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False teaching is like Whole Language-neither one leads to the outcome it promises.
As a teacher, I have a few things that really spin me up. One of them is “Whole Language.” I remember all too well how a whole classroom of first graders began and ended the school year with no advancement in their reading abilities because I was forbidden to teach them phonics. If a student came into my classroom in September unable to read, they left in June unable to read.
That was the last year I taught in a public school. How terrible to handicap children! To limit the ability to decode words is to limit vocabulary. Limit vocabulary, and you limit a person’s ability to communicate thought. It makes me so frustrated to meet adults who have to figure out ways to cope with their limited abilities when it comes to reading.
I have that same kind of response to those who misuse the Bible and the Christian faith. Ultimately, each Christian is responsible to be in the Word and check out what others tell us about Jesus and life in its pages. That’s part of being a faithful follower of Jesus. However, children and new believers don’t have enough maturity to detect false teaching. They haven’t had a chance to grow in discernment.
We live in a culture and time where false teachers abound. There are many celebrity pastors, some of them faithful to the Bible, but others who seem to be unfamiliar with that particular book. They pull verses out of context, make radical, even unbiblical pronouncements. Some false teachers are clearly false, but there are others whose twisting of Scripture is subtle.
Why does it matter?
Because we end up with people who have a distorted view of God. When they don’t get rich, when their loved one isn’t healed, their faith is shattered. They think Christianity didn’t work, while what they were following was only a poor imitation of the Gospel proclaimed to them by people motivated by fortune and fame.
It makes me disgusted to see time, and money, and opportunity for the Gospel wasted. It saddens and frustrates me to meet people whose view of God is distorted by false teaching. It’s like Whole Language and reading. Limit a disciple’s understanding of Scripture, you limit their understanding of who they are as a new creation in Christ. Distort their doctrine, or don’t teach them doctrine, and you keep them from becoming effective ambassadors of Jesus to this world. It isn’t hard to see who came up with that scheme.
We’re warned in Scripture that there have been and will be false teachers. We’re even told where they come from: within the church. Forewarned ought to be forearmed.
There is a saying, “eat the meat and spit out the bones” that’s often used regarding Christian teaching. I don’t see that born out in Scripture. False teachers are adept at mixing truth with error in subtle ways. Jesus condemned the church of Thyatira in Revelation 2 for tolerating that kind of mixture. Reading His words gives us a clear picture of how He views such distortion:
“But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads my bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols…Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation unless they repent of her deeds.” Revelation 2: 20, 22
So what are we to do?
1. We have a responsibility to know the truth ourselves!
Much like the US Secret Service is taught to identify counterfeit money by studying real bills, the believer is responsible to check out what’s being taught with the Bible. We’re given the perfect example of that in the book of Acts with the people of Berea:
“These were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” Acts 17:11
It doesn’t sound like they were spiting out bones, but testing the validity of all they were being taught!
Jesus tells us that we will know these false prophets by their fruits. We do that by not judging according to appearance, but by righteous judgment (John 7:24). We do this by evaluating what is being taught in light of Scripture-just like the Bereans in the book of Acts.
2. We have a responsibility to warn others!
Believe it or not, the warnings against false doctrine are emphasized more than any other warning in the New Testament. Jesus warned about false teachers being like wolves in sheep’s clothing. He warned his disciples about being mislead. Peter devoted most of 2 Peter to warn against false teachers. Almost the whole short letter of Jude is warning of false teachers. John and Paul both repeatedly warned about men who would come into the church speaking perverse things to draw people away. They named names.
Here’s where you’re going to run into resistance. So much of the culture has seeped into the church that the typical response you’ll get from false teachers and their followers is that you’re judging. You’ll be called critical, “Biblicists,” or haters. Ironically, you’ll more than likely be judged and criticized for protesting the unbiblical teaching.
This kind of tolerance is not a virtue!
The Bible teaches us to test what’s taught and to mark out and avoid false teaching.¹We must scrutinize what is taught in light of the standards of Scripture. When something has been taught publicly, it has to be dealt with publicly as well. That has to be done in a manner consistent with the Bible’s ethics. We’re to judge with sound judgment, speaking the truth in love.²
It is possible to love someone and to tell them that they’re wrong. We’re wrong if we refrain from speaking the truth because we’re afraid of being called harsh things, or if we speak the truth without love and compassion. It is possible to speak the truth in love:
“…we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ.” Ephesians 4:14-15
How loving is it to let someone you know follow false teaching and not warn them?
¹ “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” 1 John 4:1 “Now I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause dissensions and obstacles contrary to the doctrine you have learned. Stay away from them.” Romans 16:17
2 “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.” John 7:24