Who Are Untaught and Unstable Ones of 2Peter 3: 16?
"... as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. 2Pet.3:16 NASB."
As we will see, being untaught and/or unstable is what sets the stage for one to distort the Word of God.
Granted, these distortions are more times than not unintentional and are passed along with the best of intentions by sincere persons. The problem is that sincere promoters can be sincerely wrong.
A bullet fired in ignorance by people who think that they are doing right can be just as lethal as the one that is fired with malicious intent.
Before his conversion, Saul (later named Paul) sincerely believed that his divine mission in life was to destroy the developing church of Jesus Christ.
Jesus warned His followers (then and now) that there would be those who would sincerely believe that they would be doing a service to God by killing them (John 16: 2).
“Church” is only one of many locations where a person can be presented with the Gospel Message and the accompanying opportunity to be saved. This of course is providing that it is the unadulterated Gospel Message that is being presented in the “Church” of one’s choice. Note that one can be presented with the Gospel Message anywhere that God the Holy Spirit selects.
Never-the-less, connecting with the type of local assembly/ministry that God commissioned (Matt. 28: 19, 20) is a significant part of the post (after) salvation spiritual life of discipleship. To their own hurt (2Pet. 3: 16), there are many born again believers within the Christian Community that for various reasons choose not to gather together (Hebrews 10: 25) on a regular basis.
In some cases there are no local assemblies in their geographical area of the type that is capable of satisfying their increasing appetite for the accurate teaching of the Word of God. This is a sad, but true state of affairs in many local assemblies WITHIN the Christian Community at the present time. This was precisely what 1Timothy 4: 1 and 2Tim. 4: 3, 4 said would happen.
In such cases, the believers who desire to obey 2Pet. 3:18 are forced to seek their spiritual edification by ways and means outside of what would otherwise have been their chosen local assembly.
These ways and means can consist of, but not limited to, television, radio, Internet, DVDs, CDs, tracks, books, and other written materials.
Some are fearful to do so, as they soon become well aware of all the different teachings that are offered within and outside of the Christian Community.
Q. When there are conflicting answers, how is one to know which one has gotten it right?
A. The Biblically (Acts 17: 11) prescribed means to verify the truthfulness and accuracy of these ways and means is the same means for determining the truthfulness and accuracy of what comes from the traditional pulpit.
“Now these (believers) were more noble-minded that those (believers) in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things (being taught) were so (Acts 17: 11 NASB italics mine).”
When the Acts 17: 11 incident took place, much of what would later become New Testament Scripture had not even been written yet.
Many Church Age believers in our time have the advantage (and accountability-Luke 12: 48) of having access to the completed Canon of Scripture. For those who have access, being and/or remaining among the untaught ones of 2Pet. 3: 16 is a choice that they make.
Having a Bible and a Biblically-qualified pastor teacher is what God’s plan for Church that He designed is all about. Unlike in the case of the Old Testament dispensation, the physical building (if any) and/or location is not of primary concern.
Especially in times of apostasy, if one has the Bible/pastor combination, thank God for it! Many risked or gave up life and limb for you to have this advantage.
Obviously, such things as television, radio, internet, and written materials were not available when Heb. 10:25 (commanding physical attendance) was written. Scripture must be interpreted in light of the time and age in which the various passages were inspired.
There are benefits such as fellowship, support, and opportunities to provide or to receive services that one can secure by gathering together on a regular basis in the environment of the traditional local assembly. There are many who primarily go to a local assembly to experience or to receive such benefits.
But like going to a high class restaurant with all the amenities, it won’t satisfy one’s nutritional needs if the “menu” is lacking. It’s been said that it is the chef that “makes” the restaurant. I say that it is the quality of the pastor teacher that “makes” the local assembly. Not all pastor teachers are Biblically qualified, and not all they are so-qualified function as Scripture demands.
Deficiency in the pulpit will lead to "lukewarm" members of the congregation.
Lukewarm (Rev. 3: 15-17) “Church-goers” are destined to become or to remain among the untaught and/or unstable ones of 2Pet. 3: 16.
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot not cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are (spiritually) miserable and poor and blind and naked… (Rev. 3: 15-17 NASB).”
This “spitting out of My mouth” refers to rejection as disciples, NOT the loss of salvation.
No one is in a position to pass judgment on the quality of a fellow believer’s post salvation spiritual life (Romans 14: 4), but this does not mean that we are not to try to mutually edify each other (Ezekiel 33: 6/Romans 14: 19). There are some ‘non-church going” believers that exhibit a more accurate understanding and application (James 1: 22) of Scripture than do many that attend local assemblies on a regular basis.
In times of apostasy (1Tim. 4: 1), Biblically qualified and functioning pastor teachers can be a hard find. Compromises in doctrine are made to obtain or to retain church attendance and the financial support that they bring to the local assembly. Pastors water down their teaching in the interests of "job security."
Q. How important is accurate doctrine?
A. Jesus taught that just a little leaven (false teaching) impacts the whole loaf (Matt. 16: 6, 11, 12/1Cor. 5:6/Gal. 5:9).
"My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge (accurate doctrine), I also will reject you from being My priest (spokesman). Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children (Hosea 4: 6 NASB italics mine)."
During periods of apostasy many local assemblies become dysfunctional.
A dysfunctional pulpit is one that fails to supply its listeners with the doctrine and guidance that they need in order for them to continue to grow in the 2Pet. 3:18 knowledge and the James 1:22 application of the Word of God.
Many dysfunctional local assemblies provide socialization, entertainment, and/or opportunities to engage in humanitarian and environmental projects. There is a time and a place for such things, but the primary internal work that God commissioned (Matt. 28: 19, 20) His Church to do was to make disciples out of those who have been born again.
A disciple is one who is taught (2Pet. 3:18) and applies (James 1: 22) the Word of God. One cannot apply what one has not been taught. It is the pastor's job to teach, and it is the job of the individual members of the congregation to apply the Word of God.
Merely walking through the doors of a gym on a regular basis does not (in of itself) get one in shape. Merely walking through the doors of a Church does not get one saved, nor does it advance one in the post salvation spiritual life of discipleship. It takes ongoing participation in the right program. As in the case of developing and maintaining the level of one’s physical condition, it takes adequate nutrition, exercise, and rest to develop and maintain one's level of spiritual maturity, as well.
Spiritual nutrition comes from feeding on the Word of God. There is a lot of “junk food” out there being promoted in the name (authority) of religion that is no more than traditions of men (Matt. 15: 9) that have evolved within the Christian Community at large.
Spiritual exercise comes from the application of the word of God.
Spiritual rest comes from setting aside and spending quiet time with God.
Not all gyms (local assemblies) offer the same programs. Not all trainers (pastor teachers) are equally qualified (2Tim. 2: 24).
Religious seminaries produce religious graduates that, in turn, serve the interests of the religious organization that trained and ordained them for this very purpose. Determining what is religious (from men) and what is spiritual (from God) is the first step along the road of Biblical discipleship.
When an edified believer is asked if he/she is a “religious” person, his/her response should be that he/she certainly hopes not! This may open the door of opportunity to explain the critical difference between religion and spirituality. The lake of fire (Rev. 20: 15) is going to be filled with religious souls that were never born again (John 3: 5, 7).
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If the existing pulpit is doing its job, there should not be any need for a search committee to go outside of a local assembly to secure and to ordain Biblically-qualified pastoral candidates. It is a part of the present pastor’s job to identify, encourage, and train pastoral candidates within the congregation (2Tim. 2: 2) that he serves.
The only difference between a pastoral candidate and any other spiritually mature member of the congregation is that the candidate has been called and gifted by God to serve as a pastor teacher, and that he meets and maintains the additional requirements for the position as documented in Scripture.
Once Biblically qualified and ordained, God may call him to be an assistant pastor in his present local assembly, or to replace the existing pastor who is leaving the pulpit for one reason or another.
God may also call the newly ordained pastor to begin a new ministry elsewhere.
In my own situation, after being ordained, God called me to establish my pulpit on the Internet. (See Why an Internet pulpit? presentation for more details).
Note that although the functions of pastors, evangelists, and missionaries often overlap, the target group of missionaries and evangelists are people who have not yet been born again, whereas the target group of a pastor teacher is a congregation (or reading/listening audience) that has already been born again and desires to advance in the post salvation spiritual life of discipleship.
Only to the extent that what clergy do that is consistent with the Word of God do they serve God and their congregations.
Apostate clergy are unwittingly powerful tools in the hands of the devil. Having been deceived themselves, they become the (Matt. 5: 14) blind leading the blind heading for the pit. Like the Pharisees of (Matt. 15: 12), many apostate clergy are among the highly educated and very religious groups, but never-the-less are among the untaught being spoken of in 2Pet. 3: 16.
Like a runner in a torch-relay race, no pastor, no parent, no family member, no friends can pass down or along to others anything that he/she does not first possess for him/herself.
Keeping the torch (accurate doctrine) out of the hands of the runners is clearly a part of the devil’s strategy, here in the Church Age.
As the born-again believer advances in the post salvation spiritual life of discipleship, it will become painfully clear that some of the denominational and non-denominational local assemblies are clearly more in line with Scripture than others (Rev. 2/Rev. 3).
Many of the issues addressed in Rev. 2 and Rev. 3 are the same issues that exist in the local assemblies of our time.
Many of the epistles that became New Testament Scripture were initially letters that were written to various groups and local assemblies to address sin, false doctrine, and false practices WITHIN the Christian Community.
The need to address ongoing sin, false doctrine, and false practices WITHIN the Christian Community has always been, is now, and will always be there.
There is a tendency to see the faults of other believers and other local assemblies while being blind to our own.
There is not one believer, one local assembly, one ministry, or one denomination that has not been influenced by the religious traditions of men (Matthew 15:9). The question is not "if," but rather "to what extent" Matt. 15: 9 applies to any given local assembly!
“But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men (Matt. 15: 9 NASB).”
“Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as (if they were) commands from God (Matt. 15: 9 NLT italics mine).”
Most everyone has “an” answer, but no one, this side of Heaven, will always ever have all the right answers to spiritual issues.
The “this is our faith” response is a copout offered when religious clergyman cannot explain the differences between what is found (or not found) in Scripture and what is promoted in the teachings and practices that they embrace.
Throughout the entire course of one's post salvation spiritual life, we all remain to be a work in progress. There is not one thing about God or the things of God that we know, understand, and apply today that we did not learn through someone else. Accordingly, there was a time when we were just as ignorant as anyone else, and there will never come a time this side of Heaven when we know it all!
For many of us, our “knowledge” of God and or the things of God are only as accurate and reliable as the persons from whom we received it. Discipleship is an eye-opening experience when one learns when and by who whom the religious traditions of men that we have been taught came into the picture.
Everything on which that the “fingerprints” of Man are found will inevitably found to be compromised. The translation, interpretation and application of Scripture are no exception.
In God's timing, everything that God actually communicated through His Word will take place.
The operative word here is “actually.”
I say this because what God’s Word actually has to say and what Man’s interpretation and application of God’s Word has had to say has been, is now, and will often be quite different. It is not Scripture, but it is our interpretation or our application of Scripture that is often in need of correction.
By adding just a little bit to it; overlooking/ignoring a little bit of it; or selectively quoting/applying only a part of it, the Bible can be made to appear to say just about anything that a clever speaker desires.
Note that the woman (Eve) was deceived and when the Lord Jesus Christ was tempted, the controversy was over the content or the meaning of what God had said (Gen. 3: 4, 5/Matt. 4: 6).
In the case of Eve, the devil flat out denied the truthfulness (Gen. 3: 4), and implied a hidden motivation (Gen. 3: 5). In the case of the Lord Jesus Christ, the devil used selective quoting (Matt. 4:6). The devil succeeded in the case of Even, but failed in the case of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Throughout the course of human history, the devil continues to have considered success (Rev. 12: 9) by disputing, denying, or misapplying the Word of God. He does this by first deceiving, and then by promoting those he deceives to positions (clergy/patents) with religious authority and input (Luke 2: 26). The congregations and family members of the one's deceived become the new generation of the untaught ones of 2Pet. 3: 16.
As we noted earlier, there is usually no malicious intent on the part of those who have been deceived or untaught, but what they promote can still cause destruction. Once a “tradition of men” has been accepted as having come from God it is very difficult to correct the damage that it causes.
One of the issues I have with organized religion is that many follow a liturgical calendar. This liturgical calendar predetermines what part(s) of Scripture is to be read on during each worship service throughout the course of any given year. This selection also determines what is to be the subject matter of the homily/sermon on any given day of worship. In some denominations, the priest must first secure permission from a superior to do otherwise.
The upside to the theological approach is that over the course of each year, the pulpit “touches base” with all the elementary teachings (Heb. 6: 6) of the faith.
We are reminded of the manger during Advent, the cross during Lent, and the resurrection on Easter. We honor mothers on Mother’s Day and fathers on Father’s Day. These are all fundamental teachings that a born again believer should acknowledge and bring into remembrance (1Cor. 11: 23, 24) on a regular basis as he/she worships God and practices the faith year round.
But as (Heb. 5: 12-14/Heb. 6: 1-3/1Cor. 3: 2) puts it, there comes a time in one's post salvation spiritual life when there is the need to learn and to apply the advanced doctrines of the faith. Devoting 10-20 mins. once a week, merely scratching the surface, repeating the same material over and over again, is NOT going to produce edified disciples. Making disciples (Matt. 28: 19) (student and appliers of the Word of God) out of born again a believer is the internal half of the mission that the Lord gave His Church to do.
If a "Church-goer" does not have more knowledge, a better understanding, and an increased application of the Word of God than what he/she had at the beginning of the year, there is something missing in his/her post salvation spiritual life. If what he/she receives "in Church" (or by otherwise connecting with a local assembly) does not impact his/he daily life, there is something missing in his/her post salvation spiritual life. The something that is missing is the knowledge, understanding, and/or the application of the advanced doctrines of the faith.
One can not apply what he/she has not been taught or what he/she does not understand. Having a well taught congregation is the function and responsibility of the pastor-teacher (James 3: 1). Applying what is taught is the function and responsibility (Romans 14: 12) of the congregation if it does not want to be numbered among the untaught and/or unstable ones spoken of 1Pet. 3: 16.
Furthermore, if one is not moving forward along the road to spiritual maturity, he she is sliding backwards in the post salvation spiritual life of discipleship. If one stops moving forward and slides far enough backwards, he/she will inevitably become a 1Cor. 3: 2/Hebrews 5: 12-14 type of believer.
“I gave you milk to drink, not solid food for you are not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not able…1Cor.3: 2 NASB).
” “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil (Heb. 5: 12- 14 NASB)."
Like an infant that cannot "hold down" solid food, baby believers cannot hold down (apply) advanced doctrine.
In varying degrees we all have been, are now, and will all be among the untaught and unstable spoken of in 2: Pet. 3: 16.
There will never come a time this side of Heaven when anyone has learned all there is to learn about God. We join the ranks of the 2Pet. 3: 16 untaught when we stop learning new or more accurate doctrine.
Q.: When was the last time there was a need to adjust the doctrine that we have in our individual soul structure?
A.: It was the same time that we stopped moving forward in the post salvation spiritual life of discipleship.
There will never come a time when we consistently apply all the doctrine that we do have. We join the ranks of the 2Pet. 3: 16 unstable when we fail to apply what we have learned.
We join the ranks of those who distort Scripture, when we by word or action we promote activity that runs contrary to what can be substantiated in the Word of God.
Our knowledge, stability, application, and promotion of accurate doctrine will not only advance us in our own post salvation spiritual life, it will be used of God to impact others.
On the other hand, our ignorance, instability, and distortion of Scripture not only diminishes the quality of our own post salvation spiritual life, it will be used by the devil to negatively impact the spiritual lives of others.
Religious roots run deep. When someone from a religious background is presented with the unadulterated Gospel Message, there may be a period of time that the person struggles with letting go of what he/she had otherwise been led to believe or participate in order to obtain or retain salvation.
One moment he/she believes he/she is forever saved, the next moment he/she enters into (or returns to his/he former) beliefs and practices that are anti (against) Christ. Any teaching or practice that implies that faith alone in the Person and the Work of the Lord Jesus Christ is NOT enough to obtain or to retain salvation is anti-(against) the teachings and the Work of Christ.
Salvation in the spiritual realm is like pregnancy in the natural realm. Either you are or you are not!
These anti-Christ beliefs and practices can include the traditions of men that have evolved WITHIN the Christian Community at large. Such teachings and practices have been around since the earliest years of the Church Age (Galatians 3). Paul associated such things with demonic activity (Gal. 3:1/1Tim. 4: 1) WITHIN the Christian Community!
An adulterated Gospel Message is one that requires a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g more than placing one’s faith (trust and confidence) in the atoning Work that the Lord Jesus Christ finished (John 19: 30) on the cross in order to obtain or to retain salvation. What becomes confusing to some is that although this IS all that is required to be saved, there is much more that is required to be conformed to the likeness of Christ (Romans 8: 29), which is critical part of the life of discipleship.
This is why you will hear the pastor who tells the congregation that God receives us just as we are at salvation, but there are ongoing changes to be made IF we are to identify and execute the life of discipleship.
False Gospels are called adulterated because they express unfaithfulness to exclusive faith in Christ alone. False gospels bring a third partner (requirements) into the relationship. Just as bringing a third partner into a marriage results in marital adultery, bringing third partner into one personal relationship with God results is spiritual adultery.
Paul confronted Peter for his instability (Gal. 2: 11).
The struggle to maintain doctrinal accuracy and the ability to maintain stability can apply to many post (after) salvation issues (Eph. 4: 14), as well.
"As a result, we are no longer to be (like) children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of (false) doctrine, by the trickery of (religious) men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming (Eph. 4: 14 NASB)."
The ongoing struggle between right and wrong, better or best, will NOT end until the soul and spirit of the born again believer leaves the physical body behind at physical death (See Romans 7).
If one does not find him/herself in this ongoing struggle, then he/she is NOT fighting the good fight of faith that Paul wrote of in 2Tim. 4: 7.
Such a believer has been side-lined in the course (2Tim. 4: 7 NASB) that discipleship sets before every born again believer. Such a believer is still heaven bound (Romans 8: 1), but should not expect to receive the rewards (1Cor. 3: 15) and privileges (Rev. 2/Rev.3) reserved for disciples upon reaching the finish line.
The devil can do nothing to undo the sealing work (Eph. 4: 30) of God that took place at the moment of salvation, but can do much to try to block the forward progress of an advancing disciple.
As long as we remain here on Earth (Romans 7), we will all be continue to be a work in progress. Accordingly, to some degree all of us will remain to be among the untaught and unstable ones spoken of in 2Pet. 3: 17.