Calling Out False Teachers: Finding Love In Discernment Ministry

In Revelation 2 and 3, the glorified Christ commissions the apostle John to write letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor. As I read these letters earlier this week, the letter to the church at Ephesus grabbed my attention because of its warning to people involved in discernment ministry. Look at the passage with me, and then we’ll talk about some of its application to discernment ministry.

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:

The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this:

‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent. Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’ ~~Revelation 2:1-7 (NASB)

The letter starts by commending the Ephesian church for its discernment. This church was characterized by its doctrinal purity and faithfulness to test false teachers. Verses 2 and 3 describe a church that Christians should emulate. God’s Word repeatedly commands both leaders and laity to stand against those who pervert the Gospel. Consider, for example, Paul’s instructions to Titus:

10 For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, 11 who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain. 12 One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth. ~~Titus 1:10-14 (NASB)

When popular evangelical teachers spread distortions of Scripture, we indeed must confront them and expose their lies for the sake of the church at large. Otherwise they will cause terrible division, leading people away from the sound teachings of the Bible. Discernment ministry exists because an appalling number of supposedly Biblical churches fail to show people how to measure teachings by the Word of God. In fact, too many churches fail to teach people proper rules for interpreting Scripture, leaving them defenseless when false teachers use it out of context to support unbiblical ideas.

But the letter takes a shocking turn in verse 4, when Christ reproves Ephesus for leaving their first love. Obviously, the primary application of this confrontation pertains to loving the Lord more than our ability to sniff out false teachers. And Christians absolutely must make that application before anything else! After all, the entire purpose of calling out false teachers is to love Him better for His glory.

So often, people in discernment ministry struggle with the sin of pride. I definitely do! There’s something heady about being able to identify a false teacher and expose him or her in well-written blog posts. Sure, you get pushback from the teacher’s devotees, but you also get praise from Christians who want truth and appreciate your guidance. Whether we admit it or not, discernment ministry makes us feel a little special.

This pride often draws us away from loving the very false teachers that we should seek to restore to God. Yes, I understand that the vast majority of them are destined for hell, as Jude 4 attests. And the entire epistle of Jude contains some startlingly harsh pronouncements about these teachers. Understandably, those of us who contend for the faith feel justified if we say things against them. Thus, we sometimes speak roughly, forgetting that even false teachers are made in the image of God.

Look back at the passage from Titus. Titus 1:13 ends with the thought that we reprove false teachers in hopes of leading them to sound faith. When we return to Christ as our first love, we can’t help but remember that loving Him compels us to then love our neighbor as ourselves (see Mark 12:28-34). Even when circumstances require us to speak harshly regarding false teachers, our harshness must come out of a desire to see them repent, their followers rescued from deception and God glorified.

Yes, let’s imitate the faithfulness of the church at Ephesus in their faithfulness to call out false teachers! Let’s risk being criticized for harshness, remembering that we seek to snatch people from the damning lies of the evil one. Let’s name names and expose their errors through the lens of God’s Word. But let’s not repeat their mistake of doing so in a way that abandons our first love.

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