Doctine is important as it defines the beliefs and practices of the church of Christ. And without unity of doctrine, true unity cannot be achieved. Real unity, not just in name or pretense, is what Jesus prayed His disciples would be known for (John 17:20,21). Because false teachers can create so many problems in the church, what is the manner in which the church is to deal with false teachers? Paul writes:
“Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” (Romans 16:17)
Though it can be a wrenching experience for any congregation, it is sometimes necessary that it withdraw fellowship from a fellow Christian who will not quit their divisive teaching. To withdraw fellowship from the false teacher only means he will not have the chance to lead astray the elect of God. That said, there is no threat issued toward the false teacher save the warning of God’s judgment.
In the middle ages, the Catholic Church used violence to silence any who opposed them. There are more examples than I care to list here, but consider their treatment of the Albigenses. This was a group of ascetics who taught the dualistic view that flesh is evil and spirit is good. The dualist sought to escape the flesh and their ascetic lifestyle was born of this doctrine. They suppressed all of their appetites as part of the quest to escape the flesh. “Thus earthly life was evil, and above all, marriage, the’ perpetuation of life was intrinsically evil.”1 Such teachings and prohibitions were obviously contrary to Scripture as being “doctrines of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1-3). And a most troubling teaching of the dualists say that Christ only appeared to have come in the flesh, an impossibility according to this view if flesh is sin.
The Catholics did not merely ostrasize this group. They did not settle with publicly marking this group as false teachers so as to warn others. No, instead by order of the Catholic Pope, a hundred year inquisition was directed at the Albigenses, and other groups, with penalty of death for anyone who was part of it. Answers.com says they were “exterminated.” Interestingly, the asceticism and monasticism of the Catholic Church is similar to what they opposed in the Albigenses. “[W]ho forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving . . . .” Catholics justify their prohibitions saying that they believe in the sanctity of marriage — just not for their preachers! And the Catholic teaching of inherited sin sounds similar to the Albigenses’ teaching that flesh is sinful.
Fox’s Book of Martyrs, Chapter IV, tells of many Catholic persecutions from the middle of the 12th century through the 16th century.2 For denying transubstantiation, for denying the authority of the Pope, for denying the necessity of infant baptism, and for translating, printing, and owning the Bible, men, women, children, young and old, were imprisoned, tortured, had their tongues cut out, their bodies torn apart, and many burnt alive. The Catholic Church has in the past dealt harshly with those who taught differently than they. Because they had the power, when they were right and when they were wrong, the punishment of death was always a possibility. Thankfully such methods are a thing of the past.
But this is not the way of Jesus Christ. No faithful follower of Christ would resort to such coercive tactics. Yes, the Scriptures warn against adding to or taking from God’s Word. And Christians are told not to support or associate with those who continue in error. But Christians would never and will never force others to believe under the threat of death. Vengeance belongs to the Lord.
1.Accessed from http://atschool.eduweb.co.uk/cite/staff/philosopher/albigens.htm
2.Accessed from http://www.reformationhappens.com/works/Waldenses/