At the onset, one might reply to this question with a hearty, “Yes!!” However, some are more inclined to be less controversial, for the sake of peace, and rather pray for the repentance of false teachers than shedding light on their teachings. We should definitely pray for false teachers to repent, but more should be and must be done. While casting light on false teachers is often seen as a divisive and unloving move, it actually is the opposite. Exposing false teachers strengthens the unity of the church and is a great act of love. Sound perplexing? If it does, stay with me and I’ll explain my statements more fully.
Christian rapper/emcee, shai linne, recently released his 5th solo album, Lyrical Theology, Part 1: Theology (the first of a trilogy), which included what has become a controversial song, Fal$e Teacher$. The song has become controversial because shai linne names some of the prominent proponents of the prosperity gospel. The false teachers shai names are T.D. Jakes, Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Eddie Long, Joel Osteen, Fred Price, Robert Tilton, Juanita Bynum, Joyce Meyer and Paula White. Knowing the song would elicit controversy, shai wisely prepared and made public an explanation of his motive for making the song before the song was officially released. To many people’s surprise, shai received a response from Brad Knight, Paula White’s son and shai offered a gracious, yet firm, reply.
Exposing false teachers is something I began doing a couple years after my salvation and still do. Like shai, I was met with criticism and misunderstanding and I was outright accused of being a slanderer and unloving….by other Christians! So like any other Christian who believes in the authority and inerrancy of God’s Word, I offered Scripture to justify my position of being aware of and naming false teachers. In turn, they offered Scripture to justify their positions to NOT name false teachers. Are the Scriptures divided? Does the Bible truly contradict itself? Can we use Scripture to argue away Scripture? To this absurd question, I offer the urban idiom, “Come on, son!” We must read Scripture correctly to know how to apply it to our lives by God’s grace.
Recently, I found myself in a discussion similar to ones I’ve previously had concerning the notion of exposing false teachers. I sent shai’s song to a few people for thoughts and one person expressed very little about the song and offered a few verses for me to think about. Those verses were Matthew 7:1-2, 2 Timothy 2:14-16, and James 4:11. A casual reading of these verses communicated to me that the other person thought the song was divisive and unloving. I read those verses in context and offered my thoughts to that person about whether or not those verses were used correctly as justification to NOT expose false teachers.
I am posting my thoughts here not to gloat or embarrass anyone, but rather to show how essential it is that we learn how to interpret the Scriptures so that we can be more responsible and faithful Christians.
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1, 2 ESV)
This command comes toward the end of His discourse commonly known as The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). The essence of His sermon is to reveal what life looks like for those who are of the Kingdom of God. Chapter 5:1 reveals to whom Jesus was speaking – the crowds and His disciples. In fact, the end of Matthew 4, verses 23-25, convey that Jesus was speaking to large crowds in various places.
Matthew 7:1-2 has commonly been used to try to dissuade people from judging. However, these verses are not about judging (being discerning), but rather about hypercritical judgmentalism, which stems from the root of the sin of pride. Jesus is not commanding us to not use good judgment or not to be discerning, but rather not to be pridefully judgmental. Christians are called to judge or use discernment primarily to understand the ploys of Satan and to know how to apply the Word. Ironically, a few verses down in Matthew 7, verses 15-20, Jesus commanded His listeners to “beware of false prophets who come in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” That’s a bold statement by Jesus Himself. Is He being judgmental by calling people false prophets and ravenous wolves? Certainly Jesus isn’t contradicting Himself, right? We might wonder why Jesus warned people about false prophets? Why did He feel the need to sound the alarm? I think it’s because He loved people and cared for them and didn’t want them to be led astray by destructive teaching.
2 Timothy 2:14-16
“Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness,..” (2 Timothy 2:14-16 ESV)
This letter is known as a pastoral epistle and it was Paul’s instructions to Timothy as he pastored the church in Ephesus. Between the two letters addressed to Timothy, Paul encouraged Timothy to be bold, preach the gospel, defend it against error, how to structure the church, the qualifications of church leaders, and how to encourage the believers in their actions toward one another. You mentioned 2:14-16, but I first want to direct you to 1:13-14. Paul tells Timothy to follow the pattern of sound words (doctrine) and to guard the good deposit that was entrusted to him. That deposit is the gospel; ironically the same gospel that Paul was in prison for preaching.
Looking at 2:14-16, we need to again look at the context. If you start at 2:1 and read to verse 13, you’ll see that Paul is exhorting Timothy to disciple men who will in turn disciple other men (v1-2). Paul says, “…what you heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to faithful men..” What Timothy heard from Paul was the gospel, which we see in 1:13. However, 2:8 is ample evidence of what Timothy heard from Paul because he says, “Remember Jesus Christ…” Verse 14 starts off with “Remind them of these things…” What things does Paul want Timothy to remind the men of? The things mentioned in 2:6-13 – things about Jesus.
Why do you think Paul exhorted Timothy to rightly handle the word of truth (2:15), to guard the gospel (1:14) and to remind the men Timothy would mentor to remember the truths of the gospel (2:14)?
Paul’s next exhortation to Timothy for the other men is not to “quarrel about words” (2:14). This simply means not to argue about meaningless information. (i.e. How many angels can stand on the head of a needle? Can God make a rock so big that He can’t move?) This does not mean that Christians are to not defend the truth of Christ and not expose false teachers. In fact, the letter of Jude warned its primary audience and us about false teachers, their judgment and how we are to handle them. Jude’s verses 3-4 say:
“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Jude 3-4 ESV)
Jude is exhorting the reader to contend for the faith and he qualifies false teachers as being headed for condemnation for perverting the gospel. These false teachers were not teaching what was in accordance to sound doctrine. That’s pretty strong biblical language!
But perhaps what’s more revealing is what Paul continued to write in 2 Timothy 2 in verses 16-18. Paul tells Timothy to tell the men to avoid irreverent babble because it will lead people astray into ungodliness and he mentions two men by name who were guilty of babbling irreverently: Hymaneus and Philetus. Paul says they swerved from the truth and upset the faith of some for teaching false things about the resurrection (2:18). Do you see what Paul is doing? He is not only instructing Timothy how to instruct other men concerning false teaching, but he is outright calling Hymaneus and Philetus false teachers. Why does Paul speak like this? I think it’s for the same reasons Jesus warned people – because he loved them and didn’t want to see them troubled by false teachings concerning Christ. So considering the context of this letter, 2 Timothy 2:14-16 is not a biblical defense to not expose false teachers. In fact, it does the opposite.
“Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.” (James 4:11 ESV)
The epistle of James was written to various Jewish Christians who were scattered due to persecution (1:1). James is an interesting letter because it addresses many different things that seem to not be connected. Some have termed the epistle of James as Proverbs of the New Testament. It’s an epistle filled with practical wisdom for Christians because of what the gospel had accomplished in their lives.
When I looked at 4:11, it appeared to be a summarized re-statement of the issues James mentions in 3:1-4:10: taming the tongue, what godliness or wisdom from above looks like, and the nature of fights and quarrels. What James is essentially calling our attention to is harmony and unity within the body of Christ and what kinds of heart attitudes and behaviors that disrupt that harmony. So he summarizes it all by saying, “Don’t speak evil against one another, brothers.” If one speaks evil it reveals what is already in his heart. Jesus said from out of our hearts come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander (Matthew 15:19). So, this is a call for Christians to treat one another with love because that shows the world we’re truly His disciples (John 13:34).
However, due to the nature of their teachings, false teachers are not considered “brothers”. In other words, they’re unbelievers or non-Christians. Jude’s letter said the false teachers were headed for condemnation. Believers are not headed for condemnation (Romans 8:1). Perhaps the strongest words against false teachers are mentioned in 2 Peter 2, with verses 1-3 being very poignant.
“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” (2 Peter 2:1-3 ESV)
Again, very strong words about and against false teachers from Peter. In light of this characteristic of false teachers, James 4:11 is not referring to how we should treat unbelievers – the false teachers. James 4:11 is an exhortation for Christians not to slander one another.
Certainly, calling someone a false teacher who fits the biblical description of one is not slanderous or evil. It’s a descriptive term that coincides with their actions. For example, if a man is characterized by stealing, he is a thief. That’s not a slanderous term, but a descriptive one based on objective evidence.
The biggest issue with false teachers is that ultimately God is not glorified by their teaching. They are blaspheming the name of God when they teach things that are outright untrue about God for their gain.
So just as Jesus, Paul, Peter and Jude warned people to beware of false teachers, we too can warn people about false teachers so they won’t be led astray and also so God can be truly glorified.
May the Lord find us faithfully upholding His truth!