Do you know how fast false doctrine spreads?

"and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus," (2 Timothy 2:17)

In the book of Second Timothy, Paul realizes that his time on earth is short. He is pouring as much Spirit-inspired knowledge into his protegee, Timothy, as he can. The concern and love Paul has for his men and his churches is evident. Paul warned Timothy about two things mainly, remain in passionate love for Christ, and stay in true doctrine. These two things are linked.

Artist's depiction of Paul Writing His Epistles,
16th century (Blaffer Foundation Collection, Houston).
After Paul warned Timothy to stay in true doctrine (and there are 25 imperatives in this letter) Paul said next in verses 15-18 for Timothy to avoid error. This brings us to the verse quoted above. False teachers' talk spreads and it spreads fast. It is like a wildfire. Strong's Concordance defines gangrene as it is used in the verse:

"a gangrene, a disease by which any part of the body suffering from inflammation becomes so corrupted that, unless a remedy be seasonably applied, the evil continually spreads, attacks other parts, and at last eats away the bones"

Barnes Notes explains,

"This word - gangraina - occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It is derived from graiō, grainō, to devour, corrode," and means "gangrene" or "mortification" - the death of a part, spreading, unless arrested, by degrees over the whole body. The words rendered "will eat," mean "will have nutriment;" that is, will spread over and consume the healthful parts. It will not merely destroy the parts immediately affected, but will extend into the surrounding healthy parts and destroy them also. So it is with erroneous doctrines. 

They will not merely eat out the truth in the particular matter to which they refer, but they will also spread over and corrupt other truths. The doctrines of religion are closely connected, and are dependent on each other - like the different parts of the human body. One cannot be corrupted without affecting those adjacent to it, and unless checked, the corruption will soon spread over the whole."

We all know what gangrene does, even if we are not medically trained. Anyone who saw the Lonesome Dove television miniseries knows. It is a disease that spread fast and destroys. As you read this definition of how gangrene kills medically, apply these words spiritually to your mind. Physiologically, gangrene kills the living organism by cutting off the blood supply. To reverse the effects of the poison, a debridement must occur. According to Merriam-Webster, Debridement is "the usually surgical removal of lacerated, devitalized, or contaminated tissue. Let's stop and consider the importance of a healthy blood flow to the members of the faith:

"For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life." (Leviticus 17:11)

The Crucifixion, seen from the Cross, by James Tissot, 19th century
If allowed to progress, the tissue dies and then the entire appendage becomes contaminated. Remedies now must include an amputation. At this point, it's interesting to consider these words from Matthew 5:30,

"And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell."

If no remedy is applied by this time, the organism dies. The gates of Hell shall never prevail against His world-wide church, but parts of the body can die. Individual congregations die. Revelation 3:1 records one such dead church: Sardis.

Abandoned church in NM, by Emma, Wikimedia Commons

"And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.'"

There is so much here to ponder. First, this cements beyond all discussion that parts of the body can and do die. Where is the church at Ephesus? The church at Thyatira? Sardis? They died.

Second, Jesus knows the outside and the inside. He knows what is in a man. (John 2:24). Do you read the word reputation? That's what we humans see. Have you ever seen a bustling church, read the long list of ministries on their web page, attended 'Trunk or Treat' and watched hundreds of little kids running around and smilingly indulgent parents standing by? It is a sure bet that somewhere a church like that is dead. Their reputation is one of acclaim, successful ministries, being busy, and even salvations, but Jesus knows the fact of the matter.

Third: churches that look alive can be in fact, dead.

Chickens run around for a while after their heads are cut off. So do churches. The end result is the same for churches that have been strangled by gangrenous doctrines that cut off the blood. Jesus hates false doctrines! (Revelation 2:6). Jesus's Gospel IS doctrine, and without it, any individual or congregation will die. Therefore if Jesus as Truth is not the Head of the church, the church will die. First for a little while after they have left their first love, (Revelation 2:4) they'll go on. Then they will exclude Jesus completely and put Him outside, (Revelation 3:20). Even if the the heartbeat of the church continues for a while the only end result will be death because they have slowly and painfully and maybe even unknowingly swapped true doctrine for false.

That is what false doctrine does. It kills.

The Good News is that Jesus said His church will never fail. (Matthew 16:18). Jesus made a charge to the Church at Ephesus when He said they had left their first love. However, before it is too late, there is always a remedy!

"Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first." (Revelation 2:5a).

Excise that false doctrine immediately, get it out of the Bride, before it can kill even one living cell in the body. Repent and He will forgive. 

If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent." (Revelation 2:5b)
Micah Exhorts the Israelites to Repent, Gustave Dore, 1866, Wiki CC
Paul told Timothy later in the letter,

"I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine." (2 Tim 4:1-2)

Remember the lesson of gangrene: is is poison,  it spreads fast, and it ultimately kills. Doctrine matters!

For further reading:

9 Marks: How does inattention to sound doctrine kill churches?

Thom Ranier: Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 11 Things I Learned

GotQuestions: Why do some churches thrive while others die?

Grace to You Article, Does doctrine really matter?

Ligonier Ministries: Drawing the Line: Why doctrine matters


  1. What do you think of a church luring the lost in with its church social programs in the name of "outreach"?

    1. I agree with these men,

      What Is the Church?
      My response to the “church” defender came down to this. Is it acceptable to invite a neighbor or friend to church where they hear the gospel proclaimed, and in turn, become born again? Absolutely! But should a church be modeled in such a way that the local congregation is where we try to woo unbelievers into “accepting” Jesus? Absolutely not! To do so is unbiblical and a direct contradiction of scripture. Any church that adopts such a practice is not a church.

      9Marks, 'What is the church?"

  2. Those who are susceptible to false doctrine? Those who don't know or willing to hear the truth. Those who are following spiritually blinded by the mandates/dictates of their organizations.

    1. "Those who are following spiritually blinded by the mandates/dictates of their organizations." Or, they are blinded by their darkened minds or deceptive hearts...Romans 1:21...not necessarily their organizations.


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