The Leaven of False Doctrine

Beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness. 2 Pet. 3:17


Leaven was an agent that was used to bring about fermentation in mixtures of dough in order to make it rise. The Israelites were ordered to put all leaven out of their houses during the Passover (Ex. 12:19; Deut. 16:3,4). Under the Old Testament order of worship, leaven was forbidden in all offerings made by fire to the Lord (Ex. 34:25; Lev. 2:11). Thus early in Scripture, through this symbol of leaven, we learn that there is an agent at work in this world which is an evil or wicked influence that has no place among the people of God. By its very substance, it symbolizes the danger of corruption and pride among the people of God. Just as leaven changes the original form of the dough, so it pictures morally that wicked agency at work in the world to corrupt or change the original form of absolute truth that has been spoken or revealed by God. Because leaven causes the dough to rise or to be puffed up, it pictures man being puffed up over his own acquired knowledge to the extent that he rejects the revealed truth that has been spoken by God (Col. 2:18). Thus, man has sought to change or corrupt God’s truth, as Paul explained to the Galatian church, when he said, "there be some that trouble you, and would pervert (distort) the gospel of Christ" (Gal. 1:7). Lifted up in pride, human wisdom has failed to consider the truth or revelation of God. "Where is the wise? Where is the scribe (the religious scholar)? Where is the disputer (the logician or debater) of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe" (1 Cor. 1:20,21). With all its earthly wisdom, the world has failed to recognize God and teaches a philosophy contrary to God’s truth.


While on earth, the Lord Jesus warned that "the kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened" (Mt. 13:33). He was warning that the false teachings of man would eventually permeate and corrupt the truth. "In the parable the woman is hiding the leaven in the meal offering. The three measures of meal represent the truth of God concerning His Son. The woman represents the false church - that woman, Jezebel, of whom we read in Revelation 2:20, who calls herself a prophetess, and teaches the servants of God unholy principles which are subversive of the faith" (Harry Ironside). As we look about us today, this subversion has taken place and continues to worsen, as it is almost impossible to recognize the truth of God as it is presented in most church pulpits and religious literature. "For the mystery of lawlessness (that hidden principle of rebellion against absolute authority and truth) is already at work" (2 Thess. 2:7). "Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons" (1 Tim. 4:1). The action began early in the development and growth of Christianity. As time has progressed, Christendom has been permeated with false teaching; thus Paul states in his final letter, "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables" (2 Tim. 4:3,4).


The Lord Jesus warned His disciples, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy" (Lk. 12:1). When we think of the leaven of the Pharisees, we think of hypocrisy and ritualism. This is manifested by the outward observance of prescribed religious rites while refusing the inward adherence of the heart to the truth of God. It is spiritual pretense. It is "going through the ritual", but true commitment to the truth is lacking. The Lord Jesus stated the case when He said, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence" (Mt. 23:25). Many today outwardly go through the rituals of the church, yet deny the very doctrines that they symbolize.


Also the Lord Jesus warned His disciples of the leaven of the Sadducees (Mt. 16:6). We are told that the Sadducees were those who denied that there is a resurrection (Mk. 12:18; Lk. 20:27). In Acts we learn that they also did not believe in angels or spirits (Acts 23:8). They denied the supernatural evidences in the Scriptures. "As they yielded more fully to Greek influence, they adopted the principles of the Aristotelian philosophy, and refused to accept any doctrine which they could not prove by pure reason" (J. D. Davis). They were the rationalists of their day and we have plenty of them among us today. "But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14). Trying to explain everything from a humanistic viewpoint, they attempt to remove the very foundation of the truth as it is taught in the Holy Scriptures. In our colleges and universities, many young students have been deceived by these deceivers. Even so-called "Christian colleges" have professors who ridicule portions of God’s Word.


On several occasions, Christ was approached by the Herodians (Mt. 22:16; Mk. 3:6). They evidently were followers of the Herod family which was not fully of Jewish descent. They were often in confrontation with the Pharisees because they tried to please the Roman authorities, but they both joined together in their opposition to Christ. Christ warned the disciples about the leaven of Herod (Mk. 8:15) which could be described as worldliness and political involvement. It is impossible to adhere to the truth of God and at the same time cultivate friendship with the world. "Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (Jam. 4:4). Seeking to please the world, many have diluted the truth of God to make it more palatable to the world. This results in watering down even the basic truths of the Gospel in order not to cause offense. We can be certain that if we stand for the truth, the world will be offended. Christ said to His disciples, "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (Jn. 15:18,19).


Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Cor. 5:7,8). Immoral behavior and the truth of God, as it is taught in the Word of God, cannot exist together. If we tolerate immoral behavior, we are denying the basic teachings of God. The Corinthian church was not only tolerating evil within the church, but they were actually proud of their "tolerance". The leaven of evil had puffed them up. "And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you" (1 Cor. 5:2). The church today has become very lax about enforcing discipline regarding acts of immorality. "The whole point was that it was a case of moral depravity on the part of a member of that church, and that was the whole reason of dealing with it here. Not that Paul was not concerned about that failure on the part of this particular man, but he was far more concerned about the influence of sin upon the church which was not dealing with it" (G. Campbell Morgan). If immoral living is tolerated than it soon spreads throughout the church. Thus Paul adds, "Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump" (1 Cor. 5:6)?


The false teaching that was taking place at Galatia was very appealing to the flesh. The teaching is summarized by Paul when he says, "As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, these try to compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. For not even those who are circumcised keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may glory in your flesh" (Gal. 6:12,13). Most false doctrine is appealing to the flesh. It attempts to take away that part of the Gospel which displeases the fleshly efforts of man. It stresses the ability of the flesh to please God. Thus Paul declared, "I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ" (Gal. 1:6,7). This appeal to the flesh is what makes false doctrine so dangerous. It can spread rapidly because it has this fleshly appeal. Thus Paul warns, "This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump" (Gal. 5:8,9).


Let us then be discerning and aware that we are living in the midst of leaven all about us. We have been warned: "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.....We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error" (1 Jn. 4:1-3,6). Leaven represents error and it is spreading rapidly. "Think of some of the great and rapidly increasing cults of evil doctrine in our midst today....Then consider that these rapidly growing organizations are being recruited from the ranks of those who once made a profession of Christianity but are now apostate therefrom. Then, in the various so-called orthodox denominations, see the indifference of many, and the opposition of some to the very cardinal doctrines of Christian truth....Let anyone but look round today and he will see how rapidly things in Christendom are hastening to the consummation" of Matthew 13:33: "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal TILL IT WAS ALL UNLEAVENED". (L. Laurenson). "Therefore, let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach" (Heb. 13:13). "....what communion has light with darkness" (2 Cor. 6:14)?