I’ve written a couple of articles reflecting on the way that we have built up immunity to COVID-19 and how this reminds me of the old adage that we can “give people just enough religion to inoculate them against the real thing.”
Well, of course we are meant to think about vaccination and immunisation as a positive thing. We don’t want to be immunised against good and helpful stuff, we want to build up immunity against dangerous things, viruses, bacterial diseases, poisons. So, it would be helpful to think from the other side too. What does it mean for us to inoculate/immunise against the danger of false teaching?
The initial danger from COVID came because it was this novel virus that our immune systems were unprepared for it. So, this little virus got into our bodies and what at first felt like a minor irritant -a persistent cough became more and more serious for many as the illness attacked the body and the body struggled to fight back.
Incidentally, this helps us to think about how false teaching works. Have you noticed how often the error will start with something seemingly innocuous like “could Jesus have got married?” On the one level it seems pretty trivial, does it really matter. Another example is the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their obsession with insisting that Jesus died on a stake not a cross. At one level, it doesn’t seem to matter too much, the shape of the instrument of execution appears to be a trivial issue. It is helpful then to ask the question “so why are they making such a fuss of ir?”
The answer is that this is the first attack of the infection – like that moment when you get a cough and sore throat. The aim is to undermine people’s trust in God’s Word, faithfully taught. Once you’ve accepted that there are question marks here, on something that seems trivial, then you start to question other things.
If I can’t be sure about the shape of the object Jesus died on, then can I be sure about the shape of the results of his death? If Jesus didn’t really die on a cross, maybe he didn’t die in my place as a substitute for my sin. Maybe he was just offering a good example.
If Jesus married and had children, then that also implies that this wasn’t someone who came specifically to die. We now have a man claiming to be king whose kingdom can be continued through his physical line of descendants. Once again, we are taken away from the power and purpose of the Cross.
So, how do we protect the church from this kind of attack on the body? Well, as with coronavirus, the problem comes when we are unprepared for something novel and surprising. Therefore the answer is that we protect the church by preparing it for attack. We do this in two ways. We do it by alerting people to the nature of false teaching so that they can quickly recognise it. That’s why I’ve spent a little bit of time responding to a specific example here. At the same time we do it by teaching the truth of the real Gospel. Once you’ve encountered Christ and the Gospel, once you have the real thing then why would you give it up for something false?