There are three things that are essential to protect the churches from error.
First, the believers must be taught the doctrine of the Word of God.
This is the fundamental protection. It is by means of “sound doctrine” that the mouths of false teachers are stopped so that they cannot corrupt the brethren (Tit. 1:9-11). Each church must build up the saints to be skillful Bible students, able to rightly interpret Scripture for themselves, able to discern good from evil (Heb. 5:12-14). When this is happening, there is very little danger to the flock. But so few very few churches are doing this.
Second, false teachers must be marked.
This is the Greek skopéo, “to spy out, to contemplate, give attention to” (Complete Word Study Bible). It is translated “look at” (2 Co. 4:18). It is impossible to protect the brethren from false teachers without giving attention to false teachers. A popular principle says that it is enough for the people to know the truth, but that is not what we see in Scripture. We need to study truth and also mark error. I heard a preacher say that the CIA, when training to protect the nation’s currency from counterfeiting, studies only the characteristics of genuine currency and doesn’t study the characteristics of the counterfeit, but this is not true. The agents are trained in all of the subtle marks of counterfeit currency so that they can quickly identify a bogus bill.
To mark false teachers requires identifying them. It is not enough to know of false teachers in general or speak of them in general. Paul named their names: Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Ti. 1:20), Phygellus and Hermogenes (2 Ti. 1:15), Hymenaeus and Philetus (2 Ti. 2:17), Alexander (2 Ti. 4:14).
Church leaders must first of all mark false teachers for themselves. This requires proper education during one’s theological training, and it requires ongoing study throughout one’s ministry. When I graduated from Tennessee Temple in the 1970s, I didn’t have a clear understanding of things such as New Evangelicalism, charismaticism, interdenominationalism, the Jesus People movement, and Contemporary Christian Music (the school didn’t use CCM but it also didn’t properly educate the students about it). Ignorant pastors cannot protect the flock. I learned this as a young preacher when I began to encounter New Evangelical and interdenominational ministries such as Campus Crusade and Youth for Christ. I knew that something was wrong, but I didn’t understand the error. So I began to study. Learning the history and principles of New Evangelicalism was a great eye-opener. By this knowledge, I could protect myself and others. Ever since then, I have been a diligent marker of false teaching. I have skopeod it, spied it out, examined it. I have read their books, attended their conferences with press credentials, all with the purpose of marking them effectively both for myself and for those I teach. I have sought to make material available to pastors to assist them in marking false teachers before their congregations, but so few pastors care about such things. I recall visiting a Southern Baptist bookstore with a pastor friend, and while I was showing him some of the popular books and explaining the dangers, he exclaimed, “I don’t know anything about any of these men!” Recently an influential fundamental Baptist preacher argued that he didn’t know anything about CCM artists such as Darlene Zschech or Stewart Townend. He said this after being reproved for using such music, but there is no excuse for this ignorance. The information is readily available. The Directory of Contemporary Worship Musicians contains this information, and it is available for free via Way of Life. The fundamental problem is that these preachers do not intend to make the effort to be aware of these things; they do not consider this to be an important ministry. They aren’t “scopers” or markers. Many pastors argue that dealing with “issues” detracts from the church’s main business, but that is ridiculous. The church’s main business is to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth and to teach God’s people to observe all things Christ has taught us (Mt. 28:18-20) and to protect the people from every wind of error (Eph. 4:11-14). Protecting the Lord’s sheep from wolves is not a sidetrack (Mt. 7:15). To focus on “positive truth” and to avoid doctrinal controversy is one of the fundamental principles of New Evangelicalism, and by this standard it is clear that a large number of “fundamental” Baptist churches are New Evangelical in principle.
Church leaders must also mark false teachers before the congregation so that the people are informed about the dangers that exist in that particular time and place. The people must know who the false teachers are, by name, and must understand the basic principles of their errors. This is an essential element of protection. This type of education must be provided through the church’s teaching ministries, such as Sunday School, and through the preaching. It can be done by providing educational and warning literature. This means, of course, that there must be a heart to learn on the part of the people. I have observed that this is lacking in a great many church members even in congregations that are standing for the truth. The churches are trying to educate the people, but too many of them aren’t interested. They aren’t serious Bible students and they have no interest in studying such things as theology, church history, and the music issue, the Bible version issue, creation science, and Christian psychology. Too many parents lack a passion for such education and therefore do not train their children properly. The lack of passion for education is why we usually ship only a few copies of our books to Bible conferences. These conferences are hosted by pastors who care deeply about the truth and want to educate and protect their congregations, but only a few of the brethren share this passion. Generally speaking, there is no great zeal for learning in “Bible-believing” churches today, and even the most conscientious shepherd cannot feed sheep that have no appetite. It is a reflection of spiritual lukewarmness and disobedience. If you are saved, you are called to be a serious student of truth. Every believer is called to be a teacher who is skillful in God’s Word (Heb. 5:12-14). He is called to be an edifier, exhorter, admonisher, and protector of the brethren (Ro. 15:14; Eph. 4:14-16; Heb. 3:13; 10:25). Every father is called to be the spiritual educator of his family (Eph. 6:4).
Third, false teachers must be avoided.
“Avoid” is the Greek ekklíno, from ek (out) and klino (to bend or incline away). It is translated “gone out of the way” (Ro. 3:12), “eschew” (1 Pe. 3:11). It is an unequivocal term of separation. False teachers are to be avoided, turned away from. There is to be no learning from, no sitting under the feet of, no fellowship with, no association with, no joint ministry with, no yoking together with. We must avoid their churches, conferences, sermons, seminars, schools, books, web sites, blogs, social media.
This completely destroys the ecumenical principle. It is impossible to obey the Bible’s commands to mark and avoid false teachers and also to be ecumenical in any sense. Those who “renounce separatism” are renouncing the plain teaching of God’s Word.
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Way of Life Literature
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Way of Life Literature
Publisher of Bible Study Materials