What is our responsibility as Christians, in dealing with false teachers, according to the Bible?
False teachers are just one of the many threats in a Christian’s life. There are of course many other things that Satan uses to deviate us from living a life that is obedient to God. There is plain old temptation that comes from a variety of areas in our lives without the direct influence of a false teacher. False teachers are and will always be around us. False teachers are very destructive. False teachers can turn a mature Christian’s life upside down for years until they come to a realization that they have been duped. False teachers can even bring unbelievers into a false belief that they are a true Christian. They might never end up being truly transformed by the Holy Spirit into someone who has recognized their unworthiness in front of a holy God, repented of their sins, and turned around and placed their faith and trust in Jesus. Yet, unfortunately this happens a lot, especially as a result of such flawed and unscriptural movements like Bill Hybel’s admittedly failed seeker sensitive movement. But that’s another topic. Yet we do know that Christ and the apostles were very serious about warning us of false teachers, as in these examples out of many others:
Matthew 7:15-20 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.
Matthew 24:24-27 For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible.
Acts 20:28-31 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.
There seems to be a struggle from within going on in many evangelical denominations now, and I am encouraged by the thought that this is a good thing. Those of us who oppose what seems to be an unashamed embrace of this phony emergent church movement and its mystical practices by many church leaders today, perhaps have been positioned in this manner in order to stir up a healthy struggle and “conversation”. Perhaps if nothing else, some will be called out from this apostasy and be rescued from the fire, even if just a few.
So first, let’s remember that Jesus did not always speak in the same manner to everyone and for every situation. It is a fact that He was as harsh as He could be when it was necessary, and so were the apostles. It was not always gentleness and meekness that was preached by the Lord and by the apostles. They reserved the “not so nice” talk especially for false teachers. Love can be dished out in many forms, can’t it? Think of the times loving parents have scolded their children rather harshly, in order for them to learn and be corrected. This is also called tough love.
Many who are fighting this battle have been criticized time and time again for not doing what they do “in love.” They are scolded for “not doing it the right way”, but are not told what “the right way” is. There never is any condemnation of the apostles, and Christ Himself, for the way they often spoke to those who would pervert the gospel of Christ. Yet any rational Christian would agree that Christ and the apostles are our role models on how to behave as Christians in various circumstances. They particularly reserved this kind of tough love for the people who were either preaching in error, or who were deliberately preaching another Jesus, another gospel. They spared no quarter. In Galatians 2:11-16, Paul confronted Peter in public, and scolded him in front of others for what he was teaching erroneously. Note also that Peter was one of the original apostles, whereas Paul had quite a tainted past before his conversion! Yet Paul did not decide to ignore Peter’s flawed teaching, and also note that Peter took that scolding to heart, and learned from it, rather then stubbornly continuing on with his erroneous teaching. I doubt that Peter used a line such as “do you know who I am?”, in response to Paul’s scolding. He instead submitted to corrective teaching by Paul, in spite of his own “pedigree” as an original apostle who learned straight from The Master Himself.
Here is another example of a “loving” intervention. In Acts 13:8-12, it is ironic that just before Paul confronts the false teacher, Elymas, the scriptures say that he was filled with the Holy Spirit. And what did he say to Elymas right after being filled with the Holy Spirit? The following “loving” words: “O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord?” It is amazing, isn’t it, that Paul was filled with the Spirit, and immediately went on what was essentially a tirade- a harsh rebuke- an unkind word, against this false teacher! Some folks have pointed out that, if Paul had written Galatians today, he would not have been very popular amongst many Christians. He would have been labeled as politically incorrect, and unloving, and unkind!
Could not Paul have used kinder, gentler words here? Perhaps, but apparently, he knew the appropriate words for this situation were different than confronting someone who needed a gentle and patient nudge towards the truth. And so it goes, the manner in which the apostles instruct us to confront false teachers is just like thess examples, time and time again. I do believe we ought to confront misguided Christians and gently persuade them as much as possible, to bring them to correct doctrinal understanding (and I’m talking here only of clear teachings, not things that are debatable). But false teachers? That’s a different matter altogether. Here are some examples of what the apostles and Christ had to say about false teachers, and the attitude they had towards them. This was serious business to them. Pay attention especially to the “kind” and “loving” words in each passage:
1 Tim 4: 1-2 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.
2 Corinthians 11:12-15 And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.
Eph. 5:11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.
2 Peter 1:20-2:3 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 shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.
Titus 1:9-2:1 Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith
John 8:44-45 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire.
2 Peter 2:13-14 They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood!
There are many more clear examples. The point is this: it is a myth, and it is unscriptural, that we should always gently hold the hands of those who would pervert the gospel and speak soft words to them. Of particular seriousness are emergent church leaders such as Rob Bell and Brian McLaren who have truly twisted the scriptures over and over, and merit the severest rebukes and warning to everyone about them. Many of us really need to stop denying the reality of how we should deal with them. There is only one way to deal with false teachers who are set in their destructive ways: we are to confront them in love, and then if they continue in their ways, we rebuke them in love, and sometimes, very harshly. Further continuance of their perversion of the true gospel requires separation from them. We ought to have nothing to do with them, as commanded in scripture, if they continue their ways after being warned. Many of these teachers are the cause of Christians either walking away from the Lord, or turning to “another Jesus”.
Do not fall for the trap of political correctness or the belief that “love” always means saying a soft and gentle word. Not so. Don’t ignore false teaching when you see it. If you do, you are disobeying the Lord by lack of action. And that is not from me, but from the scriptures.
The deadly fact of false teachers should not be ignored by any Christian who wants to obey the Lord in all things.
Walter Martin on The Cult of Liberal Theology