Tim Challies – How Jesus Called Out False Teachers and Deadly Doctrine

It’s a good time to be a false teacher and to espouse deadly doctrine. It seems that today’s most brazen heretic will be granted a hearing and, in all likelihood, a book deal. Novelty is appealing, orthodoxy boring. It’s the ones who sound the warning and issue the challenge that bear the risk—the risk of being labelled “haters.” There’s more patience for those who smilingly subvert the truth than for those who boldly defend it. Conviction is a sign of arrogance, while humility is expressed in uncertainty. Love, it seems, requires us to bear patiently with any amount of error. And this kind of love, we are told, is modeled after Jesus. Jesus did not judge, Jesus welcomed all opinions, Jesus would have accepted different kinds of teachings — so long as those teachings contained love and hints of truth.

A quick scan of the gospels, however, shows that this impression is a far cry from the Jesus of the Bible. It shows that society has reimagined Jesus through the relativism of our day. When Jesus interacted with people who were seeking, wandering, or misguided, he was invariably compassionate. He answered them with patience and gentleness. But when Jesus engaged with religious hypocrites and false teachers, he responded with righteous fury and bold conviction.

Today, those who love the truth must learn how to show such bold conviction through the old discipline of polemics—the practice of engaging in public debate and dispute. The purpose of polemics is not to score points or flex theological muscle, but to rebuke peddlers of error and to express concern for those caught up in their lies. Like the ancient heretics of Crete, today’s false teachers “must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach” (Titus 1:11). As we do this well, we imitate Jesus Christ who was a skilled polemicist.

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Tim Challies – Deadly Doctrines: Facing Evil Like Snakes and Doves

Since its earliest days, the church has been plagued by false teachers and deadly doctrine. Never has there been a period of rest, a time when Christians could relax their guard. Satan has opposed the church since the day of its founding, and he will continue to oppose her until the day of his destruction.

Naturally, then, Paul was seriously concerned about false teachers and deadly doctrine, warning of them in almost every one of his letters. As he comes to the end of his letter to the Romans, he reminds the church to be on guard, since false teachers are skilled at using flattery and smooth words to deceive even believers. Paul loves this church and wants them to be aware of the challenges they will face from predatory teachers. But his solution may strike us as surprising. He tells these Christians “to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil” (Romans 16:19b).

Paul seems to be echoing Jesus here. In the book of Matthew, we read of Jesus sending out his disciples and warning them of impending persecution from enemies of the gospel. He tells them how to behave in the midst of such trials: “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Jesus and Paul both call for wisdom and innocence. Let’s see how these two passages instruct us on protecting ourselves and our churches from false teachers and their deadly doctrine.

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Tim Challies – Deadly Doctrines: The Pattern and Protection

We have learned that the church of every age is plagued by false teachers and their deadly doctrine. We have met seven of those false teachers and seen the devastation they bring. We have identified five tests we can apply to any doctrine to determine whether it is false or true. But this leaves us with some important questions: How does a church come to reject sound doctrine? How do we guard ourselves against false teachers and their deadly doctrines? How do we protect ourselves, our families, and our churches from their seductive lies? Thankfully, God has given us clear guidance in his Word, showing us how churches descend into deadly doctrine and how we may protect ourselves against it.

The Pattern of Deadly Doctrine

Most biblical scholars agree that 2 Timothy is Paul’s final letter. He has nearly come to the end of his life, so he picks up his pen to write once more to his young friend. In his last words to Timothy, Paul makes sure to warn him about the danger of false teachers. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). In these verses he gazes into the future and describes a church being undermined and destroyed. This is not a prophecy of the death of a single congregation, but a general description of the death of a thousand. He outlines four steps that can progressively lead any congregation from health to death.

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Tim Challies – False Teachers and Deadly Doctrines

For the past few years, lists of Christian bestsellers have been topped by a book claiming fresh revelation from Jesus Christ. Before that, they were overrun by books describing people’s purported visits to heaven. And before the heaven tourism fad, there was the best-selling novel that reframed the doctrine of the Trinity. Meanwhile, the largest church in America is led by a man whose platitudes are indistinguishable from fortune cookies. But it’s not just authors and church leaders who are swerving away from the truth. Theologians and laypersons alike are abandoning traditional understandings of manhood and womanhood, of marriage and sexuality. Never has it been more important for Christians to commit themselves to rejecting false doctrine and pursuing sound doctrine, to ensure they are following teachers of truth, not peddlers of error.

In a new series of articles, we will consider false doctrine, sound doctrine, and how to train ourselves to distinguish between them. We will see how God calls us to respond to false and sound doctrine, as well as false and sound teachers. In this opening article, we will briefly define the term “doctrine,” examine the two different kinds of doctrine, and then suggest eight terrible consequences of false doctrine.

Defining Doctrine

Doctrine simply means “teaching.” Doctrine describes what Christians believe based on the entirety of the Bible. Because God has given us a completed revelation of himself in the Scriptures, we can search this revelation and arrive at confident conclusions about his nature and works.

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