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?

Image

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

Image

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

Image

False Teachers – Part 2b

False Teacher

If false teachers want the same thing as all teachers – for people to believe their message and follow their teaching – why are they so dangerous?

What’s the Danger of False Teachers?

(4) False Teacher’s teaching looks good on the surface but is flawed.

Jesus brings this out in His third woe, which is centered on oaths. In verses 16-18 we read,

““Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’” (Mt 23:16–18)

The scribes and Pharisees believed your oath was binding only if you swore by specific things. So for instance, if you swore by the Temple, you could break your promise, but if you swore by the gold on the Temple you couldn’t. Or if you swore by the altar instead of the gift on the altar you were free.

Now, on the surface that sounds good. It might even make sense to us, which is why false teachers are able to deceive people. Their reasoning seems to make sense until you dig a little deeper.

Jesus does exactly that, He digs a little deeper starting in verse 19 to point out the flaw in their argument. There He says,

You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.” (Mt 23:19–22)

So digging a little deeper, Jesus points out that you can’t escape an oath by using clever wording. He tells us our oaths are binding no matter what we swear by. Whether it be the gift or the altar, the gold or the temple, heaven or the throne of God, swearing by one means you swear by the whole thing and your oath is binding.

So false teachers are dangerous because on the surface their argument makes sense until you dig a little deeper or have someone point out the flaw. There are many examples of this, but let me just give you one.

Creflo Dollar, a known prosperity gospel teacher says that God has given us the power to seize and command riches and wealth to come to us. He bases this on Deuteronomy 8:18, which says,

You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.” (Dt 8:18)

If we were just to take that one verse in isolation, it might seem God has actually given us power to seize and command riches and wealth to come to us. But if we dig a little deeper and look at the surrounding context, we see that is not exactly what God has done. Starting in verse 11 Moses writes,

““Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God…

Then after telling them all the things God has done he says,

…Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.” (Dt 8:11–18)

Digging a little deeper, we see God hasn’t given us the power to seize and command riches and wealth. God instead is reminding us that He is the one who gives us all that we have. So we shouldn’t allow pride to swell up in our hearts thinking that we are the ones who have created our own wealth.

On the surface, Dollar’s teaching sounds good, it’s even tied to a verse in the Bible, but his message is false. You might not discover his teaching is wrong until you dig a little deeper or have someone point it out to you, which is what makes false teaching so dangerous. It looks good on the surface but it’s really flawed.

(5) False Teachers focus on things that are good but their focus is flawed

We see this in our last woe. Look what Jesus says in verses 23 and 24

““Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” (Mt 23:23–24)

Here, Jesus points out that the scribes and Pharisees focused on tithing to the exclusion of what Jesus calls the weightier matters of the Law. When Jesus says this, He isn’t condemning tithing. Tithing is a good thing, a necessary thing, it’s even something God commands. Instead, what Jesus condemns is their focus. He condemns their focus because their focus caused them to neglect mercy, justice, and faithfulness.

Sure, they gave exactly 10% of everything they brought in, but they treated others terribly. They exercised no mercy, they weren’t just in their dealings with others, nor were they faithful.

A modern day example of this is the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas. They state that their mission is to reclaim Christianity as a faith of extravagant grace, radical inclusion and relentless compassion.

Some of what they are on mission to do is good and right. God models and teaches us that we are to show grace and compassion to others. But this church, if you can really call it a church, focuses their attention on two attributes of God. They focus on grace and compassion to the exclusion of God’s other attributes.

Their focus on grace and compassion as led them not only to reach out to the LGBT community, but also to include those of other faiths as children of God, which are all things the Bible condemns. So while they are focused on things that are good, they have allowed that focus to take center stage and to supersede the gospel message.

So we see then that false teachers often focus on things that are good, but their focus is flawed. So we have to be careful, we have to be aware, and we have to realize that our focus must be on Jesus and the gospel message, not on something else.

For next time:

Now that we know the dangers of false teachers, what should our response be?

Question for Reflection

  1. Which of these strike you as particularly dangerous?

Resources

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

Image

False Teachers – Part 2a

False Teacher

If false teachers want the same thing as all teachers – for people to believe their message and follow their teaching – why are they so dangerous?

What’s the Danger of False Teachers?

(1) False Teachers use the same methods and platforms as those preaching the gospel

Take Joel Osteen for instance — he’s a false teacher, if you didn’t know. His ministry though looks no different than your average churches ministry. He preaches a message every week using the Bible. He writes books and blogs. He uses social media. He speaks at conferences. His facility is nice and accommodating.

Even though his ministry looks no different than your average churches, he is not preaching the same gospel. He’s preaching a prosperity gospel — One centered on wealth and health instead of Jesus.

But because his method and platform look no different than those preaching the true gospel, he is able to deceive 1000’s every year. So we can’t just go off of looks alone because looks are deceiving.

(2) False Teachers put forth the same or greater effort as those preaching the true gospel

Jesus tells us in verse 15 that the scribes and Pharisees:

travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte,” (Mt 23:15b)

A good modern day example of this is the Mormons. All Mormons, especially young men, are encouraged to participate in missionary work. Their work often takes them far from home, it requires them to learn other languages and cultures, and raise their own support.

The Mormon model mirrors that of Christian missionaries. I have several friends overseas right now working as missionaries. In order to do that, they had to travel far from home, learn other languages and cultures, and raise their own support.

False teachers aren’t sitting back and letting people come to them.

No, they are going out and winning people to their beliefs. They are doing the same thing we are doing. In some cases, they are putting forth more effort.

Their missionary effort makes them particularly dangerous because it means people will come into contact with their message. Many who do aren’t prepared and will be deceived.

So false teachers are dangerous because they both look the same and put in the same effort to reach people with their message, as those who are preaching the true gospel.

(3) False Teachers preach a false gospel that has eternal consequences

Jesus makes this clear in verses 13 and 15. He starts in 13 by saying,

““But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.

And then in verse 15 Jesus says that the scribes and Pharisees

Travel great distances to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” (Mt 23:13–15)

Instead of leading the people to God, the scribes and Pharisees lead them away from Him. Instead of making people children of God, they make them children of Satan. Instead of pushing them towards a Savior, they pull them away.

The way the scribes and Pharisees deceived people was by teaching them that keeping the Law was what saved you. I would argue that all others who are not preaching the true gospel are doing that as well – they are preaching a works based salvation.

A works based salvation, however, can never save us.

It can’t save us because God requires not just our best, but perfection. None of us have ever been or ever will be perfect.

You can think of it like this. If you were to take a glass rod, a perfect glass rod with no blemishes, and smash that rod against a stone. What do you think would happen? I will tell you what would happen. It would shatter into a thousand pieces.

Now, say you could collect all the pieces and you had the patience to glue them all back together. If you did that, you might be able to recreate something that looked like the original glass rod. However, it would be impossible to recreate a perfect glass rod without any blemishes.

That’s the same with us. You see, Adam and Eve broke our chance of ever living a perfect life. In that one instance, when they ate the fruit in the garden, rebelling against God, the whole world was plunged into sin.

Their sin means everyone born after Adam and Eve are born as imperfect sinners. No matter what we do we can never, in our own effort, return to the pre-fall state of Adam and Eve. The state where we could walk with God in the cool of the garden. It’s impossible.

Anyone, or any organization, that teaches that you can become good enough to have a relationship with God through your own effort is teaching a false gospel.

A gospel that doesn’t save, but kills. A gospel that doesn’t make you a child of God, but a child of Satan. This is true even if the message of the false teacher gives us hope. Makes us feel good. Helps us in this life. Or makes us into a good person.

So this isn’t a game. We shouldn’t dabble with false teaching. We shouldn’t come anywhere near it because we are dealing with something that has eternal consequences.

For next time:

Next time we will look at two more reasons false teachers are dangerous.

Question for Reflection

  1. Which of the three strike you as particularly dangerous?

Resources

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

Image

False Teachers – Part 1

False Teacher

False Teachers is an important topic to consider. It’s important because they have been deceiving the masses for centuries. God, however, doesn’t want that to happen. He doesn’t want people to be deceived by false teachers.

Instead God desires we be taught in such a way that we follow, worship, and serve Him. So He Himself warns us about false teachers in Matthew 23:13-24.

In order to break down the passage, I have framed it in 3 questions:

  1. What’s the desire of False Teachers?
  2. What’s the danger of False Teachers?
  3. What’s our response?

These three questions will serve as our roadmap for the next several days, as we explore the topic of false teachers.

What’s the desire of False Teachers?

I think false teachers are no different than any other teacher. They, just like any other teacher, pour themselves into their work. They spend a good amount of time studying and learning. They attend schools and conferences. They read and listen to others. They also write books, give speeches, lead organizations, and engage on social media. So they, just like any other teacher, pour themselves into their work.

With all the effort they put in, they want what all teachers want. False teachers want others to follow their teaching. They go to great lengths to make that happen.The scribes and the Pharisees sure did.

In verse 15, Jesus says,

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” (Mt 23:15)

We will focus on the first part of the verse for now. There Jesus tells us these guys would travel all over to make one proselyte – a convert.

These guys then were right up there with today’s best evangelists, traveling the known world at that time teaching, preaching, debating, and convincing people to follow them.

So then we see the desire of false teachers is for people to believe their message and follow their teaching, which is what all teachers desire.

Question for next time:

If that is the truth, if false teachers want the same thing as all teachers – for people to believe their message and follow their teaching – why are they so dangerous?

Question for Reflection

  1. When you think of false teachers, what desire comes to mind?

Resources

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

Image