Protect the Gospel

Theologian Roger Olsen writes:

“A popular misconception—perhaps a Christian urban legend—is that the United States Secret Service never shows bank tellers counterfeit money when teaching them to identify it. The agents who do the training, so the legend goes, show bank tellers only examples of genuine money so that when the phony money appears before them they will know it by its difference from the real thing. The story is supposed to make the point that Christians ought to study truth and never heresy. The first time I heard the tale as a sermon illustration I intuited its falseness. On checking with the Treasury Department’s Minneapolis Secret Service agent in charge of training bank tellers to identify counterfeit money, my suspicion was confirmed. He laughed at the story and wondered aloud who would start it and who would believe it. At my request he sent me a letter confirming that the Secret Service does show examples of counterfeit money to bank tellers. I believe it is important and valuable for Christians to know not only theological correctness (orthodoxy) but also the ideas of those judged as heretics within the church’s story. One reason is that it is almost impossible to appreciate the meaning of orthodoxy without understanding the heresies that forced its development.”

Studying theology is not popular in the church today. If you ask people what they want to study, most believers would not list ‘doctrine’ as one of their priorities. But the Bible argues that focusing on correct doctrine is crucial. In 1 Timothy 1:10-11, Paul warns against ‘whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.” In 1 Timothy 2:3, Paul says that God “…wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” In 2 Timothy 2:13, he reminds us, “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus.”

But Paul not only affirms the importance of preserving and protecting sound doctrine. He is unapologetic in identifying heresy (false teaching) and even naming those who are advocating heresy. In 1 Timothy 1:20, he mentions Hymenaeus and Alexander, who have caused the faith of some people to be shipwrecked. In 2 Timothy 2:17, he says that Hymenaeus and Philetus have departed from the truth. Paul even had the audacity to confront the apostle Peter over his hypocrisy in matters of race discrimination (Galatians 2:11). In other words, Paul identified bogus versions of the gospel and named them and confronted them. He was not bashful about calling out false doctrine and those who were teaching false doctrine.

So, we need to be diligent about protecting the gospel and preserving the gospel and identifying departures from the gospel. We have been charged with the responsibility of handing on the good deposit of faith to future generations. It won’t always be comfortable to address false teaching and false teachers, but it is our responsibility to step up and defend sound doctrine against being compromised.