The gnarly old salt rowed his boat up onto the deserted island, grabbed the bow rope and anchor stick, found a favorable spot, tapped the stick home, and tied his boat up with plans to explore the shoreline.
As soon as his back was turned, however, his anchor flipped up into the air. With furrowed brow, he retrieved his anchor, grabbed a bigger hammer and pounded the stick deeper into the land.
Satisfied, he turned to go, only to hear a loud “poof”. His anchor once again landed back in the boat. As can happen with good cartoons, he growled as he grabbed his anchor again, fished out of the hold a jack-hammer, and proceeded to drive his anchor down deep in the same spot.
He gave his handiwork a scowl that would scare any decent pirate, then spun to stomp off on his planned mission. This time, the ground shook, the sea began to rapidly retreat, and his newly discovered island took on all the familiar features of an angry whale, who promptly blew the anchor out of his blow-hole so hard that the attached boat went sailing off into the surf, leaving the whiskered and wide-eyed sailor to attempt a Peter and become a wave-runner.
The moral? Set your anchor on trusted ground.
As previously reviewed, Christians are advised to keep a close eye on how they are connected to the good news of the gospel in Jesus. So long as we keep adjusting ourselves to the Lord’s expectations, instructions, and promptings, our anchor cannot be moved. However, if we drop anchor where it doesn’t belong, we are warned within Scripture that our beliefs can drift into dangerous territory and even threaten our ability to stay afloat.
In order to attract visitors, every harbor wants to be known as a safe haven for boaters. You won’t see many signs that say, “Welcome, lots of dangerous shoals, deadly whirlpools, and boat-eating squid”.
So it is within popular Christianity; all churches and groups who claim faith in Jesus will promote their harbor as safe for anchoring. Some may be; some should be avoided. Hundreds, if not thousands, of denominations over the last 2000 years have carved out hidden bays with attractive features for traveling boaters.
How can you identify trusted ground?
Remember the Lords caution: “At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it.” (Mt 24:23) If a church or person says, look here we teach the Bible, or there is the gospel…be careful in what you believe. For, as this passage continues, many false teachers and deceptive ministers will promote ideas, church programs, and dramatic ministries that are so impressive that even the elect could be misled.
Trusted ground. Set your anchor in trusted ground. Everyone will tell you their ground is trusted, but how can you check the soil before you drop anchor? For that matter, how can you make sure the soil has not shifted over time? True believers need to regularly check their anchor line to keep it secure in trusted ground.
This is no new problem. The early church struggled with this same issue, and by God’s grace, the answer has been recorded over and over again for those with eyes to see. The call is to strive to maintain an anchor to what the original apostles taught.
“See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us—even eternal life.” (1 Jn 2:24-25)
The conditional preposition, “if”, places the responsibility on believers to hang onto what was taught at the beginning of the church. The good news gospel of eternal life is the promise for those who keep their anchor on that “beginning” message. John wrote this instruction because “many antichrists” had entered the church and were teaching believers things that were slowly-but-surely changing the soil around their anchors.
Those who teach things that are different from what was originally presented at the start of the church, or who add new ideas, or who shift the meanings, or emphasize things differently than those writers of Scripture “are trying to lead you astray” (1 Jn 2:26). To avoid anchoring in the attractive blow-hole, look for doctrines and practices that strive to match what those apostles taught at the start.
As the apostle John was inspired to declare about early apostolic authority in writing truth to Christians:
“I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us.” (3 Jn 9)
“We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.” (1 Jn 4:6)
Some muddle this last quote and assume John is suggesting that all Christians have the authority to speak truth and others must listen. He is actually talking about himself and those like him who had been commissioned directly by Jesus in the beginning of the Church. Paul confirms the same original-apostle view.
“Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.” (1 Cor 15:11)
Christian belief must be based on the biblical teaching presented by eye-witness apostles of Jesus. The biblical and theological foundation for Christians is specifically built upon “the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (Eph 2:20).
Peter’s approach, yet again, establishes this limited basis for defining the gospel:
“…I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.” (1 Pet 5:12)
“So I will always remind you of these things…and I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things. We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty…and we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it.” (2 Pet 1:12-19)
Peter believed he had the God-given authority to define the true gospel of grace, and that it matched what was earlier presented by the prophets. No other religious leaders have this right. All future instruction on the Christian gospel must submit to what those original apostles and even earlier prophets taught.
“I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.” (2 Pet 3:2)
“We are witnesses of everything he did…He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Act 10:39-43)
In the same way, the Holy Spirit breathed through Paul that others could not originate God’s word, but that he—Paul—could. The Lord established a limited group of original church leaders with divine authority to define the gospel and no one else was allowed to add to or change what they spoke and wrote.
“Did the word of God originate with you?…what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored.” (1 Cor 14:36-38)
“…when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.” (1 The 2:13)
“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life”. (Rev 22:18-19)
Apparently, many were already ignoring the condition of their anchor, and were slipping away from what was originally taught…and that was less than a hundred years into the Church, let alone our 2000 years of possible drift. Improvements and changes to the gospel as first defined will bring curses that, if not repented of, will result in complete loss of a believer’s right to eternal life. It is that important!
When confronting church teachings that had begun to stray from this basis, Paul reminded believers on the foundational limits to defining the gospel. His caution to a fellow minister and the rest of the church was to “not go beyond what is written”.
“By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 3:10-11)
No believer, no minister, no ruler, no creed, no church council, no denomination, no amount of historical tradition, and no vote can ever add to or adjust this fundamental basis of the gospel as presented in holy Scripture. The anchor of a Christian soul depends on sustaining this unique and limited foundation. Only teachings, that remain submissive to and restrained within the New Covenant revelation of God recorded in the Bible, can provide trusted ground. Everything else is shifting sand.
“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” (1 Cor 15:1-2)
Belief in Jesus’ Gospel, per the above, depends upon holding firmly to what Paul taught, and not to what others think about what Paul taught, and not to whatever is different than he taught. This authority to define the gospel “for what I received and I passed on to you” specifically defines those to whom the Lord revealed himself, as “Peter”, “the Twelve”, “James” the brother of Jesus, “five-hundred of the brothers” and “last of all” Paul himself.
“Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly…which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel…” (Eph 3:1-7)
The Spirit of God reveals truth to all believers, but this passage is talking about the foundational defining revelation that establishes the gospel message. No additional defining is allowed; only explaining and informing that builds and matures a believer, consistent with that original pattern.
The Christian witness is not based on personal testimony; it must remain based on the eye-witness accounts from the start of the Church. We can, and ought to, supplement the gospel with our own experiences, but never alter, undermine, or shift the truth as already grounded in the Bible. Congregational teachings, traditions, and practices can enhance individual experiences, but only so long as they remain submissive and supportive of the truth presented in God’s word.
“What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching…the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” (2 Tim 1:13; 2:2)
Apostolic and ministerial succession involves the passing of authority through the generations to qualified leaders who will imitate and replicate that original teaching. It passes along the responsibility, but never the authority to establish truth or define the gospel. Sadly, many still think they have that right, or are numb to the truth that the gospel must stay as originally taught or shipwreck the boaters.
“I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” (Jud 3-4)
Jude, the brother of Jesus and James, writes to confront this anchor-drift by ministers who were secretly shifting the grace of the gospel. He describes all sorts of approaches that remain common in many churches to this day, like going around flattering others and telling them how amazing everyone is. Beware of shifting sand under your anchor, hidden below the surface.
“We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away…this salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.” (Heb 2:1-3)
Anchor drift is most dangerous when conditions seem calm and in familiar territory, because we can easily fall asleep or become distracted with the attractive sights or think we know everything. Church history, widely accepted traditions, advanced seminary degrees, and active church growth are not reliable measures for staying well grounded to the gospel. Our anchor needs to be set on what was taught in the beginning by those eye-witnesses. Our witness needs to promote their foundational witness and not stray into our own ideas.
“…watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them…now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God…be glory”. (Rom 16:17, 25-26)
The Christian call is to set our anchor on trustworthy ground. That requires a bit more effort than heave-ho. For reasons known to the Lord, weeds and wolves are allowed to toss anchors near true believers and to even impact the ground on which our anchors connect. To stay firmly attached, we are commanded to separate from those who teach or do things that drift from being careful with God’s word.
Yes, that may mean separating from long-time friends or leaders in church when our anchors get dislodged. That is a cost of discipleship that many will refuse to pay. A little slip in the anchor is normal, so why bother? We all agree on the basics of Jesus don’t we?
“For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached to you, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.” (2 Cor 11:4)
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel…other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” (Gal 1:6, 8)
“It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us…If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.” (2 Jn 9-10)
These passages (and many others like it) refer to believers who have accepted anchor drift and are headed for disaster. Novice and lazy boaters drop anchors that they assume will do their job without further attention: same for Christians who think their connection to Jesus and his gospel is automatic. Those who want to ensure their secure moorage through the night, must rightly set their anchor as described in their boater’s handbook.
“He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught”. (Tit 1:9)
“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the teachings, just as I passed them on to you.” (1 Cor 11:1-2)
“This is the message you heard from the beginning”. (1 Jn 3:11)
“I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” (Gal 1:11-12)
“Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” (Act 1:21-22)
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching”. (Act 2:42)
“And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” (Jn 15:27)
“Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.” (Rev 3:3)
“…that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.” (1 Tim 1:11)
“Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ…whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.” (Phi 3:17; 4:9)
Look into the recorded word of God to find trustworthy ground to set your anchor upon. Join with other believers who demonstrate a maturing pattern of seeking the same foundation upon which to live and serve. Recognize that the Lord allows ground conditions to shift, so regularly check your attachment as directed in Scripture. Repent of error; Separate from what persists against God’s word, and devote yourself to the original apostles’ teaching.
Next, we’ll consider how to spot and deal with signs of anchor drift.