Saturday, December 19, 2009

What Does a False Teacher Teach?

Words have consequences.

The reason for this is that words convey powerful meaning.

The term "false teacher" carries extremely strong meaning. I'm concerned because I hear this term being used fairly frequently to describe other people - usually those in teaching positions.

Sometimes this term is used for those who are teaching religions other than Christianity. Sometimes it is used to describe those who are teaching various forms of the gospel. Sometimes people use this term to describe others who teach differently from what they believe about church, family, eschatology, etc. Sometimes it is even used for people who simply do not use a preferred version of the bible.

The term "false teacher" is such an inflammatory one that we must be very careful in how we both define and apply it. We must look to the scriptures to find out what a false teacher actually is.

In the bible, false teachers are usually described in two ways: 1) by what they teach, and 2) by how they live.

In this post, I want to look at what the scriptures say about what false teachers actually teach. In the next post I'll look at how they live (these two things should not be separated in how we think about false teachers, but for the sake of post length, I've divided them here.)

So, what do false teachers actually teach? (Note: this is not an exhaustive list.)

Galatians 1:8-9 - But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

I Timothy 1:8-11 - Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.

II Peter 2:1 - But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.

I John 2:22-23 - Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.

Jude 3-4 - Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Also important to remember is this: Matthew 24:24 - For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.

The above verses tell us very clearly what false teachers teach: they teach against the gospel of Jesus Christ. They deny the basics of the faith. What it comes down to is that they, in one way or another, deny Christ himself. False teaching is a gospel issue.

It is important to recognize that the term "false teacher" is not applied to issues that are not gospel-centered. For example, "false teacher" is not applied to people who teach differently about issues such as baptism, the Lord's supper, the church, the family, etc. While those are important issues to be sure, the term "false teacher" is not used for people who are discussing them.

Also important is the fact that false teachers may, as we see predicted in Matthew 24:24, perform signs and wonders. We must be careful not to automatically believe someone just because of the signs they perform. Their message must be consistent with the gospel as taught in the bible.

So, what does a false teacher teach? He teaches against the gospel of Jesus Christ. He denies Christ as either fully-God or fully-man. He denies that Jesus is the only way of salvation. He denies the realities of heaven and hell. He may teach some doctrines (such as baptism, the Lord's supper, church , family, etc.) in such a warped way that it denies Christ Himself.

Anyone who denies Christ is a false teacher. Anyone who denies His gospel is a false teacher.

Anyone who teaches Christ correctly, but teaches a secondary doctrine in a manner we do not like, is not a false teacher. That teacher may need loving instruction/correction/rebuke, but he is not a false teacher.

8 comments:

Steve said...

boy, this one was right on time for me. I talked with a young man just Thursday, and his belief is not like mine. Being a baptist, I believe that if we are saved, when we die we go to where Jesus is, he believe's we stay in a grave until the return of Christ. He also believe's you can lose salvation, and also the ones that are lost, when they die, do go to this place called hell, but are burned up and is no more, this is not my belief, and found out that he thinks that baptist are false teachers. The flesh that I am wraped in, all but came out.I found out the best thing to do in this case is to just not relate with him about the bible, God's word.
God bless

Eric said...

Steve,

Wow. The young man you talked to has some unbiblical beliefs. However, he still seems to be a Christian. Clearly, you are not a false teacher; he doesn't appear to be one either.

You probably did respond correctly - better to not say anything than to respond in a manner we would later regret.

I hope you do get a chance to speak to him again. Maybe he will sit down with you with bibles open.

bowdenblog said...

Thanks for this post, very clear and appropriate in our day. I'll be linking to it!

Eric said...

Andy,

Thanks for the link.

We Christians far too often spend time dividing instead of uniting. We need to band together around the gospel.

Jeffrey E.W. said...

Eric,

Not long ago I would get very irritated with the people I would hear teaching (usually on t.v.) who could very well be "false" teachers at heart. What made me check my emotions was after I read Philipians, specifically chapter 1. If Paul was rejoicing because some guys were preaching the gospel, albeit for all the wrong reasons, then I shouldn't be getting upset. I think someone can deny the truth in his heart, but when the gospel is spoken from their lips it is no less the truth even if they think it to be, or intended it to be otherwise. The fact that the gospel is being spoken trumps any motives or agenda they may have.

-Jeff

Eric said...

Jeffery,

You make a good point. Proclamation of the biblical gospel is the key. Sometimes those TV preachers get the gospel right even when their motivation seems to be $$$$$.

It's ironic, I suppose, that someone could be a false teacher while occasionally getting the gospel right (only by the grace of God).

Rini said...

Thanks for blogging about this. It really does seem important to be placing the emphasis on the realities of the Gospel, and those that distort the truths about Jesus are... well, false teachers.

Looking forward to the second part, Eric. =]

Eric said...

Rini,

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the core issue. Those of us who call Jesus "Lord" should unite rather than divide.