"So guard yourselves and God's people. Feed and shepherd God's flock--his church, purchased with his own blood--over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders. I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following. - Acts 20: 28-30 (NLT)
There has been a lot of controversy lately over the discussion of false teaching and false teachers. As always there is a renewed call for kumbya Christianity where unity appears to be more important than doctrine. Over this past week I have read compelling cases for such but they seem to fall just short of the mark. I understand the call for unity - it is completely scriptural:
I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. For some members of Chloe's household have told me about your quarrels, my dear brothers and sisters. Some of you are saying, "I am a follower of Paul." Others are saying, "I follow Apollos," or "I follow Peter," or "I follow only Christ." - 1Corinthians 1: 10-12 (NLT)
While the kumbya crowd is quick to quote that we are to live in harmony they seem to forget the rest of the context. We are not supposed to be unified for the sake of unity. We are supposed to be unified in and by Christ. We are supposed to be of one mind - united in thought and purpose! Thus if your thinking is wrong - in other words doctrine - then I am not supposed to be unified with you at all! If the purpose of your ministry is to sell prosperity instead of salvation then I am not supposed to be unified with you at all! Not only that but Paul provides us with an example! He had heard that some were disagreeing about who it was that they were following. Let me offer some insight here. Those that were saying they follow anyone other than Christ were falling into doctrinal error. Paul did not want anyone "unified" with that error so he corrected the error.
Which brings us to the next point. Exactly what is the difference between error and false teaching? An error is a mistake that when pointed out - is changed! If the person refuses to change because they believe that this really is your best life now - then they have left the realm of error and have wandered into false teaching. The dictionary defines a heretic as:
a professed believer who maintains religious opinions contrary to those accepted by his or her church or rejects doctrines prescribed by that church.
I want us to focus in on the word "maintain", because that is the key. It is the insistence that their false teaching is right that makes it false teaching and not error. Paul provides us with another example:
This kind of talk spreads like cancer, as in the case of Hymenaeus and Philetus. They have left the path of truth, claiming that the resurrection of the dead has already occurred; in this way, they have turned some people away from the faith. - 2Timothy 2: 17-18 (NLT)