‘Quietly Bringing in Destructive Sects’
“There will also be false teachers among you. These very ones will quietly bring in destructive sects.”—2 PETER 2:1.
1, 2. (a) What were all of Christendom’s churches originally? (b) So what questions merit our consideration?
ALL the churches of Christendom originally were sects. Some of these—notably the Church of Rome and the national Churches of Orthodoxy and Protestantism—claim primacy over the other so-called Christian denominations, which they contemptuously call sects. These historical facts have been presented in the two preceding articles.
2 However, some may ask: ‘Was a falling away from true Christianity actually foretold by Jesus Christ and his faithful apostles? Did they warn against following men who would create sects? Some 19 centuries ago, was it really necessary for Jesus’ true followers to be on guard against such divisive tendencies? And is the same vigilance needed today?’
Early Tendency to Form Sects
3, 4. (a) What warning did Jesus give, and what does this mean with regard to true Christianity? (b) What similar warning did Peter give?
3 In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stated: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few. Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:13-16, Revised Standard Version) No, Jesus Christ did not say that true Christianity would become a broad, easy, universal, or “catholic,” religion, suited to the “many.” It would be a hard, cramped road, found by only the “few.” These “few” were warned that seemingly harmless “false prophets” would try to sidetrack them onto the “easy” way “that leads to destruction.”
4 Over 30 years later the apostle Peter wrote: “There also came to be false prophets among the people [of Israel], as there will also be false teachers among you [Christians]. These very ones will quietly bring in destructive sects and will disown even the owner that bought them, bringing speedy destruction upon themselves. Furthermore, many will follow their acts of loose conduct, and on account of these the way of the truth will be spoken of abusively. Also, with covetousness they will exploit you with counterfeit words.”—2 Peter 2:1-3.
5. When did apostate “wolves” begin to appear, and how did they ‘quietly bring in destructive sects’?
5 “The way of the truth,” the way “that leads to life,” is the way of true Christianity. The “false prophets,” or “false teachers,” are the apostate ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’ who began to make their presence felt among the early Christians even before the death of Jesus’ apostles. (1 John 2:18, 19; 4:1-3) The apostle Paul also gave warning about such “oppressive wolves.” He identified them as men who would “rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves.” (Acts 20:29, 30) From the second half of the first century onward, these false teachers ‘quietly brought in destructive sects,’ exploiting the early Christians “with counterfeit words.” Because of these apostates, “the way of the truth,” true Christianity, was “spoken of abusively.”
Some Early Sects
6. How does the book of Revelation show that apostate sects had already appeared by the end of the first century, and why were they hated by Christ?
6 In the Revelation received by the apostle John about 96 C.E., he records a series of divinely inspired messages reflecting the spiritual conditions then prevailing within the Christian congregations and that could reoccur down through history. Two of these messages reveal the existence of apostate sects that were hated by Christ, the head of the true Christian congregation. Apparently, at least one of these sects tolerated idolatry and fornication.—Revelation 2:6, 14, 15.
7. How do Paul’s letters show that the fight against sectarianism was already going on in his day?
7 Several of the apostle Paul’s letters, written much earlier, indicate that he already had to put up a hard fight against the tendency to form sects. In his first letter to the Christians in Corinth, Paul deplored their inclination to follow men, because it resulted in “dissensions” and “divisions.” (1 Corinthians 1:10-13; 3:1-4) He expressed similar concern in his letters to the Galatians (1:6-9; 5:19-21), to Titus (3:9, 10) and to Timothy.—1 Timothy 1:3-7; 4:1-3; 6:20, 21; 2 Timothy 4:3, 4.
8. What did the Gnostics believe, and why did they cause “the way of the truth” to be “spoken of abusively”?
8 Some Bible scholars are of the opinion that in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians and, more particularly, in his letter to the Ephesians and to the Colossians, he purposely used certain Greek words (such as gnoʹsis, knowledge, and pleʹro.ma, fullness) in order to refute gnosticism. However that may be, Paul was certainly combating apostate ideas that were later developed by the Gnostic sects. The Gnostics, who flourished during the second century C.E., were dualists, believing that all matter is evil and that spirit is good. They held that salvation comes through mystical “knowledge” (gnoʹsis). Their belief that the fleshly body is evil led them to either of two extremes: asceticism or fleshly indulgence. So-called Christian gnosticism did much to cause “the way of the truth” to be “spoken of abusively.”
9. Name and describe other early sects of apostate Christianity.
9 Among other early sects were the Marcionites, the followers of Marcion, the son of an apostate Christian “bishop” in Asia Minor. Marcion believed in two gods, an imperfect “Old Testament” God and a God of love revealed in the “New Testament,” or, rather, in those parts of it that he accepted (some of the writings of Paul and Luke). Another second-century sect was Montanism. Montanus was a “prophet” from Asia Minor who preached the imminent second coming of Christ and the setting up of the New Jerusalem in Pepuza, near the modern city of Ankara, Turkey. He also criticized the increasing power and moral laxity of the clergy class of apostate Christianity. Tertullian became a Montanist. Two other protest movements against moral laxity among so-called Christians and against leniency toward apostates were the third-century Novatians and the fourth-century Donatists. However, both of these schismatic groups accepted the chief doctrinal errors of the older established churches.
“The Man of Lawlessness” Gets Organized
10. Who should be included among the “false teachers” who ‘quietly brought in destructive sects’?
10 All these sects, and others that have not been mentioned, were varieties of apostate Christianity. But the men who created them were not the only “false teachers” who ‘quietly brought in destructive sects.’ (2 Peter 2:1-3) Peter also foretold that ‘many would follow their acts of loose conduct.’ We have just seen that some of these early sects were created to protest against the loose conduct of the dominant clergy class. So these clergymen should also be numbered among the “false teachers” and their churches considered “destructive sects.”
11. What new class was beginning to lift itself up, and how had Paul foretold this?
11 As already noted, all these apostate sects were contending for supremacy. Each sought to be considered the one and only “orthodox,” “apostolic” and “catholic (universal)” church and, in turn, treated the others as mere heretical sects. At the same time, within the larger, more powerful churches, a clergy class was endeavoring to lift itself up above the rest of the flock. Speaking of this apostasy and the emergence of a dominating clergy class, the apostle Paul wrote: “Let no one seduce you in any manner, because [the day of Jehovah] will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness gets revealed, the son of destruction. He is set in opposition and lifts himself up over everyone who is called ‘god’ or an object of reverence, so that he sits down in the temple of The God, publicly showing himself to be a god.”—2 Thessalonians 2:2-4.a
12. (a) What is “the man of lawlessness,” and when was this “man” fully revealed? (b) What steps led to the full development of the clergy class? (c) Describe the hierarchy system.
12 This apostasy was “already at work” in Paul’s day. However, it became fully revealed only after the death of Jesus’ true apostles, when the “restraint” of their presence was removed. (2 Thessalonians 2:6, 7) Little by little, a clergy class began to appear. In the early second century C.E., Ignatius, “bishop” of Antioch, wrote about a three-grade hierarchy of bishops, presbyters (priests) and deacons. “The man of lawlessness” was beginning to take shape. But the “church father” who really got the clergy class organized into a hierarchy system was Cyprian, “bishop” of Carthage, North Africa, who died in 258 C.E. The authoritative Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique states that Cyprian outlined a monarchical seven-grade hierarchy, the supreme position being occupied by the bishop. Under him were priests, deacons, subdeacons, acolytes (servers), lectors (readers) and exorcists. An eighth grade—porter, or doorkeeper—was later added in the Western, Latin, or Roman, Church, whereas the Eastern, or Greek, Church settled for a five-grade hierarchy. Thus, by the third century C.E. the composite “man of lawlessness,” the apostate Christian clergy class, was fully “revealed.” It has continued on down through the centuries in all the churches and sects of Christendom that have a special ministry or clerical class.
“Destructive Sects” at the Time of the End
13. In what two ways do the sects of Christendom prove to be “destructive”?
13 In the original Greek, Peter’s expression “destructive sects” literally means “sects of destruction.” This expression is doubly significant. The sects and churches of Christendom have proved to be destructive of pure Christianity, “the way of the truth.” They are also “sects of destruction” in that their false teachers are “bringing speedy destruction upon themselves” and upon those who “follow their acts of loose conduct.” Peter adds: “But as for them [the false teachers], the judgment from of old is not moving slowly, and the destruction of them is not slumbering.” (2 Peter 2:1-3) Such “speedy destruction” will come upon them at the fast-approaching “great tribulation.”—Matthew 24:21.
14. When will “the man of lawlessness” be destroyed, and what will such destruction prove?
14 Showing that the composite “man of lawlessness” would not be destroyed until the time of Christ’s “presence,” the apostle Paul wrote: “The lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will do away with by the spirit of his mouth and bring to nothing by the manifestation of his presence [pa.rou.sías].” (2 Thessalonians 2:8) Yes, the destruction of the clerical “man of lawlessness” class, along with the rest of Satan’s Babylonian religious empire, will come as a remarkable “manifestation” of Christ’s “presence,” or Parousia, proving to friend and enemy alike that the Lord Jesus is invisibly present and that the foretold “great tribulation” has begun.
A Warning to True Christians
15. What warning for Christians is contained in Jesus’ illustration of the wheat and the weeds?
15 Jesus’ illustration of the wheat and the weeds showed that the churches and sects of the “weeds,” or apostate Christians, would be allowed to grow throughout the centuries. Only at “the conclusion of the system of things” would a clear distinction be made between these sham Christians and the true “sons of the kingdom,” the “wheat.” (Matthew 13:24-30, 37-40) However, Jesus’ parable also contains a warning to true Christians, whether they be anointed “sons of the kingdom” or their companions. Jesus stated: “The Son of man will send forth his angels, and they will collect out from his kingdom all things that cause stumbling and persons who are doing lawlessness, and they will pitch them into the fiery furnace. There is where their weeping and the gnashing of their teeth will be.”—Matthew 13:41, 42.
16. (a) What separating work has continued since 1919? (b) What further warning did the apostles give, and what comment did Jude add?
16 The “wheat” has been separated from the “weeds” in the religious field since 1919. However, this does not mean that since then the angels of the Son of man have not continued to “collect out from his kingdom all things that cause stumbling and persons who are doing lawlessness.” Jude reminds us that “the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ” gave the following warning: “In the last time there will be ridiculers, proceeding according to their own desires for ungodly things.” And Jude added: “These are the ones that make separations [cause divisions, Today’s English Version].”—Jude 17-19.
17. What did Jesus say concerning the “evil slave”?
17 What Jesus said would occur to the lawless ones who “cause stumbling” reminds us of what he later stated about those who would refuse to recognize “the faithful and discreet slave,” the “wheat” class of anointed Christians whom Christ would ‘appoint over all his belongings.’ Jesus warned: “But if ever that evil slave should say in his heart, ‘My master is delaying,’ and should start to beat his fellow slaves and should eat and drink with the confirmed drunkards, the master of that slave will come on a day that he does not expect and in an hour that he does not know, and will punish him with the greatest severity and will assign him his part with the hypocrites. There is where his weeping and the gnashing of his teeth will be.”—Matthew 24:45-51.
18. (a) How do some today manifest the traits of the “evil slave”? (b) How will they end up if they continue to “cause divisions”?
18 Today some disloyal ones manifest the traits of “that evil slave” by saying in their heart, “My master is delaying.” They identify themselves with the “ridiculers” who say: “Where is this promised presence of his?” (2 Peter 3:1-7) As Jude warned, they try to “cause divisions.” (Jude 19, TEV) By criticizing “the faithful and discreet slave” class from whom they first gained their knowledge of “the way of the truth,” they ‘start to beat their fellow slaves.’ But if they persist in their divisive attitude, in due time they are ‘collected out’ by the angels and ‘assigned their part with the hypocrites’ of Christendom. ‘There is where they weep and gnash their teeth,’ sometimes by airing supposed grievances through the public media.
19. (a) What did Paul say about “sects” among God’s people? (b) How can we establish ourselves as being “persons approved”?
19 This reminds us of what Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “For there must also be sects among you, that the persons approved may also become manifest among you.” (1 Corinthians 11:19) Yes, if any today try quietly to “bring in destructive sects” among Jehovah’s Witnesses, this provides a fine opportunity for loyal Christians to prove themselves to be “persons approved” by God and Christ. They can and must show that they appreciate true Christian unity. This unity will be discussed in the following article.
a For a full discussion of “the man of lawlessness,” please see chapter 18 of the book God’s Kingdom of a Thousand Years Has Approached, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
Do You Recall?
□ When and how did Christendom’s apostasy begin?
□ Who or what is “the man of lawlessness”?
□ In what ways are the churches of Christendom “destructive”?
□ What warning does Jesus give about the “evil slave”?
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Jesus warned that false prophets are like wolves in sheep’s clothing
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False Christians are like “weeds” fit only for destruction