“We’ve always had false teachers…”

By Elizabeth Prata

Discussions about false teachers makes many people feel uncomfortable. It isn’t my favorite topic of conversation, either. For someone who might be saved but is teaching an errant doctrine, it’s a tragedy, because they are laboring under an incorrect interpretive method, or delusional thinking, or whatever it is that is making them believe something falsely. This means there is a significant stumbling block in their relationship with Christ. Over time that block may be removed by the gracious work of the Holy Spirit, or it may linger for a long while, hindering the Christian’s full effectiveness for Jesus’s name.

If a person is unsaved and is teaching falsely, it’s worse. Their eternal destination will be hell, (Jude 1:4) and that, of course, is a matter of grave concern.

However, it is important to have these discussions. There is danger in not having them. John MacArthur, from his commentary on Matthew 1-7,

There is danger, however, even for the truly humble and repentant believer. The first danger is of concluding that we have no right to oppose wrong doctrine or wrong practices in the church, lest we fall into judgmental self-righteousness. We will then not be willing to confront a sinning brother as the Bible clearly calls us to do. The second danger is closely related to the first. If we are afraid to confront falsehood and sin in the church, we will be inclined to become undiscriminating and undiscerning. The church, and our own lives, will become in more and more danger of corruption. Realizing the impact of sin in the assembly, (1 Peter 4:15), Peter made a powerful call for a confrontive church when he said, “For it is time for the judgment to begin with the household of God.” (v. 17). Believers must be discerning and make proper judgments when it is required.

One way that people deflect their discomfort in discussing about false teachers or false doctrine, is that when the topic arises, they use this familiar phrase-

“We’ve always had false teachers.”

The phrase is used as a subtle way to shift our attention away from the danger of false teachers. As if their presence all along is normal. This is a sort of Uniformitarian stance. John MacArthur on The Fallacy of the Uniformitarian stance

It is the theory that natural and geological phenomena are for the most part the results of forces that have operated continuously, with uniformity, and without interruption, over billions and billions of years. Uniformitarians assume that the forces at work in nature are essentially fixed and constant. Scientists who hold this view explain nearly all geological phenomena in terms of processes that are still occurring.

I’m extrapolating here from the Uniformitarianism in Geology and ecology but it’s the same kind of thinking. Peter said this about scoffers, which is in fact a uniformitarian stance:

They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:4).

False teachers have been around since the beginning. I also agree that each generation tends to think it’s got it worst. Except, sometimes that generation is right. It IS the worst. For example, the generation living right before the flood was the worst ever up until then. (Genesis 6:5)

The generation living while Jesus was incarnated was the most hypocritical up until then. (Luke 3:7, for example)

In Matthew 24:12 Jesus warned that in the days between His first and second coming the love of many will grow cold. This indicates that the flood of falsity against the church will not remain static, but will grow and grow and grow. Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:13,

But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. 

“Worse and worse.” So while yes, I agree “there have always been false teachers”, there will be an increase in their evil doctrines during the intermediate period between the two comings. Ergo, as time goes on, “there will be MORE false teachers.” I don’t know if this particular generation is the worst, but it certainly is worse than the one before it, and the next one will be worse still. It will be thus until He comes again to put an end to it.

And besides, so what if false teachers have always been with us?. Is that a reason to ignore them? Do we say that about murderers? ‘Ach, killers have always been with us, so…’

We speak up about false teachers because we are discerning and we care about the souls of those people false teachers are trying to seduce. We are discerning because we put into training our discernment, by speaking up.

But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:14).

We train in discernment but it’s not an academic exercise. After we train, we use what we’ve trained for. As Dr MacArthur said, “If we are afraid to confront falsehood and sin in the church, we will be inclined to become undiscriminating and undiscerning.” In other words,we’ll become theologically flabby.  We train, we hone our skill,s and we put them to use, just like any good muscle.

That’s not to say that we as ladies go all around pointing our every minor difference in theology, that’s not discernment, anyway. If we find something truly startling or errant, we go to our husbands, we see the pastor (not on Sunday, please), we pray, we study more, we wait, we do lots of things besides running around crying wolf. There is a time and a way to confront.

Even though it’s not a favorite topic, (confronting false doctrine/false teachers in church), we do cling to the promise of future purity for the Church. Someday, we will not have to confront anything or anyone. We will worship in perfect peace and accord with the Savior. What a day that will be.

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