Our Responsibility to Discern False Teaching

A prophet of God sat under an oak, taking a rest from his long journey. He had come from Judah to Bethel to deliver to King Jeroboam a harsh but needed message.

God had told this prophet not to eat bread or drink water while on this mission, and to return by a different way than he had come. Perhaps the man of God thought these directives were to protect him from the possible diversion by the king, who offered him refreshment and a reward. Or they were to keep him from appearing to show any sign of compromise, as a meal together would indicate friendship and fellowship. Or he might have felt they were a form of fasting, symbolic of his dedication in doing God’s work.

Maybe he should have interpreted them as, “Don’t linger. Do your business and get back as soon as possible.”

As he rested, an older man rode up to him on a donkey, identifying himself as a prophet of God as well. Prophet 2 (let’s call him Henry to avoid confusing pronouns) invited Prophet 1 (George, let’s say) home for a meal. George repeated what he had told the king: he had been told not to eat bread or drink water in that place.

But Henry assured George it was all right. “I also am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the Lord, saying, ‘Bring him back with you into your house that he may eat bread and drink water.’”

George didn’t think he had a reason to distrust Henry: he was a fellow prophet after all. And George was probably tired, hungry, and thirsty. So he accompanied Henry back to his house.

But Henry had been lying.

“As they sat at the table, the word of the Lord came to the prophet who had brought him back. And he cried to the man of God who came from Judah, ‘Thus says the Lord, ‘Because you have disobeyed the word of the Lord and have not kept the command that the Lord your God commanded you, but have come back and have eaten bread and drunk water in the place of which he said to you, ‘Eat no bread and drink no water,’ your body shall not come to the tomb of your fathers.’”

There’s no record of George’s response. But on his way home, a lion killed him. George’s body was thrown from his donkey, but the lion didn’t eat either George or the donkey. The animals just waited with the body until townspeople passed by and brought word back to the city about what had happened. Henry heard the news and rode back to pick up George, then brought him home to bury in his own tomb.

This is one of the oddest stories in the Bible (1 Kings 13). One of the first questions that comes to mind is, “Why did the second prophet lie to the first?” What earthly reason could he have had? The Bible doesn’t tell us. He didn’t hate the first prophet: he mourned him, called him brother, and confirmed his prophecy to Jeroboam. He even asked to be buried next to him when he died.

We have to remember this is not an isolated story just thrown into the narrative of Israel’s kings. This incident took place within the bigger context of Jeroboam’s awful sins of making golden calves for Israel to worship and setting up a whole different system than what God had given Israel. Perhaps this story is an OT illustration of the NT verse in 1 Peter 4:17: “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” If God would discipline his own prophet who had disobeyed a simple directive, what would He do to the likes of Jeroboam? Perhaps this story was confirmation that God would deal with Jeroboam as the prophet had said.

There are several truths and applications that could be gleaned from this passage. But the one I want to hone in on is this: Know God’s Word. Obey it. Don’t let the surrounding culture turn you away from it. Don’t let even other professing believers distract you from it.

That’s not to say we never ask counsel or receive advice. The Bible tells us to do both. The fellowship of other believers, Bible study books, commentaries, and other aids can open our understanding and point out things we missed.

But we’re to know God’s Word for ourselves so we can discern when someone is telling us something different.

False prophets don’t always look or sound like false prophets at first. They are “deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). Paul said in Galatians 1:8, “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.”

Much of the OT warns against false prophets. In one place, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD'” (Jeremiah 23:16).

The NT warns of false prophets and teachers as well. In her book Another Gospel?: A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity, Alisa Childers writes: “Much of the New Testament, including the entire book of Jude, is dedicated to helping Christians watch out for, recognize, and avoid these sheep-clothed wolves. In researching some of these passages, I discovered that the topic of false teachers and false teaching is addressed directly in twenty-two of twenty-seven New Testament books. Encouragement to keep the true faith and to practice discernment is mentioned in every single one.”

The Bible warns that false teachers will not only come in from the outside, but they’ll arise from within the congregation. In Paul’s farewell message to the elders at Ephesus, he warned, “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. Therefore be alert,” (Acts 20:29-31a). Peter warned about false teachers arising “among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them” (2 Peter 2:1-3). This was what happened to Alisa Childers, whose book I mentioned. Her own trusted pastor began undermining longstanding doctrines of the faith.

The Bible gives us the responsibility to watch out for false doctrine. I’ve already mentioned Paul’s admonition to “be alert” in Acts 20:31. Jesus began warnings about false teachers with the word “Beware.” Paul says elsewhere, “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).

I don’t think this means we need to become unduly suspicious of one another. But we study the Word of God and check whatever we’re taught against it. The Bereans in Acts were called noble because they did this with Paul’s teaching. Alisa followed their example and searched for the truth, nailing down why she believed what she did.

After Paul’s warning to the Ephesian elders, he said, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). When he wrote to the Ephesians later, he said God had given the church gifts in “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” in order “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:12-14).

So while we don’t need to get paranoid, we do need to be alert. And we remember that we don’t come to the Bible just for affirmation or comfort or warm fuzzies. We come to it to find truth about and from God. We study God’s Word for ourselves and with others, and as we grow in spiritual maturity, we won’t be deceived and tossed about.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Is it nice to call someone a false prophet or a false teacher?

Caution

I don’t know whether it’s nice. But sometimes it is necessary, and oftentimes it is the most loving thing one can do.

The Bible has some pretty serious things to say about false prophets and false teachers:

Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” Matthew 7:15

But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. II Peter 2:1-3

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. I John 4:1

I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. Galatians 1:6-9

If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Ye shall walk after the Lord your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him. Deuteronomy 13:1-4

I don’t recall seeing in Scripture anything along the lines of “He doesn’t speak the truth, but he is very kind…or gives food to the poor…or has such a nice family…” or whatever. For one thing, those “good works” don’t give anyone points with God. For another, the falsehood is such an important issue that it trumps whatever else the person might be doing.

And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. II Corinthians 11:12-15, ESV.

I’m not talking about every little thing people can disagree about in the Bible. People can have different views of baptism, church government, election and free will, the best Bible versions, standards of modesty, etc., and still each love God and teach the major truths of the Bible. While all of these are important and we should study the Scripture to be fully persuaded in our own minds, the Bible also teaches that people can have different convictions and should be able to still get along. I think as modern day Christians we have spent way too much time fighting amongst brethren on these things and have gotten sidetracked from the bigger picture of sharing God’s Word and making disciples (for Him, not for our views).

But there are majors issues – the fundamentals, if you will – truths that to deny would be to deny Christ and mislead people into tragedy: who God is, how a person can be rightly related to Him, the Deity of Christ, the inspiration and verity of the Bible, the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, among others. When a person is wrong on these, I believe it is harmful to dwell only on the “good” he seems to be doing without warning people of his falsehoods. We don’t want to do anything to give credence to his message. That’s why I said earlier that calling a false prophet or teacher what he is can be the most loving thing you can do if it keeps someone from blindly following him into error.

I don’t think that means we have to set up web sites as false teacher watchdogs. I have come across a few like that, and though I am sure the owners meant well, the sites I have seen come across as harsh and unbalanced.

I also don’t think it means that if someone said they read a book or listened to a message from someone we would consider to be a false teacher, that we have to “pounce” on them and rip the teacher to shreds. We should be kind and compassionate with the person we’re speaking to, and part of that may be acknowledging that the person they are listening to might have some good points. We can prayerfully continue and bring biblical truth to bear in the conversation. If a person is really entrenched, we may need to just deal with one aspect at a time.

Jude 1:3 says, “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” We are called to contend for the faith. Many of the epistles do just that in dealing with falsehoods making the rounds, even to the point of naming names. Interestingly, I had this started this post last week and saved it, and then last Sunday our Sunday School teacher started teaching from Jude. He said the Greek word for “contend” is used only one time in the Bible, and that is in this passage, and it has the idea of an athlete pouring everything into competing and winning with total commitment. Ephesians 5:11 goes on to say, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.”

Besides contending for the faith, we need to clearly separate from false teaching.  Romans 16:17-18 says, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned ; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” 2 John 1:9-11 says, “Whosoever transgresseth , and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any * unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.”

Considering the above, when I quote someone or review a book, if I have some minor issues I might say something like, “I don’t agree with everything he said but I think there are good things to be gleaned from the book.” But if the author is wrong on the major issues, I can’t leave at “I disagree with some things he says”: I feel I must warn my own readers about this person’s falsehoods. Then if they want to go on and read the book, that is up to them, but at least they’ll know to compare what was written with what the Bible teaches (something we should be doing anyway.)

Warning of false teaching is one way we can we can contend for truth; we also need to be sharing truth proactively, as the Biblical writers did as well. Some years ago when David Koresh was in the news, I was astonished to hear an interview with one of his disciples commenting on his knowledge of the Bible. That person had to have had an amazing lack of previous Bible teaching or reading to think a thing like that. That’s one reason, among many others, that I have a passion to get people into the Word of God for themselves: it teaches us to know Him and His truth, helps us grow in Him, and keeps us from being deceived by false teachers who would lead us astray.

While we don’t need to set ourselves up as the False Teaching Police and become consumed with ferreting out falsehoods, we should be in the Word of God enough to recognize when we come across false teaching of it and be able to articulate the truth. It may be one thing that makes a difference in the hearts of those who hear us.

 

Laudable Linkage

It has been a while since I’ve been able to share some of the interesting reading I have come across recently. Hope some of this is of interest to you!

A neat study on True Woman about the “I am” statements referring to God and those referring to us.

Smilingly Leading You to Hell. Sadly, some of the most appealing speakers don’t always have the best messages.

The Assumption We Cannot Afford on the need to teach the Bible and encourage others to study it for themselves. Excellent.

Missing the Forest for the Trees. “The Bible is not just a spiritual search engine.”

In the Heat of the Moment, dealing with rampant emotions.

Anger: Giving In to the Enemy.

Let’s Stop Forgiving Those Who Don’t Want Forgiveness. This has long been my stance on this.

Help! My Kids Are Looking at Porn! Advice for how to handle that.

Authentic worship, hands down. “Authentic worship means to me exactly what it means to you: the freedom to worship as the Lord leads. I have traveled the length of the denominational spectrum….It was a long trip through myriad worship styles, and participation was not always optional. My hands are at my sides for the same reason yours are thrown in the air: because I am free – free from the expectations of any of my fellow worshippers, free to worship in whatever posture the Spirit leads.  The truth is, I do occasionally raise my hands, but never when told to by a worship leader or a lyric. Because of my history, nothing could be more inauthentic, nothing less free.” This spoke to me on many levels. The churches I have attended are not usually physically demonstrative, but worship is sometimes “commanded” in other ways (“Turn to your neighbor and say…” or “Pray this right now” or any number of others things dictated from the pulpit). There is a difference between leading worship and manipulating worship.

How Mothers Can Worship In the Midst of Inconvenience.

 What Winter Trees Know About Singing. Lovely, lovely post about handling children’s questions without squashing their innocence and wonder.

Ten Lessons From a Hospital Bed.

Always Apologize First, HT to nikkipolani. “Apologizing first is the bucket of water which douses the flames threatening to burn bridges between wife and husband or father and children.”

100 Ways to Thank a Teacher. Neat ideas for end of the year teacher gifts – or any time you want to express appreciation to a teacher.

Happy Saturday!