A New Definition of a False Teacher

By Truman Smith

When we were asked to take this assignment, to deal with such an often debated topic, the admonition of 1 Peter 2:17 where Peter said: “Love the brotherhood,” came to mind. Peter’s use of the word “love” conveys the idea of care and concern. Though the exercise of it often leads to an emotional love, it is not, within itself, of that nature. But, it is the kind of love that the Father expressed when he gave his only begotten Son to die for the sins of the world (cf. John 3:16). Thus, if we know our own heart, and we think we do, and though we write with emotion, what we have to say here emanates from our love, care and concern for our great and wonderful brotherhood. However, since we wish to write so as to be clearly understood, we will therefore “use great plainness of speech” and make no apology for it (2 Cor. 3:12).

Brethren, we are being treated to the philosophies and ideologies of this age. Our first observation of these ideas came in the 1960s when we started hearing from the vulgar, long-haired marchers who were bent on change! They were protesters! Characterizing themselves as advocates of “love,” they protested against using the old math in the public school system; corporeal punishment of children in schools; dress codes in the schools, etc. You could depend upon them to be opposed to capital punishment for capital offenses. These were the folks that advocated children having the right to sue their parents in a court of law. It was about that time that we first began hearing: “It’s not what you say, it’s the way you say it!” In the name of “love,” lest the atheists be offended, they pressed for no Bible reading or prayers in the public schools. And, though the teaching of evolution could have free course, they opposed the teaching of the Bible account of creation in the public schools. In the name of “love,” they viewed these as violating the law of “separation of church and state.” When it came to mercy, they tried to out-do God himself!

The spirit of “positivism” has come of age! It was in the days of the “old hermeneutic” that the church experienced its greatest growth. We never questioned the need for direct statement or command, apostolic approved example, or necessary inference in order to obtain authority from God’s Word for what we did. We challenged the denominations in debate on the basis of such authority and multiplied thousands were converted to the Lord. Indeed, it was that attitude toward Bible authority that led this scribe out of religious error many years ago! Now the cry is for a “new hermeneutic”! Yet, no one seems to want to spell out just what the “new hermeneutic” consists of, for one will tell you one thing while another will tell you something else. But let us tell you the truth about the matter: it is simple rebellion against the authority of the Scriptures. Not only do these people want to throw out the old hermeneutic and bring in the new, they also are attempting to rewrite the definition of just what constitutes a “false teacher.”

Here again, brethren, there was a time not so long ago that we all seemed to be in general agreement on the definition of a false teacher. In fact, it was only since we learned about brother Homer Hailey coming out publicly and teaching what we once called “the Fuqua position” on marriage, divorce, and remarriage in Belen, New Mexico, then the 17 articles written by brother Ed Harrell in Christianity Magazine from November 1988 to May 1990 in which we were all encouraged to continue having fellowship with brother Hailey in spite of his false teaching on MDR, that this question has been brought to the fore. Does that not seem a bit strange? Generally speaking, our brethren understood that a false teacher is one who teaches false doctrine. It seemed, however, in this case that the definition of a false teacher needed to be changed in order to accommodate an old, beloved brother, and one who has done so much good back through many long years of Bible teaching at brotherhood colleges. Have we forgotten the words of Paul? “And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another” (1 Cor. 4:6).

There is much said in Scripture about false teachers. No, the designation “false teacher” is not specifically mentioned  very many times, but the subject is! For example, Paul referred to false teachers in 2 Timothy 2:16-18; but spoke of their teaching as “profane and vain babblings.” Were these teachers of truth? Certainly not! Their “profane and vain babblings” made them “false teachers”! Apollos was a false teacher, though Luke does not use that terminology to describe him, until Aquila and Priscilla “took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly” (Acts 18:24-28). Thankfully, our brother Apollos was honest and stood corrected and became a teacher of the truth. Just why are some folks so insistent in saying that they must find in the Bible the expression “false teacher” before they can consider them such? We often preach against the sin of dancing, of gambling, etc., though such are not condemned in Scripture by name. But many are saying today that to be a “false teacher,” one must fit the descriptions of 2 Peter 2:1-19, such as having “pernicious ways,” being “covetousness,” etc. One brother even says: “Being a ‘false teacher’ is not simply about doctrine but about character as well.” Granted such men as Pat Robertson and Billy Graham say a lot of good things in their sermons, yet are they not “false teachers” by reason of the error they teach? We dare say any of us would deny that such men are “false teachers.” However, can you name anything about their “character” that fits the description of 2 Peter 2:1-19? We think not! Is it not true that “what is good for the goose is good for the gander”? Do these men “privily . . .  bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them”? Honestly, is that an apt description of Pat Robertson and Billy Graham? We think not! But these are considered to be some of the most prominent “false teachers” of our day! What makes them “false teachers”? It is obvious that it is their false teaching! You see, the thing emphasized in the Word of God that makes one a false teacher is that which he teaches. Beloved, the same thing that makes the above mentioned men “false teachers” makes brother Homer Hailey a “false teacher.” If not, why not? This writer always had the utmost respect for brother Hailey and considered him one of the very best of scholars, especially of the Old Testament prophets.

We have visited him in his home in Tucson. We have a picture of us both together! We have cherished our friendship for years! But since we learned of his false teaching on the subject of “Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage,” We must consider him a “false teacher”!

Why do men desire a “New Hermeneutic,” a new definition of a “false teacher,” and a new interpretation of Romans, chapter 14? What will be next? Will our children and grandchildren want to just rewrite the Bible? Already, we have every kind of “new revision” of the Bible on today’s market that one can imagine! All such things point up the fact that many in our society today have lost respect for the plain truth, and thus continue their search for something more palatable to their fancy. All of which reminds us of Paul’s words to the Galatians: “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:6-9).

We do not wish to sound too simplistic, but brethren, remember that the very nature of truth is that it is the opposite of that which is false; thus anything that is not according to the truth of God’s Word is antagonistic to truth. Is this not the reason God’s Word has so much to say about us coming unto the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4)? Surely we will be judged in that final day by that Word (John 12:48; Rev. 20:12). Conversely, just look at the warnings that reflect the need for the truth being taught in its purity and simplicity (cf. Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:6; Rev. 22:18-19). Furthermore, we are warned not to have fellowship with false teachers (2 John 9-11). We are admonished to “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15); so it is imperative that we know how to “rightly divide,” or “handle aright” the truth. This is one of the reasons James admonishes: “My brethren, be not many masters (teachers), knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation” (Jas. 3:1). And such complies well with the context of 2 Peter 2. Just observe the context prior to it and that also which follows. Oh, yes! This applies as much to this writer as to anyone else! Thus, if we teach “damnable heresies” then we are a “false teacher” also! And, even if one is sincere, yet fails to understand the consequences of his error, he is a “false teacher” as long as he teaches it.

One of the most significant parts to Billy Graham’s teaching is that one does not have to be baptized in order to be saved; thus, think of the consequences of such a doctrine! Just so, suppose every local church were to allow false doctrine to be taught on “marriage, divorce, and remarriage.” Think of the consequences! Every congregation would become a haven for adulterers! That certainly would qualify as being “damnable” (“destructive,” NASVB), would it not? But, brethren, the responsibility rests upon us to study God’s Word and teach only that which we know as true from the Scriptures (cf. 1 Thess. 5:21; 1 Pet. 3:15). Indeed, the truth can be understood. Paul said: “Therefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is “ (Eph. 5:17). So, if I fall to understand it, I must study it until I do. How else can we carry out the directive of 1 Corinthians 1:10, where Paul said: “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” Paul also said: “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Eph. 5:11).

In conclusion, let us plead with all of our brethren that since we are all required to be teachers of truth in whatever capacity is permitted in the Scriptures, let us study diligently to know the truth, then teach it with all the force within us! Let us teach it by every scriptural means available to us, whether by word or epistle; but when we discover, at any given time, that we have embraced destructive error, let us be like Paul and Apollos and give it up, so we can be teachers of truth and righteousness. At the same time, let us not guard and protect those who are teaching false doctrine, regardless who they might be; but let us hold up the hands of those who have the courage to “preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Tim. 4:2-4).

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Truth Magazine Vol. XLIV: 19  p11  October 5, 2000