In guiding the spiritual trajectory of believers, pastors and elders hold a sacred trust. The New Testament provides clarity on identifying and addressing false teachings, ensuring the church remains grounded in truth.
Recognize Their Characteristics
In discerning false teachers, recognizing their characteristics is crucial. Paul warns us about the deceptive nature of such individuals, stating, “For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13). The ability to masquerade as genuine believers makes false teachers particularly dangerous and tricky to discern.
Additionally, their teachings may involve denying foundational truths of our faith: “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves” (2 Peter 2:1). It’s not only the denial but the secrecy and subtlety with which these heresies are introduced that makes them perilous.
Examine Teachings in Light of Scripture
The Berean Jews provide a powerful example for us in this. When Paul and Silas brought them the message of Christ, they “received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). Scrutinizing teachings in light of Scripture isn’t just a commendable practice; it is vital in preserving the truth of the gospel message. Every message and teaching should be rigorously compared with the Scripture, ensuring alignment with God’s word.
Address and Correct Them
Paul instructs Timothy, “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear” (1 Timothy 5:20). Here, the act of rebuking serves a dual purpose: It corrects the one in error and serves as a deterrent to others, signifying the seriousness with which doctrinal purity is treated.
Likewise, Titus is exhorted, “This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith…” (Titus 1:13). It’s notable that the goal behind the sharp rebuke is restorative – that they may be sound in the faith.
Stay Grounded in Truth
In a world of fluctuating philosophies, Paul tells Timothy, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it” (2 Timothy 3:14). And to the Thessalonians, he writes, “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). Persistence and steadfastness in sound doctrine are not merely personal fortifications but also shields that guard the congregation from erroneous beliefs.
Display a Life of Integrity
Paul’s words to Titus underscore the role of integrity and sincerity in teaching: “In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness, and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us” (Titus 2:7-8). The lifestyle of church leaders, complemented by wholesome doctrine, nullifies the criticisms of opponents and validates the message preached.
In leadership, challenges abound. But with the Word as our guide and the Holy Spirit as our companion, pastors and elders can navigate the treacherous waters of false teachings, always pointing the way to the unchanging truth of Christ.