For years I have felt that it was part of my ministry to warn the people of God, mainly those who were directly under my care as a shepherd, about the dangers of false teachers. Not everyone wants to hear it. After all, many believers look at the happy smile of Joel Osteen and his success and wrongfully conclude that all his wealth and fame must mean he is on the narrow path that leads to salvation.
Never mind his failing to call sin for what it is, or for never calling for repentance. He is too busy telling his followers that gawd wants them to be rich. This is a false gospel. The need for Osteen to be called out is absolutely necessary for the health of the body of Christ. In fact, this calling out initially falls on the shoulders of the elders of the church.
As an elder, I take this responsibility seriously for two reasons: the first is that our LORD warned over and over again against how dangerous false prophets are. The Apostles also warned about the same thing. As an undershepherd, I have the same responsibility as they did to warn the flock that the false teachers are seeking to disrupt, divide, and destroy the body of Christ. It is most loving to warn, and quite harmful to remain silent.
The second reason that I take pains to warn the flock is the affect that false teachers have had on my own family. For those who do not know, I was raised as a Christian Scientist. Not a Christian who was engaged in science, but a member of the cult that was started by Mary Baker Paterson Glover Eddy. Eddy was the sickly and misguided woman from the 1800s who plagiarized the writings of a literal snake-oil salesman, Phineas P. Quimby. The two thought that one could heal oneself of any sickness merely by correcting their thoughts about that sickness. In other words, sin and sickness only exist as long as the thoughts of sin and sickness exist. One simply has to correct one’s thinking to eliminate sin and sickness. When you view such silliness in light of the gospel, their beliefs are quite heretical. The word of God shows us that sin must be dealt with through the shedding of blood, not the conjuring up of happy thoughts (Hebrews 9:12-14).
I believe that it was Eddy who coined the horrible phrase “passing on” as a metaphor for death. This seems to lighten the reality of death. She was attempting to remove the sting of death and make it more palatable. This is contrary to Scripture. Just read some of the genealogies in the first few books of the Old Testament. Over and over again, they tell us that both the wicked and the elect die. God’s word is emphasizing the point that we all face death. It is not merely a passing on, but a punishment for the original sin in us brought through Adam and his rebellion against the LORD. Since this is true, we can see the need for Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross.
Hopefully you can see the dangers of Christian Science. The religion offers another gospel all together and needs to be rejected.
It is for these reasons that I take the time to point out error that is put forth as truth. It is my responsibility as an elder in the body of Christ. The need to point out and correct error is not my hobby horse, but rather a part of the job description given to elders: He [the elder] must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it (Titus 1:9). The responsibility of the elder is to warn against and show false teaching to be just that.
But this responsibility also rests with the congregation. Over and over again, we are warned about the coming of false prophets/teachers that would try to lead many astray. Here are just a few of those passages:
“Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher (Luke 6:39-40).”
“For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? (Matthew 7:14-16)”
Both Peter and Paul warned us against such destructive men.
Paul declared to the Ephesian elders: “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them (Acts 20:29-30).”
Peter wrote: 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 (2 Peter 2:1).
These warnings have been given, not just for elders, but for all believers. We all need to be on our guard against false teachers. We all need to know the word of God well enough to know heresy when we hear it. However, the reality is that we are theologically lazy as a people of God. We have more technology at our fingertips that any other generation in history to aid us in our understanding of the things of God. Yet this blessing is truly a curse, because we make the mistake of thinking that we can always come back to it when necessary. Instead, we should work to hide the truth of God’s word, especially sound doctrine, in our hearts and minds so that we do not have to rely on technology (this is convicting for me as well). This way, when we do hear what the false teachers declare, we will recognize it for what it is.
I like what J.C. Ryle writes concerning the blind leading the blind:
The amount of evil which unsound religious teaching has brought on the Church in every age is incalculable. The loss of souls which it has occasioned is fearful to contemplate. A teacher who does not know the way to heaven himself, is not likely to lead his hearers to heaven. The man who hears such a teacher runs a fearful risk himself of being lost eternally.
…With the Bible in our hands, and the promise of guidance from the Holy Ghost to all who seek it, we shall be without excuse if our souls are led astray. The blindness of ministers is no excuse for the darkness of the people. The man who from indolence, or superstition, or affected humility, refuses to distrust the teaching of the minister whom he finds set over him, however unsound it may be, will at length share the ministers portion. If people will trust blind guides, they must not be surprised if they are led to the pit.”
Ryle is not saying that there is no need for pastors and teachers in the Church. Paul shows these offices to be gifts to the body of Christ in Ephesians 4:11-16. Yet the goal is to have the men of the church listening with their Bible’s open and be well-grounded enough to know if the pastor is preaching sound doctrine or rather some other gospel. I’m not trying to encourage theological hair spitting. Paul condemns that, too. But congregations should never put up with a man who doesn’t teach sound doctrine. Yet, far too many of them do.
There are several reasons for this shortcoming. The first is that far too many Christians fail to understand the need for sound doctrine. Learning the truths of Scripture is not easy, causing many to simply want to leave it to the clergy for their understanding. Not that all members of the congregation must become experts in theology. But the men of the church should at least have a sound grasp of the doctrines of grace so that they can lead their families in the knowledge of Christ and protect them from false teaching.
Couple this difficulty with the spirit of the day, which wants Jesus to be a go-along, get-along Messiah, and it’s the perfect storm for the rise of theological ignorance. And, therefore, the rise of false teachers in the church.
False teachers are thriving in this climate and it’s the church that allows it. We are all responsible for striving for the purity of the church. The LORD has blessed us with so many resources to help us dive deeper into that truth. Yet, we spend so much time on other things. Besides, it is just so much easier to go along, get along, and compliment men like Joel Osteen on how nice they are. Even when our LORD calls such men “ravenous wolves.”