2 TIMOTHY 2:17-18

"Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some."
'False teaching'—How to Biblically define it
Every Christian—without question—should have a clear understanding of what "false teaching" is.


Because believing it will have eternally disastrous consequences—as the Bible indicates (more on this later).

Since this is the case, then every Christian should also clearly understand how to identify a false teacher.

Obviously, the false teacher is the one propagating the false doctrine—and is therefore costing people their souls.

In fact, the Bible refers to false teachers as advancing a message as deadly as "gangrene"—which, in Biblical days, was almost certainly fatal. In other words, buying in to false teaching will likely result in spiritual fatality.

Misidentifying a false teacher

We can't afford to misidentify false teachers.

On one hand, ignoring an actual false teacher will likely be fatal, as mentioned.

But on the other hand, if you consider someone a "false teacher" who isn't, and deal with him/her as the Bible commands, you may be condemning a true Christian—also a serious mistake. The "if in doubt, throw them out" policy some traditionalists use is certainly not the will of God.

Remember, Jesus said that the way we treat His people is the way we treat Him—in His eyes. In other words, Jesus takes it personally if we cast off or ostracize one of His people (Matthew 25:31-46; Acts 9:4).

So, getting this right is really important.

But how do we do that?

Simply by arming ourselves with sufficient Biblical knowledge to understand what "Biblically defined" false teaching is, and knowledge of exactly HOW God commands us to deal collectively with "false teachers" (yes, it's a congregational effort, not just an individual one, in spite of the way it's often handled).

This article will by no means be comprehensive, but hopefully it will be informative enough to help us in making Christ-approved evaluations.

A mistake doesn't make one a false teacher

It's important to note that not everyone who teaches something wrong is a Biblically-defined "false teacher."

Otherwise, we'd all be excommunicated, for, as James said (3:1), we teachers all make many mistakes in what we say.

In other words, accidental mistakes or "small" blunders and misunderstandings are to be dealt with differently than something on the scale of a "Biblically-defined" false teaching (explanation forthcoming).

Reasonable latitude, I believe, should also be given for various views of complex prophecy (e.g., Revelation)—provided those interpretations don't conflict with plain Biblical teachings elsewhere, and are identified as conjecture and men's opinions when they are.

"Soft love" and "tough love"

As you undoubtedly know, Christ wants us to demonstrate love, kindness, and respect to everyone we meet ("soft love").

But there are also times when Christ wants us to demonstrate so-called "tough love." Perhaps that's like sending a drug-addicted, prison-bound son to a "cellphoneless" Nevada boot camp in order to get his attention—after all other reasonable options have failed, that is. You still love him, but he's on a fast track to disaster if you don't do something more severe.

In the Bible, "tough love" is definitely described many times. Typically, God seems to start by showing us "soft love." For example, we have so many blessings to be thankful for—blessings we don't deserve from God!

But when we make serious mistakes or show a persistent lack of wisdom, we sometimes receive God's "tough love."

For example, the Bible teaches that God "disciplines" (or "chastens") those He loves, and describes it as being an unpleasant experience designed to help us grow (Hebrews 12:5-11).

This "tough love" should not be confused with the wrath and fury of God, which will be coming upon people who fail to repent and turn to Him. At that point, the grace of God has expired (Mark 9:48). And it is a fearful thing to fall into His hands.

So clearly, "tough love" is a Biblical concept.

But when should our "soft love" turn to "tough love" toward a fellow Christian believer?

6 quick examples of "tough love" in the Bible

The Bible provides several helpful examples of Christian men who were to receive so-called tough love from the church. In the following cases, unless they repented, such men were to be disassociated from (or, if you will, handled with "tough love"):

(1) Christians who caused divisions (Rom 16:16-17).

(2) Christians who did not provide for their own daily necessities were to be disaccociated from, although they were to still be regarded as brothers (2 Thess 3:6-15).

(3) Christians who were sexually immoral were to be disassociated from, as well as the "greedy, idolaters, slanderers, drunkards, and swindlers" (1 Cor 5:9-11).

(4) Christians who sinned against others and didn't repent after sufficient warnings (Matt 20:15-20).

(5) Christians who taught that Jesus had not come in the flesh were called "false prophets" (1 Jn 4:1-3).

(6) And finally, Christians who tried to argue that the resurrection had already taken place were to be considered "bad company," and their teaching was compared to the deadly bacteria of gangrene, which spreads through a person's body and can be fatal (2 Tim 2:17-18; 1 Cor 15:20-33).

What guidelines can we draw from all these examples of "Biblical tough love"

These 6 examples of tough love may not be identical situations, but there are some common themes in each of them that we would be wise to notice.

First, they all deal with basic Christianity"Christian Living and Learning 101" issues, if you will. Look again at the above 6 points: they deal with moral living, basic Christian conduct, and basic Christian teachings such as (but not limited to—more on this in a moment) the resurrection from the dead, and the obvious fact Jesus came in the flesh. Clear, "can't-get-this-wrong" type teachings that the illogical and corrupted minds of false teachers were getting wrong. In other words, getting these things wrong, either in life or in teaching, and teaching such to others (either by influence or by word of mouth), was akin to changing the foundational principles of the Holy Spirit. Please note: The Bible listed what God considers "basic teaching" in Hebrews 6, but I believe that, plainly, "anything like" these would also qualify. Getting foundational Biblical teachings correct is crucial—for if you don't, everything you build upon them will be suspect.

Second, in each above case, I believe disassociation from the Christian involved was required. Why such "extreme measures?" Because, in each above case, the sinning Christian's soul was in extreme danger. If you don't understand this, you won't have the right attitude toward the person involved. In other words, you MUST understand that these are in fact "salvation issues."

But why the need to disassociate from such Christians? Paul gave two reasons in example #3 above: (1) So that the behavior or teaching would not spread to the rest of the church and endanger them as well, and, (2) So that the person involved would wake up to the extreme danger his soul was in (again, much like sending a son to boot camp as a final "resort").

Please also look again at point #6 above. The Bible describes this false teaching (about the resurrection) to be like the deadly bacteria of gangrene, which, if unchecked, could spread to the rest of the church. Amputation or death of the body were probably the only two options for gangrene in Paul's day. That's as serious as it gets so far as church issues are concerned. The Holy Spirit made it clear: If disassociation from the false teacher does not occur—his teaching will certainly, over time (like gangrene), be spreading. And we will therefore be responsible for the loss of other souls. Furthermore, wrongly assuming his false teaching "isn't a salvation issue"—and thus continuing association with him—is dangerously naive. Such a disastrous oversight will result in the loss of other souls as well.

No wonder Christians are strictly forbidden to assist such people in their ministries, thereby helping to give legs to a dangerous situation (see example #5 above). And, no wonder several churches of Revelation 2 & 3 were commended by Christ for standing up against false teachers.

You can likely see why the Holy Spirit warned us to "be on guard" against such Christians, to "not be deceived," "to watch our lives and doctrines closely,"—and to "not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings."

Is this not where the false prophets of Israel went so tragically wrong, and how Israel eventually ended up being destroyed? Israel's "shepherds" were simply NOT doing their jobs.

How are modern church leaders any different when they treat casually such critical situations?

What about "similar cases"—should they be ignored?

As noted in example #6 above, Christians are to consider "bad company" those who teach the resurrection has already happened.

But what about "similar" cases—such as people who teach the final judgment has already happened, the 2nd coming of Christ has already happened, and so forth?

Are they to be treated differently because they haven't taught the specific doctrine that "the resurrection has already happened?"

The answer is unequivocally "yes."

In Hebrews 13:9 the Bible says: "Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings." [ASV: "varied and strange teachings"]

Thus, we see that God is displeased with ALL types of strange teachings, not just those relating to the resurrection.

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