I can recall hearing, as a first year seminarian, one of my professors criticize Pastor Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life. Upon hearing this critical assessment, I was deeply angered. I thought that his actions were severely inappropriate and that it was not proper to disparage another fellow Christian who was simply attempting to promote the Christian faith. From my reasoning, the presence of a Christian voice was better than the absence of a Christian voice and it was certainly better than a voice speaking contrary to Christian truths. Even though my professor took the time to show me the countless errors in Warren’s book, I still concluded that a faulty Christian voice was better than no Christian voice at all. Besides, I felt that is was rude, insincere, and un-ecumenical to criticize those within the Christian sphere; we are all on the same team after all trying to do our best for God.
The problem with my rationalization was that I believed that a Christian voice with small and subtle doctrinal errors was more advantageous and less of a concern than a voice that was obviously unchristian or a message that lacked a Christian message altogether. To me, subtle and small errors were less of a concern than obvious and blatant errors. I said to myself, “Why sweat the small stuff; why fuss over small errors that might upset the unity of a Christian community? Why quibble over every pixel of God’s excellent picture?”
It was not until several years later that my faulty view was finally exposed and reversed. I can remember it so vividly. I had graduated from seminary and had taken several church youth to a conference. At the conference, the speaker gave a lesson while he baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies. In his presentation he had several youth add flour, vanilla, chocolate, and eggs into a mixing bowl. Right before they were going to mix the ingredients together, the speaker subtly announced that he was going to add a teaspoon of drain cleaning Liquid Drano to the ingredients in the bowl. He said it quietly, did it quickly, and kept talking. Surprisingly, several of the youth sitting in the pews really did not even catch it. At the end of his session, he wrapped up his teaching from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians and invited all the youth to partake of freshly baked cookies. Some revolted! Others were enticed! The point had been made. The point being, what is worse than Liquid Drano in a batch of cookies? Answer, a ‘little’ Liquid Drano in a batch of cookies. Otherwise stated, it is the trivial comma placed after Jesus that should concern us; it is the small footnote attached to the doctrine of justification that should alarm us. Yes, there is tremendous subtle corrupting power in small errors.
Martin Luther captures this theme in his book, Bondage of the Will. To summarize his thoughts on this subject, let me phrase his assessment in the form of a question and answer.
Question: What is worse than Pelagianism?
In other words, what is worse than a heretic? Answer, a subtle or crafty heretic. Indeed this is true. The reason why? A Pelagian, one holding to the heresy of Pelagius, generally tends to confess and assert their beliefs candidly. They call a spade a spade. They teach openly what they believe. However, a Semi-Pelagian is a bit trickier. A Semi-Pelagian is indeed heretical; however, the emphasis of Pelagian theology is less candid, which results in people being more easily conned. Otherwise stated, Semi-Pelagianism is toned down Pelagianism, which results in the same theological ethos being purported, but it tends to be more palatable because of the de-emphasis of the outright heresy.
Is this not the same tactic of the evil one that we see in the scriptures? Keep in mind that the scriptures say that the devil disguises himself as an angel of light (See: 2 Corinthians 11:14). Furthermore, in Luke chapter 4 and Genesis chapter 3 we clearly see that the devil’s scheme is not to entirely eliminate scripture (i.e., God’s Word), but to twist it ever so slightly. Did God really say?
What we learn from Luther and the scriptures is that it isn’t the blatant lies that are of extreme danger, though they are dangerous, rather, it is the subtle lies that should be of great concern.
Looking back to my old professor from seminary, I now realize that this professor was not being divisive, insincere, or inappropriate. Rather, he was demonstrating love and pastoral care by attempting to protect me from elements of false truth. While I was ignorant to these errors, he was not. While I was metaphorically eating cookies with Liquid Drano, he was fighting to keep me from ingesting poison. You see, my old professor knew that these false truths would act like yeast and would spread through the whole batch of dough. He knew the danger of a small teaspoon of heresy; that a small error can corrupt and erode a Christian’s theological framework.
I now regret how I branded this professor as an unloving, divisive, anti-chocolate chip cookie grouch. This could not be further from the truth. Metaphorically speaking, my professor did enjoy chocolate chip cookies, but he hated Liquid Drano and he hated the adverse effects of the poison upon the church. Frankly, he loved me enough to disrupt my enjoyment of Liquid Drano cookies and he was courageous enough to criticize those who baked these corrupted cookies for me, even though these actions would earn him the stigma as being unloving, nitpicky, and an anti-cookie grouch.
Honestly, I believe that what we need most in the church today is more anti-chocolate chip cookie grouches, for there are indeed a lot of individuals cooking up and distributing Liquid Drano cookies in our post-modern pluralistic context. Furthermore, I believe that it is truly dangerous and foolish when we rationalize in our minds that a little poison won’t hurt anyone and when we attempt to preserve tranquility within a community by applying ad hominem stigmas to those who are attempting to expose stealthy poison.
Rather than naïvely consuming the plethora of ideologies in our world, may we hold steadfast to sound doctrine as Paul instructs Timothy and Titus in the Pastoral Epistles (See 2 Timothy 1:13 and Titus 2:1). May we also recognize that it is truly good, right, and salutary when false doctrines are refuted, exposed, and laid bare (See Titus 1:9). Indeed, it is good when poison is exposed; it is good when yeast is prevented from fermenting the whole dough; it is good when the twisted-ness of the evil one is uncovered; it is good when God’s people are not tossed to and fro, blown about by every wind of doctrine; it is good when the church recognizes the trickery and deceitful scheming of man; and it is good for Baptized Saints to know what they believe and why, so that they are not a reed shaken by the wind.
 Martin Luther. Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation. ed. E. Gordon Rupp and Philip S. Watson (Philadelphia, PA; The Westminster Press, 1969), 311.