IDENTIFYING FALSE TEACHERS
Joe R. Price
There is a tendency these days to reject
preaching that gets too specific, that calls the names of false teachers, that exposes the
errors of men. While the Bible continues to command us to "preach the word...reprove,
rebuke...," there are those who will not endure sound doctrine nor the opposition of
false doctrine (2 Tim. 4:2-4).
A personal test on this matter can be found in the article on page one of today's bulletin. How did you react when you read a specific quote, the man's name who said it, and why his teaching is false? Do such personal identifications upset you? Would you prefer only hearing "principles" while avoiding specific doctrinal applications? If so, you are dangerously close to the crowd described in 2 Timothy 4:3-4.
This is not to say that under every circumstance the false teacher must be publicly named for his teaching to be effectively exposed and opposed. Such is not the case (cf. 1 Cor. 15:12). But at times, it is necessary for several reasons. These reasons include:
(1) Clearly identifying error and who is
teaching it. An example of this is Paul's naming of Hymenaeus and Philetus in 2
Timothy 2:16-18. By naming these men, Paul made it clear that their doctrine was
overthrowing people's faith and had to be opposed. Therefore, we are given scriptural
prerogative to do the same thing today. At times, we must.
(2) Giving a warning against sin. This
is done in 1 Corinthians 5:1. Paul did not give the man's name - they all knew who he was
talking about. Such personal identification was needed to warn the brethren not to have
fellowship with sin through any conduct which would indicate support (i.e., social
contact, 1 Cor. 5:2, 9-11). To avoid fellowship with sin we must know what the sin is and
who is committing it (2 Jno. 10-11). This is a matter of protecting the body of Christ
from the influences of error, which at times requires personally identifying the purveyor
of error (1 Cor. 5:6-7).
(3) Trying to save the false teacher and those
he influences. Unless we are willing to identify and approach the one who teaches
error, how shall we persuade him with the truth? Perhaps he simply has not been taught the
truth (Acts 18:24-26). Peter's public conduct occasioned Paul's public confrontation
because he "walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel" (Gal.
2:14). Paul was very specific. At times, so must we (cf. Phil. 4:9).
A number of reasons are offered to oppose this approach to contending for the faith (Jude 3). Some prominent offerings are:
(1) It is not edifying. Those who are
uncomfortable with naming the names of false teachers tell us that to do so "tears
down rather than builds up." Those who have specifically identified false teachers
and their false doctrine have been labelled "trouble-makers" and are accused of
"running people away." That is nothing new (cf. Elijah and Ahab in 1 Kgs.
18:17-18). If it is really true that by its very nature such an approach is not edifying,
then we must include Jesus, Paul and John to the list of "troublemakers" (Matt.
23:2-3; 2 Tim. 2:16-18; 3 Jno. 9-10). In Acts 20:28-32, after warning of future false
teachers, Paul commended them to the "word of His grace" which would edify and
save them. Edification is compatible with warnings against false teachers.
(2) It is not showing love toward others. This is heard from those who confuse Biblical love with an emotional feeling. They believe that if someone's feelings are hurt, then they have not been treated lovingly. (Do you suppose the scribes and Pharisee's feelings were hurt after hearing what Jesus said about them in Matthew 23?) No, true love seeks the best interests of its object. True love for one another is walking after the Lord's commandments (2 Jno. 5-6). Love does not overlook sin, it helps to overcome it through exposure and repentance (Gal. 6:1; Jas. 5:19-20). Who truly loved Peter in Galatians 2:11-14, the Judaizers who supported his conduct toward the Gentiles, or Paul, who confronted him about his error? Obviously, Paul did. Do not be afraid to "speak the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15).
(3) Since nobody is 100 % doctrinally correct, we should not make an issue out of doctrinal differences. This person fails to appreciate two things about truth: first, that it can be understood correctly, and secondly, that God expects us to know it and to abide in it (Eph. 3:3-4; 5:17; Jno. 8:31-32; 1 Tim. 2:3-4; 2 Jno. 9). This approach to unity in spite of doctrinal diversity eliminates the Bible as the final word on faith and doctrine. Therefore, anyone who dares to expose and oppose the false teacher and his teaching is seen as "legalistic," "credalistic," and having a "party spirit." Nothing much has changed since Galatians 1:6-10 was written. We can understand the Bible, and when we do, we will understand it alike. Otherwise, the curse in Galatians 1 against false teachers is meaningless.
We must not be afraid to confront false teachers and their doctrinal errors. Such shows love for truth, for lost souls and for those who teach error. Do not be convinced otherwise (Rev. 2:2-3).