Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: Should you confront someone in your church for buying into false doctrine? It doesn’t sound very loving, but Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says it is.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: It is a perversion of love to tolerate false teaching or teaching that will lead to unholy living.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Adorned, for Wednesday, September 20, 2017.

The book of Revelation begins with seven letters. We’re now in a series called "The Sin of Tolerance," focusing on the church of Thyatira. Nancy begins with a story.

Nancy: I got an email some time ago from a mom who has four children ages nine to fourteen. I want to read you a lengthy excerpt out of that letter because it reflects the kinds of things we’re hearing from a lot of moms. And some of you perhaps will relate to this. She says:

We are careful in what we allow into our homes through the television and other forms of entertainment and until recently have never had a problem with that. You may have heard about a new video game called . . .

And she says what it’s called. I’m not going to name what it is because by the time this airs there will be some new video game that this would be applicable to.

It’s a huge hit with many young boys. According to Focus on the Family’s “Plugged In” review this game is rated “M.” [I had to go look up and see what that meant. It means mature themes.]

It’s filled with killing, language, inappropriate suggestive images, and much more. When my kids asked about this game, we looked together at the review and they clearly saw that it was something they shouldn’t be allowing into their minds.

So their mother and their dad had been teaching them how to think biblically, not just saying, “You can’t do this.” I think that’s wise to have them look at it and say, “What would Jesus think about this?” So that’s what they did.

The problem came when my thirteen-year-old son came home from church one day telling me that he wasn’t invited to one of his church friend’s home where many of the boys were playing this game because they knew his parents wouldn’t let him play this game with them. He was so hurt! These were his church friends.

He proceeded to ask around to almost all the boys in his group to see if any of them were not allowed to play this new game. Not one! They were all allowed. One even said, "My mom doesn’t care anymore if I play. I just can’t have it, but I can play at someone else’s home."

I was so disappointed. What do you tell your kids when they then begin to question the other Christian parents and families? It’s not the fact that they can’t play that frustrates my kids. It’s the fact that the kids in church are putting on the pressure.

I told them that even though it seems like we are the only ones living like this and that it is going to be lonely when you are sold out for Jesus, that somewhere out there there are other families that are living like we are. But even if they aren’t, it doesn’t matter because we are told to be holy as He is holy and that someday there will be a reward for that.

My fourteen-year-old daughter said, "I wish we could just find those families and we could all just move to another state together." My response [and this was wise on the part of this mother] was that we are called to be lights in the darkness wherever God has us.

Sadly my son says, "It’s too bad we have to be lights in our own church." I started to cry . . . how true, how true.

Jesus says to the church in Thyatira, Revelation 2:20, “I have this against you [the church], that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.”

This New Testament Jezebel was in the church. She was an influential leading teacher, respected. People were following her, listening to her, believing her, practicing what she taught. And she was seducing the Christian church away from the worship of the true God. She was corrupting the faith of Christians. "My servants" were the ones who were being impacted by this teaching.

Now what is it that she was teaching? Her teaching was identical or at least similar to the Balaam party and the Nicolaitans that we read about in the church in Pergamum. If you didn’t hear that series I want to encourage you to go back to the website ReviveOurHearts.com. Go into the archives and you can pick that series up. It was just within the last couple of weeks.

This teaching was the same as that of Balaam and the Nicolaitans in Pergamum. When it got to Thyatira, the teaching was further advanced. It had gone on longer in Thyatira, and it had flourished.

The teaching was essentially that it was okay for believers to participate to some extent in idolatrous, immoral aspects of pagan culture. And you remember as we said as we started into this series on the church in Thyatira that Thyatira had a lot of small businesses. Those businesses had guilds that related to each business. So the leather workers had a guild, and the pottery workers had a guild.

And those guilds had patron gods. As part of their business activities, they would go to the temple of that pagan God. They would have their business meetings. They would have social get together. They would have feasts. But they would be debauched, perverted, sexual feasts where they would commit prostitution with the temple prostitutes. All this drunkenness, carousing, and immorality went together with the idolatry.

And the Christians who were parts of these businesses . . . They had jobs and were expected to be part of these guilds much like our labor unions. The question was, “Could they participate in the guild activities?”

It wasn’t as simple an answer as it might be today. Do you go to a company party? Do you not? In many cases their livelihood depended on the answer to this question. So they had to grapple with these issues and say,

  • What does it mean to engage the culture?
  • What does it mean to be in the world but not of the world—to live in the world but not to love the world?

They had to grapple with these things, but we have to grapple with them as well.

What video games are you going to let your kids play? What movies are you going to let them go to? What books can they read? What books are you going to read? What magazines are you going to read? What activities are you going to participate in with your non-Christian friends?

The only reliable guide for our lives is the Word of God. All teaching and all practice has to be subject to the authority of His Word.

Now the early church didn’t have the full written Bible as we do today. We’re so blessed to have the Scripture. That’s why you need to read it and know it and examine it and grapple with it to know how to respond to these kinds of questions.

But in spite of the fact that they didn’t have the full Scripture, God had given them direction in relation to these two specific issues of eating food offered to idols and practicing sexual immorality. It was clear what God thought about these things.

I don’t want to take a lot of time on this, but if you go back to Acts 15, you’ll see that there was a Jerusalem council that met to settle a debate in the early church about the extent to which Gentile believers should be obligated to keep the law. These spiritual leaders of the church concluded under the leadership of the Holy Spirit that the Old Testament ceremonial law—that is circumcision, dietary laws, things like that—was not binding on New Testament believers but that the moral law summarized in the Ten Commandments was binding.

And in the letter that they sent to explain the results of this Jerusalem council, they made it clear that two things were specifically prohibited. What were those two things? Eating food offered to idols and sexual immorality. God had already spoken. They didn’t need to grapple with this in their culture. They needed to just do what God said.

So how did Jezebel get away with teaching contrary to that in the church and why did her followers follow her if it was so clear what God had said? Well, Jezebel was likely saying something like this: “There’s no harm in just attending the meetings of these heathen trade guilds.”

She may have rationalized in this way: “It’s okay if you don’t really believe that those idols are gods. You’re not worshiping them in your heart. You’re just outwardly being engaged in these activities.” They might have thrown around terms like, “But it’s for freedom that Christ set us free.”

The Gnosticism we referenced in the last session that was beginning to take shape in those days emphasized the spiritual and said, “The physical is really unimportant.” So they may have rationalized by saying, “These activities they have no effect on your spiritual life. You’re just there physically, but it’s not really affecting you.”

And then there were those who went so far as to say, believe it or not, that you can appreciate God’s grace more fully if you’ve actually experienced sin. So go ahead and sin because you’ll get a deeper knowledge of God’s grace.

Now you’re looking at me like, “How could anyone buy that?” Well, they did buy it. Jezebel, this so-called prophetess, this symbolic Jezebel, was perhaps saying, “It’s okay for Christians to become guild members and to participate in these heathen functions, to compromise with the world and maybe even to do some of the worship activities of these pagan deities in order to protect their business interests.”

Because how else were you going to earn a living? You have to earn a living. This was a problem I want you to understand that faced every Christian in Thyatira in one way or another. They had to choose between succeeding in business and loyalty to Christ, whether to make money or to be Christians. And we’re not talking about getting rich. In some cases we’re talking about just how are they going to survive?

It’s a situation that many Christians face today. When expected or common business practices conflict with Scripture, what are you going to do?

I read about an interesting piece written by Tertullian who lived a little later than this era. He was a second century Christian author. He wrote a tract called On Idolatry. It’s about the subject of idolatry, and he talks about Christians who make idols for a living.

In response to the point that they have to live and that they have no other means of supporting themselves, he asks, “Must you live? Do you have to live? For me to live is Christ and to die is gain, for then I go to be with Christ” (see Phil. 2:21).

You see that frames it differently. One commentator on this passage says, “If her arguments had succeeded,” that is this first century symbolic Jezebel, “it would have been the end of the Christian church. Beyond a doubt, compromise would have meant absorption into heathenism. The continued existence of the church depended on the continued determination of the church to be different from the world.”

That was true then. It is no less true today. Interestingly, history tells us that the church in Thyatira did fall prey to heresy and that by the end of the second century that church no longer existed. They just got blended into the world until there was no distinction and they became the world, no church left.

The sin in the church in that day was not only that this woman was teaching, but it was that this teaching and this influence was being tolerated, that it was being permitted. And I suppose some people might have said, “But we have to love her.”

It is a perversion of love to tolerate false teaching or teaching that will lead to unholy living. There’s such a connection between belief and behavior, between doctrine and holiness. If false teaching is tolerated, then the end result will be unholy living.

Now how does all this apply today? I have to tell you that over these last weeks I have really wrestled with these passages—the letters to the churches in Pergamum and Thyatira. I’ve wrestled first to understand what they’re talking about and then to think how to explain it because you’re dealing with Balaam and Nicolaitanism and Jezebel and some of these Old Testament allusions. Some of this very complex—Gnosticism, Antinomianism. You feel like you’ve got to go to seminary to really get some of this.

But it’s not only difficult to know it and how to explain it. What is equally challenging is to know how to apply it. And what does this mean? And what does this say for us in our culture where we don’t have these trade guilds, where our temples aren’t like night clubs? I mean, it’s a whole different era in some respects. But the same principles are at stake.

We have to apply this kind of teaching in various spheres where we live—in our homes, in our schools, in the workplace, in social settings, in recreation, at the “Y” or at the gym where you go to work out, in the political arena. In all these different arenas, we have to apply what it means to be set apart for God.

We face in these different arenas expectations of the world—the expectation to fit in, the pressure to participate, the temptation and consequences if we don’t. That can be ridicule, loss of respect, maybe losing a raise or not getting advanced in your job, or maybe losing your job altogether. It can be getting a poor grade in a college class where you’re having to give answers that are contrary to the beliefs of that professor.

What is of great concern to me—and I’ve said it before; I want to repeat it here as there are a growing number of influential respected Christian leaders who are teaching and seducing and leading astray God’s servants today. Their theology denies the need for God’s people to live consecrated, separated lives. Their theology says that you can be a Christian and partake or participate at least to some extent in idolatry, immorality, and worldliness.

They have many different ways of rationalizing, justifying, and defending accommodation to the world. And you see it in all kinds of areas. Let me just list several.

The issue of language. There is a movement afoot within the church today among some well-known and respected Christian leaders that says it’s okay to use coarse language, suggestive humor, or even profanity in the pulpit.

Now, I’m not talking about liberal churches out there. I’m talking about some of our evangelical churches. I have read on the Internet extended blog exchanges, dialogues between people debating this practice. I’m talking about pastors and Christian leaders debating whether this is appropriate, accommodation to the world being rationalized.

Issues of dress and modesty, people being led astray on this subject in the church today. The drunkenness, the carousing at many of our Christian colleges; I might say most of our Christian colleges where these are practices that are being tolerated and defended.

Entertainment, music, television, and movies. Someone said to me the other day, “You just go look on our Christian kids’ Facebook accounts and you’ll see the kind of music they’re listening to, the books that they’re reading. (Do they read books?) The movies they’re attending."

I heard recently—and I’m not going to name it because again by the time this airs it will be something different—but most recently a series of books followed by a movie that are hugely popular among young teenage girls. And I’m hearing now about Christian mothers—I’m talking godly mothers, women I respect—taking or sending their daughters to watch this movie.

I have not seen the movie. I have not read the books. I’ve read some fairly careful reviews of both. I can tell you it’s not something that any Christian should be watching to or listening to or reading.

And I’m thinking, What are these mothers thinking? Are they thinking? Or have we just been co-opted by the world?

The whole issue of divorce and remarriage; this is another one where we’ve been co-opted by the world. We got an email from a listener recently, a man, saying,

Regardless of what is being taught in churches today, what is approved of is rampant affairs, broken families, and estranged fathers. Consider it the effect of the church turning a "blind eye" and embracing feminism and all its forms. Besides what happened in my own "Christian" marriage regarding faithfulness [He talked about how his wife had left. Now I know there are two sides to every story; I’m just telling you what this man wrote.] and the nod that a Christian mother-in-law gave to the affair between my wife and my former best friend, the family was shattered and my children in turmoil.

I have heard this story so many times. Christian parents approving of and in some ways enabling adulterous affairs, divorce, remarriage that is clearly contrary to the Word of God. He says,

Count one family destroyed with the approval (as silence) of the church to boot.

Jesus says, “I have this against you that you tolerate that kind of teaching and practice.”

Many worldly practices, New Age practices have permeated the church today. We’ll do a whole series on those sometime. Moral and sexual issues, pornography within the church, co-habitation widely practiced and endorsed in Christian singles groups and tolerating it, not doing anything about it.

I read just recently about one sought after Christian speaker and consultant who said, “I now believe that GLBTQ,” which if you’re not familiar with that stands for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer. “I now believe that these can live lives in accord with biblical Christianity (at least as much as any of us can) and that their monogamy [monogamous homosexual relationships] can and should be sanctioned and blessed by church and state."1

This man is a respected Christian leader. "I have this against you that you tolerate that woman Jezebel." The false gods of this age—sex, money, prosperity, health, beauty, popularity, self-esteem, the American dream, entertainment, pleasure. The push today is to bow down to those gods, to sacrifice purity, to sacrifice truth, to sacrifice godly values, to sacrifice our families on the altars of these pagan gods.

And I’ve got to ask you, “Are you willing to sell your soul and your children’s souls for and to the gods of this world?” Second Corinthians 6; I close with this passage. It’s so clear. God says,

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial [another term for Satan]? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God has said, "I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people” (vv. 14–16).

God says, “I’ve got a covenant relationship with my people. Second Corinthians 6:17:

"Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me,’ says the Lord Almighty." Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God (2 Cor. 6:17 – 7:1).

As Paul says in Romans 12, “Don’t let this world press you into its mold” (v. 2, paraphrased). Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold. We are called to be separate. We are called to be different. We are called to love sinners. We are called to have a light to them. We’re not called to come together in our holy fortresses and just stay tight until the Rapture comes.

We are to be out there, but we’re called to be different so that there is a clear distinction between the world and the church. Not with mean spirits, not with anger, not with pride, not with self-righteousness, but with humility and true compassion and true faith and true purity; so that our lives radiate the purity and the Gospel and the truth of Jesus Christ, and the world is drawn to Him, and they come and fall down and worship Him and say, "He alone is God. He is the true God."

Those who refuse to repent and worship, in the judgment will have no excuse. For what can be known of God has been known to them through creation, through the Word of God, and through the lives and witness of believers who were faithful to be holy and to portray the truth of God in this dark world.

Leslie: Biblical thinking and holy living. We need both, but like the church in Thyatira, we are tempted to drift off course. Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been helping us understand the letter Jesus dictated to the church in Thyatira. Today’s message is part of the radio series "The Sin of Tolerance." We’re devoting one series to each of the seven letters to churches that open the book of Revelation. A listener commented on one of these series, describing how God used it in her life.

She said, “The Lord has brought me to a place of deep repentance from apostasy and other issues.”

Would you help us connect with more women like her? The teaching of Revive Our Hearts touches the lives of women because of listeners who support this ministry with their gifts. When you donate, we’ll say "thanks" by sending you a booklet that goes along with this series. It’s called Ears to Hear.

While listening to these programs on the letters to the churches in Revelation, I hope you’ll use this booklet to read these letters and get more insight into Revelation for yourself. Just donate at ReviveOurHearts.com, or you can call 1–800–569–5959. Ask for the booklet Ears to Hear.

How do children learn discernment? Do they need to experience the latest books, movies, and music in order to judge them? Nancy DeMoss Wolgmueth discusses this with some parents tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help you experience greater freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ. It's an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

1 http://blog.beliefnet.com/tonyjones/2008/11/same-sex-marriage-blogalogue-h.html

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

Join the Discussion