Should we “waste time” answering false teachers?

On Sunday, I posted a link to a Christianity Today article on my Facebook Timeline. The article asked a question about the return of Benny Hinn’s brother to his pulpit only eight months after being found in adultery.

A friend, after suggesting that Hinn’s ministry is “un-biblical” (an assessment with which I whole-heartedly concur) asked if there should be “a great waste of time arguing a single issue of biblical significance with one person joined to this group?” He later suggested that I was “hunting him down to talk about him” (the “him” in question being either Hinn or his brother).

Both responses struck me as odd. The last one (that I was “hunting him down”) struck me as odd because this brother-in-Christ apparently knew something about my motivation that I didn’t know since I simply saw an interesting story and posted a link to it on Facebook. Nothing more.

But the first comment in our exchange was the one that grieved me somewhat. It occurred to me that the brother was on to something but not in the way that he thought.

This is no doubt prompted by my preaching through 2 Peter right now. The main purpose of Peter’s second epistle is to warn true believers against false teachers.

So when he asked if we should “waste time” on this the answer is undoubtedly, “Yes, we should.” Since we should, then it’s not a waste of time. Whether we find his ministry unbiblical or not is irrelevant here because many (misguided) people (even some professing Christians) do think his ministry is biblical. But even if no one but Hinn’s own mama was following him, it would still be worthwhile and necessary to point out Hinn’s error. (And while we may label this “a single issue” it is a significant issue.)

Two Reasons

Why should we address false teachers? There are many reasons, but in general, here are two reasons:

  1. This is the pattern set by Scripture. I mentioned earlier that 2 Peter as written to warn against false teachers and Jude, was too. (Jude and 2 Peter overlap significantly in content and imagery.). But we might also add Galatians, 1 John, and the Pastoral Epistles, were written all (in the case of Galatians) or in part because of false teachers or false teaching that had infiltrated the churches. Apparently Paul nor Peter nor John thought it was a “waste of time” to address false teaching, even when it did not directly affect their won congregation.
  2. In 1 Timothy 5:20, Paul tells Timothy that church leaders who are sinning ought to be “rebuked in the presence of all, that all may fear.” During Timothy’s day, the command was given in relation to elders who were sinning because the local elders were probably the only Christian leaders a given church would know and see. Today, with television, the internet, and social media, the average Christian knows many Christian leaders of all stripes and the false teacher will often use these means to gain more followers. Just as the scope of Christianity has widened, this pastoral command must also be widened to include other teachers, teachers-at-large, who influence many Christians from all traditions.

Two Objections

Two objections that my friend raised (and that you, dear reader, might be thinking of right now) are (1) that we shouldn’t seek them out to talk about them and (2) there are many issues that are more timely and relevant (he didn’t use those words, but he did say “topics of our day” and the issues he gave as examples are those that are hot-button issues at the moment).

To the first objection I answer that my friend is correct but only to a point. While I don’t think that a pastor’s ministry (or any Christian ministry) should be about what they are against or whom they are opposed to, when false teachers exert an influence on a congregation, it is the duty of the pastor and elders to address it. To fail to address it is to fail in one’s calling as a minister of truth and to fail adequately to provide care and instruction for the flock entrusted to his care. A pastor may go many years in his ministry and never have to address false teaching except in the course of his teaching/preaching through the Bible. But most pastors will, at some time or other, have to face false teaching head-on and when they do, face it they should with courage and boldness, but also with compassion and graciousness, remembering that they’re goal is not to win an argument, but to care for and protect the flock.

The second claim, that other issues are more timely and relevant, reveals a certain man-centeredness and perhaps a more than a little arrogance. Since you are claiming for yourself the right to be arbiter of what is important and what is not. Doesn’t the Bible get to define what is important and what is not? There were hot-button issues more timely and relevant to the days in which Paul and Peter and John lived and ministered as well. His choice of examples, homosexuality and abortion, are telling because both were issues known in the ancient world in which John, Paul, and Peter ministered, yet each spends almost no time addressing either of them.

Some Final Thoughts

So other issues being more relevant or timely doesn’t make this issue any less important. In fact, ignoring issues like this in one generation (because they aren’t timely or relevant) will make them bigger issues for the next generation.

Remember we’re not polishing brass on the Titanic; we’re building the kingdom of our Savior, a kingdom that will have no end. The Gospel is the answer to all our problems, timely or not, so when the Gospel is attacked, maligned, or distorted, that is the most important issue we face because everything else flows from that and it is the answer to all the other issues.

 

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About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
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