by Paul Beisel
Most people know something of the epic tale about the Trojan Horse. In the mythical tale of the Trojan War, the Trojan horse was the ploy that the Greeks used to sneak into the city of Troy and overtake it.
As Christians, we need to beware of spiritual “Trojan horses” and take care not to be like the Trojans, unwittingly bringing the Enemy or his deadly teachings into our midst through seemingly innocent vehicles.
One good example of a potential Trojan horse in the Church is inspirational literature. Suppose you are at the bookstore, and you come across a devotional book that has a nice cover and eye-catching artwork or photography. As you browse its pages, it seems as if the author is speaking directly to you and to your situation in life. You purchase it and read its pages uncritically, never taking into account the fact that the author belongs to church group you’ve never heard of, has never studied theology formally, and does not understand the important distinction between Law and Gospel. In subtle ways, false and misleading teachings can make inroads into your mind and heart as you read a book like this, just as the Greeks sneaked their way into Troy.
Books are not the only Trojan horses that Christians need to be on guard against. Christian music is also full of potential Trojan horses. Perhaps you have listened uncritically to Christian music, assuming that if it’s played on a “Christian” radio station, it must be okay. As with the devotional book, you may not pause consider the source of the song, the theology of the song-writer, or his or her Christian background. Especially when we care more about the driving beats and melodies than the message behind them, music can also easily become a conduit for false teaching and bad theology.
Perhaps you have already encountered Trojan horses in your life. Maybe you have had an experience similar to mine, in which a Christian song I enjoyed singing when I was younger turned out to contain impure teaching. Experiences like these underscore the point that as Christians, we need to be discerning when it comes to the literature we are reading and the music we are hearing and singing. Whenever we consume media — even Christian media — we should be carefully asking ourselves: What is the source? What is the writer’s theology? What is the Christian message that is being taught?
“You are what you eat” is applicable in a spiritual sense as well. We might also say of our media choices, “You are what you consume.”
As a Christian parent, I have a responsibility to “shepherd” my children — to make sure that they are not bringing false theology into their ears and hearts through books and music that are fun or enjoyable. I need to beware of spiritual Trojan horses.
As a pastor, I also need to be aware of this danger. This is one of the reasons that I value our church’s hymnals so highly. I know that these worship materials and hymns have undergone a critical, doctrinal review by our church leaders and have been carefully considered and approved by the whole Church body. I and my congregation members can trust that here, at least, there are no Trojan horses to contend with. We can be certain that we are being fed and taught the pure Gospel and not something else.
Yet there remain many other Trojan horses that Christians need to be aware of. Don’t let these things into your heart and soul without examining them carefully first. Whether you are considering literature, music, television, movies or even speakers, it is always good to look past the glitter and see if there really is gold underneath.
Ask yourself: What is this supposedly Christian work really saying? What is it not saying? What is missing? Who is saying it, and why?
We live in a health-conscious culture nowadays, one in which many people are highly critical about the food they put into their bodies. Is it gluten-free? Is it non-GMO? Is it organic? Preservative-free? Locally sourced?
How much more discerning should we be about spiritual food? Who would not want to take great care when it comes to their spiritual diet?
In all these things, then, let’s take our cue from St. Paul’s words to the Philippians: “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ” (Phil. 1:9-10).
The Rev. Paul Beisel is pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Iowa Falls, Iowa.