Mail Call #5: My friend is following a false teacher

Mail call is a big deal (at least it was on M*A*S*H)

We love Jesus and we’re so encouraged when a new Christian or a friend who is older but growing obviously develop fruit of the Spirit. However we also grieve when friends or new Christians go the other direction and begin to stray. One way they stray is by following false teachers. I can’t describe the heartache when I see friends post quotes from false teachers, or when they gush about a Bible ‘study’ that was written by someone who is not to be consumed. It hurts. We are all one body and we want the best for our brethren. False teachers are not the best. They are the worst.

What can we do when we see a friend beginning to be drawn away? They buy the false teacher’s books, they talk about what they ‘learned’ from the false teacher, they start attending a small group of this false teacher’s studies… what can we do?

First, remember we are to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. (Matthew 19:16). In this case, it means we are wise to the schemes of satan. One of his schemes is to send false teachers. We are aware of the danger they pose and we do not minimize it nor ignore it.

But in dealing with our friend we are to be harmless, innocent, kind, and gentle. Harmlessness does not mean gullibility, but it does mean tact.

When Jesus told the Twelve to be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves, He laid down a general principle about the technique of kingdom work. As we take the gospel to a hostile world, we must be wise (avoiding the snares set for us), and we must be innocent (serving the Lord blamelessly). Jesus was not suggesting that we stoop to deception but that we should model some of the serpent’s famous shrewdness in a positive way. Wisdom does not equal dishonesty, and innocence does not equal gullibility.

Nineteenth-century pastor Charles Simeon provides a wonderful comment on the serpent and dove imagery: “Now the wisdom of the one and the harmlessness of the other are very desirable to be combined in the Christian character; because it is by such an union only that the Christian will be enabled to cope successfully with his more powerful enemies” (Horae Homileticae: Matthew, Vol. 11, London: Holdsworth and Ball, p. 318).  

In Matthew 10:16, Jesus taught us how to optimize our gospel-spreading opportunities. Successful Christian living requires that we strike the optimal balance between the dove and the serpent. We should strive to be gentle without being pushovers, and we must be sacrificial without being taken advantage of. (Source GotQuestions)

With that basis, I’d like to offer a few ideas. These are by no means exhaustive. Please comment below with your own success stories of how to engage a friend who is following a false teacher.

I like to ask questions. I ask them in a friendly way what they are getting out of it, or why they enjoy the teacher, or what the study is showing them. If the particular teacher has demonstrated unrepentant disobedience, I might ask them about it and ask if that changes their view of what and how the teacher is teaching them. For example, Christine Caine functions as a self-stated ordained pastor and teaches women that it is OK to step into leadership roles reserved for men. You could ask your friend what she thinks of this. Your friend’s answer could illuminate the direction in which yoru discussion could go.

If she is unaware that there are some roles reserved for men and others for women, you could explain this to her from the Bible. If she disagrees, then you know from whence her attraction to Caine or the certain teacher is coming from. If she was simply unaware and now agrees, then she’ll likely go away from false teachers who teach opposite to what the Bible says regarding roles, and you have won your sister.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. (Galatians 6:1).

If the friend is open to these initial probes, I ask if I might share how the false teacher strays from the Word. It is one thing to warn, but it’s more helpful to show how to think about the Word of God and how to compare what a teacher is teaching to the Bible than it is just to say “She’s false.”

For example, Beth Moore relies on personal visions and revelations, and you could show your friend about the canon, why it’s closed, and the true meaning of Paul really meant when he admonished not to despise prophesying. (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21).

It is also good to offer alternatives. Nature abhors a vacuum. The person presumably wants to study the word, and if they desire to study it in Spirit and in truth (John 4:24) then they will want the better option. God knows how to give good gifts.

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:11)

So then I ask if they are open to receiving some solid material written by good Bible teachers. I accumulate books and CDs and booklets and pamphlets and links, and cache them in my bookcase set aside for the purpose of givine them away when the appropriate moment comes. When the time comes, I just give them the book/essay/CD etc. If I just suggest to them to go buy or acquire a certain resource, they will likely not do it. Sometimes they do. But not usually. I put the material in their hand (or electronic message box) and I have it on hand so I can do it quickly.

We are a discipling body. Christianity is not solitary. Lambs always have a mama sheep nearby. Be involved with the weaker ones, the new ones, the strong ones. Everyone. You could invite the friend to study with you (and your wife if you are a male leader or elder speaking to a woman) or invite him or her come to a group you’re involved with. Personal discipleship and establishing a trusting relationship works wonders.

Pray. Of course this is the best solution, the Spirit knows.

praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, (Ephesians 6:18).

Asking the Lord to deliver a sister from the clutches of a false teacher is a wonderful supplication.

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Some resources that might help–

Here is the Gospel Coalition’s essay 7 marks of a false teacher

Here is John MacArthur’s sermon How to treat a false teacher part 1

Here is 9Marks with How I Select and Schedule Discipling Relationships

Another Christian sister who answered the same question way better than I did! Help! My friend follows false teachers

One thought on “Mail Call #5: My friend is following a false teacher

  1. Thank you for giving some very much needed practical advice on this topic. It is very important that we not ignore that our friend is being misled as that would be a most unloving thing to do.

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