The Way False Teaching Works

False teaching seems to be on the rise. On one hand Mormons are clamoring to be recognized as Christian, and on the other Christians are darting off in tangents that take them away from The Main Thing, if not directly into Bible-contradicting error. How does this happen?

No false teaching comes waving the flag of the enemy, or we’d all say, Look, another one of Satan’s lies, and run the other way. Instead, false teaching comes dressed in the guise of truth, just as Satan masquerades as an angel of light.

I realized this with new clarity when I wrote “Upside Down Commands.” False teaching most often begins from a position of truth.

This is why Peter, Jude, Paul all talked about false teaching coming from within the ranks of Christians.

2 Peter 2:1
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. (emphasis here and in the following verses is mine)

1 Tim. 4:1
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons

Gal. 2:4
But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.

Jude 1:4
For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Whether believers who fall away or insidious rebels who creep in among Christians with the intent to lead some astray, those pandering false teaching will come from within the church. And they will base their false teaching on truth. Notice, for example, how Jude pinpointed a group in his day who turned the grace of God into an excuse to live a self-indulgent lifestyle.

From a point of truth, false teachers next take a leap in logic or speculate based on that truth which leads to a point of error. Often this error becomes the cornerstone of their false teaching.

Those promoting a “health-and-wealth” gospel do this sort of thing. God loves you (true), and wants to bless His children (true). He has promised to answer prayer (true). Therefore, a child of God can hold God to His word and expect Him to provide lavishly, even as He cares for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.

It is the “therefore” clause that is the insidious viper that works all manner of evil. The blessings God promises might be spiritual instead of physical, and the means by which we obtain them might come through suffering. Further, this “doctrine” was never meant to crowd out other clear teachings, as if all of the Christian faith was about obtaining God’s (physical) blessings.

Here’s another example from Trinitarian Theology, the resurrection of an old heresy (which sounds very much like the position Rob Bell took in Love Wins).

* “Just as sin entered the world through one man [Adam]…[and] all sinned…” (v. 12). [true]
* “How much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ [the second Adam], overflow to the many?” (v. 15). [true]
* And, “just as the result of one trespass [that of the first Adam] was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness [that of Jesus, the second or final Adam] was justification that brings life for all men” (v. 18). [true]

Jesus has not simply done something for us, he has done something with us by including us in his life, death, resurrection and ascension. [the leap: “all men” has no qualification such as Colossians 2:19a “if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast and not moved away from the hope of the gospel …” (emphasis mine)]

Therefore, we understand from Scripture that… [doctrine based on the point of error]

* When Jesus died, all humanity died with him. [false — only believers died to sin, guilt, the law. Again see Colossians]
* When Jesus rose, all humanity rose to new life with him. [false — see Colossians 3:1 and the “If” clause]
* When Jesus ascended, all humanity ascended and became seated with him at the Father’s side (Ephesians 2:4-6). [false — unbelievers will face judgment and eternal punishment. Multiple passages verify this]

[excerpt from “The God Revealed in Jesus Christ: A Brief Introduction to Trinitarian Theology”

In short, understanding how false teaching works should make us more aware of the necessity for discernment within the church. We should be thinking about what our pastors are preaching with our Bibles open. We must keep our minds engaged and our hearts in prayer whenever we read Christian literature (including this blog!) False teachers can introduce false ideas through novels, biographies, commentaries, or devotionals. There is no “safe” author or book and we ought not rely on any Christian leader as infallible in his proclamation of truth (the statistics on them are as solid as those on death: one out of one is a sinner).

God gave us a brain, and more importantly He gave us His Word and His Spirit. We are responsible for letting the word of Christ richly dwell within us and to be filled with the Spirit rather than quenching Him. He and the Word of God will lead us into all truth. If we close our Bibles or quench the Spirit, then we’re opening ourselves to all manner of false teaching. And plenty of it abounds these days.

Published in: on November 17, 2011 at 6:10 pm  Comments (3)  
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  1. Wonderfully said, Rebecca –

    If you notice the verse from Galatians, it hints that the “false brethren” will be secretly brought in – perhaps a slow erosion of doctrinal principles?

    I never thought about that aspect of false teaching concerning truth. Of course the Lord is loving! What Rob Bell gets wrong is saying the Lord is only a loving god.

    Thanks for today’s nugget of wisdom.



  2. Your reasoning reminds me of a book by C. FitzSimons Allison, THE CRUELTY of HERESY, an Affirmation of Christian Orthodoxy.
    Bless you for drawing our attention once again to the importance of being like the Bereans!


  3. Karl, thanks for your insight. You are so right in noting that Rob Bell’s error isn’t in identifying God’s love but in treating His love as His exclusive or overriding trait. Being God, He is not so limited.

    Sue, I’m not familiar with The Cruelty of Heresy. Sounds like a book I should track down. Thank you for your encouraging feedback.



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