A lot of people wonder when it is reasonable to leave off following a teacher. What are the standards for giving loving benefit of the doubt, and banning them completely from your mind, your church, and your home? Both are called for in the bible.
There are these verses,
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. (Romans 15:7)
And then there are these verses,
If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, (2 John 1:10)
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us (2 Thessalonians 3:6)
How do we know when to do which?
First, it’s helpful to understand the difference between brethren and teachers. All Christians are brethren, including teachers. But the standards for becoming a Christian and the standard for teachers are different.
All brethren stand on the same, equalizing blood-soaked ground. None are qualified to do so, except by the grace of Jesus and faith alone. This standard includes teachers.
But once in the Lord’s kingdom through salvation, the Spirit bestows different gifts. The gift of teaching is given to some, not many, and for those, there are different standards of behavior and of scrutiny. In James 3:1-2 we read,
“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.”
Not many of you. This indicates the seriousness of the calling. The verse also indicates the extreme fallibility in all of us. So teachers should be especially wary, because they handle the word of God, and are in a position to cause more damage and harm in Jesus’ name. That is why they are judged more strictly.
So already we know that the first standard of teaching is that it is given by gift of the Spirit. It’s not something that can be taught, adopted, or decided upon, and certainly not entered into casually.
The second thing we learn from that one verse alone is that it is a serious calling, and a stricter standard is given for the Christian’s performance in it.
Thirdly we already know that ‘not many’ are given the gift.
So what are the standards for teachers from there? There are moral/behavioral standards, and there are doctrinal standards for teachers.
Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. (Titus 2:7-8)
not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. (1 Peter 5:3)
Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. (Titus 2:3
Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, (Titus 2:3)
If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. (1 Timothy 4:6)
So what IS good doctrine? Well, we know that there are teachings of demons (1 Timothy 4:1). And likewise, there are teachings of God. Theologians generally categorize doctrine into ten major headings: (source MacArthur Study Bible)
- Holy Scriptures
- God the Father
- God the Son
- God the Holy Spirit
- the Church
- Last Things
All good teachers will teach any and all ten doctrines rightly. But what about the Gospel? If a teacher teaches The Gospel rightly but some of the other doctrines wrongly, it still OK to follow that teacher?
Well, let’s look at exactly what The Gospel is.
- The one and only God, who is holy, made us in his image to know him (Gen. 1:26-28).
- But we sinned and cut ourselves off from him (Gen. 3; Rom. 3:23).
- In his great love, God sent his Son Jesus to come as king and rescue his people from their enemies—most significantly their own sin (Ps. 2; Luke 1:67-79).
- Jesus established his kingdom by acting as both a mediating priest and a priestly sacrifice—he live a perfect life and died on the cross, thus fulfilling the law himself and taking on himself the punishment for the sins of many (Mark 10:45; John 1:14; Heb. 7:26; Rom. 3:21-26, 5:12-21); then he rose again from the dead, showing that God accepted his sacrifice and that God’s wrath against us had been exhausted (Acts 2:24, Rom. 4:25).
- He now calls us to repent of our sins and trust in Christ alone for our forgiveness (Acts 17:30, John 1:12). If we repent of our sins and trust in Christ, we are born again into a new life, an eternal life with God (John 3:16).
If you compare the Gospel to the ten doctrines, you find the doctrines permeate the Gospel and the Gospel permeates the doctrines. A teacher must know holiness, speak of and understand how exalted God is. He or she must have a true understanding of sin. So many false teachers teach sin is just a mistake, or can be controlled, or is not our fault due to generational bondage, or any number of reasons that distance ourselves from responsibility for our sins.
A teacher must have a proper understanding of who Jesus is. There’s ‘this same Jesus’ who will return (Acts 1:11) and ‘a different Jesus’ preached and taught falsely. (2 Corinthians 11:4).
A flawed teaching on the law vs. grace, of the cross, of the resurrection, or of sanctification affects the Gospel relating to those elements. Not understanding what God’s wrath affects the doctrine of Last Things.
So you see, if a teacher teaches “the Gospel”, they are really teaching ‘the good doctrine’ (1 Timothy 4:6)
In addition, if you still want to follow a teacher who seems to be teaching some things well and others poorly, remember the demon possessed slave girl.
As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” (Acts 16:17)
Is there anything inaccurate about what she said? No. Then why didn’t Paul like the free advertising? Because nothing pure can come from a deceitful heart. Because her father is the father of lies. Who needs satan to advertise the Gospel when we have the pure word and holy servants to do so?
Matthew Henry commentary says of the slave girl verse,
Satan, though the father of lies, will declare the most important truths, when he can thereby serve his purposes. But much mischief is done to the real servants of Christ, by unholy and false preachers of the gospel, who are confounded with them by careless observers.
Mixing lies and truth is what satan did to Eve. And look what happened.
A little leaven leavens the whole lump. (Galatians 5:9 cf 1 Corinthians 5:6)
If a teacher is teaching wrongly have nothing to do with him or her.
That’s not to say that a true teacher must teach all doctrines perfectly. We are imperfect individuals. But as I said in a previous essay, the Holy Spirit who is inside us will never allow a true teacher to remain in a false understanding. The Spirit always testifies of Jesus and points to Him, who is Truth. That’s why discernment means being alert, and watchful and patient. A teacher should always be growing in Christ-likeness. A false teacher is always growing away from Christ.
1 Timothy 6:3 says that good teaching is sound doctrine according with godliness. An overseer’s primary job is to “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”
Jesus IS Truth. Seek Him and don’t compromise for anything less.