When you discover someone who is teaching error, what can you do? What is the best way to approach a false teacher?
What would you say to someone who you know is teaching error? I know it’s not an easy thing to do, but how would you best approach it, or would you say anything at all? Perhaps you’d tell a church leader or a close friend who you know won’t gossip, but I believe the first priority in trying to help a false teacher see their error is to pray about. Ask God to open their eyes, because only God can change a human heart (Prov 21:1), and that’s exactly what we can pray for. Ask for God’s mercy on this person. They’re not our enemy but someone who needs to see their error. They can easily lead others into the ditch. They may not even realize they’re in error. Perhaps they’ve learned from another false teacher, but either way, bask this in prayer. God has answered some amazing prayer requests, and I’m not talking about the Red Sea being parted. I believe one of the greatest miracles there are is when a person’s been converted from a child of the Devil into a child of God. When Saul was ravaging the early church, approving of the stoning of Stephen, I’m sure none of the believers would have ever thought about praying that Saul would be saved; maybe some, but probably not very many. They probably prayed to be protected from Saul, but did any of them really think that Saul would ever be saved, not to mention, becoming the Apostle to the Gentiles? Who in their right might mind would have went up to Saul and tried to share Christ? That would have probably been a death sentence, but perhaps some were praying for Saul’s conversion. We just don’t know, but it is possible, so start with prayer, stay with prayer, and plan on prayer for someone who is teaching false doctrines.
If we don’t come to our brother or sister in love, then we ought not to come to them at all. Love must be the motivating factor for correcting a fellow brother or sister in Christ. The opposite of love is not hate…it is indifference, or apathy. Indifference says, “I don’t care what happens to you.” That is about as unloving as anyone can be, so have love in your heart for this person who’s fallen away from the truth. Pray for them and come to them in love. A little bit of error renders the whole truth a lie, and even a half-truth is a whole lie. Jesus said that if we see a brother or sister sinning, we should go to them, and if that doesn’t work, take someone else with you (Matt 18:15-20). If that doesn’t work, Jesus said bring it before the church (Matt 18:17-18). Hopefully it won’t come to that, but if it must come to that, do it in love for your brother or sister in Christ. If we saw a blind man heading for the cliff, we’d warn them, so how can we not warn those who are teaching doctrinal error, or worse, teaching others the same. Our church had to go through church discipline with two members, and it was hard, but these were serious sins, and it was hurting the church, and slandering the church’s name before the community. The difference was, it was done in love, and when or if they repent, we are going to welcome them back, just as we should any church member who was dis-fellowshipped. We must always leave room for repentance.
In the Word
After having soaked this in prayer, and you have come to your brother or sister who is teaching error in private, and then with another person, it’s time to tell it to the church, and the church leadership, if necessary, can come to them and personally use the Word of God to expose the error. Maybe the person doesn’t even realize they’re in error. Maybe they misunderstood the verse, or maybe they were taught error. Whatever the reason, the Word of God is the final authority. The Word has power, so we must use it (Rom 1:16; 1st Cor 1:18), and God promises that the Word of God, when it is sent out, will accomplish just what God wants it to accomplish (Isaiah 55:11), so we must trust God and His Spirit with the results, so after praying, and speaking with them as a friend, and then finally, bringing out the authority of God’s Word, which is God speaking, just wait…it’s in God’s hands now. Make sure you tell them, that it’s not your opinion, because we can be wrong, but tell them, “Here’s what the Bible says about that.” It’s not about “us versus them.” It’s about helping a friend find the error of their way. I told my church, “You will do me a personal favor if you find out I’m wrong or I cited a wrong verse. I will thank you for it, so don’t fear coming to me.” And it has proven true, but that’s okay, I am still a work in progress. An important point is, we must remain humble in all of this. If we don’t, then our pride can sneak up on us, and we can develop a sense of superiority, and believe me, that won’t help at all. In fact, it’ll make it worse.
I think you probably already know this, but there has been a rapid rise in false teachers today. There is every kind of teacher out there today, and they’ve probably written a book, so we must all be careful of what goes into our minds and whose teaching we listen too. The Apostle Peter’s warning is just as relevant today as in the day it was written. Peter warned that “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” (2nd Pet 2:1), so do what the Apostle Paul tells Timothy; “guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’” (1st Tim 6:20). We must do what Jude wrote; “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 1:3b-4).