This is how false teaching arrives:
A man with a white lab coat and rubber mallet in his pocket protector arrives in order to “heal you.” And just think, you didn’t even know you were sick! Still, after hmms and haws, he pull a bottle of medicine from a pocket, holds your nose and chucks a spoonful down your throat.
At this point, you gag and retch and run to the sink, where you empty your stomach.
“Ah,” says he, “the case is worse than I had thought! A double dose is what you need!”
You swallow, and retch twice as violently as before and drop to your knees.
“It’s obvious that you stand in need of my remedy worse than most. A triple dose is called for!” You choke it down, falling prone on the floor, your face drained of color, wheezing and tear-streaked.
A peddler of strange elixirs, potions which cannot be bought in just any store; he’s a trickster, and he usually charges plenty for his wares – probably money, definitely a chunk of your soul.
Why must we defend true doctrine and reject the false? I hope it’s not just that we can satisfy our own fussiness. I’ve seen those who love to make things “even”, but for their own mental and psychological satisfaction, as Carl Sandburg wrote in a favorite poem of mine:
The abracadabra boys – have they been in the stacks and cloisters? Have they been to a sea of jargons and brought back jargons? They foregather and make pitty pat with each other in Latin and in their private pig Latin, very ofay. Do they have fun? Sure – their fun is being what they are… (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/238494)
True doctrine is not ensuring that our system has all its “t”s crossed and “i”s dotted, nor ducks arranged in order of color and height. Truth speakers need not be pickers of nits or splitters of hairs. Rather, it is making sure that we follow God’s truth and avoid the “teachings of demons” (1 Tim 4:1): the Evil One oversees a factory with round-the-clock shifts, a production line of ideas to draw people away from God. The collection he’s brought out this year is nothing new; they’re old lies, spray painted with this season’s colors.
What are we to do? The Lord Jesus gave us a paradigm that solves many of our basic life questions. In Matt 22:35-38 –
And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.”
So: Jesus just wants us to be loving people, right? And not sweat theology? Not at all: remember, Jesus had just taught that sound doctrine matters: it is true that God wants people to pay their taxes; it is untrue that he is glorified by rebellious political action; it is true that God will resurrect the dead; it is untrue that people cease to exist when they die (read Matt 22).
Why is doctrine important? Because it is one manner in which we love God with our mind; to speak what is false about him is a lack of love and an insult to his glory, what C. S. Lewis labeled “sin of the intellect” (in The Great Divorce).
Jesus continued in Matt 22:39-40 –
And a second [commandment] is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.
We want to be orthodox because we’re supposed to love our neighbor as ourselves, and because we’re told that false doctrine harms other people.
We usually apply Eph 4:14-15 to mean that, when we rebuke people, we tell them the truth about themselves in a kind way. While this too is an important principle, here Paul is saying that the church must teach the truth in a loving way, so that they won’t be knocked about by falsehood:
so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…
An Episcopalian bishop wrote a book a couple of years ago called The Cruelty of Heresy, in which he argued that heresy is not simply a mental error; it bespeaks a lack of love. A lack of love for God, but also for people: whether legalism, wrong christology, or errors concerning the Spirit, these false teachings harm others. To be sound doctrinally and insist on soundness, humbly, is to ensure that believers can thrive. It is to snatch corrosive chemicals away so that they will not be poisoned.
How the devil must laugh when he sees Christians flounder because of the lies he tells:
Legalism – Paul wrote Galatians to prove to the Gentile Christians that they did not need to convert to Judaism in order to experience Christ. In fact, Paul points out, if you depend on rules and regulations to make you holier, you will find the Spirit’s power leeching away from your life. Only those who trust in Christ alone can bear the fruit of the Spirit; those who trust in their own ability to obey find themselves acting with impatience, anger, frustration, lust and other works of the flesh (= actions that are fueled by human motives and self-control). The harder you try, the behinder you get! and the devil chuckles appreciatively.
Gnosticism – This error gained momentum in the second century and then went underground; it still exists today. Gnostics taught that there were two types of believer: the “Soulish” (or “Psychics”) were the common, everyday Christians. They could experience some of God’s ideas, but they were unequipped to grasp the real truth. Only a handful, the “Spiritual” (or “Gnostics” = Knowing Ones) were able to come to grips with the deeper truths. The Gnostic movement told the church that it was spiritually simpleminded, no matter how much you loved Jesus and enjoyed the power of the Spirit. This elitism insulted and harmed hordes of believers.
The Rhema Doctrine (also known as the Prosperity Gospel, or the Name-It-and-Claim-It doctrine). In Latin America and elsewhere, a preacher will announce on TV that if you’re not rich and healthy, then you don’t really have faith. “And what, brother preacher, must I do to prove I have faith?” “By donating to my ministry!” He shows off his expensive suits, watch, car: “I have faith, just look at all the stuff I have!” He tells you that if you donate $100, you are guaranteed – guaranteed! – to get $1000 in return. If you are not rewarded, he will mock you for your weak faith. It is a cruel teaching which says, if you’re still poor, then you need to show more faith and donate more money: just make out the check to him.
To love God is to tell the truth about him; to love your neighbors is to tell God’s truth to them in a humble, kind and patient way.
“False teaching – a corrosive, toxic, contaminant,” by Gary Shogren, professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica