Who is a false teacher? Sadly some popular “discernment” ministries are currently throwing out accusations of heresy against other well-known Christian apologists, largely over matters of how they approach their ministry. Occasionally they also use non-essential points of doctrine as reason to anathematize people, but generally the battles boil down to pride.
A reader recently expressed her concern that “discernment ministry” types have been indiscriminately calling anyone they disagree with a false teacher. In many instances, I must concur. The article she sent me, A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity by Al Mohler, certainly offers a helpful guideline in determining what issues should divide Christians and when we can disagree without breaking unity. I encourage each of you to read it.
As helpful as Mohler’s article is, however, perhaps Scripture provides an even better measurement. Some doctrines (such as women not teaching men within a church setting) are clearly stated in Scripture. Other principles (such as women writing Bible Studies on blogs that men will read) lend themselves to more ambiguity. In the first case, I will divide. In the second, I’ll give the benefit of the doubt. The second merely violates my personal convictions; the first violates God’s Word.
Paul addresses Christian liberty in a number of passages. Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 directly speak to the necessity of avoiding judgmental postures over matters of individual conscience. Just because I believe, for instance, that I should wear hats to church doesn’t give me the right to insist that my sisters in Christ wear hats. But neither does their freedom to attend church bareheaded give them the right to judge me as being legalistic.
Suppose, however, that I devoted this entire blog to head coverings, asserting that women who failed to cover their heads in church were in blatant rebellion against God’s Word. Suppose I wrote, in no uncertain terms, that head coverings were necessary to salvation. Ladies, if I did anything like that, I would most definitely be a false teacher. Furthermore, you would have a responsibility to contact First Baptist Church Weymouth to alert the elders that I promoted heresy. That sort of divisiveness must never be tolerated within the Body of Christ!
17 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. 18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. ~~Romans 16:17-18 (ESV)
As Christians, we must know Scripture well enough to distinguish between simple disagreements with our brothers and sisters in Christ and false teachings that worm their way into the church. In our zeal for doctrinal purity, let’s take care that we divide only from those who truly pervert the Word of God.