By George Lemasters
Ever since the church was established, it has had to deal with those who advocated ideas that were contrary to the truth. Jesus warned about false prophets, who, having the character of ravening wolves, would present themselves in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15-20). Their absolute identity would be demonstrated by the fruit they bore. In this he was saying that the vigilant disciple could know them for exactly what they were; and, knowing this, act accordingly.
The subject that has been assigned to me, therefore, is not new. It has to do with the role of elders in stopping the mouths of those who would introduce false teaching. It is an essential qualification of the elder that he be “apt to teach” truth and to “exhort in the sound doctrine,” but that he also be able to “convict the gainsayer.” In Titus this is followed by the explanation that “there are many unruly men, vain talkers and deceivers . . . whose mouths must be stopped.” Further, the seriousness of the matter is seen in Paul’s language when he enjoined upon Timothy the constant preaching of the word. He reasoned that “the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth and turn aside unto fables.” Brethren with this attitude are a fertile soil in which the false teacher can sow the seeds of his error. It is impossible to over estimate the subversive and soul damning effect that he can have, not only on those whose ears itched for something other than truth, but more so on those who would be the innocent and unsuspecting. How sobering, then, is the charge to the elders to shepherd the flock and to keep out such false teaching.
Before coming to deal with how to keep it out, it would seem prudent to learn something about the false teachers and how they and their error can infiltrate churches. Paul warned the Ephesian elders that “after his departure grievous wolves shall enter in among you not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves shall men arise speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30). Moreover, Jude’s exhortation for brethren to contend for the faith was prompted by the fact that “certain men crept in privily.” Paul, likewise, speaking of the Judaizers defined them as “false brethren privily, brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have’ in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage” (Gal. 2:4).
From this, let elders and others as well learn two things. First, that not all false teaching comes from without. All too frequently it comes from within the church. And, what is even more dangerous, it comes from those whom we would most likely expect to cleave to the truth rather than pervert it. (Learn well that no man is immune to being led astray by the devil.) Second, take note that it comes in privily. The false teacher will never present himself at the door of the church, introduce himself and announce his intention to subvert and divide. Error does not play according to the rules of fairness. Rather, it is insidious, deceitful and treacherous; using whatever subversive and underhanded means that may be at its disposal.
By the time that this is in print I shall have passed my 59th year. Forty of those years I have spent as a disciple of the Lord and a member of his body. In that time I have not met one proponent of error who did not conduct himself to a greater or lesser degree in the fashion just described. Brethren, painful experience has taught me that error must be met in only one way: head on, and giving no quarter.
How To Keep Out False Teaching
We come now to the issues at hand: How do we keep it out. So far as I am personally concerned, the greatest deterrent to false teaching is for both the elders, and the churches under their charge, to be thoroughly saturated with the knowledge of the truth. And, make no mistake about it, we can know the truth. Of late, some among us, young and old alike, have been trying to persuade us that we can not possess all truth. To them, the truth is some hazy, nebulous, unfathomable entity to which we can never attain. They will contend that we can agree on the gospel (the good news about Jesus), baptism and the Lord’s supper. However, all else is so indefinitely spoken, and agreement therein of such little consequence that every man is free to his own interpretation. No line of fellowship can be drawn for the principles of truth on the matter are not clear. I say, not so!
In the first place, Jesus taught that we can know the truth (Jn. 8:32),and that those who were of the truth would hear him (Jn. 19:37). Paul argued conclusively, that through him, revelation w4s made and that when we read we can perceive his understanding in the mystery of Christ (Eph. 3:1-6). Now maybe.I missed something somewhere, but to me, these passages are arguing that those who are of the disposition of mind to want truth can know it. And, I maintain that a thorough knowledge of the genuine article (truth) is the best way to be able to discern the counterfeit of error and to keep it out.
This means keeping sound men in the pulpits of churches (2 Tim. 2:2), faithful men who will open their Bibles and expose the text of Scripture to their audiences. Like the prophet of old: To the law and to the testimony – Line upon line; percept upon precept. In this way disciples can be grounded to the point that error will have no appeal to them. It also means supervising those who participate in the Bible classes. Elders should be informed at all times of just what is being fed to the students by the various teachers. Furthermore, elders should not have to apologize if, in their considered judgment, the soundness of some preacher is questioned, and he be advised not to come. Nor should they be harassed by members if they find it necessary to remove some teacher for advocating some questionable concept. Brethren under their charge should rejoice in the fact that they are watching in behalf of their souls.
A second thing to be considered is the fact that whatever justifiable action that elders may take, must be done with firmness and conviction. Note that when Paul spoke of the Judaizers he said, “. – . to whom we gave place in the way of subjection, no not for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.” In consideration of Peter’s error, he “resisted him to the face for he stood condemned.” A look at the second chapter of I John will reveal just how that apostle dealt with the false doctrine of the gnostics. First, he acknowledged that his brethren could and did know the truth (v. 21). He then pointed out that there were some who would lead them astray (v. 26). Then, of those false teachers he said, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they all are not of us” (v. 19). He then identified them as antichrist and their teaching as a lie. Brethren, when dealing with error, do not be afraid to employ the level gaze and pointing finger as did Nathan (2 Sam. 12). It is better to expose them with a “thou art the man” than to expose the flock to their devilish ideas.
Finally, stay off the Plains of Ono. The enemies of Nehemiah ‘ sought to draw him away from his great work and into a positive dialogue and compromise (Neh. 6). Nehemiah knew that on the plains of Ono they would do him mischief. Let elders and all others learn that when error calls for dialogue: beware! I am aware that there may be times when interested parties may want to meet in an effort to arrive at truth. In my experience, this has been the exception and not the rule. By way of illustratiom. For the past five or six years the conservative Christian Church has been having their so-called Unity Forums. They have appealed to us to meet and see if there is not some means by which fellowship can be had with “their segment of the restoration movement” and “ours.” Please understand that they are not going to give up their innovations but, rather, would have us to extend fellowship and recognize their errors as simply matters of opinion. Their forums, therefore, become the modern plains of Ono. Their call for dialogue is in reality a call for compromise. So, when the call for dialogue comes, let us answer it with a firm and unwavering and uncompromising defense of the truth. We may come out of the skirmish with a few scars and some dents in the armor, but we can have confidence in the fact that God is pleased, and that error has been put in its place. Let us all learn that the man who thinks that error can be met and handled with an irenic spirit has taken the first step toward hisfinal and qomplete surrender to it. “Wherefore, take up the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand in the evil day, and having done all, to siand” (Eph. 6:13).
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 1, pp. 8-9
January 5, 1989