During the Spanish Civil War, a nationalist general spoke of the secret force he had in his battle. He told a journalist that he not only had four columns of troops approaching Madrid, he had a fifth column of supporters who were citizens of Madrid. The phrase was popularized in the ensuing World War as people couldn’t believe that France had fallen so quickly to the Germans without a fifth column inside of France. Soon fear of and talk about fifth columns arose in any country threatened by the Germans, and the US had many people who were on the lookout for the fifth columnists that were sure to be in the country. These fifth columnists were supposed to be Americans who engaged in anti-democratic activities that supported Nazis, first, and then Communists. They were people on the inside working against the country.
Now, as the term is used, it appears that fifth columnists are those who claim to be Americans, but espouse a different political viewpoint than the person speaking. The concept, though, isn’t new. In the early days of the church there were people that sought to use the church to gain positions of power, and then use that power to satisfy their desire for material gain or carnal pleasure. Peter described them. “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.” (2 Peter2:1-2 NIV)
In the early days of the church people started finding ways to pervert the gospel for personal gain. People whose lives were changed by the gospel were eager to help others in need, and some were able to twist that desire people had to give so that they could line their own pockets. If they could pull people away from the church and into their own sphere, they could take full advantage of their adherents, and so they would introduce heretical teaching that made people think that the only truth or perhaps a deeper truth was to be found in their teaching. As they developed their heresies, they soon developed a cult of personality and the leaders were able to exercise complete control over their adherents, involving them, as Peter described it, in depraved conduct that brought the way of truth into disrepute. People would see those who had claimed to be Christians in the past now following one of these false teachers and they would blame the gospel for depraved behavior that occurred because of their heresy.
Whenever a teacher develops a cult of personality, there’s a danger of heresy flourishing. When a preacher is accountable to no one buy himself, it’s easy to go down the wrong road. At times, these heresies turn into cults. These cults maintain an outward veneer of Christianity but rather than living by grace, people in them live by rules established by the leaders. When people leave the truth of living by grace to belong to a group that lives by law, but maintains an outward appearance of Christianity, they become inoculated to the truth of the gospel and, should they leave that cult, they have difficulty accepting the truth and grace of Jesus Christ. I’ve seen this in a number of friends who have escaped from cults that want nothing to do with the gospel. There’s a fear that the message of Christ is almost a come on that will draw them back into their original cult or one like it. When the truth has fallen into disrepute, it’s hard to bring people back to the truth. Watch your ways, oh follower of Christ, and make sure that you stay true to the grace of Christ and show God’s love to everyone.
Oh Lord, there are so may people who need to experience Your true love and grace. Let me show that to all people all the time.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.