By Tom Roberts
In our text (Eph. 4:27), Christians are warned not to “give place” to the Devil. “Place” is from topos (Gk.), meaning “1. prop. any portion of space marked off, as it were, from surrounding space” (Thayer, p. 628). This use is applied variously to any inhabited or uninhabited place, of a spot where one may settle or abide, the place which a person or thing occupies or has a right to. Metaphorically, it carries the idea of “opportunity, power, occasion for acting.”
As used by Paul in Ephesians 4:27, it carries the effect of warning against allowing the Devil an “Opportunity, power, or occasion for acting.” Surely, the idea is that we are not to allow Satan a “place in our space.” We are not to allow him to gain an advantage against us by permitting either space or opportunity for him to work his evil, for we are “not ignorant of his devices” (2 Cor. 2:11). We understand this with thieves and robbers. We don’t leave our doors open and invite them into our house. No one would go to bed at night with a rapist or mass murderer in his guest room, much less as invited company! But we often provide a safe haven within our midst to Satan whereby he can work his evil from within and actually provide him a place or opportunity to work against the truth, against fellowship, against local autonomy, against weak brethren, against faithful preaching. Let me explain.
I recently was given a copy of a taped class conducted by a well known preacher. At the time this copy was given to me, I was warned that the class was “private” and that copies were not to be made, The well known preacher has conducted gospel meetings throughout the country but has his membership in a local church in a southern Texas city. This “private class,” however, was not conducted with members of the congregation wherein he holds membership. This class was with members of another congregation in the same city. In the course of the “private class,” error was taught concerning the divorce issue which would result in divorce being permitted for every cause (“if one is loosed, both are loosed”). Herein lies the dilemma. A teacher of false doctrine uses the cover of a “private class” to teach error and then draws the curtain of secrecy about his actions, claiming privacy and confidentiality. This class is conducted with members of another congregation, without the invitation or knowledge of the local elders. But the teacher is “safe.” Anyone who would dare to make the tape public has defied the code of silence and is worthy of rebuke. In the meantime, a “place” or “opportunity” has been given to the Devil so that unwary souls may be (and have been!) taught doctrines that will cause them to lose their souls.
It is understood that gospel preaching is not bound by congregational lines and that an eldership does not have to censor what local members read or study. However, another dimension is added to this when the cloak of confidentiality is invoked whereby the teaching members receive is kept from view, carefully screened from open investigation and free discussion. The teacher creeps in surreptitiously, does his damage, asks for the special privilege of secrecy and goes on his way. Sadly, the evil effects remain behind only to surface at a later time when those infected spread the error to others within the congregation.
Apostolic Warning Against This Practice
We have been warned against this device of the Devil, that of private teachers of error who creep among brethren to spread their error under the cover of darkness. Note Paul’s warning in Galatians 2:4: “And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage. . . ” Peter also sounded the alarm in 2 Peter 2:1: “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.”
Someone might well bring up the objection that it is necessary for gospel preachers and Bible students to have classes in privacy on various occasions. All of this is true and acceptable. However, the element that makes it wrong and increases danger is that the teacher is not willing to face the consequences of his teaching. He comes and goes quiet ly and secretly. He covers his doctrine with the special plea of keeping it confidential. He may be well known or nameless, a legend in his own time or in his own mind. Nevertheless, the danger is not in his right to teach but in the pleading for special privilege that is made. “Give me a place” to teach what I believe but don’t tell anyone what I have done. Under this guise, false teachers of all generations have done their dirty work and we have an unwritten code that condemns their exposure.
“But Brother ________ doesn’t teach his error publicly,” we are told. “He only teaches it in private.”
I ask: Where is the principle that allows error to have a place among us, either in public or private? Yes, anyone has a right to teach what he believes. Yes, that is true of public teaching or private teaching. But we have a right to withstand it, especially if that doctrine is going to be planted within the congregation where I live and if I believe that doctrine endangers the souls of my brethren. And that right of opposition is taken from us when we give place to false teaching. What I object to is the practice that has been urged upon us in recent years of allowing a teacher to spread his doctrine without open discussion and confrontation.
We are told that certain ones have been preaching longer than some of their critics have been alive.
We are told that the many years of faithful service gives one a right (place) to privately teach his error.
We are told that anyone who dares to expose to public view a teaching (class, etc.) that was confined to a private arrangement is guilty of chicanery and treachery.
We are told, in other words, that error has “a certain place” among us.
Would to God that we had more the attitude of Paul when he came to Jerusalem to lay before the Judaizing teachers the gospel that was entrusted to him. He said: “But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man’s person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat, in conference added nothing to me” (Gal. 2:6). Those “who were reputed to be pillars” (v. 9) retreated in the face of truth.
We need more like Hezekiah who, when faced with the idolatrous worship of the brazen serpent made by Moses in the Wilderness, broke it into pieces without ceremony, calling it “Nehushtan,” or “that brazen thing” (2 Kgs. 18:4).
In other words, we need brethren who will give “no place to the Devil” so that he may invade hearts with error. Brethren, let us examine anew our unwritten practice that error has a place among us so long as it is taught in secret, with confidentiality. Do we really want to give Satan this advantage?
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 19, pp. 579-580
October 1, 1992