SRR 110 Language, Logic and False Teachers

Join Tim Shaughnessy in this episode of Semper Reformanda Radio as he discusses the tactics of false teaches and the tools we must use to spot them.

Many Christians today do not seem to realize that we are in a spiritual war, but one can hardly read the New Testament without coming to realize that from the time of its inception the Church has been under relentless attack. Throughout church history, much of this has come in the form of physical persecution and when that occurs it is easy to recognize. But there is another form of attack that is more subtle and more dangerous. It is an attack that is not just meant to kill the body but is also meant to kill the soul. This, of course, is a spiritual attack through false teaching. 

The New Testament repeatedly warns us, not only that, false teachers will come, but that when they do come it will be through great deception. Jesus warned, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15). It is not difficult to grasp the meaning of this but it is difficult when faced with the challenge of spotting a wolf in sheep's clothing. This is due to the fact that they look just like sheep.

The challenge we face is not just spotting these wolves in sheep's clothing but it is also calling it to the attention of the church. Whenever someone points out a wolf in sheep’s clothing they are sure to be confronted by others who will immediately defend the wolf by pointing out the sheep’s clothing. People get angry when others call their favorite teacher a wolf in sheep's clothing. Rather than being upset by the fact that the gospel is being subverted or obscured, it would seem that many get upset at those who call it to their attention. This is why Paul asked the Galatians “Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth” (Galatians 4:16)?

The reality is that many people have not stopped to consider the incredibly deceptive nature of false teachers. Yet, Paul also warned of the deceptive nature of false teachers when he wrote, “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13). These men were wolves in sheep’s clothing. They disguised themselves as apostles of Christ. John Robbins also saw this in scripture and wrote the following:

Heretics introduce false ideas stealthily: “But this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage” (Galatians 2:4) and “For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation...” (Jude 4). They appear to be sheep, but are not; and the ideas they teach, at least at first, appear to be true, but are not. By their smooth words, they deceive many into thinking that they are Christian brothers and the ideas they advance are Biblical.

The reason many people today are unable to accept that certain teachers are actually false teachers is that they have not wrestled with this in scripture. They wrongly assume that the wolf in sheep’s clothing is trying to deceive people out of malicious intent. When someone calls a teacher they like a wolf in sheep’s clothing they ask, “so you think he is really trying to deceive people and lead everyone astray.” Then they dismiss the warning out of disbelief because the teacher they like really is sincere in what he teaches. After all, Joel Osteen looks like a genuinely nice person. 

The truth is that these wolves in sheep's clothing believe they are sheep. These false teachers believe they are teaching the truth because they are self-deceived. Let’s not overlook the fact that Bruce Jenner has gone to great lengths to disguise himself to look like a woman because he somehow believes he is a woman. Such is the nature of self-deception. People do not seem to recognize that these deceivers do what they do and teach what they teach because they are themselves deceived. They believe they are serving and following God. This is why Jesus warned, “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God” (John 16:2). 

The Bible warns us that false teachers will come and that they will be extremely deceptive when they arrive. Therefore, it is necessary to take a moment to discuss three key insights which will allow us to navigate the murky waters of controversy and spot these false teachers.

False Teachers Use Scripture

First, we must recognize that false teachers use scripture to teach their false doctrine. This should not surprise us and we should not be duped into thinking that their teaching is therefore Biblical. It is a strange thing to realize that false teachers will use the Bible to teach their anti-biblical views. This is called twisting the scriptures and it is exactly what Satan, who is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44), did when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness. In Matthew's account we read: 

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple

6 and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, "'He will command his angels concerning you,' and "'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone'" (Matthew 4:5,6).  

When Satan tempted Jesus to prove that he was the Son of God by throwing himself down from the pinnacle of the temple he quoted Psalms 91:11,12 and twisted its meaning. Clearly, the passage is a promise from God but it did not mean that Jesus could use it to test God. This is why Jesus responded by saying, "Again it is written, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test'" (Matthew 4:7).

Today, we have countless examples of false teachers twisting scripture to teach false doctrine. Mormons will use the Bible in an effort to substantiate Mormon doctrine. Word of Faith preachers constantly use passages like John 10:10 and 2 Corinthians 8:9 to teach their false prosperity gospel. Every Christian needs to be aware of this deceptive tactic and needs to embrace the all-important principle of the Reformation that scripture interprets scripture. 

They Speak Our Language

The second insight we must learn is that false teachers use Biblical terms and orthodox language but changes their meaning. John Robbins pointed this out when he wrote, “The most effective attack on truth, the most subversive attack on the doctrine of the completeness and efficacy of the work of Christ for the salvation of his people, is always couched in pious language and Biblical phraseology.” This is why it is necessary to define our terms. However, this practice of deception is not limited to single words. When it is a single word that is given two meanings we call that equivocation but when it is a phrase we call it amphibology. 

Christians, Mormon, and Jehovah’s Witness all say that “Jesus is the son of God.” Here we have an example of both equivocation and amphibology because we all mean something entirely different by the word “Jesus” and we all mean something entirely different by the phrase, “son of God.” When Mormons speak of Jesus they mean the spirit brother of Satan and when they say he is “son of God” they mean that he was first a spirit born being who had a beginning and that heavenly father had sex with Mary in order that he should be born here on earth. When Jehovah’s Witnesses speak of Jesus they mean that he is Michael the Archangel and he is the “son of God” because he was the first thing created by Jehovah. When Christians speak of Jesus we mean that he is the second person of the Trinity and the title “son of God” means he is the unique one who is God made manifest in the flesh.   

It is essential for Christians to realize that these tactics of deception are not limited to these obvious examples. Every heretic in history has taught their heresy while using scripture and orthodox language. But there is yet a third insight we must learn and that has to do with language and logic. 

Sufficiency of Language and Necessity of Logic 

Christians must recognize that language and logic are sufficient for communication. God has given us the gift of language for communication and because we are made in his image we necessarily think in terms of logic. Therefore, we are expected to make logical deductions and inferences. The Bible speaks to us in such a way that it assumes our ability to do this and we are given numerous examples of logic scripture. 

In Matthew 22:23-28 the Sadducees attacked the resurrection by presenting Jesus a question about marriage in the afterlife. Jesus first responded by correcting their understanding of the scriptures and pointed out that marriage ends at death. Then he said:

“And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: 'I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not God of the dead, but of the living" (Matthew 22:31-32). 

The passage Jesus quoted says “I am the God of Abraham,” not “I was the God of Abraham.” The verb is in the present tense, not the past tense. In other words, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are living and Jesus refuted the Sadducees by pointing them back to scripture and then by deducing the resurrection from the tense of a verb. The Sadducees were expected to believe the resurrection and so are we, which means we are expected to believe not only that which is expressly stated but also that which may be deduced from scripture. 

This principle of making logical deductions was so vital to the Protestant Reformation that it was given confessional status in the Westminster Confession of Faith. In chapter 1, paragraph six, the Westminster divines stated that “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture...” This is critical to understanding God's word because doctrines such as the Trinity, the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Redemption are not explicitly stated in scripture but are by good and necessary consequence deduced from scripture. 

It is imperative that we be willing to make logical deductions. Unfortunately, we live in an age of anti-intellectualism and irrationalism and many people do not recognize the significant threat this poses to the church. The inability or unwillingness to make logical deductions will prevent us from understanding God's word and keep us from recognizing those who detract from it. 

Imagine two men are talking and the first man says to the second man, “all Mexicans are lazy.” 

Then the second man looks at him and asks, “why would you call Carlos lazy? He is Mexican and one of the hardest working guys I know.”

Then the first man gets upset and fires back, “I didn’t say anything about Carlos being lazy. You’re putting words in my mouth, you’re taking me out of context and you’re misrepresenting me.” 

The logic here is simple. If all Mexicans are lazy and Carlos is a Mexican, then Carlos is lazy. The second man was not misrepresenting the first man or putting words in his mouth or taking him out of context. He accepted the statement and made a valid deduction thereby ensuring that the first man was represented accurately. The first man was guilty of saying that Carlos was lazy but he chose to be irrational because of the stubbornness of his heart. He didn’t want to face the fact that he had insulted Carlos directly even though it wasn’t expressly stated. 

This type of irrational behavior is quite typical of people today. They falsely accuse others of misrepresenting them and accuse them of committing a straw man fallacy because they don’t want to accept the consequences of their position. The straw man fallacy is quite possibly the most abused and misapplied informal logical fallacy because people tend to be prideful, irrational and refuse to accept that they are wrong. But this is where the Christian needs to stand firm and insist on rational discourse. Simply because someone has reduced your position to absurdity, and you’re not willing to accept the logical conclusion, does not mean they have misrepresented you. It means you should change your views. 

We do not need to back down when people falsely accuse us of misrepresentation but we do need to be very concerned about representing others accurately and fairly. The question is how do we do this. Well, the answer really is quite simple. We accept their statements at face value, allow them to define their terms, and we make valid inferences or deductions. 

It is important, however, to point out that when we say that the deduction or inference is valid we don’t mean it is true. We simply mean that the conclusion necessarily follows from the premises. We can make a valid deduction from a false premise which would make the conclusion false. In the example above we see that the conclusion that Carlos was lazy necessarily followed from the premises but the conclusion was false. This is because the premise that all Mexicans are lazy is false. In order to have an argument that is sound, we must have true premises and a valid deduction. When we make valid deductions or inferences from scripture the arguments are always sound and the conclusions are necessarily true. This is because God’s word is truth; “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).