More often, someone criticizes my preaching and teaching not because something I said was false, but rather because I have overemphasized one aspect and underemphasized another. I stressed grace too much and stressed holiness too little. I talked about the love of God more than I talked about the wrath of God. And so forth.
I admit that I frequently overemphasize some element of the Christian faith and underemphasize another. I am still a young minister trying to find the right balance.
Underemphasizing the Dangers of False Teaching
But I am certain that the church is underemphasizing something that shows up frequently in the New Testament: warning against false teachers.
Many of you probably scoff at that suggestion, firmly believing that it is better that the churches are beginning to move past labeling everyone we disagree with as a false teacher. And in some ways I agree with you.
But not all movement is progress, and, nonetheless, not all progress is Biblical. We live in an age where any movement past old-school Christianity is Biblical progress, despite old-school teaching containing some Biblical aspects.
Biblical Warnings About False Teachers
How often do you encounter Peter, Paul, John, and Jesus himself warning Christians that false teachers will be within the church and corrupt the church from within? These warnings are frequent, and yet they are absent from much of our preaching, especially the preaching of “progressive” churches. Ironically, these churches claim to restore a Biblical balance in their teachings on grace, benevolence, and unity, while continuing to grossly underemphasize the dangers of false teaching.
Listen to 1 Timothy 4:1-5:
1 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 3 They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. 4 For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
Paul not only warns them about false teachers, he told them what the content of this false teaching would be! He didn’t just say “Beware of false teachers!” He told them what the false teachers would teach. Do ministers do that?
Good Ministers Warn Others About False Teachers
Though Timothy was a preacher, this warning was not only for preachers. Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:6:
If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.
This verse makes it clear that a good minister warns his followers about false teachers and the what the false teachers teach.
Do you want to know if you are a good minister? Ask yourself whether you warn people about false teachers. If you are not a minister, then ask yourself: does my minister warn me about false teachers and false teachings? If not, he is not a good minister.
Central doctrines do matter. The Bible teaches that sheep can be led away from the flock to rebel against God. The Bible is plain about this.
The need to warn against false teaching has is underscored by the number of Christians who think any book in the Christian section of a bookstore is safe and potentially helpful. This is like thinking that everything that is in a kitchen must be edible. But, like assuming the Christian section of a bookstore is trustworthy, one is in danger because poison is often kept ther.
Our people are being poisoned and we aren’t even giving them the courtesy of being warned.
Dangers to Avoid
But we need to be careful with labeling someone or something as false teaching. I grew up in churches where everyone who disagreed with any jot or tittle of our theology was a false teacher. For those of us who grew up in that, we have grown tired of legalistic warnings against false teachers. So we need to be careful.
But we still need to warn others and be warned about false teachers. Here are four dangers to avoid when warning people about false teaching:
- Always talking about the “liberal” false teachers without warning about “legalistic” false teachers. The churches I grew up in always warned us about the “liberal” false teachers who taught that women could pray in the company of men, but they didn’t warn us about the “legalistic” false teachers who bound us to man-made traditions.
- Always talking about the “legalistic” false teachers without warning about “liberal” false teachers. Some churches never warn about the dangers in straying from the essentials of the faith, while always warning about the dangers of legalism.
- Never warning your congregation against false teachers that are popular among your listeners. This is a dangerous thing to do, because you can offend many people. But your listeners need to know about the false teachers they read and listen to more than the false teachers they dislike or haven’t heard of.
- Labeling others as false teachers when the Bible wouldn’t label them that way. This requires us to interpret carefully the passages in the Bible dealing with false teachers, being careful not to read into the text what we want it to say.
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