Do you know the most common label for false teachers? Christian. That word simply does not mean the same thing to everyone and it is critical that we define it.**
In case you didn’t know, online articles or posts with titles promising a list of 5, 7, or 10 anything successfully attract readers. Such listed posts of one “christian writer” named Christian Piatt (happy coincidence or prophetic?) are moving up the search engines in popularity. I don’t know if they’ve actually gone viral, but they’re being read by lots of folks.
My usual response to something I disagree with is a reflexive mouseclick and I continue on to something else. Once I discovered that Mr. Piatt’s theology was being read by a sizeable number of people my click-response was stifled and I read on. After visiting the website for the church he helped found (affiliated with a known denomination) and his biography, I began reading another article on his website.
Slapped in the Face by False Teaching
The reaction I had to what I read was pretty matter-of-fact until I got to this sentence which Mt. Piatt used to introduce the third antidote on his list of ”10 Antidotes to Christian Cliches”:
“Somewhere along the way, Christian outreach became more about personal conversion than about empathy and compassion. One of the biggest turn-offs I hear about Christians is that folks see us as trying to make everyone like us. But Jesus himself was moved, affected and – yes -changed by the people he encountered. And lest we forget: the Greatest Commandment was not to convert people to Christianity. It was love others with all you have an[d] all you are. Part of loving others is actually understanding what they want or need, not just giving them what you think they want or need.”
Whoa! The essence of falsehood is contained in these six sweet, nice, inclusive, moral, tolerant, sensitive, and utterly false statements. Is the author correct that Christian hypocrisy exists? Yes. Is the author correct that Christians fail to love one another? Sure. Is the author correct that loving others isn’t making them over in our own image? Absolutely. Then why my visceral response?
5 Basic Messages of False Teaching
The five concepts presented in this quote perfectly illustrate the five basic messages of false teaching.
1. “Somewhere along the way, Christian outreach became more about personal conversion than about empathy and compassion.”
That somewhere was Pentecost, circa 33AD. Jesus never told his disciples to go out and build shelters, soup kitchens, wells, houses, or counseling centers for all the world. Jesus never said to enable or understand the behavior of pedophiles, abusers, fornicators, sluggards, oppressors, addicts, or (insert whatever comes to mind here. )
The Gospel message is personal relationship with Jesus born, Jesus crucified, Jesus resurrected, Jesus ascended, Jesus returning, Jesus passing judgement, and Jesus who will reign through eternity. Remove any part and the Gospel message becomes a new gospel, one that has no relationship to God and one that offers no salvation.
The Gospel message includes both confessing and repenting of sin. SIN! False teachers don’t like to talk about sin because it’s so intolerant.
2. “One of the biggest turn-offs I hear about Christians is that folks see us as trying to make everyone like us.”
The cunning character of false teaching is how closely it parallels truth. False teachers hope you don’t recognize that tiny moment when the path veered off to the wrong side and you kept walking, never realizing you were not approaching Christ as you intended, but were in fact leaving Him in the dust. On the surface Mr. Piatt’s statement is perfectly acceptable.
But let me point out that a Christian is, by biblical definition, a New Creation in Jesus Christ. There is only one way to heaven and that path is reserved exclusively for New Creations. There is no back door, no secret tunnel, and no consolation prize for folks who failed to meet the criteria for entrance.
What separates a child of God from all others is the presence of the Holy Spirit. Once you define what a Christian is, there is no other option but to do what we can to bring others to the place where they make their choice about relationship and commitment to Christ.
3. “But Jesus himself was moved, affected and – yes -changed by the people he encountered.”
Jesus Christ was fully human even as He was fully divine. Other people did move Him and He was affected by human loss, joy, and humor. But Jesus was never changed by any man or woman. This little tidbit is exactly the ruse used to put Jesus into a box that is molded and shaped by human arrogance. We have elevated our little bits of dust, spit, and breath to such a height that we consider God trainable to our standards.
We are changed by the Spirit of God (Jesus). The Creator is not changed by the creation.
4. “And lest we forget: the Greatest Commandment was not to convert people to Christianity. It was love others with all you have an[d] all you are.”
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:36-40
The most effective way to convince folks to believe false teaching is by quoting the Word of God – incorrectly. The specific question Jesus answered was about the Law. This great commandment was the crux of the Old Testament, the Law and the Prophets. The Gospel message is about justification by faith, by relationship, and not about strict adherence to Law or expansive Works.
Mr. Piatt’s statement uses the convenient and quite popular tactic of replacing the love of the Creator with a love of the created. Once again, the bits of dust and spit have been placed on the king’s throne and he fails to even mention the Creator.
5. “Part of loving others is actually understanding what they want or need, not just giving them what you think they want or need.”
Every parent knows that kids don’t always want what’s good for them. Separating a need from a want can be a daunting and confusing enterprise. Addicts need a fix. If I want something and can’t pay for it I many need to steal it.
Enabling others is feeding unhealthy needs and wants. It’s also a complete abdication of personal responsibility to the one with the issue.
When the issue is relationship with Jesus Christ, enabling is always wrong. The point to be made is that Mr. Piatt doesn’t seek relationship with Christ for others. Therefore the general nicety of his statement is exposed as false teaching. The topic of his article wasn’t fashion, food choices, or which video game to play. The title and point of the piece is to guide others on the path of proper Christianity as he defines it.
We need salvation. We need forgiveness. We need edification. We need fellowship. We need correction. We need Jesus Christ. That’s not my opinion, it’s the only story in the Bible.
The Greatest Gift – Discernment
Know the doctrine of those you listen to, read, and quote. It’s bad enough to fall victim to false teaching; It’s far worse to pass the infection along to others.
Mr. Piatt is a nice guy. I share many of his thoughts about getting along with others and trying to emulate Christ as the embodiment of love in the flesh. His is a wonderful humanist message. Unfortunately the source of the message is human and not scriptural.
In his defense, Mr. Piatt doesn’t pretend to be something he is not. The only thing he is guilty of is assuming the label “Christian” in a way that tempts others to stray from fellowship with the true body of Christ. Mr. Piatt, if he worships at all, worships a jesus who is not the subject of the Bible but is a manifestation of humanistic doctrine and symbolism.
How does Mr. Piatt describe his faith?
Would you prayerfully consider the teaching of one who makes these statements when answering the question, “Why am I a Christian?”
“I do not ascribe to the notion of substitutionary atonement (Jesus had to die for our sins to be forgiven). I also do not hold a literal understanding of scripture as essential to my faith. “
“Although I’m not a vocal advocate for an emphasis on personal salvation as the primary purpose of Christianity , I do believe that each person has to decide for themselves whether they consider themselves to be Christian or not, and what that means.”
Mr. Piatt shares the philosophy with millions that Christianity may be properly defined by each person as they see fit. That is true. The caveat they ignore is whether Jesus Christ agrees with their definition. At the end of the day, His is the only opinion that matters.