Whom to Mark and Avoid

No one since Christ’s apostles has the authority of an apostle, and no one living since them is entitled to be uncritically heard and followed. Jesus Christ appointed 12 men, replacing Judas the betrayer with Paul after His resurrection, who had followed Him through His earthly ministry, were taught directly by Him in all matters during that time, who witnessed His resurrection, who taught further after His resurrection, and were commissioned particularly to carry all of His words to the world. They were the first, along with the others among the 120 in that upper room at Pentecost, to be endowed with the indwelling Holy Spirit, and the first to be said to be “filled with the Holy Spirit.” While Peter early deviated into error in rejecting Gentile saints, he promptly received the correction of the Holy Spirit and from Paul; no further record exists of him committing either doctrinal or behavioural errors. What we repeatedly hear is that these men were “full of” the Holy Spirit – something we most certainly do not witness among the professing church today – Whose ministry would be to lead them into all truth, and return to their minds all of the things they had heard from Christ during His ministry.

In the absence of the authority of an apostle, no one is entitled to instruct as did Paul, that others should “mark and avoid” those teaching contrary to the beliefs of that individual. Satan’s original attack was on the words and character of God: “Yea, hath God said,” and he continues that assault daily. Anyone instructing others to “mark and avoid” those teaching differently than they do, should themselves be carefully noted and diligently evaluated, as they are claiming for themselves the authority of an apostle to be believed as having received their understanding from the direct instruction of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The context of Paul’s instruction is his letter to the Roman saints, who were wrestling with the subject of salvation regarding Jews contrasted to Gentiles (non-Jews), and whether any adherence to the Law given to Moses was required in order to be justified to God. In context, the text reads:

“17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.

18  For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.

19  For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.

20  And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.”    Romans 16:27-20

 Some men followed the apostles’ travels, teaching that the Jews must be circumcised in order to be right with God. Paul repeatedly and soundly refuted this to several congregations. His entire letter was a treatise on how it was not possible for God to be saving based on works, according to His own words and to His treatment of their forefather Abraham, thereby making it clearly not a requirement for Jewish men to be circumcised. Paul’s instruction to these saints was to take note of those teaching them “contrary to the doctrine they [had] learned” from Paul and the other apostles; this distinction is critical, and its reason equally so.

The first-century church did not have the benefit of the New Testament writings that we have available to enable our testing of anything we are told. They laboured under the official understanding of the Old Testament, and as babes in Christ, were only beginning to learn the true doctrines concerning Christ, salvation, God’s grace, and eternal matters. Paul’s instruction to protect them because of their vulnerability, is not applicable today to people who refute doctrines proffered by those claiming to bring truth. We have Paul’s writings, as well as the entire New Testament. We are now responsible to test what anyone tells us is true against the words written for our instruction, and determine by it whether that teacher is teaching truly according to Scripture or teaching their own doctrines.

Paul and the eleven had a ministerial authority from Christ not possessed by anyone after them, because they were taught directly and verbally by Christ, and commissioned directly and verbally by Him to their ministry of the gospel. Jesus and the apostles all warned that there would be false teachers coming; Paul’s instruction to the Thessalonians was to “test all things; hold fast what is good.” In fact, in his closing words to the Roman church, he wrote, “Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may test what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (12:2) This theme is repeated in his letters to other congregations, as Peter, John, and Jude also warned against false teachers coming.

Today, leaders of many cults claiming to have the right understanding of God’s Holy Bible, instruct their followers to avoid talking or listening to anyone who presents a different understanding than what those leaders claim is true. How will anyone determine if what they are taught is truth, if they are to avoid listening to anyone who teaches other than what their current leaders claim is correct? How will a lost soul be rescued from a damning lie, if they refuse to listen to someone who comes with a different teaching, and refuse to test for themselves by reading God’s Bible for themselves, allowing God’s words and the writings of His appointed apostles speak clearly on their own without the impediment of someone else’s opinion of what is meant? How can anyone know true doctrine if they don’t honestly search the word of God? And how will they escape a lie, if they will not listen to a reasoned presentation of Scripture? The answer is simple: they can’t.

If someone tells you to “mark and avoid” anyone because their doctrine does not match that of the person telling you whom to avoid, that is a strong warning that you may be manipulated by someone who wants dominion over your mind. They are not qualified to issue that order, and should themselves be carefully scrutinized to determine where they deviate from the purity of God’s word, so that you are not drawn into a cult under their leadership.