The apostle Paul warned the Corinthian brethren to forgive and reaffirm their love for the brother whom they had chastened for wrongdoing, as Paul himself had already done, “lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Cor 2:6-11). Something as ‘simple’ as discipline can be used by Satan to divided brethren unnecessarily and, if that is true, how much more when he uses false teaching to divide brethren unnecessarily? We would do well to know how he and his ministers operate so we can more easily recognize them, expose them, and take precautionary steps to avoid them.
This can be done in several ways. If the false teacher’s doctrine is being questioned, he might say, “You are only teaching the traditional teachings, not Scripture,” or stated another way, “That’s church of Christ doctrine.” He will call truth [Bible teachings and Bible passages quoted verbatim] “tradition” to try to get people to believe it is of human invention and does not come from God, diverting attention away from the fact his teaching is without Scriptural basis. This is a common fallacy of argument [diversion] and provides an easy way out of having to explain and defend one’s own teaching [get the audience to look at someone else]. Often, they will not even give a straight answer or a defense for what they are teaching — just accusations about what others are teaching. That is no way to find truth!
Another way attention may be diverted to the questioner is by the false teacher impugning the motives of the questioner and attacking his character. This, too, is a fallacy of argument which diverts attention away from the subject of dispute, and prevents anyone from reaching a reasoned understanding of truth. Often, at the same time the false teacher is impugning motives and calling names, he complains about the questioner, impugning his motives, when only the doctrine he teaches is mentioned. To see brethren resort to these strategies is an outright shame and should be disgusting to true believers!
Call Opposition An Extremist
This is a favorite tactic in political circles, and one being used more frequently among brethren. Why? Again, it is an easy way to divert attention away from the subject of dispute or the false teacher himself, and onto those questioning the content, application, or consequences of his teachings. If someone disagrees with a teaching or practice and sound reasons are given, those who teach the false doctrines [knowing they cannot defend their teaching or practice from Scripture] will simply label the opposition as ‘extremists’ who are on the outer fringes of sanity and reason. Why can’t we simply discuss the issue and leave the name-calling out of it? That will never help anyone to reach a sound and reasoned conclusion! It is a source of division and bitter feelings between brethren!
I’m Still Studying It
I have heard this very response by men who had been propagating error, but who also did not want to take responsibility for what they were teaching. They didn’t feel they owed anyone an explanation about what they had taught. They simply wanted to teach their errors and go about their merry way, moving on and refusing to answer any further questions. This is deception, pure and simple, because while they have been “studying” for decades, they continue teaching their doctrines the whole time as if they were convicted it was truth. Only when they are questioned do they suddenly feel unsure, and then claim the high ground of “not wanting to cause division.” Meanwhile, the men who question them are maligned as “divisive” for simply trying to get a straight answer.
Conclusion: The tactics we have covered today are not new, and they will not go away anytime soon. As often as truth is taught, there will be someone to preach error right alongside it, but the false teacher will always try to present himself in a favorable light while simultaneously trying to slander, malign, and impugn those who question him. Elijah was called a “troubler of Israel” by King Ahab — the real troublemaker (1 Kin 18:17, 18); the Sanhedrin accused the apostles of wrongly blaming them for the death of Jesus, when they gladly welcomed it at the time (Acts 5:28 f; Matt 27:25); and Paul and his cohorts were accused of turning the world upside down and rebelling against the Roman government by envious and unbelieving Jews (Acts 17:5-7). Please note that in all cases mentioned, the false teachers and persecutors were not interested in sitting down and having a rational discussion so all could come to a reasoned conclusion and discover the truth (Isa 1:18).
Faithful Christians should not be surprised at the tactics of false teachers because Peter has revealed some of their ways (2 Pet 2). Our duty is to expose them for what they are and keep standing for truth.