Some strange teaching is making the rounds these days about "false teachers." This teaching is based upon an incomplete and limited definition of "false" as it applies to those who teach error. Supposedly, one cannot label a teacher "false" unless the teacher "willfully, knowingly, consciously and intentionally" teaches error. With this limited definition, a teacher that taught error without knowing it to be error could not be so labeled. This is not an accurate use of the term as we shall show. However, it is not strange nor unexpected to find some who are entering the "New Unity Movement" to be using this definition, particularly since they are eager to broaden the ties of fellowship with many who are embracing liberalism, institutionalism, denominationalism and other "ism’s."
In various issues of (a local bulletin), attention has been turned to the matter of labeling someone a false teacher. In a curious exchange, an apology was issued for calling this brother a false teacher, after a word study on the subject. I suggest the apology was somewhat premature in the light that all the definition of "false" was not considered in the study. Let’s do a little more study on these words.
It is true that the term "false teacher" comes from the original word "pseudodidaskalos." This is a compound word coming from the two words "pseudes" (false) and "didaskalos" (teacher). Thayer, the Greek lexicographer, gives both a specific and a general definition for the term "false." In the studies under question, only one of these definitions is considered, the specific, leading to wrong conclusions. To understand the full use of the term, however, both uses of the term should be understood.
Specifically, "pseudos" (false) is defined as "a lie; conscious and intentional falsehood"(Thayer, page 676). Thus, something can be said to be false under these specific conditions. However, it is in error to limit the use of "false" only to this specific use.
Further down in this same word study, still on page 676 under "pseudo," Thayer says that "false" also means, "In a broad sense, whatever is not what it professes to be: so of perverse, impious, deceitful precepts." This part of the definition is ignored by some. Consequently, they draw an unwarranted conclusion that one must "willfully, knowingly, consciously and intentionally" teach error before it is error. Thayer says that error, generally, is simply something that "is not what it professes to be," i.e., truth. There is nothing inherent in this word that forces one to know the condition of heart of the teacher (willful, intentional, etc.) before he can be said to be a "false teacher." Error is error and one who teaches it is wrong, whether he is honest or a liar.
If we use the limited definition of "false teacher," we are forced into an impossible position of having to be "heart judgers." If error is being taught, according to some we cannot call that teacher a "false teacher" unless he "willfully, knowingly, consciously and intentionally" does so. Now let’s apply that. Can you know that Billy Graham "willfully, knowingly, consciously and intentionally" teaches error? How about Oral Roberts? Pope John Paul II? Herbert Armstrong? Etc., etc., including every denominational preacher. There is not a man on earth today who can prove that any teacher of error does so "willfully, knowingly, consciously an intentionally"! To do so, one would indeed have to read hearts. Yet Jesus said, "Judge not that ye be not judged" (Matthew 7:1). He could judge hearts; the apostles could judge hearts; but you and I cannot. Consequently, if we cannot call a man a false teacher by what he teaches, there is no way we can call him false at all for none can read his heart. The evil effect of this teaching is to remove any criteria by which a false teacher can be exposed.
And now we get down to the root of the matter! The New Unity Movement is intent on knocking down any barrier to broadened fellowship with those in error. Whether it be liberalism, institutionalism, premillennialism or any other error, we dare not oppose it, in their view, lest we limit fellowship with "all God’s children." But who are God’s children? According to the New Unity Movement, any and all who are "pious unimmersed" (thus, baptism is removed as essential to being God’s child), as well as any whose heart is sincere, whether he be in denominationalism, institutionalism, premillennialism, etc., (thus, believing and practicing error is removed from being a deterrent to being God’s child) is a Christian. Remove the smoke screen and they are saying that if your heart is right, whether you are baptized or not, and if you believe and practice error but your heart is right, you are right with God anyway! I have heard Baptist preachers preach this all my life but only recently have I heard it from those who profess to be gospel preachers! But, of course the New Unity Movement has a peculiar slant on the use of "gospel" too, so we can’t limit fellowship there either.
Brethren and friends, there is such a thing as "sound" and "unsound" doctrine. We are to support the truth and oppose error. Such has been the case since Satan led Adam and Eve astray in the garden. Not all the rhetoric and faulty definitions in the world can change the nature of truth and error. Nor can all the soft and compromising attitudes among brethren conceal false teaching or false teachers. The Bible says much more about error, false doctrine, etc., than space here permits in our study. But let’s not be moved off the sure foundation of God’s word as a reference for fellowship to the quick-sands of emotional compromise. "Contend for the faith…" (Jude 3). - Tom M. Roberts
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