In the religious realm, there are some men who would have us believe they
are speaking the truths of God's Word but would be more properly identified
as the “false teachers” they are. I know that is a 'label' that some
individuals do not like to hear, but it is a Scriptural one (cf. II Peter
2:1). It seems the problem some have in calling anyone a 'false teacher'
comes from an apparent misunderstanding about what makes one a
'false teacher,' but it is rarely a problem of identifying the content
of what he is teaching. Right now, some are arguing that we can only know a
'false teacher' if we know his motives, but if that were true then we mere
humans could never identify one as a 'false teacher' since no
man can know the motives of another unless they reveal it themselves. [And
when is the last time you heard anyone stand up and say, "Before I begin, I
just want everyone to know I have ulterior motives behind the words I am
about to say"?]
believe honest men will admit that a “false teacher” is not so hard
to identify as some might think, but that will not be the point of today's
study. Today, I would like us to consider some of the tactics
of those who are propagating error. I believe this is an important study
because it seems many unbelievers and even brethren are being led astray by
some of the tactics we will discuss today, and are apparently unaware they
have been deceived or, more correctly, duped. Some are
unwittingly helping foster and propagate error, believing it to be truth!
The apostle Paul warned the Corinthian brethren to forgive and reaffirm
their love for the brother whom they had chastened for wrongdoing, as Paul
himself had already done, “lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we
are not ignorant of his devices” (II Corinthians 2:6-11).
Something as 'simple' as discipline can be used by Satan to divided brethren
unnecessarily and, if that is true, how much more when he uses false
teaching to divide brethren unnecessarily? We would do well to know how he
and his ministers operate so we can more easily recognize them, expose them,
and take precautionary steps to avoid them.
Device #1: Redirect attention to the one who questions what
is being taught.
[This can be done in several ways.] If the false teacher's doctrine is being
questioned, he might say, "You are only teaching the traditional
teachings, not Scripture," or [stated another way], "That's church
of Christ doctrine." He will call truth [Bible teachings and Bible
passages quoted verbatim] "tradition" to try to get people to believe it is
of human invention and does not come from God, diverting attention away from
the fact his teaching is without Scriptural basis. This is a
common fallacy of argument [diversion] and provides an easy way out
of having to explain and defend one's own teaching [get the audience to look
at someone else]. I have noted from my own experience that this is a
favorite tactic of those who teach errant positions on marriage, divorce and
remarriage. I also find it very revealing that they only make that
accusation on this subject and not on any other, such as
baptism, stealing, or murder. I can't recall anyone accusing another man of
teaching "the traditional position on murder" but I have seen several men
accused of teaching "the traditional position on marriage, divorce, and
remarriage" [whatever that is]. Often, they will not even give
a straight answer or a defense for what they are teaching —
just accusations about what others are teaching. That is no
way to find truth!
Another way attention may be diverted to the questioner is by the false
teacher impugning the motives of the questioner and attacking his character.
This, too, is a fallacy of argument [ad hominem] which diverts
attention away from the subject of dispute and prevents anyone from reaching
a reasoned understanding of truth. Often, at the same time the false teacher
is impugning motives and calling names, he complains about the questioner
impugning his motives [when only the doctrine he teaches is
mentioned] and calling him names [even when it is his actual
name]. To see brethren resort to these strategies is an outright shame and
should be disgusting to true believers!
Device #2: Call the opposition 'extremists.'
This is a favorite tactic in political circles, and one being used more
frequently among brethren. Why? Again, it is an easy way to divert attention
away from the subject of dispute or the false teacher himself, and onto
those questioning the content, application, or consequences of his
teachings. If someone disagrees with a teaching or practice and sound
reasons are given, those who teach the false doctrines [knowing they cannot
defend their teaching or practice from Scripture] will simply label the
opposition as 'extremists' who are on the outer fringes of sanity and
reason. This was used by brethren 40-60 years ago when they tried to defend
institutions and I have found that some brethren today are now using the
same tactic when they seek to defend privately-supported
human institutions that are doing the work of the local church. Why can't we
simply discuss the issue and leave the name-calling out of it? That will
never help anyone to reach a sound and reasoned conclusion! It is
a source of division and bitter feelings between brethren, though!
Device #3: ‘I'm still studying it.’
If I teach on any subject, I would expect that some might disagree with
something I have taught. I might even mistakenly teach error, though I do
not intend to do so or plan on it ever happening. But if someone ever
challenged me about what I was teaching, I would imagine no one would be
satisfied with the response, "Well, I'm glad you asked, but I'm not going to
get into a discussion on this subject because I'm still studying it." Sadly,
I have heard this very response on a couple of occasions by men who had been
propagating error but who also did not want to take responsibility for what
they were teaching, or didn't feel they owed anyone an explanation about
what they had taught; they simply wanted to teach their errors and go about
their merry way, moving on and refusing to answer any further questions.
Friends and brethren, this is nothing but a "cop out." It is deception, pure
and simple, because while they have been "studying" for decades, they
continue teaching their doctrines the whole time as if they were convicted
it was truth. Only when they are questioned do they suddenly feel unsure,
and then claim the high ground of "not wanting to cause division."
Meanwhile, the men who question them are maligned as "divisive" for simply
trying to get a straight answer. For shame!
Friends and brethren, the tactics we have covered today are not new, and
they will not go away anytime soon. As often as truth is taught, there will
be someone to preach error right alongside it, but the false teacher [God's
label, not mine] will always try to present himself in a favorable light
while simultaneously trying to slander, malign, and impugn those who
question him. Micaiah was called a “troubler of Israel” by King Ahab
— the real troublemaker (I Kings 18:17, 18); the
Sanhedrin accused the apostles of wrongly blaming them for the death of
Jesus, when they gladly welcomed it at the time (Acts 5:28; Matthew
27:25); and Paul and his cohorts were accused of turning the world
upside down and rebelling against the Roman government by envious and
unbelieving Jews (Acts 17:5-7).
Please note that in all cases mentioned, the false teachers and persecutors
were not interested in sitting down and having a rational
discussion so all could come to a reasoned conclusion and discover the
We should not be surprised at the tactics of false teachers because Peter
has revealed some of their ways (II Peter 2). Our duty is to expose
them for what they are and keep standing for truth.