Monday, 31 October 2011

False teaching, inadequate teaching and boring teaching

As we have gone through 2 Timothy we have repeatedly seen Paul warn Timothy against false teachers.  But what is a false teacher and how do we differentiate that from inadequate teaching, or just boring teaching.  Is boring teaching bad teaching, is inadequate teaching false teaching?  I just simply want to try and clarify what the difference is between the three and give some pointers on how we ought to respond to each one.

Boring Teaching
This is bible teaching that does not engage its listeners in the truth because it is either haphazard, poorly prepared, scatter gun in its approach, overly complex, lacking in application, lacking passion, or just plain dull in delivery.  We have all heard bible talks like these (and all given them if we teach others).

How ought we to respond to this?  Firstly we ought to examine our own hearts, how much of this is an issue with me?  Secondly pray and ask God to help us engage with what we can, try taking notes, commit yourself to not bad mouthing the preacher, remember their sincere hold on the truth and love for the gospel.  Above all pray for the preacher and yourself as the hearer.
Inadequate Teaching
This is in many ways in the hardest to categorise but I'll give it a shot.  This is teaching that may miss the big point of a passage entirely and get entangled in a minor point, or it may import lots of other bits of the bible into this passage, or simply use the passge as s pring board to go all over the bible instead of dealing with the passage.  It may look at a gospel but ignore the specific point of the author by implying he missed out a bit another gospel writer included.  It may lack biblical balance, it may miss the place of the passage in the big salvation history sweep of the bible.  We may be left thinking 'where did that come from?'  In Acts 18v27f we see an example of this in Apollos who is teaching passionately what he knew "though he knew only the baptism of John", and he engaged in teaching it to the Ephesians.  His motives are right his passion commendable but he understanding is lacking.

How ought we to respond?  Again we need to remember that the person has a genuine love of the truth and of the gospel.  Again we ought to examine our hearts and minds; did we exercise self discipline in listening or did we allow ourselves to zone out, did the baby wake up and we missed a key biblical step in the sermon?  We also need to avoid developing a critical spirit, we are not sermon critiques, we are not playing the role of judge in an oratory competition rating each bible talk out of 10.  We are listening to God's word.

But we also need to beware simply swallowing everything.  I remember a friend of mine once saying that above the coat pegs at their church should be a sign which read, please leave your coat and brain on the hook and pick up your 'I'm ok' mask.  It was tongue in cheek, but I wonder if there is a serious side to it, do we listen discerningly (notice that discerningly, not critically) to the teaching, searching scripture to discern the truth of what we are being taught or do we just swallow it?

If there is something we are not clear on or want further clarification on we ought to ask the preacher.  We are not to do so in a way which is aiming to score points from the preacher, but to genuinely aid our understanding of the passage.  Acts 18 is instructive for knowing how we ought to deal with such things, "Priscilla and Aquila heard him, took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately".  The fruit of their loving teaching is seen in v28 "he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Christ was Jesus".  Inadequate teaching needs loving correction by those who will disciple and lead the teacher.  I think in a local church context that responsibility falls to the church leadership.

False teaching
This is the sort of teaching which Paul has in the cross hairs in 1 and 2 Timothy.  Helpfully we see there that it is marked by being in error about something that is fundamental and central to the Christian faith, so for example in 2 Timothy the resurrection.  In 2 John 7 the heretical or false teaching is the denial that Jesus came in the flesh.  It is not about something which is of secondary importance, e.g. the millennium, mode of baptism, church leadership.

The false teacher is also marked by an obstinate and determined hold on their false teaching even in the face of the plain teaching of the bible and the loving correction of other teachers who point out their error.  This means the person who mis-teaches but when corrected and taught puts it right is not a false teacher.

By its very nature false teaching is also teaching others, a false teacher is not a false believer but a false teachers of others and the bible seems to make a clear distinction between the two, that means we ought to too.

Lastly false teaching is seen in that it does not lead to; godly living (2 Tim 3v1-9).  Often false teaching may lead to legalism or licence but it does not produce spirit empowered, gospel hearted repentance and humble change.  That means we must be able to see the lives of those who teach us the bible, and ought to detect in them a struggle with sin, a sense of battling with and putting to death pride, and a growing love of grace.

False teaching is in short persistently opposed to the truths of the gospel and seeking to lead others in the same error.  Our response to false teaching and false teachers is to keep away from it!  It is like gangrene (2 Tim 2), we are to call it what it is and not allow it to be taught in our churches but still lovingly seek to win back the false teacher.

On the flip side we can help our bible teachers avoid falling into any of these traps by encouraging them to preach the bible well.  How?
  1. Pray for your bible teachers.  In 2 Tim 2v15 Paul tells Timothy to "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth."  We ought to pray this for our bible teachers.
  2. Come ready. Nothing encourages a bible teacher like teaching people who are keen to learn, read the passage before you come, engage during the talk, and ask questions of others afterwards.
  3. Resource your bible teacher.  Churches must be resourcing their bibles teachers by providing them with the means to study well, to buy commentaries, to be taught and trained themselves.  But we must also resource them time wise, not crowding out their preparation time with expectations to be at or doing other things (Acts 6 - provides a good model).
  4. Question your bible teacher.  On a personal note I love it when someone after a talk comes and genuinely asks questions about the passage, or challenges something that was said, not because it builds my ego but because it is thrilling to be part of someone grappling with and seeking to understand more of the character, plan and power of God through his word.
  5. Treat your bible teachers as a person.  Do not put your bible teacher on a pedestal, they are not infallible and it will not help them to be treated as such.  Instead treat them as a person whom you trust and love in Christ and do the same for their family.

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