By Ron Halbrook
The applications which follow are not meant to be in order of importance, but are simply designed to show how rich and useful 2 John is for us today. This study is not exhaustive and the diligent student will think of other important applications.
1. As goes the home, so goes the church. If our homes are to produce children who walk as God commands, our homes must be training centers and bastions for truth. At the feet of godly parents, let children learn the vital connection between truth, love, and obedience. Let them not hear in the home carping and sniping about elders, preachers, and churches which fight error, or murmurs of sympathy for the false teacher. Rather, let those precious children learn that their home is the unwavering enemy of error, while the home’s hospitality and aid serve the cause of truth without compromise. Then we may expect to hear from someone who loves the truth – someone perhaps whom the children learned to know from his visits in their home – that he has crossed paths with our children in some distant place where he found them faithfully serving the Lord.
2. John defends apostolic authority. What the Apostles received from the beginning of their training is what they taught from the beginning of their ministry. In other words, they received from the Lord all that they taught. They were personal ambassadors of Jesus Christ, the King enthroned at His Father’s right hand. What they commanded, Jesus first revealed and commanded. The “apostles’ doctrine” of Acts 2:42 is “the doctrine of Christ” of 2 John 9. We must abide in this, if we abide in Him. That includes facts, commands, and promises. It encompasses all which the New Testament reveals – terms of pardon; the work, worship, organization, and discipline of the church; the family relationship; principles of conduct, dress, and speech; wholesome recreation; what it means to earn an honorable living; and, all else composing the whole counsel of God.
3. Truth, love, and obedience are inseparably intertwined. When we believe what God says, when we love Him with all the heart, mind, and soul, we find that obedience to His will is our highest aim and greatest pleasure. This is true spirituality. That lesson has never been learned by folks who complain that John was too strict in verse 9 and too harsh in verses 10-11. Obedience .is the product, pleasure, and evidence of true love for God. This obedience is not cold, formal, or separated from love but is wholly encompassed by it. All of this explains the rest of John’s letter. “Such hatred of error was the outcome of a firm grasp, and profound love, of the truth” (Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22: The Second Epistle of John, p. 2).
Gospel – Doctrine
4. “Gospel” and “doctrine” cannot be distinguished in content. Periodic attempts to distinguish “gospel” and “doctrine” as separate messages have had the effect of weakening the standard of apostolic truth. Such error unravels the twine of truth, love, and obedience. According to the theory, “gospel” means only 5 or 6 or 7 facts about Jesus. The acceptance of these facts guarantees salvation, whether a person does or does not receive the additional message called “doctrine.” The theory differs from person to person as to whether “gospel” includes any command (baptism, moral conduct, etc.) or whether all commands fall under “doctrine.” The theorists unite in saying that matters such as the work, worship, and organization of the church are “doctrine.” They also teach that “doctrine” is not essential to salvation and that God will only judge our “attitude” in “doctrine.” For instance, a person may be sprinkled rather than immersed, or may worship with instrumental music all of his life, and still be considered a “man of faith” saved by the “gospel” because God sees a “good attitude.” Recent theorists include W. Carl Ketcherside (St. Louis, Missouri), Leroy Garrett (Denton, Texas), Edward Fudge (Athens, Alabama), Arnold Hardin (Dallas, Texas), and their cohorts scattered from place to place. Their theories relate to the so-called ecumenical, new unity, or grace-fellowship movement.
The gospel-doctrine theory is knocked topsy-turvy by 2 John 9-11. The brother who violates the teaching of Jesus has not God and may not be received by the faithful. If the gospel-doctrine theory is true (gospel not doctrine determines relationship to God), John should have used the word “gospel” and not “doctrine” in verse 9. Finding the coattail of their theory on fire, false teachers have tried to douse the fire by claimng that “doctrine” sometimes refers to “gospel” (but, conveniently, they find “gospel” never refers to “doctrine”). They claim support in verse 7 because John singles out a group of men who denied Jesus Christ coming in the flesh (“gospel”). Therefore, John really said, “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine (gospel) of (about) Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine (gospel) of (about) Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.” The arguments for this reinterpretation of 2 John 9, and the dangerous implications of such a theory, are reviewed in detail in the author’s Doctrine of Christ and Unity of the Saints (published by and available from Cogdill Foundation Publications, Box 88, Fairmont, IN 46928).
The truth is that John shows in verse 9 why (1) in verse 7 certain men are deceivers – they have violated the Divine standard or apostolic truth; (2) in verse 8 their followers are lost – they have not God; and (3) in verses 10-11 any who aid them will share their fate – the fate of all who have not God. Verse 9 states the origin and standard of all truth, “the doctrine of Christ,” which the heretics in verse 7 violated in one way at a given time and which other apostates violate in other ways at other times. John refers to the doctrine of Christ, of Balaam, and of the Nicolaitans – always referring to their message or teaching, not to one or some few facts about them (2 Jn. 9; Rev. 2:14-15). Other New Testament writers uniformly do the same (Matt. 16:12; Mk. 7:7; Acts 2:42; 13:12; 1 Tim. 6:1; Tit. 2:10), as can be seen from the chart which follows (borrowed from Tom O’Neal in booklet on Bible Unity VS A `New Unity’ Movement, p. 4):
Doctrine of . . .
|a. God. 1 Tim. 6:1; Titus 2:10||Does doctrine of denote|
|b. Devils. 1 Tim. 4:1|
|c. Pharisees. Mt. 16:12||teaching about these or|
|d. Lord. Acts 13:12|
|e. Balaam. Rev. 2:14||teaching which originated|
|f. Nicolaitans. Rev. 2:15|
|g. Christ. 2 John 9-11||with them?|
REV. 2:14 shows the ‘doctrine of Balaam’ was what he ‘taught’
Greek scholars and commentators nearly always argue that “the doctrine of Christ” means “the doctrine which Christ brought, and which He brought first in His own person, and then through His followers,” because “the usage of the N.T. is uniformly in favor of” this meaning (Westcott, Epistles of St. John, p. 230). J.H. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament says, “the doctrine which has God, Christ, the Lord, for its author and supporter” (p. 144). “Not the teaching about Christ, but that of Christ which is the standard of Christian teaching,” says the famous grammarian A.T. Robertson (Word Pictures in the New Testament, VI:254). Rarely do conservative scholars limit “the doctrine of Christ” to some teaching about him. Only occasionally do scholars who are theological liberals. In any case, those who make this attempt are moved by “preconceived notions of what the author ought to have meant rather than of what his words indicate,” said A.E. Brooke in the liberal International Critical Commentary (The Johannine Epistles, p. 177).
“Gospel” and “doctrine” do not signify separate messages any more than “truth,” “Commandments,” “will,” and “word” do. Each synonym tells us something about the nature of the one message which the Lord gave and the Apostles relayed to us (1 Cor. 1:10; 2:2, 13; Gal. 1:8-9; Col. 1:5-6; Jude 3; Rev. 22:18-19). It is “gospel” or “good news” to the sinner in search of salvation, and is communicated to intelligent beings by teaching, therefore “doctrine” or “a thing taught.”
The Faith and Fellowship
5. Matters of the faith are matters of fellowship. John’s epistle shows that whatever is a matter of “the truth, ” “the commandments,” or “the doctrine of Christ” “the gospel” to be preached to every creature, “the faith once delivered to the saints” (Mk. 16:15; Jude 3) – is also a matter of fellowship. The whole point of the epistle is that our faith and practice determine whether we are in proper relationship with God and one another. The man who continues to act in violation of “the doctrine of Christ” is not received by God. God requires that we recognize this fact and not receive any such man.
Proponents of the “new unity” or grace-fellowship movement have often admitted that the New Testament pattern of truth requires something (such as immersion) or excludes something (such as church-sponsored recreation or instrumental music in worship). These men have said they will teach the thing required and shun the thing forbidden, but claim that those who sin in these matters are accepted by God in His grace. Therefore, those who sin are to be accepted as faithful brethren by faithful brethren, with the single exception that we not participate with them in a given sinful activity. John’s epistle contradicts these theories. Those who are violating the doctrine of Christ have not God and are to be rejected rather than received.
On a number of controverted questions not involving the terms of pardon or local church function, some brethren confidently affirm that such-and-such is bound by “the doctrine of Christ” just as certainly as are faith, repentance, and baptism or the work, worship, and organization of the churhc. But, when asked, these brethren say they do not intend to make this matter “a test of fellowship.” These matters are usually questions of personal conscience and choice which can be done or not done without affecting the practice of someone else who differs. May women ask questions in Bible classes? Must women wear a special religious garb during public worship? Only during public prayer or also during private devotion, Bible reading, and prayer? May individuals operate a school which includes Bible instruction? May they operate a business to publish gospel papers, tracts, workbooks, and the like? If so, can the business give away portions of its product for various purposes? Is it right to vote, hold public office, serve as a policeman, or enter the armed services? May Christians join labor unions? These are examples which periodically recur.
Not every religious differences is a matter of the faith and fellowship. We must say that all differences are matters of the faith and fellowship, none are, or else only some are. The last position is true. Issues of private, individual significance fall under the purvue of Romans 14. Each person is taught to keep his own conscience clear, to hold his convictions as private property rather than proclaiming them as gospel, to not cause those who differ to sin against their own conscience, and to generally promote mutual edification and peace. Where such matters are at issue, the command is to receive one another without regard to these differences. Where the doctrine of Christ is unquestionably involved, the command is to not receive the one who transgresses. The Bible nowhere teaches that a thing can be a matter of the faith without being a matter of fellowship with God and among His people.
6. This epistle also shows that fellowship has a general dimension in addition to the dimension of the local church. If a teacher has not God and cannot be received into our homes to extend aid and comfort, then obviously he could not be received with approbation into a local church, whether as a member or a travelling evangelist. But John deals with a dimension to brotherly relations which extends beyond the limits of local church action and beyond relations between members of a local church. He instructs the elect lady as to action in her own home and with reference to anyone – not just members of the local church where she worshipped – who might come to her home claiming right relationship with God and the brotherly privileges of that relationship (cf. 3 Jn. 5-8). Peter and Paul could exchange the right hands of fellowship in recognition of their common Father, common salvation, common message, and common work, though they were not members of the same local church (Gal. 2:9). We should not hesitate to apply the same principles today, both positively as to acknowledging and receiving brethren and negatively as to rejecting false brethren.
Some proponents of the new unity movement argue that fellowship is only a local church affair and; therefore, discussions in various journals and among brethren generally as to whether certain brethren with their doctrines can be received or fellowshipped are irrelevant, misguided, and ludicrous. In fact, such discussions reflect an unbiblical concept of fellowship, it is argued. Sometimes brethren who say that such-and-such an issue is a matter of the faith but not of the fellowship have found the above argument appealing. It has been used by some when asked if the matter they are pressing will be made a test of fellowship, and especially when asked, “Can you recognize me as sharing the same God, gospel, and salvation which you proclaim, though I differ from you on this point which you say pertains to `the faith’ but not `the fellowship’?” To avoid wrestling with this aspect of the question some respond, “Fellowship is only a local church affair; the question reflects unbiblical concepts of fellowship and I will not engage in such questions. Besides, if you were honestly studying the issue itself, you would not ask such a question.” The elect lady was taught by an Apostle that saints may face the question of unity and fellowship beyond the local church level. This is a valid and necessary concern with reference to the doctrine of Christ.
Deceivers Still Deny the Doctrine of Christ
7. There are still many false teachers who violate the specific element of the doctrine of Christ mentioned in verse 7. The man known in history as Jesus of Nazareth, who lived in the flesh some 33 years, is the Christ, the Son of the living God. His full Deity is denied by so-called Jehovah’s Witnesses who claim that Jesus Christ is a created “god.” The “oneness” branch of Pentecostalism claims that the Father is the Son, but John’s epistle speaks of “both the Father and the Son” as sharing the nature of God (vv. 3, 9). Theological modernism or liberalism compromises.when it does not forthrightly deny the full Deity of Jesus Christ.
8. John refers to the false teachers as deceivers, pointing to their subtle and seductive nature. In their efforts to expand the realm of unity, some brethren argue that we must receive anyone who professedly accepts Jesus Christ as Lord. If we protest that many claiming to accept Him do not abide in His teaching, we are told that John only meant to oppose self-proclaimed heretics. “Real heresy is so obvious as to be self-proclaiming: denial of the divinity and lordship of Jesus Christ . . . I will know he is an heretic and he will know – and I must not walk with him” (James W. Russell, Outreach, May-June 1980, p. 10; this journal has been asscoiated with the new unity movement since about mid-1970’s). To the contrary, 1 John shows that the subtle deceiver will confidently claim to walk in the light, to know God, to abide in Him, to obey the commands, to love God, and to love the brethren. Jesus said that some folks would falsely claim to accept His lordship (Matt. 7:21-23; Lk. 6:46).
9. 2 John 9-11 is for every age. People seeking to loose the restraints given by the Holy Spirit through John in verses 9-11 say that John for one reason or another gave a temporary rule which is a “bad law” if generally followed today (DeWette, C.H. Dodd, William Barclay, Leroy Garrett, and others). They caricature these verses as forbidding us under any circumstances to say, “Hello,” or to visit with those in error. But these verses are not talking about business or family obligations. The one thing forbidden is aiding the false teacher in the advance of his cause. Other folks have caricatured John or those who try to obey his letter as shutting out of the house every’brother who is confused, immature, or wrong on any point of Scripture. Division will come between every level of growth and over every difference of understanding, these critics cry. No, John specifies those who abide in sin, those who advocate and lead out in practicing some violation of New Testament teaching (see also 1 Jn. 3:4, 8-9). Simple misunderstading is not sin (see Rom. 14).
Making a cartoon caricature of John’s words will not make them go away. They are the teaching of Christ, revealed by the Holy Spirit, and necessary to fellowship with God and faithful saints. The problem is that some brethren would rather laugh at these verses than to obey them. Some folks are so super nice that they are nicer than the Apostles, nicer than God Himself! Of course, the super nice use super sharp fangs on those who, like John and the elect lady, consistently oppose their advance.
10. Let us ever abide in truth, love, and obedience by abiding in the doctrine of Christ. Let us ever keep before us the line of demarcation between whatever is clearly revealed in the teaching of Christ and what men have added as the agents of Satan. The terms for an alien sinner’s pardon are clearly stated – faith in Jesus, repentance from sin, confession of Jesus Christ, and water baptism for remission of sins. The new life of a Christian, the privileges of repentance and prayer when he errs, are written for all men of all ages to enjoy. The faith and practice of the New Testament church – its spiritual mission, simple worship, and local organization – are recorded too plainly to be missed: Let us never fear that the doctrine of Christ is beyond human understanding or ability.
Let us not be discouraged because the devil renews and repeats his efforts to lead the elect of God away from His Word. So it will be until time is no more. Let us fervently love God out of a pure heart and keep our eyes fastened on the full reward. Thus in eternity as in time, we shall have both the Father and the Son.
- Discuss the relationship between spiritual strength in the home and in the church.
- Why was it imperative for John to defend apostolic authority?
- John’s insistence on truth and obedience show a lack of love and spirituality. True or false? Discuss.
- Discuss the gospel-doctrine theory of the new unity movement, and what 2 John 9 teaches.
- John shows that what the doctrine of Christ teaches is not a matter of fellowship among brethren. True or false? Discuss.
- Practical application of fellowship is or is not limited to our relations in the local church? Discuss.
- Who are some modern teachers who violate the specific doctrine mentioned in verse 7?
- Are false teachers subtle and seductive or obvious and self-proclaimed?
- Verses 9-l 1 are “bad law” for us today. True or False? Discuss.
- How can we abide in truth, love, and obedience?
Guardian of Truth XXV: 16, pp. 244-247
April 16, 1981