One of the more unfortunate sentiments in the modern church revolves around the idea that it is unkind for an individual, or collective group, to call out false teaching and false teachers. Often, even many orthodox Christians decry this practice, indicating Christians ought to be known more for what they believe than what they don’t believe. On the surface this is a laudable statement, yet it seems Christians ought to be known inasmuch for what they do not believe. It is equally as important that they be known for what they do not find acceptable behavior.
While it is important to distinguish between positive and negative theology – there is ample evidence to suggest the broader church has done both fields of theological study. They not only affirmed what they did believe (positive theology), but rejected what they did not believe (negative theology). This is also the precedent Scripture often embraces, perhaps illustrated best by the Corinthian slogans in 1 Cor. 6:12-20. The pronouncement of judgment upon false teachers often accompanies the practice of negative theology.
The Scriptures know nothing of the notion that we ought not to use strong language in condemning false teachers and false doctrine. Make no mistake – I am not advocating one be without charity entirely, but there is a point when charity is no longer due. The longer an individual resides in teaching falsehoods, the more severe the warnings need to be. The more severe these falsehoods are, the more severe their warning and the quicker such warnings must come. In some cases, I fear we use the word “heretic” too quickly. In others, I fear we are far too reluctant to use the word at all.
The Problem of “Niceness”
The social convention of “niceness” often cited in defense of dumbing down a rebuke proves incredibly problematic. Surely, one’s default mode shouldn’t be devoid of friendliness. Yet the convention of “niceness” seems to play first chair; we dare not say anything construed as unkind. God forbid we are so bold to cut the formalities and swiftly pinpoint the issue at hand. The idea I am driving home here is that there is a fundamental difference between loving, gracious, and edifying speech – and speech that is simply “nice”. We can “nice” someone to straight to hell. We can also artfully use strong language in a God-honoring manner in order to incite a reaction.
Remember the Proverb: faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.
Others see such division fraught with perils. Dividing over doctrine, they say, is why so many are leaving the church. Yet Scripture is quite candid in divulging how we are to deal with false teachers. We first must test teachers to ensure they are not bearing false witness (1 Jn. 4:1-6). If they prove to be false teachers, we are to expose them (Eph. 5:11), rebuke them in the presence of everyone (1 Tim. 5:20), and judge them with proper judgement (Jn. 7:24).
If they remain unrepentant, they must be excommunicated from the church, as their condemnation has already been decided (Matt. 8:15-20; Jude 1:4). Once this process is complete, the entire church body is to shun them, meaning they do not greet them, welcome them into their homes, and avoid them entirely (2 Jn. 1:10; 2 Tim. 3:5; Rom. 16:17-18).
The church is called to do these things by virtue of what these false teachers truly are. They are disguised as servants of Christ, yet cause divisions and create obstacles to true doctrine, harming the faith of genuine converts (2 Cor. 11:13-15; Rom. 16:17-18). These people will not spare the flock, as they are ravenous wolves seeking to devour the sheep (Acts 20:29; Matt. 7:15-20). They pervert the grace of God by preaching a false gospel; they devote themselves to the teachings of demons and deny our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:6-9; 1 Tim. 4:1; Jude 1:4).
There is no shortage of devastation these teachers will do because they are not simply ignorant; they are obstinate in teaching falsehoods because they are busy doing the work of their father, Satan. It is of little wonder such teachers were likened to “pigs” and “dogs” by Peter. If one travels to the OT for a season, the case can surely be made for mocking such men, and even those who flock toward them. Yet if we are honest, our modern sensibilities twinge at the thought of doing such a thing.
In this process, the church must remember there is a cleansing that takes place as these wolves are forcibly removed from her midst. It is an act of judgment pronounced upon the wolf, yet it serves an equally important purpose as it separates the goats from the sheep. The startling reality is that these false teachers do not build themselves up, but are heaped up by those who desire false doctrine (2 Tim. 4:3).
We ought not to be dumbfounded when a man or woman becomes famous for their heretical teachings. This happens precisely because of those who claim Christ, yet cannot endure sound doctrine. This likewise happens for unbelievers in general who laud key figures confirming what they wish to hear. Yet the truly pernicious thing is when biblically faithful men and women remain silent as fools leap headlong into folly. What measure of love is this that allows another to go unchallenged upon the path to hell?
A Final Aside
In the broader culture, there is no such beast as “unbelief” residing in the hearts of mankind. Rather, all men worship. The key difference is what the object of that worship is. For most, the prominent object of that worship is self. Is it truly shocking to see the natural conclusion of self-worship being a god concocted in the image portrayed by the false teacher? No. Is it even shocking when lovers-of-self flock to such a contrived, false god? Not in the least.
Regardless of one’s disposition, the church is called to be a voice of reason and truth in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. We do so with much grace, knowing those whom we speak to are blinded by sin – yet in some cases, we do so with firmness and without apology. Unrepentant, false teachers are due no measure of “niceness” as they seek to destroy the household of God.
At some point we must realize no measure of “niceness” will turn about people’s opinion of us as we hold firmly to sound doctrine. Sound doctrine is itself a stumbling block to many. It is repulsive to those who love falsehood. It is repulsive to the broader culture. I continue to ask in all of this why some of Christ’s bride continues to entertain the wolf. Many sound teachers have no qualms in naming names, yet you’ll find their books in congregant’s homes. False teachers pervert the grace of God, preach a false gospel, devote themselves to the teachings of demons, and deny our Lord and Master. Call. Them. Out. Have nothing to do with them.
Even if a broken clock is right twice a day – why not simply buy a new clock that functions in the manner intended?