The Word on Calling Out False Doctrine
Wrapping this series up, it is important here and in all aspects of life to stay grounded in the Word and Biblical teachings. So, what does the Bible say on calling out false doctrine?
Let’s begin with what Jesus said:
Matthew 7:15 (KJV): Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
The word ‘beware’ means to be alert or privy to something, and in this case not only to identify false teachings but also false teachers, whose methods can be very subtle. As this parable goes, they’re clothing themselves with a cloak like that of a sheep when they’re actually ravenous wolves.
A cross-reference always helps as well, and we have plenty here, and the Bible is full of them for confirmation of things, certainly hearkening to the Scripture about 2 or more witnesses (2 Corinthians 13:1 (KJV): …the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.)
See here how we know that Paul used the same Greek word for ‘beware’ in the Book of Acts:
Acts 20:28-29 (ESV): Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;
Another reference - Jesus used the same word ‘beware’ yet again in Matthew 16:6, but He was much more direct this time:
Matthew 16:6 (ESV): Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
Paul had the same kind of group and error in mind in Philippians 3:2 and 3:18: “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.” Then, verse 18: “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.”
Even in Romans 16:17, he warned, “Watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.”
So, what are we to do with this information and these warnings from Jesus? For starters, to beware, you have to know who “they” are. You can’t avoid somebody or something if you don’t know who or what they are.
The practice of such shows up in multiple times throughout the Word:
2 Timothy 3:5 (ESV): having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.
2 John 10 (ESV): If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting,
2 Thessalonians 3:6 (ESV): Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.
In other words, Christians, and shepherds in particular, should be discerning and alert to behavior and teachings that dishonor Jesus and destroy people — and not treat it in a casual or harmless way, but to actively rebuke it and expose it.
Paul also spoke of this in 1 Timothy 5:19–20 when he was speaking of elders who persist in error:
1 Timothy 5:19-20 (ESV): Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.
When he said, “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin” - that can be sin of false doctrine or sin of evil behavior, and anyone who does not accept correction. Can you think of any teachers of the Word who have made error or took a lax approach to addressing certain sins, and did not accept correction or change their ways?
Amazingly, Paul also went on to actually name several false teachers. We talked about this earlier, the actual calling out by name:
2 Timothy 4:10 (ESV): For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.
2 Timothy 1:15 (ESV): You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.
1 Timothy 1:19-20 (ESV): holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.
As we can see, Paul names multiple false teachers that the church should watch out for.
From just these short looks, we can infer from Jesus and Paul and Luke and John that false teachings and teachers are present dangers in this fallen world for the church and Christians alike. All of us — especially shepherds, pastors and ministers of the Word — should be alert and discerning to identify and, in appropriate ways, expose these dangers.
How should we go about exposing them, you may wonder further? Well, in 1 Corinthians 4:5, Paul talks about how the Corinthians should assess Paul and Cephas and Apollos, because the people were choosing sides and boasting about their favorite teacher:
1 Corinthians 4:4-5 (ESV): For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.
So, what does this mean, specifically the words “do not pronounce judgment before the time”? Is this a warning to keep us from identifying false teachers or naming them? In my opinion, no.
“Don’t pronounce judgment before the time” to me means to not pass judgment the way that Jesus will on Judgment Day. In other words, don’t presume to know the heart of a person like Jesus will know the heart of them on that day. Only Jesus will bring to light the things hidden in darkness.
For now, our job is to do mouth judgment, writing judgment, and behavior judgment — not a heart judgment. When a mouth speaks unaligned with the Word, or we see destructive teachings claiming to be of God and the Word, or when a blog or an article or a book publishes a destructive and un-Biblical teaching, or when a body person behaves with destructive behavior against God’s command - in all of it, we are to be discerning and expose with facts and warnings.
I’ll leave you with Ephesians 5:11, which speaks of how we are to expose the error:
Ephesians 5:11 (ESV): Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
In the original Greek texts, which range from hundreds and thousands of years old, it was written exactly as this:
“Kai mē synkoinōneite tois ergois tois akarpois tou skotous mallon de kai elenchete” which translated exactly as “ And not have fellowship with the works - unfruitful - of darkness rather however even expose [them]”.
Pray to the Lord for guidance at all times, and especially on a matter such as this. Overall, there is a very fine line to walk when judging others to provide proper discernment, and we should avoid getting into a place where force our opinions on others or start to speak in a manner of other people such as, “Ohhh, THAT’s why they are in this situation,” for the sake of simple hearsay and not actually help or educate others.
Study the Word, become a student of the Word, share your interpretations with others, and when you speak on false doctrines and false teachers, the best way is to expose it with pure Biblical facts, and leave it up to the interpretation of others without ultimately condemning someone else along the lines of judging their heart.