Shepherds, Wolves, and the Internet


If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works. II John 1:10-11

What the ESV translates as “take part in” is the Greek work koineneo. It means to be in communion with someone. We are not to allow a heretical false teacher into our churches or into homes. We are not to greet them. We are not show them hospitality.  We are not to support them in any way financially or otherwise. They are to be rejected. If we do support them we participate in their wicked deeds by helping them to spread their deceit.

As I studied this passage, I reflected on how to apply these verses in our internet age. Should I link to a book by a Christian saying homosexuality is fine? Should I link to Rachel Held Evans, who lies almost every time she hits the keyboard? Should a Christian university allow a Mormon to speak when he uses the term “Jesus” but means something heretical by it? Should a  Oneness Pentecostal be invited to a Christian conference? Are these things violations of John’s commands? 

I have not sorted this all out, but I did come to a couple of conclusions based on reading John’s command in II John 1:10-11. 

First, we must determine boundaries for  what is heresy and apostasy and what is not. Sometimes this is easy. A Mormon is not a Christian, no matter how popular. A person who denies the Trinity is a heretic. A practicing adulterer who refuses to repent is not a Christian. Sometimes this is not so easy. Does a denial of the infallibility of the Scriptures, a semi-Pelagian view of salvation, acceptance of sodomy while not practicing it, a belief that Hell does not exist, or  a belief in purgatory constitute heresy? The answer is, “Maybe.”  The reason this is hard is two fold; First, the lines are blurry and often require careful discussion and distinction. Hence the need for theology, confessions, and well trained ministers. Second, false shepherds thrive in ambiguity. They know there is legitimate wiggle room in theology and ethics. They use that truth to teach or practice lies while claiming they are within the box of orthodoxy. They do not see themselves as false shepherds. They will do everything they can to fight the label. Faithful pastors must work hard to know where the lines are and when a teacher has crossed a line in either doctrine or practice. Some would argue that the Creeds (Apostles’ and Nicene) are sufficient to determine heresy. There is some truth here. A man who denies a part of the Creeds is a heretic. However, the creeds are not air tight and do not address many of the ethical issues. A homosexual, serial adulterer, thief, or drunkard can hold to the Creeds.  A man can hold to the Creeds and believe the Holy Spirit is a woman, that unbelievers don’t go to Hell, or that baptism automatically saves you. Heresy or ethical apostasy can take root even when the Creeds are believed and recited.  Creeds can help us define the broad contours of orthodoxy, but they are not sufficient because men have hearts that want to claim orthodoxy and still cling to their idols. 
Second, we must determine if someone is a wayward sheep or a false shepherd. Usually wayward sheep need to be warned and protected though they will at times need to be dealt with more harshly. False shepherds (wolves) need to be driven away. A failure to make this distinction has often led to wolves getting away easy and sheep being beaten to death. Pastors need to distinguish between the two groups. A teacher, unofficial or not (see below), should be rebuked publicly and challenged. A wayward sheep is in a different category. Who counts as a teacher is another question to ask. I am an ordained minister who went through examinations and was approved by a group of pastors and by my presbytery. That does not automatically make me orthodox, but it does make me an official teacher in my denomination. But what about someone who got their pastoral license for $25 online? Or what about the man whose only qualifications to teach is that he has email address, watched a few lectures, read a few books, and now blogs? There are many who blog, pod-cast, speak, and write who are not official teachers, especially women. They would even say they are not teachers. Does that mean that pastors can ignore them because they aren’t official or ordained? It is convenient to ignore these online teachers. But it is folly and cowardice. Many  in our congregations look more to bloggers and unofficial leaders than they do their own pastors and elders. Someone does not have to be an official teacher to fall under John’s condemnation.
Third, shepherds should be reluctant to expose our sheep to wolves. As shepherds we are the ones equipped to battle the lies and heresies out there. We should read false teachers so we might understand their lies, expose them, and rebuke them publicly. That is our job and what we are trained for. We should  not allow our sheep to go read them and sort it out for themselves. There are exceptions of course.  But it is hard to imagine John encouraging the congregation to read false teachers and decide for themselves what was true, sending his congregation to a blog where lies masquerade as truths, or paying false teachers money to be at a conference. This is not easy in our Internet age, but as shepherds we need to make sure we are not inadvertently promoting the wolves.