False Teachers Part 7
FALSE TEACHERS: PART 7
As we come now to the seventh and final installment of our series on false teachers, I would like to say something about the practical steps involved in confronting false teachers and protecting the flock from false teachers.
Once again, we must remember that the presence of false teachers is “not an if, but a when”: given enough time and enough interactions, false teachers will show up – whether in-person, or by means of a book or internet resource, or through a friend who has been under their influence. Not if, but when.
The question that concerns us here is this: what should be done when we realize that someone else fits the mold of a false teacher? What should we do when we realize that the pattern of an influencer’s life and/or the pattern of an influencer’s teaching is out of step with the truth of God’s Word? Well, it depends.
The answer to the above question is fairly simple if the false teacher is halfway around the world, isn’t influencing your friends and fellow churchgoers (as far as you know), and all you have to do is unsubscribe to his email list and quit listening to his podcast. In which case, unsubscribe and quit listening! Easy enough.
But suppose that the false teacher is not halfway around the world, but instead has infiltrated the church family or at least has an active platform among some of your fellow churchgoers? What then?
THE ELDERS MUST ACTIVELY PROTECT THE FLOCK
To begin with, let’s be clear that the congregation’s pastors and elders have a special responsibility in this matter.
First, the elders ought to be attentive, alert, and watchful for destructive influencers (Acts 20:28-31). Elders who don’t care about who is teaching and whose resources are being used and what is being taught are setting up the congregation to fall. Be appreciative when elders evaluate discipleship material and teaching resources before they are used within the church family, and encourage them to do so. Be appreciative when elders are slow to give the green light on a speaker or curriculum or conference event about which they are know very little. It is possible, of course, to be over-cautious. But huge problems develop when Christian leaders are under-cautious. Pray that the elders would be wise, discerning, and courageous.
Second, elders ought to rebuke and correct false teachers (2 Timothy 2:23-26, Titus 1:9-16). Such rebuke and correction goes along with the confrontation and disciplinary process that Jesus describes in Matthew 18:15-20. The goal is to shepherd false teachers into spiritual health: “Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13). Instead of prematurely writing them off, we must first attempt to win false teachers to the truth.
But sometimes false teachers persist in their errors. So third, elders ought to remove the blessing of fellowship from false teachers who refuse to repent (2 Timothy 3:1-9, Titus 3:9-11): “Avoid such people” (2 Timothy 3:5; see also Romans 16:17) and “have nothing more to do with him [the divisive person who fails to repent]” (Titus 3:10). It ought to be clear to the congregation that the elders have no cozy fellowship, no camaraderie, and no collaboration with unrepentant false teachers. It ought to be clear that the pastors and elders in no way endorse or support the ‘ministry’ of destructive and divisive influencers.
Fourth, when elders have to make the difficult decision to break ties with a false teacher, then – if that false teacher is a part of their flock – they will lead the flock to enact discipline against that person, in keeping with the Lord’s instruction (Matthew 18:15-20). Further, if that false teacher poses an ongoing threat to the flock, then the elders will have to decide how to put the flock ‘on warning’ against the threat. Learning from Paul’s example, sometimes the elders might decide to publicly name the false teacher who poses a threat to the church (for example, 2 Timothy 2:17-18).
EVERY CHRISTIAN MUST BE DILIGENT IN THESE MATTERS
None of this is to suggest, however, that elders bear sole responsibility for confronting false teachers and protecting the flock from false teachers. Yes, elders should gladly and willingly take the lead in these matters. Even so, every Christian should do his or her part to uphold the truth and promote congregational health. Paul was not complimenting the Corinthians when he told them that they “put up with it [deviations from the gospel] readily enough” (2 Corinthians 11:4). Paul instructed the entire Roman congregation “to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.” (Romans 16:17) Paul confronts entire Galatian congregations for “turning to a different gospel” (Galatians 1:6). Jude exhorts Christians in general “to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3)
So while you should expect and encourage pastors and elders to do their job, you also must do your job, which includes being a guardian of the truth within your sphere of relationships and responsibilities. Don’t tolerate deviations. Watch out for, and avoid, troublemakers. Contend for the faith. “[Strive] side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27). Confront a brother or sister who is brokering in error (Matthew 18:15-17) in order to rescue them from it (James 5:19-20, Jude 22-23). Speak truth to each other. Confer with one another in order to gain the necessary wisdom to rightly assess particular teachers and teachings. Love your fellow Christians by seeking to protect them from false teachers and from unreliable resources. If you discern that a church-wide problem might be brewing, reach out to your elders and ask for their input and help.
WE MUST BE SPIRITUALLY-MINDED
Of course, in order to do these things well, you and I must be “spiritual”: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1) What does it mean to be “spiritual”? It means to be under the controlling influence of the Holy Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). It means to be deliberately walking in fellowship with God and diligently attending to His words and promises. Jude, the one who told us to “contend for the faith” (Jude 3) amid the encroachments of false teachers, also tells all of us: “But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” (Jude 20-21) The best guardians of the flock are the people who are most grounded in daily fellowship with the living God.
Being spiritually-minded also means that we are trusting God. This is foundational. As important as it is that we “contend for the faith” (Jude 3), “keep [ourselves] in the love of God” (Jude 21), and rescue others from spiritual danger (Jude 22-23), we must not pursue these things as if we are the ultimate keepers of the flock. Instead, we must rest in the Divine Protector: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 24-25)
Yes, and amen.
 Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.