Peter and the Heretics

The Pastor's Letter (December 1977)


Dear Friends,

The fact of heretics and heresies existing in and around the churches of Jesus Christ can often be the cause of great consternation among the professing people of God. It was so in the past, and it can be so in the present. And whereas we are never in any way to be complacent with such a situation we are, nevertheless, to be careful that we don't become the unwitting victims of it.

You see, the devil seldom only ever strikes in one direction with any of the weapons at his disposal. This principle holds good with all his attacks and assaults upon the people of God, and it would be a strange thing, indeed, if it failed to hold with regards to his evil weapon of heresy. So it is, then, that when heresy comes it can cause darkness of soul in the heretic, but it can also cause darkness of soul in the believing child of God.

Now, the Bible is not silent with regards to this; and when the apostle Peter takes in hand to deal with the heretics who had begun to infiltrate the churches in "Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia" etc., he first of all begins by laying a few good layers of solid foundation for the feet of his readers on which they might stand firm. (2nd Peter 2:1-3.) And the very first thing that he sets before them is the fact of the heretics existence - their very existence. "But", he begins that chapter, "there were false teachers among you." The very connection that Peter makes there with the words that he has just written is part and parcel of his whole purpose. In the latter part of chapter one he has been speaking about the Word of God being the Word of God indeed, and not the word of mere men. He has called the writers of the Old Testament scriptures "holy men of God" who spoke "as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." And with that lovely title for those Old Testament prophets of God how easy it is to conjure up the picture of their character and their strong, strong witness among the people of old. "But," Peter then goes on to say at the beginning of chapter two, "But there were false prophets also among the people." And with that very first word concerning this business of heresy and heretics among those churches to which he is writing, Peter is surely aiming to strip away one great fundamental mistake that very often lays hold on the people of God in their generations - viz. that there never was such a day as ours, and because it is such a day, then how hard it is to be faithful in this day, and what's the use of trying. "No, no," says Peter; "before I begin to tell you some details concerning these heretics in and around the churches in your day, let me first set you right about their existence - their very existence: they are - and they have always been. There were false prophets also among the people, and there shall be false teachers among you."

Now, is that written to "disturb" the believing soul? Surely not. But surely it belongs to that inspired word of God that God has given to us for the furnishing out of our life of faith. Peter is telling us some of the facts of the life of faith, and this is one of them. Was there a Jeremiah in the past? Indeed there was. Well, there was Jehudi with his pen-knife that was ever at the ready to carve-up the truth that Jeremiah wrote or spoke. Need we go any further than the gospel narratives concerning our Saviour's life here below. In one respect that life of Christ was one long continual "contradiction" of sinners against Himself and the things that He said. If He spoke, then, there was always some carping critic to cross His words. If such men and such views could exist in the atmosphere of Him who was "the Word made flesh," it would be passing strange if we didn't find ourselves confronted with the same thing.

The apostle Paul gives us a very striking word with regards to heresy. He says, "For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you." (1 Cor. 11:19.) Now that is a telling word, for it informs us of a God-given purpose in the permitted existence of heresies and heretics. In a word, they are part of the goldsmith's furnace that God employs in the "approving" (or, proving) of His own people. "They must be there," says Paul - they act like a goldsmith's fire in the approving of the faithful - those faithful who then appear "manifest" in their faithfulness. That last fact, of course, eliminates any thought that we merely "tolerate" heresy in our midst, or in our heart, as the case might be. No, no - there is required "manifesting" of our own position in these things before our God - our eternal Goldsmith of our souls. We are to act, and act aright. Therefore, we are not to stand "amazed" at the presence and existence of heresies and heretics, for once we begin to act like that towards them, then we are in danger of not being able to act aright towards them. And it's that danger-ground that Peter is steering his readers away from when he reminds them that even among the "holy men of God" in the old time, there were "false prophets also." "As then, so now," he is saying. Let us not lose sight of that fact.

Something else that Peter will have us remember with regards to the heretic is - the method by which heresy is introduced into the churches. For, he says, these men "shall privily bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them." Those last few words of Peter are often used as a case against the doctrine of Particular Redemption, or the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints. But is one of those classical cases of reading the word of God as mere words and coming up with any kind of a view - (like the "converted" thief who went on thieving, because, he said the Bible said, "Let him that stole, steal." Indeed the Bible does say those words as words; but the truth of the whole is, "Let him that stole, steal no more.) So it is with these "words" that Peter writes if we only care to look at them as mere words, and disregard the whole of what Peter is saying. Peter is dealing, neither with Particular Redemption nor Perseverance; and it is, surely, part of the genius of heresy that it can turn a great truth of God into the fallacy of "Free Will" in the things of salvation.

Peter is speaking about heresy - that is the subject of his words and thoughts, and at this point, he is speaking about the heretic and his method of infiltrating the churches of Jesus Christ. Well then, how will the heretic approach the church in order to gain an entrance? Will he come banging on the door and calling out, "I deny everything that the church of Christ stands for?" Will he have a big badge in his lapel, "Heretic against the truth of the gospel?" Of course he won't. But what he will be is the paragon of orthodoxy until he has found his place within the church, and then, he will begin with his work on hand. In other words, it is his "profession" of the faith that Peter has in view when he speaks about that heretic "denying the Lord that bought him." Did the Lord "buy" him? No, He did not! But how could the heretic ever get across the thresh-hold of the church unless he professed to be of the blood-bought of the Lord? In that way he comes, and in that way he continues - until; until he "crosses the Rubicon," as it were. Until he grows bold, and eventually shows himself to be what he ever really ever was - when he denies the Lord - and thus shows himself in his true heretical colours.

In a sense, it is a merciful means of exposing the heretic. It isn't "denying" such as Peter himself lapsed into at that time in his life, and which can grasp any believer in one form or another at times. But it is that determined downgrading of the Person and Work of the impeccable Son of God. But how does the heretic get into the position of attack in the first place? It is by his profession. Peter says the heresies are brought in "privily" - under cover of darkness, as it were. Jude says, "Certain men have crept in unawares." It is like Eden itself; the devil began with what appeared an enquiry - "Yea, hath God said ye shall not eat ...?" the flat denial of God's word will eventually come - "Ye shall not surely die." but he dare not start at that point. Neither can the heretic; but being of his father the devil, then, it is the works of his father that he does, and in the way his father does them.

Peter also mentions the heretics' following: "And many shall follow their pernicious ways," he says. Dear old Peter knew how to establish the hearts of those who had ears to hear and right here he will now protect us against that weapon of doubt that the devil so much loves to use in our lives. Is it not so easy for us to look at that which is apparently "blooming" and adopt the idea, "Well, perhaps there is something in what that man says, or that church does, or that group holds - and so forth." Just so says Peter; and never forget that heresy has a fatal fascination for the human heart of man, for, in essence, it is but rebellion against the word of God to which the natural heart has a continuous aversion. "Many shall follow their pernicious ways," says Peter. His implication is clear - "See that you are not among them!" And if we would not wish to be carried about with every wind, then we must anchor fast in the whole counsel of God to our souls. In Old Testament times God gave the touchstone for judging the false prophet from the true. Although the false prophet might claim many things, and do them, yet he was not to be believed or received because he did not square with God's word. That touchstone has not been changed.

Peter informs us concerning the heretics' motive and end. The motive is twofold - to defame the faith, and to gain for themselves. With regards to the former, Peter tells us that when they draw away these "followers," then "the way of truth" begins to be "evil spoken of." How that delights the devil's heart, and how much the gospel is held in ridicule through the lives of those who imbibed an imitation of it. That fact we must recognise and rightly lament. Yet we must guard our hearts against the devil's ploys in it and strive against defection in ourselves, deflection from our course, or dejection in our hearts and minds.

With regards to the latter - their own gain, Peter says in verse 3, "through covetousness shall they with feigned words, make merchandise of you." Here he would "jolt" any who would follow after such men. They have one thing in view - their own gain; honour, esteem, self-aggrandisement - whatever. And to realise that, they treat the people under them like mere merchandise - like so many pieces of commodity on a shop-keeper's shelf. The soldiers who were blown asunder in the First World War were often referred to as, "The Generals' Cannon-fodder." These are the heretics' "sermon-fodder." And not only that, says Peter, not only are men treated like mere "merchandise" by them, but with feigned words, make merchandise of you." It is a sobering picture for any to consider. One of the saddest aspects is that there is a "ready market" in the whole business, for it is still like the days of old, "the prophets prophesy smooth things, and the people love to have it so."

Finally, Peter speaks about their end. It is an inevitable word, really. Is the biggest question of all so often not along these lines - "Why doesn't God act?" Like the martyrs under the throne, "How long, O Lord ...?" And as the faithful of the Lord look at the state of things around them in their day - when all the heresies of hell appear to be abroad, how easy to suspect that God is not acting. Yes, God is acting; these men, Peter tells us in verse 1, "bring upon themselves swift destruction;” and then, at the end of verse 3, “whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not." Their judgment is not lingering on the way to them; their damnation has not fallen asleep; their destruction is "swift;" it is only our failure to think "eternally" that it makes it appear otherwise. Be True!

Yours sincerely,
          W. J. Seaton