Speaking Out Against False Teachers
Many think it is wrong to speak out against false teachers, or to warn Christians not to follow particular teachers because of their teachings. What does the Bible say about this?
«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…If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed» (1 Timothy 4:1-2,6). Notice that Paul specifically exhorts that the brethren should be made aware of false teachings. Notice that he says «if you point these things out to the brethren, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus» (emphasis mine). So Paul is telling us that a «good minister of Christ Jesus» points out false teachings.
If that is not enough, how about «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 sovreign 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» (2 Peter 2:1-3). Here Peter warns us of the rise of false teachers within the church. But it is not without reason. Notice that the heresies they preach are «destructive» and that following them will «bring the way of truth into disrepute.»
«But none of these verses mention specific teachers,» you say? «Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to the faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme» (1 Timothy 1:18-20). «Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth…» (2 Timothy 2:15-18). Here Paul has mentioned false teachers by name, in order that they be warned, and others be warned of their false teachings, and with purpose. The men mentioned here, through their false teachings, have «blaspheme[d]» and «shipwrecked their faith.» By their false teachings («godless chatter»), they and those who follow them «become more and more ungodly.» In order that they may become more godly, we must turn them away from these ungodly teachings.
How do we do this? Compare what the preachers teach to what the Bible says. Even Paul was not above having his teachings checked: «Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true» (Acts 17:11). Who could teach the Scriptures more reliably than Paul? Were the Bereans criticized for comparing his teachings to Scripture? No! On the contrary, they were commended for doing so. So why are those who question the teachings of some of the most popular preachers criticized?
Maybe this verse will help answer that question: «For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths» (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
We cannot judge anyone’s heart or their motives. We must be very careful in this matter. «Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted» (Galatians 6:1). We must not be hypocritical or judgemental in our correction. We must, however, examine every teaching that comes from every teacher in light of Holy Scripture. Scripture itself exhorts us to do so when it says, «dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world» (1 John 4:1).
If I have not yet listed enough scripture warning against false teachers, then the following list of verses should help:
Matthew 7:15-23; Matthew 24:10; Mark 22:23; Acts 20:25-31; Romans 16:17-18; Galatians 1:6-9; Colossians 2:8,18-19; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; 1 Timothy 1:3-7; 1 Timothy 1:18-20; 1 Timothy 4:1-8,16; 1 Timothy 5:3-10; 1 Timothy 6:20-21; 2 Timothy 2:14-18; 2 Timothy 3:1-9; 2 Timothy 4:1-5; Titus 1:9-16; 2 Peter 2:1-22; 2 Peter 3:14-18; 1 John 1:18-27; 1 John 4:1-6; 2 John 7-11; Jude 3-19
This is by no means a comprehensive list. Many others warnings exist in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Hopefully this has shown that, not only is it not wrong to confront and speak out against false teachers, but because of the spiritual devastation they cause, it is our obligation to Christ and the brethren to do so. Let me leave you with the words of the apostle Paul: «‘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» (Acts 20:29-31).
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