By Herschel E. Patton
Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God: He that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son (2 Jn. 9).
The principle of “going onward” is not evil in and of itself. In fact, it is often used in a good and commendable way. The Macedonians were commended for going onward, or “beyond their power” in giving (2 Cor. 8:3). Christians are urged to “go on unto perfection” (Heb. 6:1). We often sing, “Onward Christian soldiers! Marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.”
The principle of this phrase may be either good or bad, depending upon what the going onward is to or from. In the text for this study (2 Jn. 9-11), the going onward is further explained as “abiding not in the teaching (doctrine) of Christ.” The teaching of Christ constitutes an enclosure, something fenced — hedged in, a pattern, beyond which one must not go. The text says of the doctrine of Christ to the preacher what God said to the sea, “Hitherto shall thou come, but no further” (Job 38:11). Going onward from the teaching of Christ, instead of “abiding in,” results in a forfeiture of one’s relationship with God — “hath not God.”
Some, even brethren, have sought to soften the prohibition of this passage by limiting the warning to the teaching of those “antichrists” who deny “that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.” In this passage, the Gnostics of that day (who taught that the body is unholy, as is all matter; so divinity [Christ] could not inhabit the flesh) are given as an example of “going onward.” All other cases of going beyond the teaching of Christ in any way would be within the limits of the principle of “going onward.”
Our text is not the only warning in Scripture of “going onward.” We are told to mark “them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them” (Rom. 16:17), and to withdraw from all who walk not after the traditions received from the apostles (2 Thess. 3:6,14). Paul said to Timothy, “Hold the pattern of sound words which thou hast heard from me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:13). Paul left Timothy in Ephesus to teach certain men not to teach a different doctrine, nor to give heed to fables (1 Tim. 1:3-4). The Galatians were told that if man or angel preached anything different from what Paul had preached, “he shall be anathema” (Gal. 1:8-9). John, the writer of Revelation, said, “If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city and from the things which are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18-19).
The teaching (doctrine) of Christ, as delivered by him and the inspired apostles (Jn. 16:13) is truth. Anything more or different from that which is divinely revealed is no part of truth. Those who would go onward from this, mock the wisdom of God and exalt the wisdom of men (1 Cor. 2:1-5).
Some who go onward seek to justify their action on the basis of not going very far — not like the “far out” ones. The evil warned against in this text is not determined by the distance or size of the “going onward” (an inch or mile), but by the attitude that leaves God’s revealed wisdom for man’s wisdom. The guilt is there when one decides to go onward, and does. The distance one goes may result in greater sorrow, havoc, and shame, but you are here seeing the actions of one who “hath not God.” The guilt and separation takes place when one first goes onward instead of abiding in the doctrine of Christ.
Going onward instead of abiding in the teaching of Christ; exchanging divine wisdom for human wisdom, truth for error, has been the cause of every apostasy that has occurred in the history of the church. Truth did not abide with the first churches very long. Soon, there grew up a feeling that human wisdom would serve the Cause better in organization than the simple order in New Testament churches — each church independent, with elders, deacons, and saints, subject to the head, Christ and his word.
Building on human wisdom, one elder in a congregation became “chief” over others, then an organization of the chief elder (bishop) from all the churches in a district, state, country was formed . . . until Catholicism, with its Pope, came to exist. All this, because brethren did not abide in the doctrine of Christ, but went “onward.”
After hundreds of years, Protestant denominationalism appeared, mostly through the protests of men against the corruptions and errors of Catholicism, and the pressing of various philosophies of men. None of these exists because of what Scripture says, but because of human philosophy and efforts.
During the 18th century the restoration movement (a plea to return to the New Testament order of things, and Bible authority) became very popular and successful. New Testament churches came to exist all across the land, as Bible authority for everything believed and practiced was preached, along with Bible warnings about “going onward.”
This success was soon followed by apostasy. This time it was a “going onward” in the introduction of missionary societies for evangelism, and instruments of music in worship.
The New Testament clearly reveals how churches did evangelistic work. Each church sent and supported preachers; sometimes more than one church sent to the same preacher. The missionary society was a separate organization from a local church, acting through a board of representatives from many churches, proposing to do evangelism for the churches. This was a “going onward.”
The New Testament repeatedly calls upon saints to “sing,” and gives examples of their “singing.” There is no command, inference, or example of saints using mechanical instruments in their praise unto God. To do so in going on-ward; beyond the teaching of Christ.
Still, another apostasy occurred within the last half century, involving institutionalism, sponsoring churches and the social gospel. These, as every apostasy, past, present or future, arise from “going onward and abiding not in the doctrine of Christ.”
Institutionalism, like the missionary society in evangelism, involves another organization for doing the work of churches in caring and edification (orphan/old folks home and colleges). The doctrine of Christ reveals local churches engaged in the work of evangelism, relieving the needy, and edifying, but nothing about churches planning, building, and managing institutions (organizations) for doing these things. All such organizations are outside the teaching of Christ (truth) and reflect a “going onward.”
The sponsoring church involves one church (group of elders) planning and carrying on a program or project, beyond the ability of that congregation, by soliciting money from many churches. Thus, the elders of one church oversee and direct the funds and work of many churches. There are cases where the sponsoring church elders, when their project has established other churches in a state or country, oversee a number of local churches — even holding the deed to their property. Of course, no such action can be found in the New Testament, even if you name it “cooperation.” Such exists because of a “going onward.”
The same thing is true of the social gospel: churches con-ducting businesses, providing recreation, entertainment, social functions, even building and equipping places for these activities. Such was never a function of New Testament churches, therefore, they are going onward.
Attempts at Justification
The history of apostasy is this: once the line is crossed, rapid progress is made in embracing other unscriptural things. At first, brethren with some consciousness of the need for scriptural authority, yet desire to do something unscriptural, will seek some Scripture that they think will justify the thing. They find dining and recreational facilities in the Bible word “fellowship” or “good works” passages. Trying to prove an unscriptural thing scriptural requires twisting and perverting Scripture. Serious study, debate, testing, and examination will expose all perversions and bring to light truth.
Brethren who “go onward” have been rebuffed and proven impotent in their efforts to prove their actions scriptural. Now, they have “A New Hermeneutic,” saying there is now set pattern or confines to the doctrine of Christ. They say you don’t need scriptural authority for all that you believe and practice, as long as it is good and not strictly forbidden.
The claim that 2 John 9-10 only refers to the teaching about Christ (“had not come in the flesh”) and not to the whole of his teaching, is an effort to destroy the idea that the doctrine of Christ is an enclosure, beyond which we must not go.
Others dismiss the importance of having scriptural authority by flippantly saying, “We do many things without Bible authority (church buildings, water fountains, rest rooms, baptistry, etc.”). This is a false statement. We do have Bible authority for these. Another article in this series will deal with general and specific authority — aids and expedients, so I will not deal with this matter here. Anyone offering such justification errs because of ignorance in this area.
There is no Scripture to justify “going onward and abiding not in the doctrine of Christ,” and no amount of human reasoning can remove the curse for so doing. “They have not God!
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 3, p. 22
February 4, 1993