There seems to be an ever increasing disdain among Evangelicals for any teaching that is confrontational, for any teaching that exposes errors or false doctrines and warns the people of God about such dangers. They see such teaching as too “negative” or “judgmental” or “intolerant.” They often even see it as “unloving” and “mean-spirited.” They seem to think that “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15, italics mine) can only be done by compromising the truth, and they cannot see the utter inconsistency of such a notion. They seem to forget that the same Jesus who said “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34) also frequently demonstrated His love for us by confronting false teaching in no uncertain terms. Thus they fail to see that we cannot love each other as Jesus has loved us without confronting the false teaching that is all around us. So, today I would just like to post a brief reminder concerning the role of pastors as guardians of the Church, who serve as under-shepherds of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Great shepherd of the sheep, and who are called to help protect His flock against wolves in sheep’s clothing.
NKJ Matthew 7:15-20 Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
As a fellow elder has often said, “Our Lord Jesus has called each one of us to be a fruit inspector.” We must look for the evil fruit of false teaching and false living in order to see the wolves for who they really are, and the task will not be easy, for such wolves are very often so self-deceived that even they believe their own lies. This is plain in what Jesus goes on to say about such people in the following context:
NKJ Matthew 7:21-23 Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” 23 And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”
Such wolves in sheep’s clothing are so self-deceived that they will even stand before the Lord Jesus Himself and claim to be genuine. But our Lord assures us that we need not be deceived by them, for we may know them by their fruits. He also warns us that false teaching can be like leaven:
NKJ Matthew 16:6-12 Then Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” 7 And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have taken no bread.” 8 But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread? 9 Do you not yet understand, or remember the five loaves of the five thousand and how many baskets you took up? 10 Nor the seven loaves of the four thousand and how many large baskets you took up? 11 How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?– but to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Thus false teaching — as the teaching of the Pharisees surely was — is like leaven, of which even a small amount may have a pervasive impact. Jesus lovingly warned His disciples of such dangers, but He also frequently confronted false teachers in the presence of His disciples so that they could see in Him a model for their own future ministry. Consider, for example, these words of rebuke spoken to the Pharisees:
NKJ Matthew 23:1-15 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. 4 For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. 5 But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. 6 They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, 7 greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’ 8 But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. 11 But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. 13 But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. 14 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”
This is only a portion of Jesus’ rebuke of the false teaching of the scribes and Pharisees, but I am sure it is enough to make the point! Further examples from His ministry should not be necessary, so we will consider a few example from the ministry of the Apostles.
The first major heresy that the Church battled was the false gospel of works salvation, as certain false teachers were claiming that the Gentiles had to be circumcised in order to be saved. This false doctrine led to the first Church council. As Luke tells us, “some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.’ Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter” (Acts 15:5-6 NKJ). Luke then goes on to describe how the Apostles and elders led the Church to a adopt a Biblical stance regarding the problem. In other words, the Apostles and elders sought to protect the Church by dealing with this matter and refusing to let the false teaching go unchecked.
The Apostle Paul also later set an example for all future pastors to follow when he regularly confronted false teaching. Here are just a couple of passages in which he made this aspect of the pastor’s responsibility very clear:
NKJ Acts 20:28-31 Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.
Paul clearly commands the elders to watch out for the flock as they shepherd them, especially against the false teachers that will arise, even from among their own ranks. He clearly sees this as one of the reasons the Holy Spirit had appointed them as overseers, and he himself was willing to spend time doing this “day and night.”
In fact, Paul even had to protect the Church from false apostles at times, such as those he warned the Corinthian believers about:
NKJ 2 Corinthians 11:12-15 But what I do, I will also continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the things of which they boast. 13 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.
Another example from the ministry of Paul can be found in his words to the Colossian Christians:
NKJ Colossians 1:24-29 I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, 26 the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. 27 To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. 29 To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily. (Italics mine.)
Also, in Titus 1:7-9, Paul lists some of the requirements for elders, and among these requirements he says that an elder must hold fast “the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.” And some of the reasons for this requirement are given in the following verses: “For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain” (vss. 10-11). So, again, it is clear that the elders are responsible for guarding the churches against false doctrine.