[Gospel+Way Update] Danger of False Teaching - GospelWay Update for March | Gospel+Way

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Mon Mar 15 10:03:31 PDT 2010


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** David E. Pratte
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Danger of False Teaching
==================

How serious is the problem of false teaching? Does the Bible contain 
many warnings about religious error and false teachers? Should we 
compromise and overlook differences in doctrine so that we fellowship 
people regardless of their errors? How important is spiritual truth? How 
concerned should we be about false prophets?

This is the subject of this month's Bible study article. I encourage you 
to study the article carefully, and I hope you find it helpful. The 
study is included below in ASCII or plain text format. To see the 
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++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
The Danger of False Teaching vs. the Importance of Truth
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Introduction:

I once heard a preacher say, "There is only one passage in all the Bible 
that mentions false teachers."
*****************************************************

Why would a man, professing to be a teacher of God's word, say that? He 
sought to convince people that false teaching is not a great danger: The 
Bible does not warn against it often so it we don't need to be very 
concerned about it. You might see it occasionally, but not very often.

Why would someone want us to believe that? He advocated overlooking most 
points of disagreement about Scripture and fellowshiping people who are 
involved in obvious religious error.

This idea has many labels: "ecumenism," "political correctness," etc. 
People defend it by saying we should not "judge" others but should have 
a spirit of love and be more Christ-like, etc. The basic idea is that we 
should achieve fellowship among various groups by compromise: i.e., by 
ignoring differences in doctrine and practice. They say we should oppose 
immorality, hypocrisy, or open denial of God, etc. But we should not 
teach that, in order to be acceptable to God, people must repent of 
errors in worship or religious practices. As long as they sincerely seek 
to worship God, we should fellowship them.

A fundamental plank in this platform is the doctrine that false teaching 
is not very serious, so we do not need to be very concerned about it.

The purpose of this study is to consider just how serious a problem 
false teaching really is.
*****************************************************

Surely we must agree that we should not condemn practices that harmonize 
with God's will. But the question is: Should we view false teaching as a 
serious threat, or should we tone down our opposition to it and seek 
unity based on compromise with those whose practices cannot be found in 
Scripture? Does the Bible contain many warnings against false teaching, 
or is it a minor concern rarely mentioned?

Consider the following Bible teachings:

I. Warnings against False Teaching
 >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Is it true that false teaching is rarely discussed in Scripture, or are 
there many passages that mention it?

2 Peter chap. 2
**************

This is the one passage that expressly mentions "false teachers."

Vv 1,2 - There will be false teachers today just as there were false 
prophets in Israel. They bring destructive heresies, cause destruction, 
and many follow their error. They forsake the right way and go astray 
(v15). Those who follow their error would be better to have never known 
the truth (vv 20-22).

This may be the only passage that technically uses the words "false 
teacher," nevertheless this passage itself shows it is a serious 
problem. The context discusses the problem for an entire chapter and 
gives a stinging rebuke. It warns that "many" will be led astray by 
false teachers. But it is not the only passage on the subject! Note: 
"False teachers" are called "false prophets" (v1).

Matthew 7:15
*************

Beware of false prophets, who are wolves in sheep's clothing. Many 
people who follow their teachings will think they are pleasing to God, 
but will be rejected because they have not done His will (vv 21-23).

Note that these false teachers come in disguise. They do not appear to 
be false teachers. V21 shows that they don't necessarily deny Christ: 
they call Him "Lord, Lord." They appear to be "sheep," not "wolves"; 
they appear to be godly, sincere, good moral people. But they teach 
enough error to cause people to be lost.

This passage uses the phrase "false prophet," instead of "false 
teacher," but it shows that false teaching is a serious problem. Jesus 
expressly warned us to be on guard for it; He said false teachers will 
be hard to recognize, and that "many" will be rejected because of their 
influence. Doesn't that sound serious?

2 Corinthians 11:13-15
*********************

False apostles are deceitful workers who pretend to be apostles of 
Jesus. They are like Satan himself, who pretends to be an angel of 
light. One reason false teaching is so dangerous is that it is 
deceitful; numerous passages warn about this danger.

Before I make any major purchase, I like to go on the Internet and read 
product reviews written by people who have actually bought the item. You 
may read something like: "This product consists of cheap materials 
assembled by shoddy workmanship. It is sure to break within a month, and 
then you will learn that the company does not stand behind its warranty. 
In short, it is a lousy product and you would be better off buying a 
different brand." Obviously, such reviews must be taken with a grain of 
salt; the reviewer may have gotten a lemon or may have ulterior motives, 
etc.

But when you shop in a store, would you find such a label attached to a 
product? Who would buy it? Even if they knew it to be true, neither the 
manufacturer nor the store would admit it.

The same is true of false teaching. If it came clearly labeled as error, 
who would buy it? So, Satan's favorite trick is to disguise false 
teaching and make it appear as truth.

V3 illustrates this. Satan led Eve to sin by deceiving her. (See notes 
below.) The first sin resulted from deception, and Satan has used that 
technique ever since. He makes counterfeits that fool people because 
they are so much like what God made, and he promotes them by men who 
seem to be so godly, but there is just enough error to cause people to 
be lost (Matt. 15:14).

Again, this passage does not use the words "false teacher." It uses 
"false apostle." But who could deny that it is intended to show the 
serious danger of false teaching?

1 Timothy 4:1-3
***************

The Spirit expressly warns that some will fall away from the faith and 
speak lies and doctrines of demons. This includes doctrines such as 
forbidding marriage, commanding to abstain from meats, etc.

A person does not have to be an openly immoral rebel to teach such 
doctrines. He might claim to believe in God and the Bible and live a 
decent, moral life. He could be a hypocrite, but a hypocrite is a 
deceiver: he fools people to think that he is upright and godly when he 
is not. So those who believe his teaching may be honest, sincere people 
who have been deceived.

That is the danger of false teaching.

2 Timothy 4:2-4
***************

The time will come when men will not endure sound doctrine, but will 
heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts, and will turn aside 
from truth to fables. So he charged faithful teachers to preach the 
truth and rebuke such errors.

The passage does not mention the words "false teachers," but who can 
deny that it discusses the subject and shows that it is a serious problem?

1 John 4:1
**********

Do not believe every spirit, but put them to the test, because many 
false prophets have gone out into the world. This warning about false 
prophets expressly says it is a common problem: there are "many" false 
prophets.

If you only consider the exact phrase "false teacher," then it is 
technically correct to say the expression is used only once. But the 
statement itself illustrates the kind of deceitful half-truths that all 
these passages have been warning about, because there are many, many 
passages that warn against the concept of false teaching; they simply 
use other phrases to describe it.

[Galatians 1:6-9; 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12; Matt. 24:11,24; Acts 
20:29,30; Col. 2:8; Tit. 1:9-14; 3:10,11; Eph. 4:14; 5:6; 2 Pet. 
3:15,16; 1 Cor. 4:6; Lam. 2:14; Zech. 10:2; 1 Tim. 6:20,21; 6:5; 1:3; 
Luke 6:26; Deut. 18:20; Heb. 13:9; Rom. 16:17,18; James 5:19,20; Psa. 
119:118]

II. Examples of False Teachers
 >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

The Bible not only expressly warns us of the danger of false teaching, 
it also gives us many examples that demonstrate the consequences of 
accepting error. Note that many of these teachers were not immoral 
reprobates who openly denied the existence of God. And in most cases the 
people who followed the false teachers were neither reprobates nor 
hypocrites; rather they accepted error because they were deceived by the 
false teachers.

A. The Serpent - 1 Timothy 2:14; 2 Corinthians 11:3
===================================

Eve sinned because she was beguiled or deceived. God said she would die 
if she ate, but Satan tricked her with the false doctrine that she would 
not die but would become like God.

Eve was not a hypocrite or moral reprobate, nor did she deny God's 
existence. She was deceived by a false teacher. Was there no serious 
consequence in this? Think of all the horrible problems that came into 
the world - even into your life and mine - as a result of this one act.

Surely this illustrates the serious problems that false teaching can cause.

B. The Ten Spies - Numbers 13:30-33
==========================

These men said Israel could not enter Canaan because the people in the 
land were too great to be defeated. This was simply false: God would 
have given the power they needed to conquer the land, even as He later 
did under Joshua. But the people believed this false teaching and 
refused to enter.

Again, the people where not immoral hypocrites who openly denied God's 
existence. Yet the consequence was the people wandered forty years in 
the wilderness till everyone over age twenty died, except the two 
faithful spies.

Who would deny that this false doctrine had serious consequences?

C. Opponents of Old Testament Prophets
============================

In the Old Testament, God's faithful prophets often opposed false 
teachers who attempted to lead God's people into sin.

Jeremiah 23:13-17,21,22,25,26,32 - God said that the prophets spoke by 
Baal, not what God had told them. They caused the people to err, and 
encouraged them in sin instead of urging them to repent. They prophesied 
lies and deceit, and did not profit the people. Why give such a stern 
rebuke if false teaching is not dangerous?

Ezekiel 13:1-9,22,23 - Prophets spoke from their own hearts, not from 
God. It was futility and false divination. They grieved the righteous 
and caused the wicked to continue in sin.

These are just a few of many examples we could examine. Had people of 
the ecumenical spirit lived in those days, would they have given such 
firm rebukes to these false teachers or would they have sought to 
fellowship them despite their false practices? Note that one of God's 
main objections to false teaching was that it led people to think they 
could safely continue in their sins instead of warning them to repent. 
But that is exactly what modern ecumenical teachers do!

[Jeremiah 28:15-17; 1 Kings 12:26-33; Jer. 5:30,31; 27:9,10,14-16; 
29:8,9; 14:14; Isa. 30:10.]

D. Jewish Leaders in Jesus' Day
======================

Matthew 15:1-9,12-14 - The Pharisees transgressed God's command because 
of human tradition. Following human commands makes worship vain. Those 
who follow such teachers, fall into the ditch with the teacher. Jesus 
believed that following false teaching has serious consequences, so he 
rebuked the false teachers and told others to "leave them alone."

Mark 12:24,27 - Sadducees refused to believe in the resurrection of the 
dead. Jesus said they were greatly mistaken not knowing the Scriptures.

These are just a few of many passages where Jesus rebuked the false 
teaching of Jewish leaders. Note that neither the teaching of the 
Sadducees nor that of the Pharisees involved immorality nor unbelief in 
God's existence. And while the teachers themselves may have been 
hypocrites, the people who followed them were often quite sincere. Yet 
Jesus rebuked the false teachers and warned people not to follow them.

[See also John 8:43- 47.]

E. Judaizing Teachers - Galatians 2:4,5; 5:1-7
===============================

Judaizing teachers taught that people had to be circumcised and keep Old 
Testament laws to be saved (Acts 15:1,24). Paul said such were false 
brethren, and he refused to compromise with their teaching for so much 
as an hour. Those who accepted this false teaching are not obeying 
truth, but are fallen from grace.

Note again the severe consequences of following false teaching, yet the 
practice in question was not a matter of immorality, hypocrisy, or 
unbelief in God's existence (or in Jesus as the Savior, etc.). Would 
those of the ecumenical spirit oppose such teaching? Compromise is the 
essence of their view. Yet Paul refused to submit. [cf. 2:11-14.]

F. False Teachers in Asia - Revelation chap. 2
===============================

Jesus' own statements to the seven churches of Asia include several 
strong warnings about the danger of false teaching.

2:2 - Ephesus was commended because they put to the test men who claimed 
to be apostles, and proved they were liars.

2:14-16 - Pergamum was rebuked because they had some there who taught 
the false doctrine of Balaam and some who held the doctrine of the 
Nicolaitans, which Jesus hated. He said they must repent or He would 
come and fight against them. Was that doctrine insignificant?

2:20-22 - Thyatira was also rebuked because it allowed a false teacher, 
Jezebel, to teach and lead people into sin.

These show that God does want us to reject and firmly oppose false 
teaching. In fact failure to oppose false teaching is itself one of the 
errors that the Lord firmly rebukes! Many other examples of false 
teaching can be found in both Old Testament and New Testament.

Honestly, does this sound like false teaching is not a very serious 
matter? Is it true that there are not many warnings about it in the Bible?

[See also Acts 13:6-12; Jer. 20:6; Amos 2:4; Isa. 9:15,16; 3:12; 1 Kings 
13:18; 22:22f; 2 Chron. 33:9; Mic. 3:5; 2 Tim. 2:18; 1 Tim. 1:19,20; 
Malachi 2:7,8; Zech. 13:3.]

III. Teaching about the Importance of Truth
 >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

At the root of the problem, why should we be so concerned about false 
teaching?

A. Appreciation for Truth Requires Opposition to Error.
======================================

When two things are opposites, if I am for one thing, I must be against 
its opposite. In fact, the stronger I favor something, the stronger I 
must oppose its opposite.

Examples:

(1) If I favor a democratic republic, I must oppose dictatorship.

(2) If I favor life, I must oppose death.

(3) If I favor light, I must oppose darkness. The more I value the one, 
the more I must object to the other.

But error is the opposite of truth. If I appreciate truth, then, I must 
oppose error. To say that false practices do not matter much, is to 
necessarily imply that truth does not matter much!

Every passage that emphasizes the importance of truth, simultaneously 
emphasizes the danger of error. The more I care about truth, the more 
firmly I will oppose error. So, consider:

B. Passages that Emphasize the Importance of Truth
====================================

Proverbs 23:23 - Buy the truth and sell it not. Truth must be obtained 
at all costs. Once we have it, we must not surrender it for any price. 
Nothing is more valuable than truth. But if we really care about truth, 
then we must firmly object to accepting error.

John 8:31,32 - To be free from sin (v34) so we can be Jesus' disciples, 
we must know and abide in the truth. What if we do not know the truth, 
but abide in error? Then we are not Jesus' disciples; we are servants of 
sin.

James 3:17 - Wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable. Peace is 
so important that we should never sacrifice it for the sake of our own 
stubborn opinions or personal preferences. Yet important as peace is, 
purity in doctrine and practice is even more important.

The ecumenical spirit says that we should be first peaceable, but don't 
worry much about purity. God's word says to be first pure, then peaceable.

Jude 3 - Earnestly contend for the faith that was once delivered to the 
saints. But to contend for the faith absolutely requires us to oppose 
false teaching, because it contradicts the faith (cf. Eph. 4:3-6).

Psalms 119:104,105 - If we consider God's precepts to be right, then we 
must hate every false way. You cannot support truth without opposing error.

2 John 9-11 - If we do not abide in Jesus' teachings, we do not have 
God. If we want to have God, we must abide in His teachings, and this 
requires us to refuse to fellowship those who bring other teachings.

The problem with false teaching is that it contradicts truth and leads 
people away from God's will. When a person belittles the danger of 
error, he is also belittling the value of truth. So the real reason why 
we ought to be concerned about false teaching is that we care about 
truth. And the reason we care about truth is that we care about God and 
other people. We want to please God by following His will and helping 
other people do the same.

[John 4:23,24; Rom. 2:6-11; 1 Pet. 1:22-25; Rom. 16:17,18]

Conclusion
========

1 Corinthians 10:12 - Let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall.
*****************************************************

One of the surest ways to become a victim of false doctrine is to think 
that it is not dangerous and you don't need to be concerned about it.

When someone tells you that false teaching is not a big problem and you 
don't need to be very concerned about it, he is teaching you a false 
doctrine when he says it! And it is just a matter of time before he will 
try to get you to accept other false teachings! Not every false teacher 
will belittle the danger of false teaching. But anytime a man does tell 
you that false teachers are not a serious danger, you can be sure he is 
telling you that either because he is a false teacher or because he is 
under the influence of false teachers!

What should we do about it?
***************************

How can we escape the danger of false teaching?

(1) Love the truth. We have seen that the people who are most likely to 
accept error are the people who are not sufficiently dedicated to the truth.

(2) Study God's word diligently. The way to recognize error is to 
compare it to the truth (Acts 17:11; 2 Tim. 2:15; 3:16,17).

(3) Honestly examine every doctrine and practice before we accept it (2 
Cor. 13:5).

(4) Let God's word be the standard for all our spiritual decisions (Gal. 
1:6-9; 2 Tim. 3:16,17; Matt. 15:9; 2 John 9; etc.)

What about you and me? Do we care about truth? Do we care enough to 
study diligently, remove error from our lives, and serve God faithfully? 
If you know the truth about becoming a Christian, have you obeyed it? 
Are you living a faithful life as a Christian?

(C) Copyright 1991, 2009, David E. Pratte

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