As I work again through the Pastoral Epistles, 1/2nd Timothy and Titus there is a clear call to come against false doctrine and more importantly, to secure, teach, reiterate and fight for, sound/True doctrine. It’s in the bloodstream of a New Testament Overseer, or Bishop(Pastor) and Paul commanded Timothy to wage a good war against false teachings. Jesus Christ warned of False teachers and the Apostolic Fathers were almost immediately fighting false doctrines in the early Church.
By Acts 15 we see Paul on his missionary journeys discovering Jewish Believers who were teaching Gentile believers to adopt the Law of Moses and to be circumcised in order to be saved. Incensed, Paul returned to Jerusalem and went before the council of elders to bemoan this teaching. In the end, the Church decreed that Gentiles were not to be held to those things and sent letters stating this with Paul and many other disciples. So there is nothing new under the sun…
And yet, even with clear, concise examples in Scripture, even discussing and writing on this topic can feel like an effort in futility, trying to climb over a mountain of ambiguity. When discussing false doctrine, especially in debate format, can feel a little bit like two adolescents standing in the living room saying, “Nuhu! Yahu! Nuhu! Yahu! Nuhu…Yahu!!…”
Inevitably, there are disagreements in any situation and relationship, the Church and Faith are no different. What IS different however is that we have a playbook, the Bible to tell us what the Yays and Nays are. But…that’s just your interpretation right? Perhaps I see it differently than you do? My translation says…I’m KJV…you would have the right understanding if you used the right Bible version…
That being said – it’s a war we are commanded to wage, it is a challenge that’s be surfacing since the inception of the church (and before!) and is something we cannot, and must not ignore for the sake of peace and getting along. Without sounding too fundamental, what would be worse? A small church filled with sound doctrine, teaching and Biblical understanding/literacy, or a large theater filled with enormous amounts of people who have little to no understanding of God’s Holy Word?
Doctrine simply and literally means, ‘a teaching‘ and today it would be and is defined as ‘a set of beliefs‘ usually by a group of people, a religious organization, etc. This word Doctrine comes from the Latin root docere (to teach), that led to the word doctor (a teacher), to doctrina (a teaching). This is why we call someone Doctor who attains the PhD, which is a Doctorate in a discipline of learning that qualifies them as a teacher, or a master, of that subject.
We’ve heard the buzz phrases in common teachings where people reference the Doctrine of the Trinity or the Doctrine of Predestination. A doctrine is essentially a creed that encompasses a particular topic and attempts to explain, concrete and teach that topic exhaustively. When someone, in our case in the Religious community, especially in the Christian Faith, declares a teaching to be incorrect, they would say, “That is a false doctrine!”
Thus, a true doctrine is a teaching that is factually correct, peer-reviewed, and without enough error when compared to the canon of Scripture as to warrant it false, though there is often an allowable margin of error, whereas a false doctrine is a teaching that is errant enough as to make it factually incorrect because has surpassed the allowable margin of error.
So in the realm of this topic in Christianity, a False Doctrine is a teaching that clearly crosses the bounds of accuracy according to the accepted texts, the Canon of Scripture, that even with an allowable margin of error, it is factually incorrect.
Some common terms that encompass particular doctrines are Christology, Ecclesiology, Eschatology, Soteriology, etc. These doctrines attempt to exhaustively define and teach a principle of Scripture. When one deems something within it error, it is labeled a False Doctrine.
More importantly, and at the extreme edges of True and False doctrines, are what are called Abhorrent doctrines, things that are so absolutely contrary to Scripture as to have a zero margin of accuracy.
One example of an abhorrent doctrine is found in a teaching (doctrine) of the Jehovah’s Witness/Watchtower Society on the nature of Christ as a subordinate being to God, stating that Jesus Christ was not God Manifest in the Flesh (1 Timothy 3:16) and that he was not Deity equal with the Father but as subordinate to the Father (God) (John 1:1) and is an Anti-Trinitarian teaching, which is one of the oldest and most accepted tenants of the Christian faith.
This teaching originates in the 2nd Century AD, known as Arianism and was founded just on the heels of a similar abhorrent doctrine known as Sabellianism (better known as Modalism), both of which were condemned as heresy at the time by the established Church. The Mormon (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) Church follows a close doctrine to this Subordination doctrine but also holds that they themselves will become gods in similar fashion (nearly identical) to the Church of Scientology, which is as far from Christian doctrine as you can get and equally as cultic as the two former faiths.
There are many other false doctrines, too many to list in an article, but my focus wasn’t to list them, or to bash them, but rather, talk about how to talk about them.
The answer can only be a careful and concise study of the Word of God that is grounded in the counsel of many and gaining, through the Spirit of God, Wisdom that comes from the anointing that abides in you and teaches you all things if you abide in Him. (1 John 2:27)
There are many teachings that are so absolutely and obviously contrary to Scripture’s clear and plain message that it must be exposed as a false doctrine, and moreso, lovingly and in faith exposed as false. Consider Paul’s exhortation to Timothy concerning this;
As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. ~ 1 Timothy 1:3-5, NIV
Paul teaches Timothy to ‘command certain people NOT to teach false doctrines any longer…‘ but he made a culminating point that these things do not advance God’s work, which is Faith, with the goal of the commandment being Love, stemming from a pure heart and good (clean) conscience.
We don’t war against false doctrines for vanities sake, or for myths sake, or for controversial speculations or arguments. That’s the result of false doctrines. The real promotion of God’s work is ground in Faith, Love and compassion. After all, the fruits of the Spirit are Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Gentleness, Goodness, Faith, Humbleness and Self Control.
When talking about False Doctrines, which seems like an important thing to do based on the warnings and commandments of Scripture, doing it in the right manner is critical and it must stem from a sincere faith. There comes a time to take a stand, to say it and to call it like it is, but let me give an example of two different approaches to talking about false doctrines. (Of which my Atheist friends could/should take note as well as those people of Faith…)
“You actually believe that damnable false doctrine? That heresy? I can’t even believe you call yourself a Christian! Do you read your Bible? How could you think that is truth? Wow… just wow, I’m stunned…wow….” False Doctrine 101 – What NOT to do…
Here, we’ve attacked, ridiculed, demeaned, defaced and invalidated the individual who may believe something that is classified as a false doctrine. I found myself in this trap after exiting an evil and radically false cult/church. Afterwards I wanted to demean it, prove how terrible it was, but the results at that time were terrible. My anger, bitterness and self-righteousness made me the weaker argument and most damaging to those whom I was speaking to, family included.
The result was abysmal, it was looking back now, hateful, radical, dogmatic and unloving. It took some time to realize this and reshape the way in which I was willing to tackle things I would consider to be false doctrines of the Christian Faith that I hold dear.
“That’s a viewpoint I can’t seem to reconcile with Scripture myself. There are so many places in Scripture that seem to teach something different that I’m missing something. Can you show me what passages and teachings have led you to believe that? And how do you reconcile that with these passages? Let’s talk about it.” False Doctrine 101, What To Do…
Here, we’ve validated the individual but still made it clear that we don’t or can’t agree with the stance and are looking for evidence and correlation. This is neither combative nor passively/accepting. We can continue in love, accepting that person as a friend, brother, sister, maintain a healthy relationship but also speak of our differences in belief.
As a Cessationist I end up in conversations with people who claim to have experienced the miraculous, including signs and wonders like people raising from the dead or miraculous regrowth of limbs, or private prayer languages in unknown tongues. Is it my place it invalidate that experience? To call it fake? To belittle the individual?
Absolutely not! The best approach is to wonder, ‘Gosh, I wonder what Bible we have for that and hey, what if it is true?’. There are clear distinctive doctrines in Scripture to stand on, and then there are secondary issues that are open to debate. I want to learn and encourage not to be so fast to label the secondaries as false doctrines, unless as Mark 7:7 shows us, they are being taught as Commandments of God and like the Jewish believers of Acts 15, being taught as necessary unto salvation!
Paul expressly taught Timothy that the greatest calling was to Love people, protect the faith in love, guard the Church in love, expose false doctrine in love and express true doctrine in love. At the crossroads of Truth and Love there is an incredible union of friendship, faith and accountability!
As a parent, I’m telling my children that I love them constantly, and unconditionally, eternally. I’m also telling them what I believe to be the truth, that there are results to their actions, that there are right and wrong ways to behave. Overtime those truths will speak for themselves and will be the accountability to continue a tradition of love.