Guard Yourself: False Teaching Can and Does Arise From Within the Church

We often think of the church as a safe place, which is certainly how it should be. Everything we hear at church should be truth. Sadly, however, that’s not always the case. People in the church can and do spread false teaching, either knowingly or unknowingly.

False Teaching Arises from Within the Church

Consider what Paul tells Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:6-7,

“Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” (1 Ti 1:6–7)

The certain persons to whom Paul is referring are not those outside the church, rather they are those who are members of the church at Ephesus. These folks have sate under Timothy’s preaching week in and week out. Despite hearing the truth, they have started spreading a false message.

The Importance of Recognizing False Teaching Can and Does Arise From Within the Church

Since false teaching is spread both out and in the church, we have to be vigilant in comparing everything we hear with what God’s Word says. Every sermon, Bible study, conversation, and saying has to be run through a biblical grid.

In order to for us to run everything we hear through a robust and accurate biblical grid, we have to be biblically literate, which means we have to put a premium on reading and studying God’s Word. We have to know our Bible’s.

How Could Those in the Church Start Spreading False Doctrine?

Presumable Timothy was preaching the truth of God’s Word, expounding the text, and proclaiming the gospel week in and week out. How could someone sit under Biblical teaching week in and week out only to start spreading false doctrine?

Paul says it happens when we swerve from the truth. Specifically, he tells us in verse 5 that those in the Ephesian church have swerved from “a pure heart…a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Ti 1:5b). Leaving these things behind, some in the Ephesian church ventured into false doctrine.

A few explanations for why they swerved toward false teaching are possible that they sought to puff themselves up, gain a reputation, or even power in the community. We aren’t told exactly why, but what we do know is that their motives for doing so weren’t pure.

It didn’t matter, then, if they knew what they were talking about or not. They just started talking, making things up as they went. They didn’t check what they were saying against Scripture. They just said it.

We Can Easily Spread False Doctrine If We Aren’t Careful

Honestly, that can happen to us. If we don’t check what we are saying against Scripture, we might end up spreading false doctrine. Let me show you how easy it is for that to happen. I came across an article just the other day highlighting common sayings of church goers. Consider some of the ones they mentioned:

  • God helps those who help themselves.
  • God wants me to be happy.
  • We’re all God’s children.
  • Cleanliness is next to godliness.
  • God won’t give you more than you can handle.
  • When you die, God gains another angel [1].

I’m sure most of these are familiar to you, you may have even said one or two of these before. You know what? They are all false teaching. Not one of them is true. When we say them, then, we are spreading a false message.

Sure, we may be doing so unknowingly. Today maybe the first time you heard these were false teaching. But do you see how easy it is for false teaching to creep into even a biblically minded church? Do you see why it is important that we are always on guard, even at church? Do you see why we always have to check the things we hear against Scripture?

False teaching can and does arise from within the church, so we have to check everything we hear against God’s Word in order to guard ourselves and others from it.

Question for Reflection

  1. Do you have a well developed biblical grid by which you can protect yourself and others from false teaching and teachers?

Resources

[1] http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/7-unbiblical-statements-christians-believe

Post developed from my sermon: How Do We Guard Ourselves and Others From False Teaching and Teachers?

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How do we lovingly guide our members away from false teaching?

From personal experience, I have found that many church members aren’t discriminate about the preaching to which they listen or the books they read. With so many indiscriminate readers and listeners, we are bound to see many of our fellow members following false teachers, most of which are doing so unknowingly. Not only is this dangerous for their spiritual lives, but for our churches as well. We, however, aren’t to allow those who are indiscriminate to continue to be indiscriminate, nor are we to allow those who we know are digesting false teaching to continue. As pastors and church members, we have a responsibility to lovingly guide them away from error.

How do we lovingly guide our members away from false teaching?

(1) Teach the gospel

If we want our members to discriminate on the teaching to which they subscribe, whether that be a popular radio preacher, best-selling author, or blogger, we have to make sure they know the gospel like the back of their hand. As well as they must know how it applies to all of life. The only way this will happen is if you have a thoroughly gospel-centered ministry. Without rewriting what I have already written, let me just say that one element of a thoroughly gospel-centered ministry is gospel-centered teaching.

Preaching the gospel is no less than telling someone how they are saved, but it is much more than that as well. The gospel has many dimensions, much like a diamond has many facets. It is our job to expose those facets as we teach. As well as it is our job to make sure the gospel informs our application, not works, shame, or guilt.

As we teach the gospel week in and week out, our people should not only come to understand the basic idea that Jesus died for our sin but also how it applies to all of life. Members who have a deep understanding of the gospel should have red flags going up all over the place when they hear or read something that is remotely contrary to what they know to be the gospel.

So one way we can guide our people away from false teaching is through a consistent diet of gospel-centered teaching. Apart from consistently teaching the gospel, there are other things we can do to lovingly guide members away from false teaching.

(2) Provide access and knowledge of biblical resources

If we want our people listening to and reading thoroughly biblical resources, we have to provide them with those resources. One thing I have done on my church’s website and my personal blog is to provide a list of trusted books and authors. On my personal blog, I have also placed links to other blogs/authors I trust. We don’t currently have the resources at my current church to do the following, but other churches I have attended in the past ran a church bookstore, as well as they recommended books each month in the church bulletin. Still another way to expose your people to good resources is to give them away. Set a stack of free books out for the congregation to take. If you do that, you may want to do what one of my former pastors did and make it known that if you take a free book, you are agreeing to be asked about it.

Those are just a few ideas for getting good resources in the hands of your congregation. Hopefully, if you can get them reading your recommendations, they will grow in their ability to discern false teaching. As well as if you can fill their reading list with your recommendations, the time they have to read other things will be limited or non-existent.

(3) Listen and correct

One practice I have found helpful in confronting ideas garnered from false teaching is to listen and correct. As pastors and teachers, it is easy for us to do all the talking, but one thing we must learn to do is listen to what others are actually saying. If we listen, we can then correct them.

When we correct, we shouldn’t do it in a condescending or negative way, but rather with love and patience. When I am in conversation with someone and they say something questionable, I usually say something like, “I am not so sure about that, or I don’t really agree with that idea. Here is what I believe the Bible says about that…” Or if someone brings up a known false teacher, I am sure to let them know my concern with that person. In order to do that, however, we have to be clued into the popular false teachers and know why we disagree with them.

(4) Provide a book review

Providing a book review is another helpful way to address false teaching. I have found Tim Challies (challies.com) to be an excellent source for book reviews, especially on popular level books currently influencing Christian culture. Don’t be afraid to share these reviews with members. After sharing, don’t forget to follow up. A review alone isn’t enough. We also need to gather their thoughts and discuss the main difficulties with the book.

(5) Use social media

Almost everyone I know has a social media account. Social media can be an effective tool for communication and teaching if used properly. In an effort to do just that, I make it a point to post on my church’s Facebook feed weekly. My posts generally cover three broad categories. Some I use to teach and challenge, others are for encouragement, while others are used to inform. I find that to be a good mixture. As well as I try to spread those posts out over the week, which you can easily do by scheduling posts right from your church’s Facebook feed.

(6) Confront

As fellow Christians, it’s important we confront those affected by false teaching with the truth of God’s Word. When we do this, we must go with our Bible’s open, ready to share God’s teaching on the matter. What we think doesn’t matter, as much as what God thinks, so we must confront with God’s Word open in love with much patience.

(7) Pray

Along with providing a steady diet of gospel-centered teaching, a list of resources, correction, book reviews, articles posted on social media, and loving confrontation we must pray and trust the Holy Spirit to work. I say that because it is ultimately the Holy Spirit who draws people away from false teaching and to the true gospel, not us. We can help, but the Holy Spirit must convict and cause a person to repent.

(8) Remove

The above has assumed the person being addressed has indiscriminately subscribed to false teaching. But what about those who haven’t? What about those who are actively spreading false teaching in your congregation? I believe the only option we have when it comes to false teachers, whether they are doing the teaching, or knowingly and actively spreading another’s teaching, is to remove them from any sort of leadership role while making the congregation aware of the false teaching they have shared and its corrective.

If they are not a teacher but are still actively and knowingly spreading false teaching in the congregation, we need to first approach them and ask them to stop. We also need to approach those members with whom they have shared that teaching and provide a corrective. If after approaching them, they refuse to repent and stop spreading false teaching, we must remove them from the congregation by means of church discipline. This may seem harsh, but it is our responsibility to protect the sheep from roaming wolves, which seek to devour.

Question for Reflection

  1. Are there any other ways you would deal with false teaching in your congregation?

Resource

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False Teachers – Part 3

False Teacher

So far we have looked at the danger of false teaching and some ways false teachers deceive (Part 1, Part 2a, Part 2b). Knowing that then, what should our response be?

What Should We Do Knowing There are False Teachers Trying to Deceive Us?

(1) Be Bereans

You remember, the story about the Bereans in Acts 17:11. There Paul says,

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” (Ac 17:11)

And that’s the same for us. We should be eager and ready to receive the preached Word.

A few weeks ago, Apple had their annual developers conference. At the conference they show off their new products. I will tell you, I was eager for that day to come. I couldn’t wait to see what they were going to release this year.

I am sure you guys have things that you are ready and eager to see. Maybe it’s football, and you can’t wait for next season to start.

Paul is telling us in these verses we are supposed to have the same eagerness for God’s Word as we do for the next football season, the next Apple event, summer vacation, or whatever else we are looking forward to. Which means we should look forward to going to church to hear the preached Word. We should look forward to our quiet times. We should look forward to gathering with other believers to study the Bible.

Not only should we be eager to receive the preached Word, we should also examine the teaching afterwards. We are to go home, open up the Word, take out our notes, and make sure what the preacher said matches with Scripture.

Now, if we were to take a poll of the church at large today, I would bet the percentage of people who actually go home and examine the message is low. Instead, what most people do is take the preachers word for it, but we can’t do that. There are people out there who want nothing more than to deceive us. So it will take a little work, but what we are supposed to do after hearing the preached Word is to make sure it matches up with Scripture.

I am convinced that if people are eager to study the Word, if it becomes a steady diet for them, and if they check the messages they hear against God’s Word, it will cut down on the amount of people being deceived by false teachers.

(2) We should warn others if they are sitting under false teaching

If we know that our friends, family, or a church member is sitting under false teaching, I think we have a responsibility to warn them. That is part of what it means for us to be apart of a covenant community. We are to care of and look out for one another. So if we know of someone sitting under false teaching, we should go and warn them.

(3) We should run from false teaching

If we find the teaching we are hearing to be false, we should run from it. We shouldn’t sit under it any longer. If we do, we are risking being deceived, we are risking being made a child of Satan and facing an eternity in hell. So if you find the teaching you are receiving to be false, run from it. Don’t sit under it any longer. The stakes are too high.

Summary

I believe those things should be our response to false teaching.

  • We should be Bereans.
  • We should warn others.
  • We should run from it.

Doing these things will help protect us from false teachers.

Question for Reflection

  1. What are some other things we can do to protect ourselves from false teachers?

Resources

Post adapted from my sermon False Teachers – Their Desire, Their Danger, Our Response

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