False Teachers and False Teachings

False Teachers and False Teachings

I once heard an evangelical leader speak out against a certain group with whom we evangelicals have significant disagreements. I happened to have studied this group’s teachings in considerable detail, so I listened very carefully to how he made his case against them. Much of what he said was on target, but at one point he seriously misrepresented what the group believed.

Later I approached him privately. I told him that I admired his effort to warn his fellow Christians against the group’s false teachings. But on one key point he was attributing to them something they had explicity denied teaching. There is enough bad stuff to criticize in what the group believed, I said, without accusing them of something that is not really a part of their system.

The leader responded angrily: “You intellectuals have the luxury of making all of these nice distinctions!  But  I don’t have time for all your polite stuff! My job is to warn God’s people against false teachers. These folks are false teachers and they don’t deserve to be treated fairly!” He had a sneer on his face when he said that last word, “fairly.”

This leader had adopted an anything goes strategy in opposing a group he disagrees with. When you think about it, though, there is something very strange about that approach. We want to oppose false teachers because they do not teach things that are true. But if in our attempts to defeat them we play fast and loose with the truth, by attributing to them things that they don’t in fact teach and if we don’t really care whether we have it exactly right or not then we have become false teachers: teachers of untruths!

I suggest this as a rule of thumb: focus on false teachings rather than on false teachers. When we concentrate on opposing false teachers we tend to think about defeating people which can lead to all kinds of dangers. When we concentrate on the careful examination of false teachings we are more aware of the need to speak truthfully.

We evangelicals make much of the importance of the Ten Commandments for public morality. I have no complaints about that. The Ten Commandments are the fundamental outline of how God wants human beings to live. I don’t know that we can enforce these Commandments in our public life today in some legal sense. Not every sin ought tto be made illegal. But when we talk about what makes a society go bad we do well to focus on the Ten Commandments. Even if we cannot back them up by laws, we can certainly use them in our efforts to witness to others about how the Creator wants people to behave.

Here is something to keep in mind, though. One of those Commandments tells us that God does not like it when we bear false witness to our neighbors.  G.K. Chesterton put it nicely when he wrote: “Idolatry is committed not merely by setting up false gods, but also by setting up false devils.” God is not honored when we are unfair to people with whom we disagree.



  1. Well said. Thanks for this well-worded reminder.

    Comment by Frank — August 22, 2007 @ 7:43 pm

  2. […] I have been blogging recently about the dangers, shortcomings, and evils of not being completely authentic in witness and dialogue. Richard Mouw has just posted on a similar topic, and in being more general than I has hit the nail on the head. Give his post, False Teachers and False Teachings, a read and tell me what you think. […]

    Pingback by Marhaba » Blog Archive » Setting up False Devils — August 23, 2007 @ 12:02 am

  3. […] �False Teachers and False Teachings […]

    Pingback by Sivin Kit’s Garden » Random Links 169 — August 23, 2007 @ 10:25 am

  4. I’m Not Alone!

    I’ve often blogged in frustration concerning the methods some Christians use when arguing against other Christians. Long-time readers are probably aware that I try to advocate for an attitude of charity when dealing with one’s opponents. This certain…

    Trackback by Transforming Seminarian — August 24, 2007 @ 7:27 am

  5. Well said, very helpful! Thank you for the reminder of how to posture ourselves. I’ve found myself far more competent at being shrewd as a serpent, and equally incompetent at the innocent as doves part. Thanks for the focus.

    Comment by Rev. Dave Moody — August 24, 2007 @ 11:30 am

  6. […] August 24th, 2007 at 10:19 pm (Uncategorized) In light of Mouw’s apology to the Mormon people and the recent interview on Frank Pastore’s program, the following post from Mouw is interesting…False Teachers and False Teachings (posted 8/22/07). […]

    Pingback by Mouw on False Teaching « Countercult Apologetics — August 24, 2007 @ 3:19 pm

  7. […] (Hat tip: Richard Mouw) […]

    Pingback by gideonstrauss.com » Blog Archive » Bearing witness, true or false — August 24, 2007 @ 5:49 pm

  8. I am the coordinator of ReligiousTolerance.org, a multi-faith group of five persons who follow five very different religions. One of the five is a Wiccan, who follows Wicca, an earth-based Neopagan religion.

    I have been amazed at the obvious untruths propagated in the past by some Evangelical authors when writing about Wicca. They accused Wiccans of being worshipers of Satan, of initiated curses on people, if harming children, etc.

    However, I have noted a vast improvement over the past 15 years as an increasing number of Evangelical authors have become relatively accurate in their descriptions of Wicca. They still disagree with the religion. However, at least they are treating Wicca as it actually exists and not as an imaginary religion of the author’s own creation.

    Comment by Bruce Robinson — August 25, 2007 @ 3:25 am

  9. Mouw’s Musings – False Teachers and False Teachings

    The President of Fuller Seminary makes an excellent point about the difference between false teachers and false teachings. It’s a bit like “love the sinner, hate the sin”.

    Trackback by pligg.com — August 25, 2007 @ 7:37 am

  10. Good reminder! I would add one more suggestion though. While working against false teaching is important, its even better to offer true teaching! I know that we need to take care of our own house, but we also cannot spend all of our time defining what we are against.

    Comment by Drew — August 26, 2007 @ 5:21 am

  11. Dr Mouw,

    Thank you so much for writing this piece. I have read some comments from certain self-professed Christians who make it their duty to expose false teachers/prophets by calling them ‘pulpit pimps’. In his or zeal he doesn’t deal with the false teaching per se but misrepresenting his opponents’ characters. And it really grieves my heart to read his postings because the way he writes promotes demonization of the Other rather than calling the Other back to repentance and to the preaching of sound doctrine. Such a person tarnish the Gospel which he professes to defend.

    Comment by Jason Oliver Evans — August 26, 2007 @ 3:02 pm

  12. […] I read this quote in Richard Mouw’s post on False Teachers and False Teachers. In it he warns that: We want to oppose false teachers because they do not teach things that are true. But if in our attempts to defeat them we play fast and loose with the truth, by attributing to them things that they don’t in fact teach and if we don’t really care whether we have it exactly right or not then we have become false teachers: teachers of untruths! […]

    Pingback by Spanglish Gringo » Blog Archive » False teachers, false idols, false demons — August 27, 2007 @ 12:21 pm

  13. Three of us went to a Mexican restaurant for lunch after church. We are walking on different journeys of my lives. RJ, a recent seminary graduate, who is seeking God’s guidance in her future ministry direction; LL, a recent enlisted soldier, who felt Gods’ calling to joint the Armed force to serve the country (serve the Lord in her calling); LN, a doctor’s wife and a catholic loving mother, who battling with her decisions on marriage issues.

    Every one said prayers on her own before the meal. The lunch was bit quiet due to the all the matters overwhelmingly burdened on each woman’s heart. As RL picked up the lime piece and put into her moth one by one, LL asked her with great curiosity “Is it too sour?” “Not at all. I love it” After hearing RJ’s response, LL copied and tried one piece of the small lime. Immediately, her face was twisted in great “pain”. “It is unbearable. I thought I always love sour staff. When I was little, my mother was always in shock when she watched me use vinegars as soup base for my rice bowl.” “It depend on how you eat it and how your system digest it” RJ continued to enjoy her lime pieces regardless how LL and LN had reacted on their facial expression.

    After the lunch, LL some how got a moment to share “baptize in the Holy Spirit” with LN when she asked her about her faith. Out of no where in the mist of the hot and sunny afternoon, the wind blow and kissed her face. LL knew that LN was ready to receive the Good News.


    Comment by Lan — August 27, 2007 @ 4:03 pm

  14. It’s good to hear a Christian leader advocating fairness no matter who it’s to. I appreciate that.

    Comment by Victor — August 28, 2007 @ 11:04 pm

  15. If this is true of how we should treat other Christians and Christian groups, and I agree that it is, what about how we approach and regard those of other faiths? Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, etc., and their followers are just as ‘worthy’ of our patience and humility as our brothers and sisters in Christ, are they not? It might be argued that the Samaritans represented far more than just an aberration of Judaism, but rather a significantly different Abrahamic tradition. Yet, our Lord always treated them with great respect, honored their value, used them as examples of goodness and invited them to the heavenly feast of the Kingdom based upon their trusting realization of his role as Savior. Why do we think that demonizing those of other faiths somehow makes us more secure?

    Comment by Dan — September 1, 2007 @ 2:35 pm

  16. Thirty Three Things (v. 29)

    1. Ronald Reagan: A Graphic Biography °°°°°° 2. The social-network of the Marvel Universe: Physicist Pablo Gleiser studied the social web within the fictional universe of Marvel comics, comprising 6486 characters in 12,942 issue…

    Trackback by the evangelical outpost — September 9, 2007 @ 9:39 pm

  17. I agree that we should be accurate in our descriptions of what the cults believe. Mr. Mouw has stated something that brings up another thought for me. Just because a cult publicly denies certain doctrines doesn’t mean they are telling the truth. We need to be careful to test what they say they believe with what their official publications actually teach.

    Comment by Keith Walker — September 26, 2007 @ 1:57 pm

  18. […] The story before the questions is worth the whole post: “Why is that so hard for Christians who talk so much about wanting to �reach people with the Gospel�? Why are we so afraid actually to �reach� out with an invitation to have lunch with folks with whom we disagree? Or maybe it is not so much that we are afraid, but that we don�t even think about the need to do that kind of thing. Why not?” […]

    Pingback by Sivin Kit’s Garden » Random Links 185 — October 30, 2007 @ 9:55 am