I listened to a very arrogant preacher criticize a very humble and effective servant of Christ on the internet the other day. His is a “discernment ministry”, apparently. His spiritual pride and callous heart were appalling though. He felt he was doing everyone a favor by exposing the errors in the teaching of a fairly well-known teacher.
The scary thing about being deceived is that by very definition you are unaware of it. Perhaps even more messed-up is when deception is occurring in your heart while you’re correcting what you see as deception in others!
I’m not promoting the “all roads lead to Rome” philosophy that’s pervasive in our day. But I’m simply saying that we all need to look in the mirror before we harshly point the finger at others. God is certainly concerned about the words we use. There is such a thing as objective truth! But truth is not your’s until it’s you! The words you believe should sooner or later find incarnation in your life and character. Otherwise, you’re a counterfeit.
The Apostle Paul spent much of his time confronting false teachers. He strongly warned against deception on two very different levels. Let me give you a biblical example of each before I state the obvious.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! (Galatians 1:6-9, emphasis mine)
It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. (Philippians 1:15-18, emphasis mine)
1. There are those who adulterate God’s word and teach error. Paul very strongly condemned those who would preach “another gospel” and “another Jesus”. He went as far as to say that those who preach a false gospel should be accursed. In our day there are a number of “discernment” ministries on the radio and internet that feel called to expose false teachers and the doctrines they promote. This is a biblical thing to do…as long as you are careful not to succumb to the second error…
2. There are those who preach the truth but with false motives. I only had to listen to the guy I referred to earlier for fifteen seconds before I realized that his error was far more grievous to God than what he was criticizing. Paul spoke of men who would preach Christ accurately but out of rivalry and jealousy (false motives). In other words, though they bear witness to the truth with their mouths, their hearts and lives do not reflect the words they preach.
Paul told Timothy to, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Tim 4:16)
The young man had a censorious, elitist, fault-finding sort of spirit. Those of us with “proper” theological education need to watch our motives when we are critical of others – especially if what we are criticizing is something we would also be doing were it not for the benefits of the training we’ve received.
Just because you are able to see how someone has used a verse “out of context” does not mean that person is a “false teacher” and deserves to be publicly ridiculed. I wish everyone had the benefit of learning the helpful rules of biblical interpretation that I gained in seminary. But most of the people God is using to teach His Word in our world today and throughout the ages have not had that opportunity. Regardless, they may be doing far better with the little bit of training they have than you and I are with the abundance of training we’ve received.
What I’m saying is this: Don’t just pay attention to the Biblical text you are trying to teach from, better watch over your heart also. If you don’t love those that Jesus died for, you probably don’t speak for Him when you open your mouth. May God help us to discern the motives behind our own “discernment”!