Monday, July 09, 2018

Identifying and Exposing False Teachers and False Teaching

“Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1) is a favorite text of those who judge others for judging! [i] In the extreme, it is used to shut down all forms of discernment and division. Yet the very context of Jesus’s statement requires that one be able to discern what is holy (v. 6), who is a false prophet, a wolf in sheep’s clothing (v. 15), and the difference between good trees bearing good fruit and corrupt trees bearing evil fruit (vs. 16-20). Often it is the false prophets bearing evil fruit who want no one judging – that they might not be exposed for what they are. Nevertheless, the Bible bears evidence throughout that false teachers and false teachings should be identified and exposed as such. Those who teach false doctrine publicly are candidates for public rebuke. The teaching and examples of the New Testament demonstrate that faithful stewardship includes exposing error.

Jesus exposed the errors of the religious teachers and leaders of his day. The Gospel of Matthew records both John the Baptist and Jesus calling the Pharisees a “generation of vipers” and denouncing their errors (Matthew 3:7Matthew 12:34). Jesus identified the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees as a leaven that spreads and corrupts (Matthew 16:12), as well as how many of the overtly religious made “the word of God of none effect” through their traditions (Mark 7:13). He excoriated those who do their works to be seen of men (Matthew 6:1-5; Matthew 23:4-7).

Paul denounced false faith and faulty practice, even naming names. He labeled Hymenaeus and Philetus as erring from the truth and falsely teaching about the resurrection (2 Timothy 2:17-18). He called out Demas for loving the world and deserting the faith (2 Timothy 4:10). Alexander the coppersmith withstood the truth. Paul named him and warned Timothy about him (2 Timothy 4:14-15). John pointed out Diotrephes as one who loved preeminence and withstood him (3 John 1:9).

The Lord, through John’s writing, commended the church at Ephesus for judging certain false apostles and determining they were liars (Revelation 2:2). Paul advised the Thessalonians to withdraw from those walking disorderly rather than walking after the tradition they had been taught (2 Thessalonians 3:6). Unrepentant unreformed heretics are rejected (Titus 3:10). When a teacher falsifies the gospel, Paul goes so far to say of such an one, “let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9).

The censure of false preachers and teachers should not be taken lightly. Too often one proceeds without the facts, or in the spirit of censoriousness Jesus denounced. [ii] The proper response is not to say or do nothing. We should be slow to speak (James 1:19-20), have the facts first (Ephesians 4:29), and then and only then proceed with wisdom and fortitude – as did the early disciples of our Lord. Let us “judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24) and then say so.

[i] Jesus here speaks of the critic, “one given to harsh or captious judgment” (Merriam-Webster). The censorious spirit finds fault in others and not in self.
[ii] And often the censure derives from personal pet pursuits with little or no support from scripture.

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