Key New Testament Texts
Galatians 1:8-9. Satan seeks to corrupt Christ's Church through false ministers who preach a false message. Paul is adamant that no change can be introduced into the apostolic gospel. If any human being, or even an angel from heaven, preaches another gospel (another of a different kind), Paul prays that he should be accursed. This emphatic language demonstrates the fervor of Paul's attitude toward those who would modify any part of the gospel he preached.
II John 9-11. Anyone who goes beyond and will not continue abiding in the biblical doctrine of Christ has abandoned God. Believers, on the other hand, must continue abiding in the doctrine of Christ to have fellowship with the Father and the Son. Believers are to have nothing to do with anyone who claims authority as a teacher but who is not sound concerning the doctrine of Christ. Such a person is not to be given religious recognition of any kind because to do so would mean that the believers would then share in his evil deeds. To pray for God's blessing on such a false teacher is expressly forbidden, and to do so is to ask God to bless apostasy and heresy.
Additional Verses. "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple" (Romans 16:17-18). "O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: Which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee. Amen" (I Timothy 6:20-21). "I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars. . . . But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate" (Revelation 2:2, 6). "But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth" (Revelation 2:14-16).
Old Testament Parallel
The presence of false prophets among the people of God in the Old Testament was a common problem (II Peter 2:1). God taught His people that they were to reject a false prophet totally (Deuteronomy 18:20-22), even though he might conceivably predict the future and verify it with a miracle (Deuteronomy 13:1-5). The evidence that he was a false prophet would be that he would seek to lead the people astray from the true God.
Purity of life must be accompanied by purity of doctrine. Jeremiah and Ezekiel faced the problem of false prophets during their times (Jeremiah 23 and Ezekiel 13). These false teachers discouraged backslidden people from repentance by telling them that peace was on the way. As a result of their lies many perished. Of course, Jeremiah and Ezekiel preached against these deceivers. Other Old Testament prophets also used strong language to condemn false prophets (I Kings 22:25; Hosea 4:5; Isaiah 28:7; Micah 2:5-8, 11; Zephaniah 3:4). All of God's prophets were strong in their denunciation of false worship and condemned any effort on the part of Israel to combine their religious practices with those of the nations around them.
False teacher: one who professes to be a Christian but who attempts to deceive the Church by false doctrine. He is described in Scripture as a wolf in sheep's clothing who is to be judged on the basis of his works (doctrinal teaching and its effects) and not merely on his profession (Matthew 7:15-20; Titus 1:16). Although such deceivers give the appearance of being angels of light and ministers of righteousness, the Bible calls them false apostles, deceitful workers (II Corinthians 11:13-15), servants of corruption (II Peter 2:18), ungodly men (Jude 4), filthy dreamers (Jude 8), and mockers (Jude 18).
Fundamental doctrine: a clear scriptural teaching which the Bible itself indicates is an important truth of Christianity. The fundamentals of the Faith do not include those points of doctrine which are matters of particular interpretation. Good men have differed with each other on many points of doctrine, but they agree on the fundamentals. Of course, to distinguish between what is an essential of the Faith and what is a matter of interpretation requires spiritual discernment. For example, there can be no room for difference of opinion concerning the full inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of the Bible; the virgin birth of Christ; His essential deity and proper humanity; His absolute sinlessness; His power to save the sinner through His substitutionary death on the cross; His bodily resurrection; His personal return; and the reality of heaven and hell. On the other hand, true teachers of the Word have sometimes disagreed concerning the interpretation of specific Scripture relating to church ordinance or the details associated with Christ's return.
Explanation and Application
Just as Paul warned the Ephesian elders that they would have problems with false teachers (Acts 20:29-31), believers today can also expect to face problems with such men. First, therefore, Christians must judge all doctrinal teaching in the light of Scripture. If a man as a preacher or a teacher of God's people denies any of the fundamental doctrines of Scripture, true believers should recognize him as a false teacher. Second, it is necessary to rebuke the false teachers in order to deliver those who have been influenced by their teaching. This rebuke should be as strong as that used by Christ (Matthew 23:13-36) and His apostles (Galatians 1:9; 5:12). Third, since it is clear from Scripture that apostates by a deliberate choice have rejected revealed truth, there is no hope that such men will ever be converted. The false teachers must be expelled from the church and from any positions of influence involving a religious institution, publication, or missionary society. Finally, when expelling such men is impossible because the majority of the people in the church, society, or institution are supporting them, it then becomes necessary for believers to withdraw from that group. All conduct toward false teachers should be based upon the truth that an apostate gets only progressively worse in his doctrine (II Timothy 3:13) and that there is no scriptural evidence that an apostate ever returns to Christ (Hebrews 6:4-6).
Separation from false teachers, however, does not involve separation from ordinary hypocrites–those who simply do not believe what they profess to believe. God has not called us to judge the motives of men. If a man believes false doctrine but gives no outward sign of his attitude and does not teach anything false to other members of the church, he might remain in the church until he does manifest himself as a tare (Matthew 13:24-43). Judas, one of the twelve chosen by Christ, remained with the group until Christ's death; however, he never manifested himself to the disciples as a false teacher or even as an unconverted man. Christians cannot know a man's heart and cannot act until that person gives open evidence that he is a false teacher. However, this kind of separation does not involve the rejection of a novice who may express some views contrary to fundamental doctrine. If the novice submits himself to correction and chooses to obey the teaching of Scripture, he should not be regarded as a false teacher.
Christians, therefore, separate from false teachers and their teaching for the following reasons:
- To maintain the doctrinal integrity of the church (I Timothy 2:6).
- To protect the sheep from error which inhibits spiritual growth (Acts 20:28; II Peter 2:1-2).