can be a full-time job! But at what cost to one's faith?
Note: If a leader is charging money to divulge "new" secrets or "hidden" revelations, save yourself the money and hassle. Don't buy it! The plain Gospel of Salvation is FREE, sufficient and open to all!
Matthew Poole warned that we will reap no true spiritual benefit from adding-on strange doctrines and practicing them, in his comments on the phrase "which have not profited them":
"which have not profited them that have been occupied therein": those who did converse in these various and strange doctrines, professing and constantly practising them, observed times, and meats, and ceremonies, have not been profited by them; for being carnal and earthly, they could not justify them as to their state God-ward, nor could they renew or sanctify their souls, nor yield any advantage to their spiritual life; and being perishing could not profit to the attaining of eternal life...
Adding-On: Another Altar
False altars are associated with idolatry in Scripture. The fact that the writer of Hebrews mentions an "altar" in the context of "diverse and strange doctrines" is noteworthy. Adding-on to Scripture is a form of idolatry, a strange altar with strange fire. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that we have an altar, which is Jesus Christ. Matthew Poole commented:
"We have an altar": these strange doctrines are not only unprofitable, but perilous to Christians, since they disinterest all that entertain them, as to any participation of Christ; since His subjects, adhering to His simple and immutable doctrine, have a right and just claim to, and an actual use of, Christ, as their altar, in opposition to the Mosaical; and from whom they have altar sustenance for their souls, in opposition to the Jewish meats, while they attend on Him; all the quickening benefits issuing from the sacrifice of His human nature on the altar of His God-head, as reconciliation and adoption to God, justification and perseverance therein, to the perfecting of it in glory.... We have altar sanctification of our persons and offerings in our access to God from Him.... God had but one altar under the law, and He prohibited all others, and complained of and threatened the increase of them...
that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name.
Matthew Henry in his 1700s Commentary on this same verse agreed, and made the point this altar is Jesus. Any other altar, with "diverse and strange doctrines" is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ:
The Christian church has its altar. It was objected against the primitive Christians that their assemblies were destitute of an altar; but this was not true. We have an altar, not a material altar, but a personal one, and that is Christ; He is both our altar, and our sacrifice; He sanctifies the gift.
altars shall be unto him to sin.
according to the multitude of his fruit he hath increased the altars;
according to the goodness of his land they have made goodly images.
Their heart is divided; now shall they be found faulty:
He shall break down their altars, He shall spoil their images.(Hosea 10:1-2)
Those who add on to Scripture, who dally at fascinating foreign altars, will soon find their heart is divided, as it states above. And the Lord Jesus Christ warned that "No servant can serve two masters." We cannot serve both "God and mammon." (Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:16) The cognitive dissonance of a divided heart ultimately results in the bad fruit of a seared conscience. And those who look for truth at the pagan altars of "diverse and strange doctrines" will not find it.
Diverse and strange doctrines are "profane," i.e. "unholy." New teachings don't usually come into the church in flaming colors proclaiming they are a new heresy! Rather, most heresies come in as subtle additions, challenging ideas, new thoughts to consider, speculations, etc. Add-ons can come from such scholarly sources as "scientific revelations." Most originate from pagan sources! But Scripture takes a dim view of these "profane" teachings, likening them to "fables" and "vain babblings":
and exercise thyself rather unto godliness.(1 Tim. 1:9)
O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust,
avoiding profane and vain babblings,
and oppositions of science falsely so called:(1 Tim. 6:20)
But shun profane and vain babblings:
for they will increase unto more ungodliness.
(2 Tim. 2:16)
lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you,
and thereby many be defiled;
Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person,
as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.
Note that it says that "profane and vain babblings" will "increase unto more ungodliness." There is a tendency for profane teachings to spread like leaven, corrupting believers and then entire churches. Hebrews 12:15-16 refers to Esau as a "profane person," and Matthew Poole noticed how the "root of bitterness" acts like leaven in increasing profanity:
the springing up and growing of errors, heresies, or immoralities, as profaneness, filthiness, etc., which are apt to infect churches, and as they spread, to molest, trouble, and disturb them, and to keep them from pursuing holiness.
"thereby many be defiled": lest by but one such poisonous root, a whole church of Christians may be infected and poisoned, their sin being as apt to spread and diffuse itself as leaven, 1 Cor. 5:6, to taint the whole lump, Gal. 5:9; and how early, even in the apostles' time, for want of obeying this caution, were the primitive churches corrupted, both in doctrine and morals, by loose, filthy heretics among them!
Pursuing "diverse and strange doctrines" will only "increase unto more ungodliness." There is a very real defilement that takes place when anyone begins to search into occult and pagan mysteries to try to glean truth. Those who take this route find that it becomes a never-ending spiral of "new truths," each new nugget more intoxicating. Believers will soon discover themselves lost and wandering on dark paths with no end. These are dangerous paths that do not fulfill, and do not lead to the Cross of Jesus Christ.
BE ESTABLISHED & STEADFAST
Believers, lost and unsteady in their faith, can repent and return to a sole dependence on God's Word for sustenance, spiritual edifying and strengthening. A symptom of losing one's moorings on Scripture can be the actual feeling of being "carried about" and "tossed to and fro." What is the remedy for this? Matthew Poole asserts that only the mercy of God's grace can make our hearts steadfast and established on the "simple doctrine of Christ," which gives us a solid foundation of maturity:
"For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace": for the goodness of heart-establishment unto God is no less than full and complete salvation of the soul.... And this is only wrought by grace, the free love of God put out in Christ, for regeneration and preservation of souls unto life eternal, carried in the simple doctrine of Christ, which is always the same,
be ye stedfast, unmoveable,
always abounding in the work of the Lord,
forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
(1 Cor. 15:15)
Ye therefore, beloved,
seeing ye know these things before,
beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked,
fall from your own stedfastness.
But grow in grace,
and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.
(2 Peter 3:17-18)
and God, even our Father, which hath loved us,
and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace,
Comfort your hearts,
and stablish you in every good word and work.
(2 Thess. 2: 16-17)
But the God of all grace,
who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus,
after that ye have suffered a while,
make you perfect, stablish,
strengthen, settle you.
(1 Peter 5:10)
*All quotations taken and adapted for blog posting from A Commentary on the Holy Bible, Volume III, Matthew-Revelation, by Matthew Poole (Hendrickson Publishers). All bold and emphases added.