One of the most successful and profitable cons in the world today is that of selling fake art. Even some of the finest galleries and private collections have been occupied by paintings that are brilliant counterfeits of the real deal. Really though, counterfeiting is nothing new. Satan is a great imitator and has been hard at work deceiving people and counterfeiting the truth since the fall of man. He has been very successful at counterfeiting Christianity and putting his teachers in places of prominence and getting his false doctrine into the hands of men.
Jesus warned about this and said that false teachers would be like wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt 7:15). This means that they will look, talk and act like genuine Christian teachers. However, despite their appearances they will be teaching false doctrines that keep people from Christ rather than connecting them to Him. Because of this we must be very careful about the kind of teaching we listen to and accept.
When we discuss false teaching and false teachers there are two errors we must avoid. The first is what I would call Heresy Hunting. There are two identifiable traits of heresy hunters. The first is that they suspiciously watch everyone just waiting on them to say something wrong. This is the attitude you see in the Pharisees whenever Jesus would start teaching. They were always looking to catch Him in His teaching so they could say, “Ah ha! We knew you were a false teacher.”
I want to be careful here. We are supposed to check all teaching against Scripture, and I’ll talk about this later. However the attitude of the Pharisee’s and the heresy hunter is such that they are looking to put anything that’s said in the worst possible light so that it will prove what they’ve already decided, that this person is a heretic.
The second identifiable character trait of the heresy hunter is that they make every doctrine and application of Scripture a matter of heaven and hell. The heresy hunter refuses to believe that good Christians can study Scripture and come to different conclusions and both remain Christian. In the eyes of the heresy hunter, everyone who doesn’t believe exactly as they do is deceived and lost. The heresy hunter doesn’t understand or refuses to accept that there are fundamental doctrines and secondary doctrines.
When we talk about Biblical doctrine there are what we could call first tier doctrines, second tier doctrines and third tier doctrines. First tier doctrines are the essentials of Christianity. These are things that all Christians believe. This would include things like the full deity of Jesus, His literal, substitutionary death and bodily resurrection. That salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone and the inspiration and authority of Scripture. This may not be a complete list but you get the idea.
Second tier doctrines are doctrines that are important for the life and health of a local church but not necessary for salvation. These would be things like baptism. Do we sprinkle or immerse? Is it only for believers or can we baptize babies? Election, has God unconditionally elected for some to be saved and for others to be condemned? Or is election conditional with the condition being repentance and faith in Jesus? Perseverance of the saints, can a genuine believer forfeit his or her salvation and be lost? Or are the truly converted eternally secure in their salvation no matter what? Now obviously these are important doctrines. However, heaven and hell don’t hang in the balance with these doctrines.
Third tier doctrines are not unimportant but they are not necessary for salvation or really even the life and health of a local church. These would be things like the return of Jesus. All Christians agree He is returning some day but there is much discussion on how. Will there be a secret rapture followed by a tribulation period? Or will Jesus just come back and take over? Will the rapture be before the tribulation, half-way through the tribulation or at the end of the tribulation? Is the thousand-year reign of Jesus on the earth meant to be taken literally or is it symbolic? Again, these aren’t necessarily unimportant, but we would have disagreements within our own church on these things.
The heresy hunter refuses to acknowledge that there are some doctrines that good Christians can disagree on and still be Christians. Since heresy hunters are Christians, this means that anyone who disagrees with their take on any of these issues, and many more, are deceived and not Christians.
The other error that we can fall into when talking about false teachers and false teaching is the error of Anything Goesism. With anything goesism, anything goes. As long as the teacher sorta mentions Jesus they’re okay. This is the crowd who can quote Matthew 7:1 at the drop of a hat and tell you that Jesus said not to judge. They will say things like, “Doctrine divides, love unites. Jesus said we are supposed to love one another. It’s not very loving to say that what someone believes is wrong.”
Of course, the basic error here is not being concerned about the context of Matthew 7:1 and a misapplication of what it means to love someone. When Jesus said not to judge, He never said don’t say that anything is wrong. In fact a few verses later in Matthew 7 Jesus talks about false teachers and the need to judge their fruit. Also love isn’t just accepting everything that someone says, does or believes as okay. If my daughters are playing in the street and a truck is coming to hit them, the most loving thing I can do is warn them about it. In the same way, if a person believes a lie that will send them to hell, the most loving thing I can do is tell them the truth. There is nothing loving about letting someone believe a lie when I know the truth.
Many times those who commit one of these two errors do so as a reaction to the other. Someone who becomes horrified at what the anything goesism crowd says is okay may end up becoming a heresy hunter. In the same way someone who has been hurt by a heresy hunter may become part of the anything goesism crowd. We don’t want to be reactionary and pull to one extreme or the other. We don’t want to live in either error regarding false teachers and teaching. What want to do is stand where Scripture tells us to stand.
“Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” 1 Thessalonians 5:20-22 (NKJV)
This is why we must do as Scripture says and test all things. We test all things against Scripture, hold on to the things that pass the test and reject the things that don’t. Tomorrow I’ll post some practical things we can do to help us test all things by looking at a group of people called the Bereans.
Heavenly Father, guide us as we live in this world to have the discernment necessary to recognize and reject false teaching. Help us to also have the maturity necessary to allow our brothers and sisters in Christ to disagree with us on secondary things without condemning them. Give us the strength to do the hard work of testing all things against Your Word. Amen