False Teachers

False Teachers

A few years ago I was in a church during their Sunday School service. It was a rather relaxed gathering, like most other Sunday School services, where those attending could add their 2¢ during the “teaching.”

The topic this particular Sunday morning was “False Teachers.” The text under consideration was 2 Peter chapter 2. Emotions ran along the high end of the spectrum, and even more notably in one particular man. This one individual was obviously terrified by the mere thought of “false teachers” entering into the Church and dragging people away from the truth of God’s Word.

It is that particular topic, on that particular morning, which leads to, what stands out in my mind as being the quintessential paradox of our time. Not so much the notion of “false teachers,” but rather the “Fear of False Teachers.” It is this fear of false teachers that I perceive to be the living paradox of twenty-first century Christianity.

While the fearful gentleman mentioned above went on at length about having to guard against these false teachers, it became quite clear that he felt helpless and was at the mercy of his pastor’s ability to guard the flock. This is why I find myself at the keyboard today.

Now, admittedly, I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer at all times. But it is easy to deduce that there are only three ways in which “false teachers” can get into the Church:

  • Your pastor invites them in,
  • You invite them in, or
  • They walk in on their own

While false teachers may use any one of these doorways to infiltrate the Church, each of those doorways shares a common weakness; ignorance of Bible doctrine. It can hardly be disputed that the only valid reason to fear false doctrine (false teaching) is a personal failure to grasp true biblical doctrine. To put it a little more bluntly, if you do not KNOW what the Bible says, you cannot reject what someone CLAIMS the Bible says. Therefore, if YOU do not know Bible doctrine, then YOU are susceptible to embracing ANY doctrine.

If what I have said so far has you squirming and fearful, then you may want to head for the TV and try to catch some I Love Lucy reruns because this article is to call people to accountability and maturity. I make no pretense at an apology for its sternness.

False doctrine and false teachers is a recurring theme in the epistles. It comes as no surprise, then, that Paul commands us to “test everything” (1 Thessalonians 5:21), and John tells us to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1). Believers have a sacred duty to examine every doctrine we are exposed to and determine if that doctrine is true or false. But how can we know the difference between good teachers and bad teachers; between sound doctrine and heresy? How can we distinguish teachers of truth from teachers of error? Believers must test or judge all doctrine, and we have five (5) criteria by which to test or judge all doctrine.

It must be understood and agreed upon at the onset; What Is Declared To Us In The Bible Is Sound Doctrine. Therefore, our first “test” is—

Testing The Source of The Doctrine:
Healthy doctrine comes from God; false doctrine originates with someone or something created by God. Good doctrine comes from within God himself (Titus 1:2), false doctrine originates outside of God. Paul was a real stickler on the issue of doctrine and stressed to the Church in Galatia that the doctrine he preached was not of his own making, but he was given that doctrine by God.

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11-12).

Yes, it really is that simple: Sound teaching originates with God and false teaching originates with men or demons. No need to make it complicated (a hint that it is false doctrine). False doctrine is scarred by its worldly origin. In his epistle to the Church in Colossae, Paul warned the Colossians not to accept or embrace any doctrine that is “according to man-made rules and teachings (Colossians 2:22).” Additionally, Paul’s warning to Timothy was that some would “
depart from the faith by paying attention to deceiving spirits and things taught by demons (1 Timothy 4:1).”

To employ the test we need only ask the question:

Does this doctrine originate with God or has it been fabricated by someone or something else?

But what if you are not immediately able to determine the source of the doctrine? Sometimes the source of a doctrine is easily identified, but if it is not, then you need to add another test.

Testing The Authority of The Doctrine:
Sound doctrine receives its authority from within the Bible; false doctrine receives its authority from outside the Bible. The Bible is God’s unerring, infallible, sufficient, complete, and authoritative revelation of himself to all of humanity. Doctrines that originate in God’s mind subsequently recorded in God’s Word. There is an unfailing and necessary symbiosis between source and authority; between God and his Word.

You may recall the noble Bereans who “
received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). The Bereans knew, even then, that all doctrines must be compared to God’s Word, his source of truth. When I was the pastor of a Church, I frequently told the congregation that they should not blindly trust what I declared from the pulpit. I implored them to check my doctrine against the backdrop of Scripture to make absolutely certain they had heard the truth of God’s Word.

To employ the test we need only ask the question:

Does this doctrine rely solely upon the Bible for its authority, or does it appeal to another source or to another mind?

Still, we may yet be unable to discern between true and false because two teachers may both claim the authority of the Bible while teaching very different things. This ushers in the need for a third test.

Testing The Consistency of The Doctrine:
Sound doctrine is always consistent with the whole of Scripture; false doctrines are consistent only with some selected portions of Scripture. There is an organic unity to true doctrine; false doctrine has a hybrid, unnatural strangeness to it.

Paul warned Timothy about embracing “
a different doctrine,” while the author of the book of Hebrews warned about being carried away “by various strange teachings.” It is apparent that both writers were emphasizing that all doctrine must always be compared to the established, accepted body of truth. Those who are best acquainted with that body of truth are the most likely to immediately identify and refute all that is false.

This concept is bound to a primary theological principle, “the analogy of faith,” which is often explained with the phrase “Scripture interprets Scripture.”

Because the Bible originates in the infallible mind of God, it must be consistent throughout. Because there is no contradiction in the mind of God, there can be no contradiction in the revelation of God. What the Bible teaches in one place it cannot refute in another. Therefore, all true doctrine must be consistent with the whole message of Scripture. No doctrine should ever be treated in isolation. All doctrine must be tested or judged in light of a correct understanding of the entire Bible. A key tactic of false teachers is to isolate verses or ideas that cannot stand up to the scrutiny of the whole Book.
To employ the test we need only ask the question:

Is this doctrine established or refuted by the entirety of Scripture?

Once we have put a doctrine to the test and it proves to be true, according to the three criteria we have thus far considered, we may then observe its wholesome effects on us and those around us. That will require putting the doctrine through two more tests.

Testing The Spiritual Growth From of The Doctrine:
Sound doctrine is necessary and beneficial for spiritual health; false doctrine leads to spiritual weakness and even spiritual death. This is a basic premise that we live by even in the secular arena. Good food is necessary and beneficial for physical health; bad food leads to physical weakness and even physical death.

In his first epistle to Timothy, Paul stated, “
If you lay all these instructions before the brethren, you will be a worthy steward and a good minister of Christ Jesus, ever nourishing your own self on the truths of the faith and of the good [Christian] instruction which you have closely followed.” (1 Timothy 4:6). Timothy had been trained by his grandmother (Lois) and his mother (Eunice), and later by Paul himself, in the Bible and Christian doctrine. Timothy nurtured himself in the truths he had been exposed to since he was a child; he never stopped.

Sound doctrine produces spiritually healthy, mature, knowledgeable Christians. False doctrine makes spiritually unhealthy, immature, ignorant Christians who may not be Christians at all.

Testing Godly Living Derived From of The Doctrine:
The final test of a doctrine’s soundness (truthfulness) is its value for godly living; false doctrine leads to ungodly living. Truth is never found in isolation, standing on its own. Truth always has implications in life. Sound doctrine is always meant to lead us to praise God, to worship him, and to live meaningful lives in service to him.

One of the hallmarks of Paul’s theology is that false doctrine is closely related to moral deficiency (Romans 1:28; 1 Timothy 6:3-10; 2 Timothy 3:1-5; Titus 1:15-16). The apostle Peter, also, made the same connection between false doctrine and moral deficiency (2 Peter 2).

What Is Your Doctrine?
We heard the question all the time, “What religion are you,” or “What religion is he/she”? That is simply the wrong question. I am going to ask those of you reading this, “What is your doctrine?”

What doctrines do you hold dear enough to live by? Your doctrine is not true until you are living it. How much of the world have you had to let go of in order to embrace your doctrine? True doctrine requires a separation from the world. Where does your doctrine derive its authority? “All Scripture is God-breathed and is valuable for teaching the truth, convicting of sin, correcting faults and training in right living; thus anyone who belongs to God may be fully equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). True doctrine is holy and comes from God. True doctrine is not for your head alone, but finds equal footing in your heart and your hands as well.

“All Scripture is breathed out by God,” says Paul, “and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Scripture is not to be known in an abstract sense, but intimately. Sound doctrine is to inform not only our minds, but our hearts and hands as well.

Going To Church is Not Studying
Paul’s command to Timothy is blunt, it is weighty, and leaves no wiggle room.

Do all you can to present yourself to God as someone worthy of his approval, as a worker with no need to be ashamed, because he deals straightforwardly with the Word of the Truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

If you wish to rise above the flotsam and jetsam of childish and immature Christianity; if you will cease with fear of being deceived by every wind of doctrine that comes along; if you will stand against false doctrine and decry it as treasonous heresy against the holiness of Almighty God, then you are going to have to search the Scriptures. You are going to have to study those sacred and precious doctrines delivered to us by God own grace.

On the other hand, if you have already been deceived by false teachers serving rotted, poisonous doctrine, then you must first repent. Having repented, you must confess your fault, turn back to God’s wholesome truth, and search the Scriptures.

My work here is done. I leave you in the capable hands of the Holy Spirit (a.k.a. the Spirit of Truth).