Future Church of England: False Teachers

There's been a bit of discussion recently around the question of false teachers, particularly with relationship to the debate on same-sex relationships.

In a couple of different venues in church recently we've been looking at Jude and 1 John, which, if you know anything about these letters, are fairly strong on this question. Jude writes about the "condemnation" of false teachers who have slipped in (Jude 4) and John writes of the "antichrists" (1 John 2:18). It's interesting that in both contexts the issue is both doctrine and behaviour and of course in Jude the same-sex sexual immorality of Sodom and Gomorrah is given as an example (Jude 7).

What becomes clear in both contexts is that (a) the false teachers are (or were) inside the church and (b) they are not really Christians (Jude 4, 19; 1 John 2:19). Some of the internet discussion has been eye-opening because people don't want to pronounce everyone who makes a mistake as a false-teacher. There is an understandable charity here. However, my observation is that in the Church of England at least, we are so "charitable" as to be unfaithful and unbiblical.

Of course it is unwise to make snap judgements about people and church leaders because of a misplaced word or sentence. However, a consistent and unrepentant pattern of dangerous teaching, or campaigning to change the doctrine of the church in a serious and dangerous way - such as teaching people that same-sex sexual relationships are biblical, which is the context (cf. 1 Cor 6:9 for why this is so serious) - seems fairly clear.

In particular, it seems to me that it is a false humility to suggest that I couldn't possibly comment on whether someone was a false teacher or not. I say that because it seems from letters like Jude and 1 John that we are required to make those decisions. I'm starting some reading on Revelation and you find the church in Ephesus being commended for doing just that (Revelation 2:2) and of course one goes on to see the failure of Pergamum and Thyatira to make the call.

I don't think in the Church of England, even amongst the evangelicals, we are too apt to call people false teacher. In fact, I think the uncomfortable reality is that far to many of us have cosied up to the false teachers, who are archdeacons and bishops and area deans, in the name of working to reform the church, or have a place at the table. I suspect we need less the call to caution and more the call to repent, repudiate and a commitment contend against such people (Revelation 2:16, 20-23; Jude 3). I'm increasingly unsure if many would ever have the courage to use the language of false teacher, antichrist or condemnation. If so, we lack the courage to use the Bible's language and we will deserve our future as timid and tepid compromisers in a church that has given up the gospel and chased after idols and we will deserve the Lord's judgement when he comes (Revelation 2:16).

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