My pastor used to frustrate me! I knew, from my personal interactions with him, that he was well aware of the celebrity evangelical teachers who taught false doctrine. I don’t doubt that he knew that some women in the church practiced evangelical fads that contradicted solid teaching. I used to pray that he would find ways to call out false teachers from the pulpit because I thought it was the only hope of convincing those women of the dangers. Once, and only once, he actually named someone briefly. Otherwise, he just preached faithfully through the Bible, trusting the Holy Spirit to correct our wrong thinking through the power of God’s Word.
As I saw it, teaching the Bible never corrected error in the other churches I’d belonged to. Those pastors also preached through books, and home Bible Study leaders taught through books. So they took verses in isolation much of the time, emphasizing application over interpretation, and their interpretation often ignored context. They still used the Bible, didn’t they? And they encouraged us to read our Bibles daily, looking for things to jump out at us. Like my current pastor, they assured us that familiarity with Scripture would protect us against false teaching. But we still wandered into all sorts of error, including a few errors that our pastors endorsed.
This past Wednesday night, our pastor gave an overview of 2 Peter, a letter written in response to false teachers who had infiltrated First Century churches. Chapter 2 presents a blistering description of false teachers, showing no pity. Winsome, Peter was not!
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. 2 Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; 3 and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. ~~2 Peter 2:1-3 (NASB95)
Wait! Does Peter consign false teachers to hell in verse 3? Actually, yes. Clearly, he has no reticence about telling the truth about them. So then, why won’t he come out and name some of them? He’s about to be executed for his faith anyway, so there’s really nothing they can do as far as retaliation. If he’s going to pronounce eternal damnation on them, shouldn’t he at least identify their specific heresies so that we know who and what to avoid?
I definitely had that attitude for a while. It would make things so easy if pastors would stand in their pulpits once a month and give us a list of false teachers and aberrant practices looming around the evangelical landscape that we should avoid. Preaching exegetically is all well and good, I conceded, but why not help the sheep by telling us who the wolves are?
In this week’s Wednesday night Bible Study, my pastor demonstrated the answer to my unspoken question by going back to a couple passages in 2 Peter 1. Let’s start with the first one — which is one of my favorites:
2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; 3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. 5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 11 for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you. ~~2 Peter 1:2-11 (NASB95)
My pastor pointed out the repetition of the word “knowledge” in this passage, and the insistence that knowledge would keep us from stumbling. Since Peter moves from this introductory paragraph into his warning against false teachers, it’s apparent that knowledge of the Lord is the key to discerning error. With this being the case, we then have to ask how we obtain the knowledge of God.
Peter answers that question first by showing that even he had a valid experience of seeing the glorified Christ on the mount of Transfiguration, and then making it clear that his experience only had secondary authority to the written Word of God.
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”— 18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.
19 So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. 20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. ~~2 Peter 1:16-21 (NASB95)
My pastor then said that it’s simply impossible to learn about every false teacher and false teaching out there. As he said that, I thought about my recent post on playing theological Whack-A-Mole. Trying to keep up with all the trends and popular teachers is really an endless and exhausting task which usually distracts us from the pure food of Scripture.
Ah, but as we learn to read Scripture in proper context, applying right principles of interpretation, we develop the necessary discernment to stand against false teaching. Yes, that kind of familiarity God’s Word requires more than haphazardly applying verses that seem to fit our immediate circumstances. Studying the Bible takes commitment and work. But the more we grasp its doctrines, the easier it becomes to recognize false teaching.
My pastor used to frustrate me. But now I realize that, in teaching our church the Bible, he equips us to resist even false teachings that he’s never encountered. Indeed, God has given the women of our church — and the women of every church — everything we need to resist deception.