Do False Teachers Need to be Called out Harshly?
I don't know about you, but sometimes I struggle with name-calling or personally attacking people I see as enemies, at least in my mind. I may not actually say these thoughts out loud or write them on social media for everyone to see, but I'm thinking them. Is there a time when this is permissible, even beneficial to do? This touchy subject led me to some rather surprising conclusions.
The question was spurred when I agreed to write a review for the book The Pied Piper: Is John Piper and New Calvinism Destroying the Church? The author Enoch Burke rips Piper and his entire family to shreds, trying to find any and all evidence that might convince a reader to see John Piper as a false teacher.
I had already started the book with the opinion that John Piper is not a good influence on Christianity, and I expected more of a debate as to why New Calvinism could hurt the Church so much. Instead, I found a negative, personally degrading rant as to why John Piper is of the devil. (Burke literally calls him a “heretic” [p,112] and “not of God,” [p.41].)
I started typing up a review. But, to be honest, my review was filled with just as much criticism and negativity. I was convicted of my hypocrisy. I was criticizing Burke for being too critical of Piper. So I deleted several paragraphs and revised to add some more positive statements throughout. (You can read the full review here.)
It got me thinking: Is there ever a time when it's okay—or even beneficial—for a Christian to be mean to another person? Jesus himself took the hypocritical Pharisees to task, using strong languages and calling them unflattering names. Is it okay for a follower of Christ, then, to do the same, especially to a professed religious leader?
And what about the command to focus our thoughts on good things? Though the focus of Burke's book was to point out as many negatives as possible, is it helpful to stray from the positive and the Spirit's fruits and instead add to the negativity in yet another criticism? How can a critique be honest and yet gracious? Can it focus on the negative and yet still help others think about what is honorable, just, pure, lovely, worthy to be repeated, virtuous, or praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8)? Should bad reviews even be written, or should we only write good reviews?
These questions have led me on a journey. I haven't answered every question to my satisfaction, butI will share what I learned and my conclusions with you.
We can help each other to show grace with truth even to the “enemy.”
Here are three areas we need to be careful about in this area of judging, especially in calling out false teachers:
our minds need guarding
our hearts need guarding
our words need guarding
1. Our Minds need Guarding
“And the peace of God... will guard... your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7, ESV). Without getting into a Greek discussion, the word translated as “minds” here can be used to explain the results of thoughts. It includes the thoughts mulled over in the mind and the conclusions reached from them. Since all battles begin in the mind, this is a potentially dangerous area of practical living that definitely needs to be guarded.
“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5, ESV).
The word “thought” here is the same as “minds” in Phil. 4:7, both meaning the conclusions our thoughts bring us to.
We're to think on positive things: Philippians 4:8 tells us to set our thoughts on things that are pure, honorable, just, pure, lovely, worthy to be repeated, virtuous, and praiseworthy. You can read my entire series on Philippians 4:8 starting here.
2. Our Hearts need Guarding
“The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts...” (Phil. 4:7, ESV). Without going into the Greek again, the heart was always referred to figuratively, not literally as the blood-pumping organ. The heart in Greek vernacular was the seat of the emotions and the will. It was the place where desires and decisions were set. Our innermost desires and our decision-making processes definitely need guarding.
How do we guard our hearts? I wrote about this last week. You can read it here: How to Diagnose Spiritual Heart Disease.
3. Our Words (spoken and written) need guarding
“Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity” (Prov. 21:23, NIV).
I've been studying 1 John for the past three months, and I've read time and time again that we're supposed to love our brethren, fellow believers. One way we know we are children of God is if we love His children (1 John 3:14-19; 4:7-12, 20-21).
One of the Bible studies I've been following is on the blog by Taylor Phillips called April Showers Bring May Flowers. She has a great series not only on the power of the tongue but specific sins that our tongue can get us into. I want to focus here on the sin of a critical spirit and judgmental attitude.
The tongue has the power to speak life or death to a person's heart.
“The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences” Proverbs 18:21, NLT).
We want to speak life, building them up and helping them.
Now, speaking life doesn't mean sugar-coating sin or ignoring hard truths. I'm a firm believer in “tough love.” If you really love someone, putting their ultimate good before yourself, then you're also going to warn them when they stray from the right path. This is why we discipline our children, honestly talk through misunderstandings in our relationships, and sometimes call out sin in fellow believers.
Even Jesus called out the Pharisees. He used harsh words, even name-calling! He called them a “brood of vipers” (Matt. 3:7, 12:34, 23:33), “white-washed tombs” (Matt. 23:27), and “hypocrites” (Matt. 23:14, 15, 27)!
But he called them names to get their attention. They were blind leaders of the blind, not only refusing to see their own sins but leading the masses into sin also. They didn't think they needed rebuking, and they refused to acknowledge Jesus' authority to rebuke them. But He knew that the best thing for them, that what they really needed more than anything was to recognize their own need for a Savior, their own faults. To call attention to these religious leaders' sins, he was forced to be harsher with them than with anyone else. But it was done for their own good—out of love.
Because Jesus is our ultimate example (John 13:15), we can infer that there may be times we need to stand up for what is right and get people's attention with harsh words.
However, when we should be harsher will be determined by three things:
whether we are being led by the Holy Spirit to do so, and
if their attitude is one of self-righteousness or pride (if they are broken by their sin, or their attitude is of humble repentance, then gentleness and mercy are in order), and
whether they will accept any other correction first. This kind of attack should only be the last resort and only after much prayer and listening to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
We should always first go to them privately and gently ask them to repent and be restored to fellowship with the Lord and the Church.
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Gal. 6:1, ESV).
If they won't listen, and they continue in their sin or error, then you should go to them again with two or three witnesses.
“But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (Matt. 18:16, ESV).
If they are in your church body, you should then take it to the church for the final step of either restoration or excommunication. If they are not in your local church body, the steps are not as clear. I am under the impression that separation is then in order.
But still all of these steps are done with the motive of lovingly restoring them to a right relationship with God and with their fellow Christians. If our motive is to make ourselves feel more spiritual or prove we have the right doctrine, that's pride. If our motive is to make them feel bad, that's abuse. If our motive is restoration, for their own good, then it's done out of love.
Conclusion: We can help each other to show grace with truth even to the unlovable ones, even false teachers. Though it is loving to the false teachers to try to bring them back to correct doctrine and a right relationship with the Lord, and though it is loving to warn other believers from accepting their false teaching, we can still call them out in love graciously.
We who have been shown so much grace should remember that they are humans in need of real salvation, too, and they are not the real enemy. Let's defend the faith with our shield (Eph. 6:16) and carefully use the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Eph. 6:17), knowing it is sharper than any two-edged sword and “is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires” (Heb. 4:12).
Let's guard our minds, our hearts, and our words.
What's your opinion about calling out false teachers?
I wanted you to know that tonight, 5/29/18, I will be moderating a Takeover in the Facebook Group, Christian Books-Connecting Authors to Readers. If you would like some behind-the-scenes glimpses into my third novel, as well as some special sales and giveaways, come join the group and set your notifications to all. We'll be chatting from 7-8pm EST. I will also post reminders on Facebook closer tonight for those who follow my FB author page at Lila Diller, Author.