The apostle Paul knew that false teachings infected the church at Corinth. Some teachers, who appeared on the outside to be “servants of righteousness” were actually only “false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (2 Cor. 11:13-15). They infiltrated the church and brought with them another gospel.
How does false teaching make its way into today’s church? Here are a few ways it happens:
- Failing to preach the Word of God. This reason, I trust, is obvious—but I’m not convinced that everyone who claims to teach the Word of God truly does. All of us need other elders, staff members, or lay leaders who have our permission to help keep us true to the Word.
- Congregational assumptions that the preacher is always right. You’d hope no church truly reaches that conclusion, but I’ve seen churches that never understood their role to listen wisely and prayerfully to the Word expounded. They may never make the statement that the preacher is always right, but they wouldn’t dare confront him with their biblical and theological questions.
- Poor discipleship in the church. When we don’t teach believers the Word and challenge them to obey what Jesus commanded, we give them few tools to evaluate the teaching they hear.
- Pastoral assertions that no one has a right to question the shepherd of God’s church. Again, I surely hope these pastors are few and far between, but they do exist. In some cases, they view any questioners as their enemies and seek to run them off.
- Too little attention to addressing false teachings that permeate society. If, for example, the church never clearly teaches that a personal relationship with Jesus is necessary for salvation, they shouldn’t be surprised when church members believe something different. Strong, intentional application of the biblical text can help us address these kinds of issues.
- Weak accountability for small groups and their leaders. It’s easy for small groups to strike out on their own, with little oversight and accountability for the teachings in the group. By the time church leaders learn about false teaching in the group, the wrong ideas have often already spread.
- “Lone Ranger” leadership in the church. Beginning with the pastor, but also including staff and lay leaders, anyone who leads without genuine life-on-life interaction with other believers can be susceptible to going in the wrong direction theologically. There’s a reason God put us in the Body of Christ to help each other.
- Shallow or nonexistent review of curriculum or resources. Popularity of books, podcasts, websites, small group studies, etc., is not a guarantee of doctrinal fidelity. Even one poorly evaluated resource can create internal tension over suspect teachings.
- No prayer to guard against the enemy’s attacks. The same enemy who attacked the church at Corinth aims his arrows at our churches as well. At a minimum, it is wise for us to pray, “Father, deliver us from the evil one’s devices. Help us to stand continually on Your Word.”
What other ways come to mind for you?