But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you... And many will follow their destructive ways...They are spots and blemishes, carousing in their own deceptions while they feast with you... they speak great swelling words of emptiness.... (2 Pt 2:1-2, 13,18)
To the world it might appear that all is well in the Christian realm. Much-beloved speakers hold forth from the pulpits of some of the largest churches in the world. Believers and nonbelievers alike buy their books, avail themselves of their programs, and utilize their methodologies. One might come to the conclusion that Peter must not have been referring to the church in our day regarding false teachers. Tolerance is the word of the day. We hear admonitions on a regular basis to "just get along" with those of opposing faiths. "Love" reigns supreme.
But what is this "love" of which they speak? What about those who identify a false gospel or a false teacher among some of the popular speakers these days? Does this "love" still apply to those who expose the ones who are actually deceivers among the flock? We find that those who point out error and apostasy in the church are, in fact, considered divisive and judgmental. Some are told that their criticism will bring harm to the Christian church. They are perceived as arrogant and "negative." It is clear that the trend among evangelicals to embrace the "politically correct" thinking of the day will have egregious effects on the Body of Christ.
This "state of the church" forces me to ask a few simple questions. If Peter said that there would be false teachers in the church, where are they? How can we identify them? Who will warn others? It stands to reason that if the Word of God warns us that false teachers will be present in the church, doesn't it follow that we are expected to expose them? How will we recognize them, and what are we to do about them?
The Apostle Paul wrote, "Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves" (Acts 20:30). So we see that these false teachers will bring in things that are corrupt, contrary--opposed to biblical doctrine (teaching). Their purpose is to gather disciples to their own folds, separating them from the true Body of Christ. Paul's concern was not only that this would occur--but that the church would tolerate it: "For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted--you may well put up with it!" (2 Cor 11:4).
The very thing that Paul warned about has come to pass! Most Christians not only tolerate those who speak "perverse things," but they ostracize believers who won't accept them. Do we think that we are wiser than Paul? Are we more mature than Jude? Are we really called to leave the evils of error alone and allow the church to be polluted by the lies? Not according to the Scriptures!
Some may say, "But there are good men and women out there whose ministries have been damaged when others pointed out errors in their teachings." Couldn't the same have been said about Paul when he called Peter to account for his error and "withstood him to his face" (Gal 2:11-14)? Paul didn't intend to bring condemnation upon Peter but rather to move him to repent of his actions. Paul saw the need to keep the message of the gospel pure so that both Peter and those who heard him teach would know the truth--the truth that makes men free!
In the early church, it was the elders of the church who were responsible to give correction and instruction through the Word of God. Today we are fortunate to have greater individual access to the Scriptures, which are every believer's authority. We know that "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tm 3:16-17).
Every epistle in the New Testament was written to correct error in the church. Did Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jude not understand that to correct those who were in error was in truth a failure to love them? Did they believe that it was none of their business to bring correction to the false teaching? Do we consider them divisive for confronting error and holding fast to the truth? No! They boldly addressed the error and at times even named the offenders.
Paul instructed Titus (an elder) regarding the standards by which other elders should be appointed--and function. He said, "For a bishop must...[hold] fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict. For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not....Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth... and [are] disqualified for every good work" (Ti 1:7-16). It is those in leadership who are called to the task of identifying error. Sadly, these are primarily the very ones who are promoting the error from the pulpits and publishing houses.
Jude wrote, "Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). Paul told the Romans, "Note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them" (Rom 16:17). This is what the Bible says, but the trend today is to "avoid those" who are pointing out the ones who are spreading error!
Every God-called pastor is told, "Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:28). Peter said, "Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers..." (1 Pt 5:2a). Along with the calling of God comes gifting and passion. One of the gifts given to every godly pastor is love for the church. If we truly love people, we don't want to see them fall into error. Error causes harm, and "love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law" (Rom 13:10).
Peter declared, "There were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you..." (2 Pt 2:1-2). Paul said, "Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly..." (1 Thes 5:14a). We must by all means "contend earnestly for the faith" (Jude 3). However, we must always remember that, as servants to the Lord and to the Body of Christ, we are called to "comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all" (1 Thes 5:14b). And always keep in mind that: "A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth" (2 Tm 2:24-25).
"Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted" (Gal 6:1).
By Paul Van Noy
Pastor of Candlelight Christian Fellowship, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
Pastor of Candlelight Christian Fellowship, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho