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Church columnist: Bible Q&A — What is “False Doctrine”?

Norm Fields

Contributing columnist

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Many times, when I write about various beliefs, you will see me refer to some things as “false doctrine” or “false teaching.” For example, last week I wrote, “Variations on this idea have found their way into such false doctrines as ‘Purgatory.’”

I realize that when I refer to something, like the teaching of Purgatory, as “false doctrine,” there may be those who take exception to such a designation because it is something they believe to be true. “True” and “false” are opposites, so something cannot be both true and false at the same time. Just as it cannot be both light and dark at the same time.

When you hear someone refer to something as “false,” that you believe to be true, it is likely to get your attention and maybe put you on the defensive about that issue. Again, I completely understand that response. It is natural to react that way when someone challenges what we believe.

However, we should also want to investigate why they call it “false doctrine.” That is where, out of an honest desire to know the truth and avoid what is false, we will come together to discuss such differences.

Just to be clear, when I refer to something as “false doctrine” I mean that it is something that is not supported by biblical truth. That is, it is something that is taught to be religiously true when, in actuality, it is not biblically accurate or true.

Again, using last week’s article as an example, the reason I referred to the teaching of Purgatory as “false doctrine” is because the idea of Purgatory is nowhere found in the Bible — at all. So, if Purgatory is nowhere found in the Bible, it should not be taught as religious truth.

To do so is to be teaching false doctrine. This is just one example and I’m certainly not trying to “pick on” those holding the doctrine of Purgatory as religiously true without any actual biblical authority to do so.

The Bible makes it clear that whatever is not taught within the Christian Covenant of Christ, i.e. the New Testament (Hebrews 8:6), is “false doctrine” if it is taught for Christian observance.

“Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” (2 Timothy 4:2–4, NKJV)

When Paul wrote to Timothy about the false teachers, Hymenaeus and Philetus, he charged them with “saying” something that the apostles and prophets had not taught. They were claiming that the return of Christ and the final resurrection “is already past” (2 Timothy 2:17, 18; cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4).

Because they were teaching something about the Christian religion that was not based in the “apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42), which is the “doctrine of Christ” (2 John 9-11), they were false teachers teaching false doctrine.

The apostle Paul makes it very clear how to tell the difference between true Christian doctrine and false doctrine. He wrote,

“I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6–9, NKJV)

If a religious teaching is different than what the apostles and prophets of the New Testament taught then it is another “gospel,” i.e. not the gospel of Christ, and the teacher thereof is “accursed.” Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be “accursed.” So, I strive to be very careful that I only teach those things that are in accordance with “sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1).

I also realize that there are many that appeal to religious authorities outside the Bible. That is, they believe that there are other writings/teachings that are to be taken as having equal, or even greater, authority as the Bible. I have often engaged such people in discussions, and I appreciate those who are willing to engage in such discussions. I have made the same request of every one.

“Please show me in the Bible where the Bible authorizes me to include other writings/teachings in my religious practices.” I know for a fact that Jesus commissioned His apostles to teach by His authority (Matthew 28:18-20; John 14:26; et al).

So, if Christ authorizes me to appeal to other material as my religious authority I will do so. Whatever book is being presented to me as “another testament of Jesus Christ” or authoritative teaching, I’m going to need to see the New Testament authority — book, chapter, and verse — for me to use that material.

If you can’t show me that, then don’t try to appeal to that authority for a religious teaching and expect me to accept it. No, according to New Testament teaching it is “false doctrine.” The apostles called it “false teachers” “speaking perverse things” (2 Peter 2:1; Acts 20:30). And, Peter said, “there will be false teachers among you” (2 Peter 2:1).

That’s a statement of certainty, I know for a fact that there are those teaching false doctrine in the name of Christ because the Bible tells me so! No, thank you! Not for me.

Norm Fields is the minister for the Church of Christ Northside meeting at 1101 Hogansville Road in LaGrange. He may be reached at 706-812-9950 or BibleQnA@NormFields.com.