False teaching is out there among the body of Christ. Christians should be vigilant to guard against it. However, there are some common pitfalls that occur when exposing false teachers.
There are two extremes often found among Christians. Some people seem to have no discernment whatsoever. Others see heresy everywhere they look. Wisdom dictates a balanced approach toward critically reviewing the work and teachings of others.
Those in the first camp will find themselves being driven and tossed by various winds of doctrine. They tend to accept whatever feels good or seems right to them. Such people don’t test ideas, teachings, and testimonies against God’s word. They have difficulty separating the person from the teaching, always wanting to give the person the benefit of any doubt.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are those of us who adopt the attitude, Christianity: nobody’s doing it right except me! I have certainly developed that mindset at times in the past. It’s easy to start thinking that our interpretation of the Bible is the only one that could possibly be considered valid.
Often, we feel like the conclusions we draw while reading Scripture are being given to us by the Holy Spirit. Truthfully, some of them are, while others are the result of our own reasoning. It can be challenging to know the difference.
Even though we are always asking Him for guidance, we cannot operate as though the Holy Spirit has given us every viewpoint we hold. The natural conclusion of such thinking is: “Anything contrary to what I believe must be wrong.” The result is that we see devils around every corner, and we end up calling out true Christians for heresy when there is no heresy.
How to Avoid a Critical Spirit When Addressing False Teaching
Anyone can fall into this mindset from time to time. If you do, pray and ask God to remove the critical and fault-finding spirit from you. Confess your shortcomings and ask Him to cleanse your thinking of pride and self-righteousness. When we view these issues properly, we recognize that sincere, devoted, Spirit-led Christians can come to different understandings about what the Bible calls “disputable matters” (Romans 14:1).
We should take a long, hard look at ourselves before criticizing others. We have to make sure we don’t have logs in our own eyes. Don’t be stubborn on this. I can tell you from experience that being set free of critical and fault-finding spirits will increase your joy immeasurably!
What Does Scripture Say?
“Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” – Romans 14:4 (ESV)
“For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” – Matthew 7:2 (ESV)
“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” – 2 Timothy 2:24-26 (ESV)
Calling out other believers for false teaching is an exercise that should be performed with much prayer and caution. Ministering in this area can be a bit like navigating a minefield. The enemy sets a lot of traps for those who are called to serve in this area. Let’s take a look at some of the common pitfalls and how to avoid them.
8 Tips for Those Who Feel Led to Address False Teaching
1) Don’t be a clanging cymbal.
If we aren’t speaking and acting out of love, we’re nothing. We should expect no good fruit from our efforts. If there is no love in our words, we ensure that the only people who will listen to us are those who already agree with everything we say. We won’t help anyone, but we will feed wrong attitudes in ourselves and others.
2) Start by pointing out the good they have done.
Check out Jesus’ addresses to the churches in Pergamum and Thyatira (Revelation 2). Some people in these churches were teaching and following false doctrines. Some were committing terrible acts of immorality.
Yet in both cases, Jesus starts out by commending and encouraging the good they have done. He doesn’t treat them as though the whole church or ministry is “false.” Many of them are His children and that is how He addresses them. He loves them very much. If they are His children, that means they are brothers and sisters. We should acknowledge as much and address them appropriately.
3) Avoid being mean-spirited or condescending.
It’s very natural for human beings to point out what we believe is wrong. Even the lost can do this with much passion and zeal. It’s a natural human trait. It feeds our pride. When pointing out the mistakes of false teachers, it’s easy for us to become prideful, arrogant, and mean-spirited without even realizing it. We should ask the Lord to guard us against this and we should regularly examine ourselves.
4) Don’t decide someone is a false teacher and then scrutinize everything they say to make a case against them.
Most of us are naturally prone to arguing. That means our flesh drifts toward unhealthy ways of building a persuasive case for what we believe. The trap is that we’ll go out of our way to pick apart the work of others when we have already made up our mind that this person is a “false teacher.” Each time we look to correct their teaching, we should stop to consider whether they just have a different doctrine on a disputable matter, or if we’re actually dealing with false teaching.
Either way, remember that our battle is not against the person. Our goal is only to lovingly and gently point people toward the truth (Galatians 6:1).
[bctt tweet=”Our desire should be to see others get it right, not just to prove people wrong.”]
If we come across as a person who is on a self-righteous crusade against a specific teacher, church, or movement—vilifying everything they say and do—most people are going to discount any valid points we may have. Many people will shut us out altogether.
5) Do not twist their words.
This appears to be a common mistake. Someone will accuse a supposedly false teacher of twisting scripture. Then, to prove their point, they will sometimes take quick sound bites or short quotes, twisting what the person really meant by them, or taking them out of context. They become guilty of the very thing they are accusing the other teacher of doing.
6) Recognize that God reveals unique perspectives on Scripture to all of us.
Instead of instantly imparting all understanding to everyone for all time, God grants insight individually, over time, so that we can teach each other (Acts 8:30-31). Someone else’s insight about a Scripture can be different than ours and both can be correct, as Scripture often has layers of meaning and many applications. God’s word is alive and active. When it comes to personal spiritual application, God may show one truth to one person and something entirely different to another using the same verse.
Do some people twist Scripture? Yes, but even well-meaning Christians make this mistake at times.
It also helps to remember that insight different than our own is not necessarily twisting. Different people understand and explain things in different ways. There is room for individuality in the Body of Christ. If this were not true, there would be no need for teachers and pastors.
7) Be careful accusing others of ignoring the full counsel of Scripture.
People often seem to get hyper-focused on a handful of Scriptures, even building ministries around them. And that’s perfectly okay.
For example, some can focus heavily on verses about healing, building healing ministries around them. Another example is people who focus heavily on Acts 17:11, building their entire ministry around the principle it describes. Don’t accuse such people of ignoring the full counsel of the word of God. Most likely, each one is simply walking out God’s specific calling for their lives and ministries (1 Corinthians 7:7).
8) Don’t criticize method, only message.
If the message is unequivocally heretical at a particular church or ministry, please lovingly expose that. But don’t add to proper correction by also criticizing the way people dress, the style of music they play, the size of the church, the format of the services, and so on. There are varieties of activities, but the same God is working through all of them (1 Corinthians 12:4-5).
Think of three prominent Bible teachers, authors, or pastors that you highly respect and admire. It can be anyone, past or present. Google their name with the phrase “false teacher” added behind it. Read or watch at least one piece (more if you have time) on all of them purporting to expose their false teaching.
This exercise should help you to more clearly recognize the kind of mistakes we often make when addressing false teaching. As you see these mistakes doing damage to people you respect, it should help you refine your approach toward those you consider to be false teachers.
A quick word of caution: Be prayerful as you do this. Make sure you’re not going to be influenced by any of those unhealthy methods of persuasion mentioned above. Also, be aware that some material on the internet is completely made up. Remember, the goal of the exercise is only to clearly identify some of the mistakes listed above, not to be turned away from your favorite Bible teachers through critical or slanderous commentaries.
May the Lord bless your efforts to grow in love and truth, in Jesus’ name, amen.
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