Determining a False Teacher

Question from a Site Viewer
What do you think qualifies someone as a false teacher? Can a Christian be a false teacher?

The ideas of Calvinism started somewhere (in the middle ages) with someone (Augustine and others) and spread like gangrene to the masses all the way to today. I don’t believe the views of Calvinism expressed in TULIP are from God. And we know that only God’s words will stand the test of time and the words of man will fade. Thus even though Calvinism has been around for a while, I believe that it will also fade away. As Christians, we should fight this distortion of the truth. We shouldn’t just accept it because it’s been around a long time. We need to stand against it.

Take a current example today with Rob Bell’s re-definiton on the doctrine of eternal judgement/punishment for those who don’t accept Christ in this lifetime. He says that in the end God’s love will win and everyone will be saved because it would be cruel for a loving God to punish souls in everlasting punishment without end. Franklin Graham had a great rebuttal. He said that it is cruel for us to reject a God who died a gruesome death on the cross for our sins. Scores of notable Christian figures have actively come against Rob Bell and his distortion of truth (Francis Chan, David Platt, Mark Driscoll, John Piper, Franklin Graham, etc.). John Piper even has some harsh comments about Brian McClaren and the camp that he and Rob Bell ascribe to (the emergent church) and claims that it is “an upper middle class, white departure from orthodoxy.” But aren’t Rob Bell and Brian McClaren also notable Christian figures too, doing work for the glory of God? So it’s okay for John Piper to come against this movement but others should be silent to the distortion of truth in Calvinism?

Tim’s Answer
I define false teachers as those who seek the things of self over the things of God. I see this as the definition that Scripture gives in 2 Peter 2 and Jude 1. Simply because one does not have their theology completely correct does not make them a false teacher, at least not as I read Scripture. And I have a hard time calling anyone a false teacher who is evidencing the fruit of the Spirit. If the fruit of the Spirit is pouring out of their lives, then I do not want to reject the one in whom the Spirit chooses to indwell.

There have been great men of God who have been Calvinists. People like Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, and more modern people such as Billy Graham, Chuck Swindoll, Ravi Zacharias, and almost all Presbyterians are Calvinists. I would not want to distance myself from these great men of God.

Truth is important. And one point we can say is that all error is error and any error is not of the truth. But if we take that position strictly, then any one of us who teaches would be guilty of being a false prophet. But I do not see Christ or Scripture teaching such a view. We know in part. And those who are not against Christ are our brothers and sisters. So as stated above, if I can find evidence that the Spirit of God is in a person, then I do not want to separate myself from someone in whom He is pleased to dwell.

I find a kinship with all those who call upon the name of God out of a sincere heart. It is not that I endorse Piper or others with respect to their teaching in this area. And I do not think that they in teaching such matters are furthering the work of Christ. But Piper shares my belief in the Triune God, in the deity and humanity of Christ, in the substitutionary atonement, in the lostness of humanity, in the need for a savior, in the finished work of Christ, in the fidelity of the Word of God, in the hope of heaven, and in the fellowship of the saints. That we do not share the same view on God’s election, in my mind, does not rise to the level of importance that the previously mentioned beliefs do. God was pleased to use both George Whitfield and John Wesley; two friends, two powerful evangelists, two people who shook two continents for Christ; one was a Calvinist and one was not. Both preached Christ.

I do not accept the slippery slope doctrine. The question for me is what does God want me to do in the present. I leave to Him to deal with the future. The fact that I exercise grace and love and do not divide with people like Piper does not mean that I will accept into Biblical fellowship someone who teaches that we are saved by our good works, or that there are other ways to heaven than through Jesus Christ. I think we need to be sensitive to the leading the Spirit of God in discerning how God wants us to interact in each situation.

I simply know that for hundreds of years there has been a divide between Calvinists and those who are Arminians. I know that past scholars on both sides have waged great debates about the issue. There are parts of both sides that I appreciate and parts of both that I do not.

And having passion for truth is important. But my advice is not to let the passion for truth divide us from those who have fellowship with the same Father and with His Son Jesus. Love of the brothers is the sign Christ left us for His church.


3 thoughts on “Determining a False Teacher”

  1. I feel like part of the question is unanswered, how does one determine if someone is a false teacher, is it in the situation where they are abusing leadership for self-gain or teaching an unsound doctrine from what appears to be a “pure heart”? I am really confused about this topic.

    1. Jesus tells us that we can know them by their fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). I have some simple tests.
      1. Do they display the character of Christ. That is, are they humble, gentle, kind, serving, truthful, and good people?
      2. Do their teachings align with what the Bible teaches?
      3. Are they known by those who know them best for their love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, meekness, and self-control, the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23.
      4. Do the people who follow them reflect kingdom values (generous, kind, forgiving, merciful, full of good works)?

      These are the tests of fruit that I seek among those who profess to be ministers of Jesus Christ. If they are living out Colossians 3, then I have some confidence that they are not false teachers. But if they seem more like 2 Peter 2 type of people, then I would not want to listen much to them.

      I hope this helps.


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