Three Common Errors of False Teachers
By Mike Gendron
Since we are now living in the age of religious tolerance and ecumenical unity, there are some people who will immediately call this article unloving and divisive. Others will ask, "What right do you have to judge another religion?" The answer is given in Scripture. All God-fearing people are called to make right judgments, judgments that have already been established by the objective principles of God's Word (John 7:24). There may be nothing more important than warning people who are being deceived about their eternal destiny. If we do not lovingly confront them with God's Gospel, they may never know how to escape the eternal fire of God's punishment. Clearly, the most unloving thing we can do is to ignore them and let them continue down the road to destruction. For this reason, I am always willing to offend people with the offense and exclusivity of the Gospel in the hopes that God may grant some of them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 2: 25). Let us look at three fatal errors of false prophets and how to handle them.
False Teachers Usurp the Authority of God
The supreme authority of the Bible is established both by its divine origin and inspiration (2 Pet. 1:21). It is the infallible Word of God, and it will accomplish God's purpose (Isaiah 55:11). It is the very foundation upon which all Christian truths rest. For followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bible is the final court of appeal in all matters pertaining to faith and godliness. "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16). The divine authority of Scripture corrects and rebukes all false teaching because there is no higher authority or infallible source in which to appeal. It is the Word of God, and God cannot lie, cannot break His promise and cannot deceive.
People fall into serious error and sin when they exalt their own authority over God's authority or when they suppress the truth of God's Word to promote their own self-serving agendas. The Roman Catholic religion has done this by establishing its traditions and teachings to be equal in authority with Scripture (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] par. 82). In doing so, it has usurped the supreme authority of our sovereign God who alone has the right to rule and determine the eternal destinies of men. This fatal error has opened the flood gates to numerous other deadly heresies including: the preaching of another gospel, the worship of a counterfeit Jesus, the buying and selling of God's grace through indulgences, the creation of a fictitious place called purgatory, the establishment of other mediators and praying to and for the dead. These errors are fatal because anyone who is embracing them when they take their last breath will experience eternal death.
Catholics who are being deceived by these fatal errors must be told that the world has known only one infallible teacher. He is the Lord Jesus Christ, who was the personification of truth and every word He spoke was truth (John 14:6, 17:17). Those who are seeking the truth need to look only to Christ and His Word. The Catholic religion has become corrupt the same way Judaism became corrupt - by following the traditions of men instead of the Word of God (Mark 7:13). The Pharisees taught much truth, but by mixing it with error, they "made the word of God of no effect." We must never forget that the Bible is what God says and religion is what man says God says.
False Teachers Distort the Person of Christ
Jesus Christ is God's perfect man and man's perfect God. He is the perfect High Priest who offered Himself - the perfect sacrifice - once for the sins of His people. This one sin offering has perfected for all time those who are sanctified (Heb. 10:14). For this reason there are no more offerings for sin (Heb. 10:18). The believer's eternal sin debt was paid in full and their redemption was secured when God raised Jesus Christ from the dead (Rom. 4:25). Would there be false teachers who would deny this and steal away the honor and glory of our Savior?
Yes, Paul even warned us that some would come preaching another Jesus. They will offer a counterfeit Jesus "whom we [the apostles] have not preached" (2 Cor. 11:4). Many of these false teachers are Roman Catholics who preach a "Jesus" who does not save sinners completely and forever. They say Catholics must do their part by expiating and making satisfaction for their own sins through penance (CCC, 1459). In this way they attain their own salvation through good works (CCC, 1477). The Catholic Jesus offers conditional life, not eternal life (CCC, 1035). This counterfeit Christ is said to return physically to Catholic altars over 200,000 times each day to be a sin offering for the living and the dead (CCC, 1367).
Catholics must be warned of the consequences for not knowing and believing the true Jesus. This was made clear by Jesus when He said: "unless you believe that I am He, you shall die in your sins" (John 8:24). Whenever religion rejects God's authority, it creates "another Jesus" which always leads to "another gospel." Why? Because whenever the sufficiency of Christ is denied, another gospel must be concocted to instruct people what they must do to be saved.
False Teachers Pervert the Gospel of Christ
The Gospel is the joyous proclamation of God's redeeming work through Jesus Christ which saves His people from the punishment, power and ultimately, the presence of sin. It is the one and only message of redemption and the same message for every generation (Eph. 4:4-6, Rev. 14:6). Since the Gospel is about one Savior, it is exclusive and thus declares that all other faiths and religions are false (John 14:6; Mat. 7:13-14). This glorious Gospel declares that salvation is entirely of grace and those who add anything to it stand condemned (Gal. 1:6-9). It comes as no surprise that the most popular perversion of the Gospel is the fatal lie that good works or inherent righteousness are necessary to appease a holy God. Every religion in the world perpetrates this lie of the devil. However, Satan's oldest and most deadly lie is "You surely shall not die" (Gen. 3:4). This lie is still spread in Catholicism (CCC, 1863).
Why would any religious leader want to distort the glorious Gospel of grace? The primary reason is to control people by holding them captive in legalistic bondage. It is for this reason the Lord Jesus gave the mark of a true disciple. He said, "If you abide in My word...and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:31-32). People in religious bondage can only be set free when they come to a knowledge of the truth found in Scripture.
Roman Catholicism is not alone in perverting the Gospel of God. There are many cults and Protestant sects which do the same. Catholicism, however, not only deceives its people with a false gospel, but foolishly condemns those who believe the true Gospel. Over 100 condemnations from the Council of Trent are pronounced on Christians who believe the Lord Jesus is sufficient to save sinners completely and forever. The Catholic "gospel" emphasizes what man must DO to be saved instead of what Christ has DONE. This would include the necessity of doing good works (CCC, 2016), receiving sacraments (1129), attending meritorious masses (1405), keeping the law (2068), buying indulgences (1498) and purgatory (1030).
False Teachers Must Be Confronted
We must never let doctrinal error go unabated because it dishonors God and deceives the unsuspecting. It defiles the conscience, corrupts the heart and destroys the soul. According to Scripture, that which flows from the lips of false teachers includes: "strange doctrines," "commandments of men," "doctrines of devils," "damnable heresies," "traditions of men," "lies," "falsehood," "vain deceit" and "deceptive philosophy." Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord at all times and in all cases (Prov. 12:22). Knowing the fruit of false teachers, we must earnestly contend against them. Peter and Paul said false teachers cause believers to fall from their steadfastness and pure devotion to Christ (2 Pet. 3:17; 2 Cor. 11:3). They disagree with the words of Jesus and bring constant friction within the church (1 Tim. 6:4-5). They give rise to speculation and fruitless discussion which hinder the purposes of God (1 Tim. 1:4-6).
Many who profess Christ are no longer embracing sound doctrine because they want their ears tickled and are seeking teachers who will do just that (2 Tim. 4:2). Using the Word of God, we must be ready to reprove, rebuke and exhort with great patience and instruction. Those who have been entrusted with the truth must take a stand against those who try to lead men astray. Even when Peter was not straightforward about the truth of the Gospel, Paul withstood him to his face, and rebuked him sharply (Gal. 2:11-14). Jude exhorted us to "earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). Those who refuse to defend God's truth are demonstrating their lack of passion for the truth. We must love the truth and hate every false way (Ps. 119:104). Let us never be intimidated by false teachers because "the fear of man brings a snare" (Prov. 29:25).
The Battle for Truth
Let us be mindful of the words of A.W. Tozer, who wrote: "So skilled is error at imitating truth that the two are constantly being mistaken for each other. It is therefore critically important that the Christian take full advantage of every provision God has made to save him from delusion - prayer, faith, constant meditation of the Scriptures, obedience, humility and the illumination of the Holy Spirit" (That Incredible Christian).
We need to ask God for courage and boldness as we rely on the power of His Word. May we all become more like the apostles who were strong, bold, fearless, dogmatic, unaccommodating of error, courageous, intolerant of sin, inflexible concerning the Gospel, controversial, willing to die for the truth and fully devoted to Christ. We are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming (Eph. 4:14). During these times of great deception, the Body of Christ must respond with a theological, biblical worldview that defends the glory and honor of our Lord Jesus Christ. We must protect the purity of His Gospel for the sake of His elect.