HOW TO DEAL WITH FALSE TEACHING

INTRODUCTION

© Rosemary Bardsley 2007

The title of this study series, ‘How to deal with false teaching’, assumes a number of facts:

1. That there is such a thing as ‘false teaching’

2. That there is such a thing as teaching that is not ‘false’

3. That, in a fundamental and eternal sense, it actually matters what we believe

4. That it is possible to discern what is ‘false teaching’ and what is God’s truth

5. That it is right to identify, reject, expose and oppose ‘false teaching’.

Each of these assumptions stands in stark contrast to the post-modern and post-Christian mindsets that characterize contemporary culture and that have insidiously invaded and impacted the mind of Christians both individually, and corporately as the church.

In the post-modern and post-Christian mindset:

        • There is no such thing as absolute truth that is true for all people, in all places, at all times.
        • There is no such thing as one ‘God’, who alone is ‘God’, and to whom everyone is answerable.
        • All religions are just human fabrications arising in different cultures at different times; it does not matter, therefore, which religion one chooses to follow.
        • ‘Truth’ is relative and subjective.
        • The distinctions ‘false’ and ‘true’, ‘evil’ and ‘good’, ‘wrong’ and ‘right’ are relative human constructions and have no real meaning or significance.
        • ‘Tolerance’ – the affirmation of all belief systems as equally valid – is the ultimate and, to some extent, the only universal virtue.
        • To claim that the Bible is the one true truth is both absurd and objectionable.

In our contemporary society the whole concept of ‘false teaching’ is also absurd, an idea hanging over from a previous but now redundant worldview in which the concepts of ‘truth’ and ‘absolute’ had real meaning. To identify a belief system as ‘false’ is meaningless. It is also considered ethically wrong.

However, from beginning to end the Bible presents God’s truth, which is upheld as right and the only system of truth to be believed and obeyed, in contrast with error, which is seen as false and wrong, and to be rejected and opposed:

[1] In Genesis 3 God’s truth is twisted and corrupted by the deceptive suggestions of Satan.

[2] From Exodus to Malachi the one true God stands in deliberate, confrontational opposition with all ‘other gods’.

[3] In Deuteronomy 18 belief in and use of occult powers is outlawed; this prohibition is repeated at various points through the Bible right up to the last chapter of Revelation.

[4] False prophets with false messages were opposed by the Old Testament prophets of God who spoke God’s message.

[5] The four Gospel records reveal that Jesus spent much of his public ministry exposing and opposing the erroneous beliefs and practices of his hearers.

[6] The presence of false teaching in the churches was either the primary reason, or a secondary reason, for which all of the New Testament letters except Philemon were written. Already, so soon after its initial reception, the pure gospel was being so corrupted that it was in danger of being lost. The New Testament letters and Revelation give clear instructions to Christians about how to deal with the ever-present false teaching, and stern warnings about the nature, content and impact of false teaching and false teachers:

Romans was written primarily to combat a divisive legalism within the church in Rome, in which Jewish Christians thought themselves superior to Gentile Christians because the latter did not have the law.

1 Corinthians corrects false teaching concerning Christian leaders, marriage, rules about foods, spiritual gifts, the nature of revelation, and the resurrection.

2 Corinthians exposes false apostles and their deceitfulness

Galatians is a head-on confrontation with Judaistic legalism.

Ephesians corrects legalistic divisions between Jewish and Gentile believers, seeking to correct their understanding of salvation and the nature of the church.

Philippians exposes the circumcision party as false teachers.

Colossians addresses a double-barrelled powerful heresy in which, on the one hand, Christ was being reduced to just one among many steps to knowing God, and on the other, a devastating type of legalism was crippling the believers.

In 1 Thessalonians errors regarding the last things are corrected.

In 2 Thessalonians believers are reminded of the deceptiveness of ‘the lawless one’ and Satan.

1 & 2 Timothy and Titus directly warn against false doctrines.

Hebrews is a massive affirmation of the supremacy of Christ and his salvation written to warn its readers who were standing on the brink of reverting to Judaism.

James opposes an antinomian interpretation of the Gospel.

1 Peter tells us that because Satan is prowling around looking for someone to devour we should resist him, ‘standing firm in the faith’.

2 Peter and Jude oppose a pernicious heresy which resulted in a godless lifestyle.

1 & 2 John confront a heresy in which the incarnation was denied; 1 John also confronts an antinomian lifestyle. In 3 John the apostle mentions twice how overjoyed he is when he hears that people are holding fast to the truth.

Revelation exposes the deceitful lies and counterfeit miracles of Satan and the grim fate waiting both him and those he deceives.

The Bible is not embarrassed by its references to false teaching or by the condemnation it heaps upon false teaching and false teachers. In fact, its exposure of false teaching or false belief, in contrast to the true truth, is a central and definitive theme. Its message is essentially this: that God alone is God, that all other ‘god’ concepts are to be rejected as false and that those who believe in false gods are already under condemnation. The only way to escape this condemnation is to acknowledge the one true God when he confronts us in his incarnate Son, Jesus Christ.

‘Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.’ [John 3:18]