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HOW TO DEAL WITH FALSE TEACHERS

STUDY 9: RECOGNIZE FALSE TEACHING TODAY

© Rosemary Bardsley 2007

Note: Please read the previous study before reading this study.

This study has the potential to offend. That is not its purpose. Its purpose is [1] to honour and preserve God’s truth revealed in his written Word, by contending for the faith once delivered to the saints, and [2] to protect God’s children from the damaging impact of false teaching by alerting them to non-biblical concepts being taught as God’s truth in churches today. Jesus Christ paid dearly to reveal the Father to us and to redeem us from sin and judgment. That exceedingly precious gift must not be treated with contempt; it must be honoured and confirmed, and defended against error. This necessitates exposing error and potential error. Such exposure is commanded by the Scripture.

In this study, as in all the studies in this series, the terms ‘false teaching’ and ‘false’ are used to refer to teaching that is contrary to what the Bible teaches. This study takes the Bible as its benchmark, and asks the question: ‘Is this particular teaching taught by the Bible?’

What does this question mean?

It does not mean ‘Do those who teach it quote the Bible?’ or ‘Is there one verse in the Bible that could be interpreted to mean this?’ It means, rather, ‘Is this teaching compatible with or contradictory to the clear teaching of the entire Bible in a number of key critical areas?’ As the history of false teaching clearly indicates it is very possible, indeed it is common, to use biblical words or concepts, and to quote Bible verses, to teach and support teaching that is obviously not in line with the plain teaching of the Bible, and that conflicts with the over-arching message and purpose of the Bible. It is very possible, indeed it is common, to carelessly or arrogantly reinterpret the Bible to make it mean whatever one wants it to mean.

Obviously, for those who do not hold the Bible to be the complete and final word of God, this study, indeed this whole series of studies, is rather pointless. Such people have, by their own choice, put themselves beyond the reach and authority of the Bible, and have left themselves with no fixed boundary by which to define and recognize truth.

The key critical areas by which this study evaluates contemporary teaching are as follows:

As we have seen in our studies on false teaching, these are the areas which the Bible identifies as the key areas in which false teaching occurs.

There are several levels of false teaching in the contemporary church:

[1] Contemporary teaching that is clearly different from the teaching found in the Bible. This is teaching we should definitely and deliberately designate ‘false’ and warn people not to believe it.

[2] Contemporary teaching that appears to be different from the teaching found in the Bible, but we’re not sure why or how. This is teaching we should be very wary of, and diligently search the scriptures to determine whether it is true or false. We should ask ourselves questions like ‘What are the implications of this teaching? Does it, or does it have the potential to, interfere in some way with the clear revealed truth about who Jesus is and what Jesus did? Does it divert attention away from the written Word and on to contemporary, subjective revelation?’

[3] Teaching where there are different and even conflicting interpretations of what the Bible teaches regarding a specific, non-central, topic, and concerning which there has been no general agreement through the history of the church even among those who agree on all other points of doctrine, and who are committed to the authority and finality of the biblical revelation.  This is teaching that has a potential to be false, because not all the different interpretations can be true at the same time. Because they are not central issues we should not make them points of division between believers, or, worse, reasons for exclusion from God’s kingdom. We should however diligently study the scriptures for insight and enlightenment even in these areas.  When we come to a decision regarding our standpoint it should be on the basis of the faithfulness of the teaching and its potential impact regarding who Jesus is and what Jesus did on the cross. We should choose the option that [1] retains the integrity of the real humanity and real deity of Christ, and [2] maintains the grace nature of the salvation he obtained for us.

It is not the purpose of this study to name individuals or groups, but to identify teaching that varies from the clear teaching of the Bible; it may on occasion refer to various isms out of which certain false teaching rises. It does not contain quotes from the teaching or writings of individuals, but makes general references to the kinds of errors that are being taught today as if they were biblical truth. The reader is left to make the connections between these errors and the individuals and organizations that teach them.

Note that almost all of the errors listed below are found within contemporary churches and under the banner of the designation ‘Christian’. These are things taught by people who identify as Christians. As such they have more potential to harm the church and destroy the true gospel than any obviously godless ideas taught by unbelievers outside the church.

A. CONTEMPORARY ERRORS CONCERNING THE NATURE OF REVELATION

Rejection of supernatural revelation – denial of God’s inspiration of the Bible:

The impact of secular humanism on the church has resulted in some theologians, pastors, and church-goers denying the concept of ‘supernatural’ revelation. Divine inspiration of the Bible is denied. It is seen as a human book, and therefore fallible and lacking in authority – containing errors both in historical, physical matters and in spiritual matters, and irrelevant in its out-dated, culturally dependent moral precepts. It is placed on a par with other religious writings.

Rejection of the exclusive uniqueness of the Bible:

Alongside of the above, and an expression of the above, the Bible is seen as just one of many religious writings. For people who retain some concept of ‘god’, the Bible is just one of many roads that lead to ‘god’. It is neither unique nor exclusive. The ‘god’ it projects is [sometimes] seen to be just the same ‘god’ concept as referred to in other writings by a different name.

Reduction of the historicity of the biblical records:

Some, while accepting the concept of supernatural divine revelation, reject the historicity of some parts of the Bible, particularly Genesis 1-11, and designate these as ‘myth’ rather than ‘history’. [However, the New Testament indicates that Jesus and the apostles referred to incidents in these chapters as real historical facts.]

Treating the Bible as incomplete [1]:

Church traditions are formalized and placed alongside of the Bible as the [additional] authoritative word of God. Sometimes these traditions become more important than the Bible itself, or are used to authoritatively re-interpret the Bible.

Treating the Bible as incomplete [2]:

‘Revelations’ given to individuals [by way of dreams, visions, etc] are understood to be from God and to communicate information and/or instructions that God wants us to know. In some instances these ‘revelations’ replace the Bible, in others they reinterpret or over-ride the Bible, in others they supplement the Bible. [Note: every false cult that the author has researched, and one major world religion, owes its origin in part or in whole to this kind of supposed ‘revelation’ from God received by an individual.]

Treating the Bible as incomplete [3]:

There are popular preachers today who state that the Bible is not sufficient for twenty-first century people, that we need more, and that there are new, modern-day prophets and apostles through whom God is providing this additional contemporary revelation. The words of these new apostles and prophets are said to have equal or more authority than the prophets and apostles whom God used to write the Bible.

Such teaching denies the completeness and sufficiency of the Scripture, and undermines its authority. The New Testament makes several references to the fact that our faith is grounded on ‘the prophets and the apostles’, meaning the Old Testament ‘prophets’ [every OT book is prophetic of Christ], and the New Testament apostles, by whose message the church was established and the gospel of Christ defined and recorded. There is nothing more to know: the OT looked forward to Christ, the NT looked back to Christ. God’s self-revelation is complete.

Each of the above three errors assumes that the Bible is neither absolute, nor final, nor sufficient – that we need more, and that God gives more, revelation of himself. They also minimize our concept of Jesus Christ. He claimed that to see him is to see the Father, that to know him is to know the Father [John 12:44-46; 14:7-9]. He claimed that he is ‘the truth’ [John 14:6]. The New Testament teaches that all that God is, is in Christ [Colossians 1:19; 2:9], and that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Christ [Colossians 2:3]. There is a completeness and finality in the way Christ revealed God that does not allow for further revelation.

Treating the Bible with contempt:

The following practices are a few examples of either ignorant or arrogant contempt for the Bible. While seeming to uphold it as an authoritative source of divine truth, people who treat it in these ways display an ignorance of or disregard for its absolute, objective, unchanging and unified message, and also an ignorance of or disregard for its cohesive rationality and well-reasoned and systematic presentation of the truth. They also, in practice, despise the divine source and divine authority of the written Word, thinking that they can interfere with its message, and/or interpret it anyway they please.

Trivializing the Bible

The grand, deep, powerful and eternal purpose and focus of the Bible is ignored and overlooked. Its focus ceases to be Christ and becomes the reader. Taken out of context, reinterpreted, wrongly applied, biblical statements are robbed of their eternal, absolute, Christ-centred meaning, and given trivial present, personal application to the particular, present, personal problems of the person reading them. The objective, absolute truth is replaced by subjective and relative personal interpretations. In some instances it is used as nothing more that a spurious means of divining one’s future, a lucky-dip from which the reader pulls a ‘word from the Lord’, a short-cut method of finding supposed divine guidance.

Syncretism

Evident in churches today are the following syncretistic combinations which have resulted in the reduction and/or reinterpretation of Biblical truth:

Outsourcing ‘truth’ then using that ‘truth’ to redefine biblical truth

Understanding of God and spirituality is sourced from and defined by subjective individual or group experiences rather than being sourced from and defined by the objective written Word. The ‘truth’ obtained from or concluded from experience is then imposed upon the Bible and used to redefine and reinterpret the meaning of the Bible.

Journaling

Journaling displays an erroneous attitude when it is understood to mean that the thoughts I write in my journal as I read the Bible and pray are God’s word for me for the day. This reduces God’s word, God’s truth, to my own personal thoughts.

B. CONTEMPORARY ERRORS CONCERNING THE PERSON OF CHRIST

Denial of the historical reality of Jesus Christ

Usually outside the church, some people do not believe that Jesus is a historical person. They believe he is just a mythical figure.

Denial of the real humanity of Jesus Christ

In its blatant form, not as common today as in some periods of history. There are some quite subtle ideas still around that interfere with the real humanity of Christ, suggesting or teaching that he did not feel the pressure of temptation in the same way that we do. [This is debunked in Hebrews 2, 4 and 5, where it is pointed out that he was in all points tempted as we are yet without sin. His real humanity is essential for him to [1] substitute for us under the death penalty for sin, and [2] represent us in the presence of God.]

Denial of the reality of the Trinity

Christ is seen as merely a mode of expression, or a manifestation, of God, or an emanation from God. He is not understood as a distinct being or person within a triune godhead.

Denial of the uniqueness of Christ

Christ is seen as just another manifestation of the divine being/s or prophet/s who appeared to other people at different times in different places under different names. Or, Christ is one among many religious leaders, all of whom are equally valid.

Denial of the full deity of Christ [the worst error one can embrace – see previous study]

Jesus is taught to be something less than and inferior to God, not of the same essence or nature or being as God, and not co-eternal with God. Very common both in the history of the church and in contemporary ‘false cults’. Also overtly or subtly present in some sections of the church today. Be alert for the following, all of which either deny or compromise the full deity of Christ:

Teaching that interferes with or reduces the exclusive supremacy of Christ

This is an area filled with a range of teaching and practices not found in the scriptures. The reader is referred to the study on Satan and demons on this website for an analysis of the biblical teaching in this area. The following errors can be noted:

Teaching that Jesus is a physical saviour

This error parallels the error of those Jews who wanted to force Jesus to be a physical, political Messiah; it also parallels those who followed him simply for his miracles. Today this reduction of Jesus to a physical saviour is evident in:

C. CONTEMPORARY ERRORS CONCERNING SALVATION

Denial of the need for salvation from sin and judgment

Those who, influenced by secular humanism and/or naturalism, deny everything that is ‘supernatural’, usually also deny the concepts of ‘heaven’, ‘hell’, ‘life after death’. ‘Salvation’ in the spiritual sense of being saved from God’s wrath and from hell, and given eternal life and qualified for heaven, is, therefore, viewed as a meaningless, or at most, a symbolic, concept.

Redefinition of ‘salvation’ [1]

For the above, ‘salvation’ is redefined in sociological, economic, relational, or political terms. It is applied to any liberating experience that occurs in any belief system, even in the absence of a spiritual belief system. The gospel becomes, for example, purely a social or political gospel, or some form of liberation theology.

Redefinition of ‘salvation’ [2]

The application of salvation is moved from liberation from sin’s penalty to freedom from sin in such a way that the person saved is seen as liberated from the power and presence of sin in their lives. Hence we find the following deliberate or implied errors:

Salvation by human merit

This has always been a common error. It has several manifestations in contemporary Christianity and contemporary cults:

Reception of God’s blessing, or of more of God’s blessings, on the basis of human performance

The following teachings are among those commonly found in contemporary Christianity in relation to how the blessing of God, or additional blessings from God, are obtained.

As a devastating flow-on, the absence of blessing [commonly understood as the absence of ‘health’ or ‘wealth’ and/or the presence of sickness, disability, poverty or suffering] is taught to be the evidence of sin in one’s life, or of inadequate or wrong faith.

Denial of grace

Every teaching in the two sections above denies the grace nature of salvation and presents a legalistic message. They place the effective cause of salvation in our human hands and as a result change salvation from ‘grace’ or ‘gift’ [the freely given gift of God which all believers possess in equal measure], to ‘merit’ [something which we have merited, earned or deserved by what we are or what we do; or, in the case of some of the second section, something that we ourselves have a part in bringing into effect.] This destroys the unity and equality of believers, segregating them into the haves and the have nots, and generating pride on the one hand and guilt and despair on the other.

Denial of our human inability and total lostness

All of the above teachings overlook the clear biblical teaching that left to ourselves it is not possible for us to make a single move towards God – that we are powerless, dead, alienated from God, objects of God’s wrath, held captive and bound by sin and Satan, etc, etc.

Denial [or disregard] of justification by faith [imputed righteousness]

The effective result of any or all of the above is the denial or disregard of the strong biblical teaching of justification by faith [that is, the legal acquittal, the ‘not guilty’ declaration, which God, on the sole basis of Christ’s sin-bearing death, pronounces concerning those who believe in Christ.]

As a result of this denial or ignorance of justification by faith the Christian is left with a load of guilt and no real assurance of salvation. He/she is also left with the burden of some how or other having to gain and/or maintain salvation and/or God’s blessings by his/her own efforts or personal spirituality. Rather than resting in the imputed righteousness of Christ believers struggle to merit, and to continue to merit, God’s acceptance and on-going favour by and through their own righteousness.

Denial [or overlooking] of the concept of substitutionary atonement

Whether stated, implied, or simply ignored, any or all of the above effectively deny the biblical fact that Christ really did die as our substitute, taking our place, and paying in full the penalty for our sins. As a result of this denial or oversight, Christians live in the presence of God as though some or all of their sins still have the power to separate them from God, to attract God’s judgment and punishment, and to limit or cut off God’s blessing.

Misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the impact of the cross of Christ on Satan and demons

Some contemporary teaching gives the following false impressions, all of which reduce our concept of salvation:

We could also mention here the belief that personal sins are caused by specific demons … the spirit of lust, the spirit of anger, etc. Such teaching interferes with both the meaning of Christ’s substitutionary death for our sins, and also the meaning and completeness of the salvation he gained for us. [It also robs the believer of personal responsibility regarding his current sin.] See the separate study on Satan and Demons on this website for an extended study.

Using salvation to excuse godless behaviour

Superficial or inadequate understanding and appreciation of who Jesus is and what actually occurred in his death leads some to an antinomian response. Grace and forgiveness are interpreted as making sin okay, or, if not okay, at least not significant. Thus salvation is wrongly used

D. CONTEMPORARY ERRORS CONCERNING THE MEANING AND ROLE OF THE MIRACULOUS

Denial of all the supernatural events mentioned in the Bible

This error denies God’s miraculous intervention in human history and human lives, denying miracles altogether, or attributing abnormal and seemingly unexplainable events to natural causes or origins. For example:

This mindset is found both in those who deny the existence of a real God who is actually there, and in those who deny the present involvement of God in things that happen on earth. Deism, as an example of the latter, believes in ‘God’, but not a God who has any interest or involvement in what happens in the things he created. He is a hands-off God.

Denial of the necessity for or rationality of prayer

This denial comes from those who believe any of the following:

[The last two of these do not deny the ability of God to do miraculous things; what they deny is that God can be moved to intervene with out-of-the-ordinary actions as a result of human prayer.]

Giving a different role or significance to the miraculous than Jesus and the apostles gave it

While Jesus and the apostles were very conservative about the miraculous, and used it only within well defined restrictions and purpose, in some areas of contemporary Christianity we observe:

The last three mentioned use the same methods as historic and contemporary secular and pagan creative visualization techniques. They have almost everything in common with these techniques and practically nothing in common with Biblical practices. That they are currently accepted and practiced in many Christian churches today is clear evidence of the deceptive power of Satan.

In addition, many of the contemporary practices listed above seem to be trying to create heaven on earth. They overlook the fact that, according to the Bible in general, and Romans 8 and Revelation 21 in particular, pain and suffering and crying are part of life on earth until the final judgment day. It is only after that that suffering ceases.

Errors relating to Satan and demons

The following errors can be noted:

E. CONTEMPORARY ERRORS CONCERNING THE LAST THINGS

Eschatology, the study of the last things, is perhaps, the area of truth with the least acknowledged clarity and definition. This is not to say that God has not adequately revealed his truth in this area. What it does say is that the church finds it impossible to agree on what that truth actually is in some areas of understanding. Because the book of Revelation is written in symbols there are different interpretations of the meaning of those symbols. Sections of the church which agree on all other points of doctrine, and agree on the fact that Christ is coming back, the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment, differ at some eschatological points. For this reason errors concerning the last things are placed below in two groups – the first those errors which are clearly divergent from the Scripture, the second those points on which the church in general lacks agreement.

Errors where there is clear divergence from the Scripture

Areas of potential error, where there is no clear agreement within mainstream Christianity

In this section areas of disagreement are listed. The author has her own opinion on each, but in view of the lack of agreement among those who are committed to affirm biblical truth in other areas of doctrine, has chosen to avoid identifying any alternatives in these areas as ‘false teaching’.

These are some of the areas in which this lack of agreement is found, and in which each of us is potentially holding to false teaching due to the inability of the church to clearly understand and define exactly what is meant by some verses and passages:

As we each diligently seek to understand what actually is the truth on these issues, three questions should guide us: