By Steve Lee
There was a time among God’s people that false teaching and false teachers weren’t tolerated. In many congregations they still aren’t. One example that we can cite in the Scriptures is found in Galatians 2:1-5. Paul, referring to those who were teaching error concerning circumcision, said in verse 5, “To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.” It is a shame that can- not be said about some of my brethren today. We hear a plea for tolerance by those who are either teaching error or by those who have been caught up in the error. While I believe that we should be patient with each other (2 Thess. 5:14), there is a big difference between patience and tolerance.
An analogy that I like to use, is with my own children. I can, and must, be patient with my children as they grow up, but I cannot tolerate bad behavior. They must know the difference between right and wrong, and I must patiently teach them those things. I can, and must, be patient with those who are newly converted to the Lord. I need to help them as they mature to full grown Christians and I would expect other Christians to be patient with me as I grow to maturity. I also must be patient toward all my fellow men. Being patient though doesn’t mean that we can’t, and don’t, correct someone when he is wrong. Such was the case with Apollos (Acts 18:24-26). However, I cannot tolerate someone who is teaching that which is contrary to the will of God. The word “tolerate” means: (1) to allow; permit, (2) to recognize and respect (oth- ers’ beliefs, practices, etc.) without sharing them, (3) to put up with; bear (Webster’s New World Dictionary). If I can tolerate error concerning the divorce/remarriage question, or the issue of fellowship, then why can’t I tolerate the error taught by the Baptists, Methodists, or any other denominational group? Some brethren would probably contend that we could. The word of God teaches us to reprove and rebuke (2 Tim. 4:2; Eph. 5:11), not to tolerate error.
There are some consequences that fall out as a result of false teaching. I have made some observations and I would like to notice a few of these.
It Causes Folks to Depart from the Lord
One of the things that amazed Paul was that so many of the Galatians were so soon removed from the Lord (Gal. 1:6). As a result of the false teaching that was going on at Galatia, people were starting to go back to the law of Moses (Gal. 5:4). When error is taught today, folks have to make a decision. Are they going to follow the Lord or follow the false teacher (2 Pet. 2:2)? A lot of the blame lies at the feet of those who teach error, but some of the blame must also go to those who follow it. Brethren, we need to ground ourselves in the truth, so that we won’t be “tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Eph. 4:14). When we start demanding book, chapter, and verse (1 Pet. 4:11), then I believe that we will stop the departures from the truth. The thing that appeals to many Christians is the “good words and fair speeches” (Rom. 16:18) that are being used by so many preaching brethren. When lessons that are brought from the pulpit are filled with stories and cute little sayings, then we can expect some who don’t want to hear the truth to depart from the Lord. Then there are other Christians who do not have the courage to confront the error and just go along with it to keep the “peace.” It is amazing to me that folks, who should have been grounded in the truth, have left it and are willing to follow those who teach error.
It Gives People a False Sense of Security
When some “religious leaders” (i.e., the Pope, Billy Graham, etc.) teach things that soothe the conscience of those who hear them, the hearers have a false sense of security. When Billy Graham teaches that a person can be saved without baptism or that he can put his hands on the TV and accept the Lord as his Savior, it gives him hope that he is saved, when in fact he is still lost! The same thing happens when a gospel preacher teaches error concerning divorce and remarriage, or the issue of fellowship, or the deity of Christ, or a myriad of other subjects. It gives people a false sense of security. Folks who are caught up in adultery don’t want to hear that they are in sin (Matt. 14:3-4; 19:9), and that they must get out of that adulterous relationship in order to be saved (1 Cor. 6:9-10). So, there are some gospel preachers who will teach what they want to hear (2 Tim. 4:3-4). It is shameful that some brethren have taken a simple passage like Matthew 19:1-9 and made it so complex and difficult for some to understand. Just as there are many in the denominational world who believe that all a person has to do in order to be saved is have faith, I am sure there are some so-called Christians who have believed the error taught concerning divorce and remarriage and are still living in adultery even though they have “obeyed” the gospel. We don’t have the space here to get into all the error that is being taught about divorce and remarriage by some brethren, or all the other error that is being taught about other subjects. Suffice it to say however, that all who teach, believe, and practice error have a false sense of security.
It Will Cause People to Be Eternally Lost
The charge, “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation” (stricter judgment, NASB) (Jas. 3:1), should stir all of us who teach to “take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: (emphasis mine SL) for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (1 Tim. 4:16). Those of us who preach and teach have a great and grave responsibility. We are helping to shape the hearts and minds of those we teach. As a direct result of what we teach, people will either be lost or saved. If we are teaching the truth, it will cause people to be saved (John 8:32). If we are teaching error, it will cause people to be lost (2 Thess.
2:11-12). To think that we had a hand in teaching someone the truth and they obeyed the gospel and were saved is a thrilling thought indeed! But to think that I taught error and it caused people to be lost is a discouraging thing to think about. Someone may ask, “But how will I know if it is truth or not?” Put it to the test (Acts 17:11; 1 John 4:1). If someone teaches something that is contrary to the will of God, confront him with it. It may be that he accidentally taught that which is wrong or it may be that you misunderstood. Or it may be he just blatantly taught error. This is serious business! Souls are at stake!
Just as “the gospel is the power of God to save” (Rom. 1:16), error is the devil’s power to cause folks to be lost. There will always be some who will depart from the truth and teach unwholesome words, so we must not lay our swords by. We must continue to fight the battle against the devil. Let us be determined to teach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).