Summary: The Apostle foretells a day when Christians will deliberately turn their backs on sound doctrine, embracing error because it makes them comfortable and because the error is convenient.
“The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
There is an old saying that is sometimes heard among Christians in the southern United States that cautions, “Scratch a saint and you find a sinner underneath.” This is one of those sayings that lends itself to various understandings. Unquestionably, it points out the fact that we are each sinful, though we may be saved. Even the bravest among us can be frightened and act cowardly. Even the boldest Christian can be intimidated into silence. The godliest individual is capable of tolerating and even justifying unthinkable evil.
At a more superficial level, this old saw addresses the fact that not everyone who professes to be a Christian acts “Christianly.” A church always represents a mixed multitude; growing together in God’s garden are wheat and weeds sown by the enemy. In any congregation there will be pretenders, and there will be sheep that are readily influenced to act unconscionably by the actions and pleas of others. Though we must guard against all such infiltration of evil, according to the words of the Master, it is inevitable that such will occur [see *Matthew 13:24-30*].
Nevertheless, these are perilous times for Christians. It is not dangerous for Canadians to go to church, nor even to be religious; however, to live a life of commitment to Christ—adhering to His Word and conscientiously endeavouring to do what pleases Him—exposes the child of God to serious risks in the world. Outsiders accuse the people of God of bigotry because they will not approve of the sinful lifestyle adopted by and tolerated in the world. Professed believers are offended because commitment to Christ makes them unpopular with the world. Even fellow believers who indisputably love the Master may become testy if pet doctrines are ignored.
Additionally, there is a constant struggle arising from within the Master’s congregations. At any given time, we will find saved individuals that “will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” Among the professed people of God, personal comfort is often of greater importance than is fidelity to the Word or conscientious commitment to the way in which Christ would have us walk. The sentiment is “Tickle my ears, but don’t scratch my heart.”
*The Tenuous Hold of Sound Doctrine* — “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching.” It is sometimes said that the Faith is but one generation from apostasy; I suggest that a congregation is always one sermon away from apostasy. After a congregation has become apostate, their defection is obvious to anyone with a modicum of spiritual perspicuity. However, when an assembly first begins to tolerate a little bit of error, it is difficult to say with certainty that the congregation is apostate. At first, the subtle deviations from sound doctrine are distractions—bothersome perhaps, but hardly worth rupturing fellowship. As the error becomes more blatant, we find we are uncertain when to pull the plug and leave the fellowship.
The great English divine, Charles Spurgeon, struggled with that very issue in his associations with the Baptist Union of Great Britain. One of the major crises in his life was known as “the Downgrade Movement.” He remonstrated privately with leaders in the Baptist Union of Great Britain, pleading with them to remove pastors and teachers that openly denied the Faith. When that effort was rejected with the plea that they sought to maintain fellowship, he publicly quit the association. His church stood with him in withdrawing from association with error. After the breach was complete, he looked back and wrote, “I have taken a deep interest in the struggles of the orthodox brethren; but I have never advised those struggles, nor entertained the slightest hope of their success. My course has been of another kind. As soon as I saw, or thought I saw, that error had become firmly established, I did not deliberate, but quitted the body at once. Since then my one counsel has been, ‘Come ye out from among them.’”
This battle is not new, it has continued since the earliest days of the Faith. Peter wrote of the saints who preceded him, “False prophets also arose among the people,” and he warned of what awaited those to whom he wrote, “just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them” [*2 Peter 2:1*]. Then, in agreement with our text he cautioned, “And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed” [*2 Peter 2:2*].