I love pastors. I really do. As a minister of music’s wife, church member, and through involvement in other ministries, I’ve known a lot of them. They have a tough job that most of us wouldn’t take on in a million years. I pray for and encourage my own pastor and my pastor buddies regularly, and try to remind y’all to do the same from time to time. All this to say, I’m not a preacher-basher. Far from it.
But sometimes there’s a bit of a veering in a dangerous direction, like a vehicle heading towards the center line, among (some, not all) pastors who are momentarily distracted and might need a friendly “Hey, did you see that truck we’re about to crash into?” from their terrified, front seat passenger.
Color me terrified.
There are pastors out there who treat false teachers with kid gloves. They refuse to label anyone as a false teacher, or only vaguely allude to certain false teachers without naming names. I’d like to encourage those pastors to pull the steering wheel to the right and call a spade a spade. Yes, they need to use the label of false teacher soberly, sadly, and only after making sure, with hard evidence, that it is warranted, but enough with grown men of God pussyfooting around under the guise of “we don’t know what’s in that person’s heart” or “I’m afraid to be painted with the ‘mean old discernment blogger’ brush.”
The Bible doesn’t say anywhere that a pastor shouldn’t call someone a false teacher and warn the flock about him just because the pastor doesn’t know for sure what’s in the person’s heart or because he’s afraid of what others might think. We are all to look at their words and their behavior and judge (that’s right, I said “judge“) whether or not they are teaching what accords with sound doctrine. And if they’re not, they need to be denounced. Not in a wild-eyed, foaming at the mouth, wingnut way, but certainly loudly and decisively as a mature man of God.
We never see Paul or Jesus or Peter or Jude or any other godly man in the Bible being over-cautious about firmly calling out those who had proved themselves to be false teachers.
“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” – Jesus, Matthew 16:11
“Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites…blind guides…fools…serpents…brood of vipers.” – Jesus, Matthew 23
“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.” – Paul, 2 Corinthians 11:13-15
“For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” – Jude, Jude 4
“They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray.” – Peter, 2 Peter 2:13b-15a
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”
Paul, Galatians 1:8-9
Would pastors today be wise to use this same kind of verbiage? Maybe. Maybe not. These godly men spoke and wrote in a way that was appropriate for their time, culture, and context. Our time, culture, and context are different and may call for a different approach. But the point is, none of them were afraid to speak the truth boldly about false teachers in order to protect the sheep God had entrusted to them. And we sheep today desperately need courageous shepherds who will do the same.
Pastors, if you speak out against false teachers, there are people who will get mad at you. It’s unavoidable. But there are others who know the truth and will be cheering you on and supporting you. And there are still others you will turn back from false doctrine who will learn the truth of God’s word and love you for warning them. And their souls are worth any risk or trial.
Be encouraged, dear pastors. Be strong in the Lord. Be faithful to Him. You can do this!
Remember the words of your brother and fellow laborer Paul, who, after condemning false teachers in Galatians 1:6-9, may have anticipated the same backlash you might receive:
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.