By Mike Willis
We have been examining “what is a false teacher?” for the last several issues. In this issue, we will bring the series to a close. This article raises the question, “Does it make any difference what God has said?” That may sound irrelevant to a discussion of what is a false teacher, but really it is not.
Is Sincerity Sufficient?
We have been told that describing a good, honest and sincere brother who teaches something that is wrong as a “false teacher” is a misuse of the term. The conclusion follows as certainly as night follows day that a good, honest and sincere brother can never under any circumstances be a false teacher. Will our brethren invent a new term to describe the good, honest and sincere brother whose teaching is false?
This reduces one’s service to God to being sincere. So long as a per-son is good, honest, and sincere, he is approved of God. If not, why not? I recognize that not everyone who states that the “false teacher” of the Bible is dishonest, insincere, covetous, and lascivious accepts this conclusion. I am not charging them with believing this conclusion, only that this is the logical conclusion to the premises that are being preached.
There are a number of Scriptures that emphasize that being sincere is not enough to make one approved in the sight of God. We could learn this lesson from the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Indeed, we formerly used the conversion of Saul to teach this lesson to our denominational neighbors who believe that so long as one is good, honest, and sincere he will be saved. Saul thought that he should do many things contrary to Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 26:9). Consequently, he persecuted Christians. He was sincere and zealous in his service to God, but while he was so living he was the “chief of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:12-15). His being sincere did not make him acceptable before God. Furthermore, unsaved Saul was teaching what he believed to others. Was he a “false teacher” when he was doing that?
There is no different rule that applies to the good, honest, and sincere non-Christian than applies to the good, honest, and sincere Christian. I know this is true based on the number of warnings for Christians to “be-ware” of false teachers. What danger would a good, honest, and sincere Christian face from a false teacher, if being good, honest, and sincere was enough to guarantee his standing acceptably before God? The only thing that would jeopardize his relationship would be high-handed rebel-lion against God. When Jesus warns, “Beware of false prophets,” he implies that being good, honest and sincere are not enough (Matt. 7:15). When he spoke about the “blind guides,” he warned, “Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Matt. 15:14). The good, honest, and sincere Christian who follows a false teacher (and perhaps unintentionally be-comes a false teacher) falls into the ditch just as certainly as the non-Christian who follows the blind guide.
Roy E. Cogdill On Sincerity
Brother Cogdill analyzed the doctrine that “sincerity saves” correctly in Faith and the Faith. He wrote,
But a great many people who readily agree that faith is essential and faith is important will deny the essentiality and importance of it by saying that it does not matter what a man believes, just so he is sincere. Their conception of the truth is that there is not any fixed, definite truth. It isall relative, and it does not matter what you believe about any given thing, if you are honest, earnest and sincere.
This means, first of all, that truth cannot be determined, that it has not been revealed, and that there is no way to learn what the truth is. In such a view, it would be impossible for a man to exercise faith in truth faith prescribed by it, faith founded it. If the truth is relative, there is not any fixed standard by which we are to learn what is right and what is wrong in the sight of God. If there is no medium by which truth an be ascertained, by which it can be tested and by which it can be tried, then certainly there is not any way that a man can determine what to believe. And if it is not important what we believe, then it is not important whether or not we do believe.
If believing one thing is just as good as believing some-thing else, if it does not matter today what a man believes, it cannot and could not ever matter what a man believed. And it could not matter therefore, whether a man believed the Bible. Whatever the Bible said about anything would be of no importance, because it would not matter whether or not one believed. If one honestly disbelieved what the Bible teaches on any point, he would be just as well off as to honestly believe what the Bible teaches. Therefore what the Bible teaches would be of no importance.
Just so a man is honest and sincere, in this view it cannot matter what he believes whether or not he believes this or that or anything. That is equivalent to saying it does not matter whether or not he believes what God says, and that is equivalent to saying that it does not matter what God says! So, you can throw your Bible on the junk pile and forget about it, go your way and do as you please, walk after the vanity of your mind, and be just as well off as if you learned and believed everything the Bible records (39-40).
Brother Cogdill has correctly analyzed the “good, honest, and sincere” issue.
We have shown the following in this series: (a) The concept that “false teacher” does not describe the content of what is preached but the character of the teacher is a fundamental part of the unity-in-diversity movement; (b) Some among us have accepted this new definition of “false teacher”; (c) The New Testament description of a “false teacher” describes the content of what is preached without regard to the moral character of the one teaching it; (d) Denying that the content of the message is what makes a man a false teacher leads to the conclusion that no good, honest, and sincere teacher could ever be described as a false teacher regardless of what he taught; (d) Shown that if this is the case, what God speaks does not matter.
A concept that leads to this last conclusion is fundamentally flawed and is dangerous. For this reason, we reject the concept that “false teacher” is used to describe the moral character of a man and not the content of what he teaches.
How better to conclude this series than to remind our-selves of the exhortation that Paul gave Timothy: “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (1 Tim. 4:16). By implication, the person who does not take heed to himself and his doctrine will lose his own soul and lead others into damnation with him, regardless of how good, honest and sincere he may be.
Guardian of Truth XL: No. 18, p. 2
September 19, 1996