Spot The Heretic

Let’s play a little game called, “Spot The Heretic.” I’ll quote a theologian/writer and you decide whether you think he is a bewarefalseprophetsheretic or not.

“The Son had a beginning but God alone is without beginning. The Son is a “creature” of the Father and there was a time when he was not.

Answer: Heretic – This quote is from Arius (c. AD 250-336), who was ruled a heretic by the Christian church at the Council of Nicea

How about another one: Christ came down from heaven and began teaching, proclaiming a new kingdom and deliverance from the rule of the malevolent Demiurge. Christ only appeared to be a man, because matter is evil – the creation of the Demiurge.”

Answer: Heretic again. This quote is from Marcion of Sinope – declared a heretic by early church Fathers

Does labeling someone a heretic or a false teacher make you feel uncomfortable? It should; it’s not something that should ever be done lightly. However, that doesn’t mean that it should never be done.   Indeed, today it seems that there is a reluctance to call anything heretical. Could the reason be that we are not really sure about our own theology? Given the shocking decline in Christians reading their Bibles regularly, this wouldn’t be surprising.

If our faith is rooted in Scripture, then God’s Word itself is should be our rule.   There will be times that we differ on interpretation, but more and more we see historic, orthodox theology tossed aside in favor of the latest flavor.   In fact, starting a heresy has become predictably formulaic:

  1. Begin by challenging an unpopular idea in today’s culture
  2. Try to show that you’re still orthodox by redefining theological terms
  3. Take verses out of context
  4. Add a dose of historical revisionism
  5. Appeal to some obscure “church father”
  6. Begin to teach what their itching ears want to hear
  7. Sign a book deal

What is strange about our reticence to call false teaching what it really is – false teaching! – is that the early church seemed quite active in warning about false teachers.

Should it not give the 21st century church pause that every author in the New Testament records direct or indirect warnings about false teaching? Every. Single. Author. Seriously…here’s a list:

  • -Matthew (Matt. 24:11)
  • -Mark (Mark 13:22)
  • -Luke (Acts 20:21)
  • -John (1 John 2:18ff)
  • -Peter (2 Pet. 2:1)
  • -Paul (2 Tim. 4:3, Titus 1:9, etc.)
  • -James (3:1)
  • -Writer of Hebrews (13:9)
  • -Jude (Jude 1:4)

Paul and Jude warn that some of these false teachers would arise from within the church. Jesus himself warned about this in Matt. 7:15:  “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” If Jesus warns us to “beware of false teachers” and we call our selves Jesus-Followers, then we need to follow this command.

It seems that many believers have forgotten these warnings in their desire to explore the latest books of dubious theology (being tossed about by every wind of doctrine) or the podcasts of latest celebrity pastor (teaching what their itching ears want to hear).

Google the word “gospel” and you’ll find a plethora of different “gospels,” many espoused by those who would call themselves Jesus-Followers.   This is nothing new. In his letters to the churches in Galatia and Corinth, Paul rebukes people who had turned to follow a “different gospel.” The difference between then and now, though, is that there are few godly voices calling out warning today. Imagine Paul’s words being spoken in church this Sunday about a specific group of teachers: “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.” (2 Cor. 11:13-15) What do you think the response would be to these stern words in many of today’s tolerant, pluralistic churches?

Please understand, I’m not calling for a witch-hunt; I’m calling for us to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1). I’m certainly not advocating that we brand everyone who disagrees with us a heretic; but I am advocating that we “encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:9) I’m not promoting dogma; I’m promoting discernment.

So how do we do this? First, we need to place a priority on “watching our life and doctrine closely.” (1 Tim. 4:16) When my guard is down, it’s easy for the enemy to get his foot in the door. Secondly, I need to improve my biblical literacy (read my blog on this here). It’s the tuning fork principle. If I know the true pitch of a note, I’ll recognize when something is out of tune. Similarly, if I know the truth of God’s Word, I’ll be able to recognize false teaching.

There is true and false when it comes to matters of theology. And I believe it gives the Father great joy to find his children walking in the truth, just as he commanded us (2 John 4).


Posted on December 3, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Didn’t know about every NT author giving a warning against false teachers. Cool fact!

    It drives me crazy how much we tolerate in the Church today. Any time you criticize someone for false teaching, you are called unloving and told to “do as Jesus did – love people and don’t judge”. Ha! What Jesus are you referring to? Not the one in Scripture. I totally agree with you Bryan: we can go overboard and be witch hunters, but it’s not a virtue to tolerate a low view of Scripture and weak (and particularly false) theology.

  2. Great post, Bryan! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on an important subject.

  3. Bry, I am disappointed by the amount of ‘innuendo’ in your post, rather than addressing specific people or issues with nuance. Ie. attributing the false teaching issue to a lack of people reading their Bible, when in fact, throughout most of Christian history people were unable to read their Bible; suggesting new perspectives must be wrong, by repeating the phrase ‘latest’ in a negative way; or listing a formula that could actually be applied to virtually any Christian author or document (eg. every single verse in every AWANA manual is taken out of context). My observation is that many people who are most vehement in their denunciation of false teachers may be deserving of the label themselves (Mark Driscoll is only a recent example), so vehemence in denunciation is no indicator of orthodoxy. On the other hand, I can’t actually think of anyone who would deny the existence of false teaching/teachers! I feel you would be better off, therefore, engaging questions like: What actually constitutes a false teaching? How do we determine it? What is the most truth & grace filled way to address it? Should our faith be rooted in Scripture, or in Jesus, and how do these relate? What is the difference between false teaching and false teachers, and how do we handle the realization that we all believe and communicate wrong things?

  4. Hi Steve, thanks for reading my blog. I’m humbled you’d take the time to read it and consider it and post a reply.

    I appreciate your suggestions for questions you feel I should have addressed. Perhaps I will wrestle with those in a future blog. However, they were outside of the more general question I was really wrestling with: why are we so reticent to call anything false teaching today? I agree with you that few people would deny the existence of false teachers today. The irony is that few people are actually willing to identify specific false teachings/false teachers in the church today. Perhaps your experience is different than mine, given the different circles we minister in. I see a lack of discernment in the areas of orthodoxy and orthopraxy in the church circles I move in, particularly here on Manitoulin Island. And yes, I see a directly correlation between this and the amount of time people spend in the Word. I don’t think that was innuendo…I was stating it pretty directly. I confess, I’m not really sure what you mean about addressing issues “with nuance.” I am always striving to improve my thinking and writing, so if you wish to clarify, I’d find that helpful.

    I certainly wasn’t advocating the vehemence you reference twice in your response. I actually tried to caution that identifying something as false teaching was something that wasn’t to be done lightly and that we should not be going on a “witch hunt,” but rather that we should, “Test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1). So I apologize if it sounded like I was inciting vehemence; I certainly wasn’t trying to sound like Mark Driscoll. Actually, I’ve only read one Driscoll book…that Reformissional Reverend one you recommended to me back in the day, and have only listened to a few of his sermons. I haven’t followed him very closely, although I’ve prayed for him and his family occasionally. So I don’t really feel as qualified as you to conclude that he may be deserving of the label of false teacher.

    On the other hand, I have been an Awana leader for the past number of years in our church, so I am familiar with it. Have you investigated the new Awana program? You mention that “every single verse in every AWANA manual is taken out of context.” Are you referring to the old Awana program or the new one? They’ve made some significant changes (at least at the T&T level…the old Pals/Chums & Pioneers/Guards levels now combined). If you’re referring to your experience with the old Awana program, perhaps you should investigate the new one to see if your criticism still holds true. Truthfully, I’m not sure that it held true of the old program in the all-encompassing way you stated. While some verses were certainly taken out of context, I remember memorizing all of Pslam 23, and the Lord’s Prayer, as well as other longer sections.

    This blog grew out of my observation that every writer in the New Testament warns directly or indirectly against false teachers. Yet, I see this warning being heeded so infrequently in our churches here on Manitoulin, and I confess, in my own life. In light of this, I was hoping that this blog would be an encouragement to my brothers and sisters in Christ to think soberly and critically as we “watch our life and doctrine closely” (1 Tim. 4:16).

    It seems my blog touched a nerve with you, Steve. I appreciate your feedback and I’d be happy to engage with you on this issue some more if you’d like.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: