There are two very unpopular topics in the Church today: discernment and false teaching/teachers. What’s funny, is that discernment and false teaching/teachers are continual topics in the New Testament. In fact, every book in the New Testament with the exception of Philemon addresses false teaching. And how do we distinguish between false teaching and Biblical teaching? Through discernment. And yet, if you bring these issues up, there is the immediate effort to dismiss, silence, disregard or otherwise reject out of hand what one is trying to point out. Acknowledging the need for discernment and recognizing false teaching and teachers will make you very unpopular, very quickly.
It is no wonder that the Holy Spirit inspired the writers of the New Testament to address these issues, as they are a constant plague in the Church. They always have been, and will continue to be until the Lord returns. What makes me shake my head is the apparent cosmic disconnect that happens within the minds of Christians regarding discernment and false teaching. They know that the Bible speaks of these things, and yet somehow they have convinced themselves that what the Holy Writ speaks of was only then, in the past, surely not now. Certainly not anyone they have heard of, like, or listen to. Yeah, discernment is mentioned in Scripture, but it has negative connotations so it has become the elephant in the living room. We all know it is there, but we pretend it is not.
Guess what? All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, (2 Timothy 3:16). And that means for all Christians for all time. Since false teaching and teachers, along with discernment are constantly mentioned in Scripture, it is a foregone conclusion that Christians in every era will encounter and deal with them. That means right now; that means teachers, and teachings you have heard of and possibly like. Let’s look at some of the Scriptures I speak of:
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. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (2 Peter 2:1-3)
I appeal to you, brothers, 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) ***Notice whom Paul says is causing the divisions: those who teach contrary to the Scripture, not those who insist on upholding Scripture. Sadly, in the church today, it is often those of us who insist on upholding Scripture that are considered the division causer.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. (1 John 4:1-3)
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, (2 Timothy 4:3) ***Notice that the scripture says that people seek out false teaching because they want it. They want to have their ears tickled.
“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 thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 7:15-20) ***Notice how we are to recognize them? By looking at their fruit. You hear all the time negative and dismissive remarks about “fruit inspectors” as if that were an unbiblical thing to be. Jesus says to do it, so that we will know.
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:1-5)
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:8)
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8)
I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; (Acts 20:29) ***Note: where are the wolves? Among the Church. Within.
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 1:3) ***Note: the entire book of Jude deals with false teaching. He wanted to write about salvation, but had to deal with the false doctrine and teaching.
Here’s my point: if someone comes to you out of concern, and informs you about a false teacher, false teaching or doctrine, please do your due diligence and compare whatever it is with scripture to see if it is so. Don’t dismiss your sister or brother out of hand because “so-and-so is a well known Bible study teacher and we use his/her materials at church” or whatever the objection is. I urge you based on the authority of the numerous scriptures listed above. False teaching and teachers are not some abstract, first century problem. It is here and now. Exercise discernment by being in the Scripture daily, so that you are familiar with the genuine. Then you are better prepared to recognize the false.
Soli Deo Gloria!