How much error does a false teacher need to exhibit before they’re considered false?

The Next 500 Years: 2017 National Conference was held a few months ago. The synopsis of what the Conference was about follows:

The same God who brought the Reformation in the sixteenth century is still at work today. His plan has not changed, and what He has purposed for His glory and our good will be accomplished.

On March 9-11, 2017, Ligonier Ministries hosted its 30th annual National Conference. Alistair Begg, Tim Challies, Leonardo De Chirico, Sinclair Ferguson, W. Robert Godfrey, Michael Horton, Steven Lawson, Augustus Lopes, John MacArthur, Albert Mohler, Stephen Nichols, Michael Reeves, Derek Thomas, and Stephen Tong joined R.C. Sproul to celebrate the five-hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and consider the future of the church.

During the conference, there was a Panel Discussion/Audience Q&A comprised of Steven Lawson, RC Sproul, Al Mohler, and John MacArthur. Thirteen questions were asked and answered on a variety of topics. Since I’m interested in discernment, and since we can learn much from the men who were assembled, I was especially interested in their answer to the following question:

How do you define a false teacher? How much error is needed before they are considered false?

The answers were transcribed and this one begins at the 32:23 mark on the video, linked above.

Three good answers were given. Of course many other things can be said, they only had so much time and had other questions to discuss. Here is a synopsis of the three responses and I’ll add my own thoughts after that. You can view/read the full responses at the link above.

Dr Sproul said that when is a false teacher a false teacher is when he teaches falsehood. This might seem obvious but in this day and age where ‘tolerance’, ‘forgiveness’ and ‘non-judgmental-ness’ reigns, we have forgotten many of the basics. If he or she teaches falsehood, they are a false teacher. Would the Holy Spirit in us allow falsehoods to permeate a person and their teachings? No. His ministry is to point to Jesus.

Dr Al Mohler followed up Dr Sproul’s comment by saying that in addition to falsehood, any teacher who resists correction is also false. By the strict definition of teaching falsehood=false teacher, Apollos would have been false. However when he was corrected by Priscilla and Aquila, Apollos was glad, and accepted it. If you can think of some particular teachers today who teach falsely, and have definitely been contacted to repent of their falseness and given the truth, and they continue in falseness, then this helpful barometer might clear some confusion up as to who might be true and who might be false.

Dr MacArthur added another layer to the discussion with his response. A false teacher teaches falsely, but what would he be teaching that is false? In addition to behavior, (a truculent liar) what content does a false teacher teach?

MacArthur said that there are some absolutely non-negotiable truths that you are false if you deny the Trinity. If you deny the deity of Christ. If you deny His sinless life, substitutionary death, salvation by grace through faith, the gospel. That’s the drive-train of truth. Saving truth. Those are not negotiable.

So by those standards, and I admit there are others, a false teacher teaches things that are false (though not stated, would be additions to scripture in the form of personal thoughts, revelations, or visions) is uncorrectable, and twists or in some way denies the hard and fast basic truths of Christianity.

The Bible says not to add to His word, but it also says not to delete anything from His word. (Deuteronomy 4:2, Deuteronomy 12:32, Revelation 22:18-19). If I can add my own thought to he conversation: any preacher who regularly and defiantly omits one of the basic truths from Christianity is also false. I think we can all think of the prime example here: Joel Osteen. He has been asked many times why he doesn’t preach sin or wrath, and he says that is not his calling. We can’t have the Good News of blessing and salvation if we do not know what the bad news of sin and our need for Jesus to escape God’s wrath.

One more thought: the Bible has only one skill standard for teaching: “able to teach” as stated in 1 Timothy 3:2. As Crossway defines able: “refers to the ability to communicate and apply the truth of Scripture with clarity, coherence, and fruitfulness”. The rest are behavioral/moral standards. Any false teacher might be able to teach the truths of scripture faithfully, appear to be correctable, but live in opposition to the standards the Bible commands. Jimmy Swaggart comes to mind here. And one does not have to be a rampant sinner seeking prostitutes to be living like hell, there are many Bible teachers whose greed and profligate living is well known, as well as many female teachers who usurp their husband’s and the church’s authority. Any of those are in opposition to God’s standards for life.

During the panel discussion, Sproul said Calvin said no theologian is ever more than 80 percent right. Sometimes when I bring up that so-and-so is false, I’ll receive this type of response. The person intimates that we must tolerate the false teachers, because after all, we all sin and no one is 100% right. I think this misses the point entirely. I agree we’re all sinners, and no one is perfect. As mentioned, Apollos was teaching partially. I don’t think that Peter, Paul John etc had no possibility of growth or understanding as they studied and matured in their walk. Even Jesus grew in stature and wisdom. (Luke 2:52).

The difference between one of the Apostles or Apollos or any true preacher today is that:

1) they want to teach truth, scrupulously,
2) they are correctable when error is pointed out,
3) their overall growth is in wisdom and stature as time goes on,
4) their heart’s desire is that Jesus is glorified and the saints are growing.

A false teacher

1) is greedy
2) opposes God
3) is uncorrectable
4) makes sons of hell twice as bad as they are

False teachers ahead: beware!

dog-wearing-funny-mask-with-glasses
Photo by Braydon Anderson. Unsplash, free to use.

False teachers will always be with us until eternity begins and Jesus purges their blot from the new heavens and new earth. Praise Him for holiness and purity.

Thank you for reading The End Time!

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