How Should Christians Handle False Teachers? #150
Hello friends – happy Wednesday to you! Today we are talking about false teachers and how (or how not…) to engage them. Our Bible readings include Numbers 36, Psalms 80, Isaiah 28 and the WHOLE BOOK OF 2nd JOHN. (Which is actually just 13 verses, and makes up our focus chapter of the day.)
If you’re an adult, you’ve probably had this experience – the doorbell rings, you go to the door, and there are two nicely dressed people at the door who would like to talk to you about Jesus. It would be great if these people were actually sharing truth from the Bible, but much of the time the people who are doing door to door religious talks these days are not actually accurately teaching from the Bible – they are false teachers. Some have added Scripture to the Bible, and some have twisted the words of the Bible. How should Christians respond to these false teachers? Should we engage them in a heavy debate? Should we drop water balloons on their head? Should we call the church police? (shout out to Monty Python.) Well, before we decide, let’s read the letter of 2nd John and see what the Bible says.
7 Many deceivers have gone out into the world; they do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch yourselves so that you don’t lose what we have worked for, but that you may receive a full reward. 9 Anyone who does not remain in Christ’s teaching but goes beyond it does not have God. The one who remains in that teaching, this one has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your home, and do not greet him; 11 for the one who greets him shares in his evil works.
2nd John 7-11
So – that’s quite clear, I think. This seems to be a prohibition to Christians to NOT welcome, engage, or even greet those that are involved in the spreading of false teaching – because welcoming and greeting such people only serves to ‘share in their evil works.’ By this, I think John means that most false teachers are looking for dialog and debate – and when you welcome/greet them (especially those teachers going door to door) they are better able to proclaim their teachings. I note here that the King James version forbids Christians from ‘bidding him godspeed.’ So, if you are a false teacher that is listening to this podcast, please stop listening in the last ten seconds, because I usually close by bidding people godspeed, and I don’t want to bid you godspeed!
Now, at this point – some of you are imagining John to be quite intolerant, close-minded and unkind in this instruction to not welcome or even greet false teachers. I find Spurgeon’s thoughts on this quite challenging and powerful. (Do keep in mind that this was spoken by Spurgeon in the 1800s:
“Like all men of true, powerful, and loving nature—yea, like the Lamb himself—he is capable of vehement and burning anger. This characteristic shows itself—very mistakenly indeed, and so as to need rebuke—in his proposal to call down fire from heaven on the Samaritan village that would not receive Jesus. It shows itself also—so as not to need rebuke—very largely throughout his writings. Nowhere else, save from the lips of Incarnate Mercy, do we find such awful words launched against sin: all the more terrible that they are so very calm, and so evidently proceed from a tender and loving heart.* Because he speaks so much of love, he has frequently been pictured as one of those shrinking and yielding natures, deficient in nerve and stamina, unfit for the battle-strife, that are left at home to comfort the women and children; whereas, in reality, though gentle as a child, he carries in his bosom the germ of all strength and heroism; and the volume and force of his being are as remarkable as its quality. He is not in the least sentimental. Nowhere does he exhibit trace or taint of that false ‘liberality’ which bids truth and lie shake hands and be friends, or judicially binds them over to keep the peace; far less of that ‘philosophic breadth’ which places Jesus Christ, Zoroaster, Sakya-Mouni, Mahomet (and why not by-and-by Joseph Smith?) in the same Pantheon. He is full of the grand intolerance of love; incapable of compromise or truce with falsehood, however mighty or loftily throned. If a man come and bring not the doctrine of Christ, whosoever biddeth him God-speed is partaker of his evil deeds….
B. As he who aids and abets a thief cannot be an honest man, so he who encourages a false teacher is a sharer in his crime
C. H. Spurgeon, The Sword and Trowel: 1873 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1873), 249.
B. C. H. Spurgeon, The Interpreter: Spurgeon’s Devotional Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1964), 758.
I think Morris Womack does a good job explaining this passage to us, and giving us the underlying reasons why the Bible would tell us to avoid engaging with false teachers:
The “If” [at the beginning of verse 10] begins a conditional sentence and means in essence that it is likely that the recipients of this letter will encounter false teachers. Marshall comments, “we should not give any kind of practical encouragement to the false teachers.” We have heard that some cults practice scare tactics in warning their would-be proselytes to ignore any other teaching as from the devil. That would be one way for false teachers to protect their catch. John warns the Christians to identify the deceivers immediately by their speech. If what they teach is not in line with what John has described as the teaching of Christ (or the teaching about Christ), they are to be avoided entirely. Romans 12:13 is not to be applied to false teachers and deceivers. Christians are under no obligation to “practice hospitality” to them. Do not take him into your house or welcome him clearly protects family devotion to one another and to Christ.
Ross cautions about overreacting and becoming too judgmental, “We should, however, be absolutely certain that men are as far astray from Christian Truth as John’s heretics were before we think of meting out to them such treatment as John here recommends.” We would all do well to apply 1 John 4:1–6 in testing the spirits of such alleged teachers in order to protect ourselves and the fellowship of the church.
v. 11 Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.
If the readers had not learned the lesson by now, John adds to the warning by explaining that to be hospitable to deceivers is the same as being a deceiver. They would have fellowship (κοινωνία, koinônia) in wickedness! Alexander Campbell used the phrase “listening distance” or “hearing distance.” Ross comments that inviting deceivers in, “would increase their opportunities for working mischief.” Paul warned, “I urge you brothers.… Keep away from them.” (Rom 16:17). If we do not invite false teachers into our homes (churches—Acts 2:46; 1 Cor 16:19; Phlm 2), we will not come within the listening distance to be led astray!
Source: Morris M. Womack, 1, 2 & 3 John, The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1998), 2 Jn 10–11.