By Eric Johnson
With more and more representatives from false religions standing on front door steps attempting to make converts, a troublesome passage for some Christians is 2 John 10-11. It says, “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed. For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.”
When the Mormon missionaries knock on your door, what should the Christian reaction be? Was John saying it would be wrong to be hospitable and invite the people inside? If not, then what did he mean when he said to “receive him not into your house”?
Like every other biblical passage, this passage needs to be considered in its context before an evaluation may be made. The first verse identifies John’s audience. John addresses his epistle to “the elect lady and her children.” While there are several possible interpretations, most commentators feel that John was using symbolic language to refer to a local Christian church and its members. John seems to have a group in mind as he switched from the second person plural pronoun in 2 John 8, 10 and 12 to the second person singular in 2 John 13.
In his book More Hard Sayings of the New Testament, Christian writer Peter Davids says, “. . . . the situation in 2 John 9-11 appears to fit best in a group of house churches, not with an individual” (pg. 222). This type of language is not unique. Jerusalem is seen as being a mother (i.e. Isa. 54:1-8; Gal. 4:25; Rev. 12:17; 21:2) and the church is viewed as the bride of Christ (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:22-32).
Next, verses seven and nine say, “For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist . . . . Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.”
It appears that John was dealing with an early form of the heretical doctrine known as docetism, or the idea that God was too holy to have become human and therefore Jesus only appeared as a man. John specifically dealt with this problem in his first epistle when he said Jesus “was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life” (1 John 1:1).
According to 2 John 9, a person would be in sin if he or she held any inaccurate doctrine of Christ. A person who wilfully espouses a fallacious Christology should be considered a heretic who knows neither the Father nor the Son. This includes a correct view of both the humanity and the deity of Christ. This point is ascertained by 1 John 2:22-23. Referring to an antichrist as someone who denies Jesus as the Christ, John declared that “whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: [but] he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.”
Comparing the language of 1 John 2:22-23 with 2 John 7-9, John declared that a person who denies the personality of Jesus as being 100 percent human OR 100 percent God does not know the Father nor the Son! The doctrine of who Christ is should be considered an essential, not peripheral, issue. Paul claimed in 2 Corinthians 11:4-5 that a person may be preaching “another gospel” even though he or she acknowledges someone called Jesus. Like a taste of arsenic, a wrong view of Jesus poisons an entire religion no matter how good its other doctrines may seem.
As most readers of this publication know, Mormons may claim to be Christian and firmly declare that they believe in Jesus. But what do they mean? Mormonism teaches that Jesus is humanity’s elder brother separate in substance from the Heavenly Father. Jesus was created, the first born of God and one of his heavenly wives. While Jesus’ name may be in their church’s title, Mormons who cling to their leader’s teachings are no more “Christian” than the heathen who worship idols.
We come to verses 10-11 and ask the questions raised earlier. Was John referring to individual Christians and their homes? Or was he alluding to the church? Peter Davids writes, “We need to understand what this church was like. It was normal until the mid-third century for Christians to meet in houses. (It was not until the mid-fourth century that house churches were outlawed and church buildings became the only legitimate place to gather as Christians.)” (More Hard Sayings of the New Testament, pg. 228).
Averaging 20-40 believers, these house churches were scattered throughout each city where Christianity was found. Before the fourth century, there were no formal church buildings as is popular today, especially in the United States. These smaller groups met in neighborhood homes. To show this to be true, Paul greeted several Roman house church leaders and their groups by name in Romans 16:5ff. (Also see 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Phm. 2.) One obvious reason for this arrangement would be to attract less attention from government authorities, allowing the Christians to avoid persecution which was prevalent in the early church.
These house churches were patterned after the Jewish synagogues in that both members and visitors were given the opportunity to address the congregation. (See Acts 13:15.) Thus, John was exhorting the church leaders to ban the unorthodox from their pulpits. Giving a heretical wolf credibility by permitting him to speak to the Christian sheep is a precarious invitation. The Christians were even forbidden from extending the customary kiss on both cheeks or wish the heretics success on their future journeys.
In his commentary on the epistles of John in The New International Commentary on the New Testament, I. Howard Marshall writes,
To welcome them was to express solidarity with them; even if one professed to reject their views, hospitality was a way of sharing in their work, and those who helped them in this way were in danger of coming under the same condemnation as the false teachers themselves. The church must be kept from contamination by error (pg. 74).
The truth taught by John needs to be acknowledged by today’s pastors who may be approached by leaders of non-Christian groups to unite in special partnerships. For instance, an offer to switch pulpits may be made. Another method is joining with a number of other churches in an ecumenical partnership. The Christian pastor should always be wary when the leaders from the LDS, JW, New Age, Christian Science, etc. churches want to unite.
… it is wise for leaders to be assured of the orthodoxy of visitors before giving them a platform from which they can spread their views, even the platform of an official welcome as a visiting Christian leader. Christian hospitality stops where danger to the well-being of the church begins; love does not go to the extent of endangering one’s fellow Christians nor of allowing those who deny the Lord one loves to peddle their wares in that Lord’s church (Hard Sayings of the New Testament, pp. 229-30).
John was not saying that a Christian should be inhospitable or rude to the person on the other side of the screen door. It is important to notice that he was referring to teachers of false doctrine who came to the church to bring an official teaching and not to casual visitors who come to our homes. Christian theologian John Stott writes in the Tyndale New Testament Commentary,
John’s instruction may well relate not only to an “official” visit of false teachers but to the extending to them of an “official” welcome, rather than merely private hospitality. Two details suggest this. First, this letter was addressed, as we have seen, to a church, not to an individual, and the phrase if anyone comes to you (plural, hymas) describes the anticipated visit of a false teacher (or a group of them, v. 7) to the church in question. . . . Perhaps, therefore, it is not private hospitality which John is forbidding so much as official welcome into the congregation, with the opportunity this would afford to the false teacher, to propagate his errors. . . Bruce justly comments: “It does not mean that (say) one of Jehovah’s Witnesses should not be invited into the house for a cup of teas in order to be shown the way of God more perfectly in the sitting-room than would be convenient on the doorstep” (pp. 216-217).
If a person is strong enough in the Christian faith, whether it’s on the doorstep or in the backyard serving the missionaries bar-b-q, the Christian may want to engage the missionaries in conversation and attempt to show that there are problems with Mormonism. It is not the same as biblical Christianity. Those who cling to false teachings face a dire judgement. However, I should also point out that it would be dangerous for a recent convert or a weak believer to do the same. It is for each believer to prayerfully decide. The utmost priority is love. To slam the door in a person’s face is not a Christian witness. We should remember that many members of false religions have been led to a saving knowledge of Christ because Christians took the time to deal with the person knocking on the door.