Four Reasons to “Call Out” False Teachers

I grew up hearing the mantra, “Be known for what you’re for, not what you’re against!” Is this mantra always helpful? Biblical? Historical?

Anyone who dares to raise the charge of material or formal biblical heresy against another must do so with humility and biblical evidence, ultimately requesting others within the true circle of Christian belief to carefully consider the assessment. Of course, this is why we wrote the book (Defining Deception), requesting that evangelicals examine the teaching and conduct of the “Third Wave/New Apostolic Reformation”[1] movement, most specifically Bethel Church and Bill Johnson in Redding, California to deduce whether Bethel’s teaching is within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy and advantageous to the legitimate gospel of Jesus Christ. Based on this, allow me provide four things to consider before we stand up to “call out” the error of a false teacher…

1. A Quest for Scriptural Clarity Does Not Need to be Hostile

It’s been well said, “Just because we’re right, doesn’t mean we need to be ugly about it.” In our modern age many steer away from complex issues in an absurd attempt to avoid conflict. However, we submit that truth and subsequent error can be presented in a way that provides clarity without overt hostility. As Church Historian Bruce Shelley wrote, “Church history shows us that Christian theology is not primarily a philosophical system invented by men in the quiet of an academic study. Doctrines were hammered out by men who were on the work crew of the church. Every plank in the platform of orthodoxy was laid because some heresy had arisen that threatened to change the nature of Christianity…”[3] This means, when confronting error, it’s important to refrain from personal name calling or storytelling, preferring to magnify the biblical and ministerial deficiencies instead.

2. Pastors Are Called to Protect Their People From Error

A pastors job description is clearly delineated in Titus 1:9. He is to live sound doctrine, teach sound doctrine, and defend people from bad doctrine. Simple! In our case (writing Defining Deception), it was important to state that the charismatic movement fired the first bow shot against typical evangelicalism more than one hundred years ago. During the Azusa Street revival, pamphlets known as circulars were sent across the country stating “signs and wonders” as the evidence of true Christianity. One of the 1910 Pentecostal Testimony circular read, “…[This movement] is drawing a line around the world, so to speak, and every person that comes in contact with it has to get on one side or the other. There is no half way grounds. Either it is a genuine outpouring of the Holy Spirit, or it is the basest fraud the world has ever seen. When signs and wonders cease it is sure evidence that the Church has drifted away from God, and that God has withdrawn His presence from it.” As referenced in the book, Bill Johnson, Bethel, and many adherents of the modern Third Wave movement agree with this turn of the century assessment (though often in private circles only) placing a “burden of proof” on non-charismatic evangelicalism to defend its position. Therefore, in that sense we were simply answering the bell and responding as requested. Your pastor may need to do the same!

3. Defending Truth is a Clear Biblical Mandate

The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “…instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith.” (1 Tim. 1:3-4) Martin Luther said, “An upright shepherd and minister must improve his flock by edification, and also resist and defend it; otherwise, if resisting be absent, the wolf devours the sheep.”[4] As mentioned in point #2 above, the church was born in doctrinal debate. Pointing our error isn’t “dividing the church” or “being against everything” it’s actually purifying the true bride of Christ! Athanasius, Irenaeus, the Reformation, the Great Awakening, even the famed hymn “Amazing Grace” were all birthed in doctrinal debate. Thank God strong men and women have chosen truth over tolerance throughout history. Support your pastor when he examines the “wolves” outside your church fences and pray for him as he points out why Bill Johnson, Joel Osteen, T.D. Jakes, and many other aberrant versions of faith, are seeking to devour and destroy your family. Shepherds who love their sheep are willing to die defending them from wolves!

4. Pastors Should Confront False Teachers Directly

Before publishing Defining Deception, in the spirit of Matthew 5 we did attempt to speak with leaders of Bethel Church but they refused. For the sake of those who questioned our attempt at “brother to brother” reconciliation, please know that our desire was to see the people of Bethel saved and appropriately living out their Christian faith. We are not ignorant or unintentional in offering our help to Bethel’s parishioners. Likewise, if you have studied God’s word deeply and discern that you have a false teacher in your hometown, as a family member, or former “friend” in ministry, don’t hesitate to sit down and point out their error. Listen. Be patient. Use Scripture. But, set up the meeting!

As you know by now, our book was not just about Bill Johnson. Much more so, it was about sola Scriptura and whether the Bible stands as our singular rule of faith and practice. As we’ve all learned, virtually nothing flowing from Bethel Church and other feel-the-presence type “miracle mills” is objectively grounded in proper interpretation of Scripture. It is mere word elasticity, and it is for this reason evangelicalism must unite in declaring this treachery unacceptable to the body of Christ.

In many ways, the tide has already began to shift as sincere Christians worldwide become more aware of the confusion surrounding Bethel Church and Bill Johnson and other health, wealth, signs, wonders, and miracle imposters. Based on this we submit that the current Third Wave/N.A.R. controversy will one day be viewed as a providential Godsend that reignited a generation around the authority and sufficiency of God’s Word.

[1] Third Wave is a name associated with the 1980’s effort of C. Peter Wagner at Fuller Seminary, with adherents such as John Wimber, to revive the signs of Pentecost. 20th century Pentecostalism was considered the first wave, 1960’s charismata the second wave, and the New Apostolic Reformation the third wave, demanding normative use of “signs and wonders.” Some adherents are now calling the NAR a “fourth wave” but that is for another book. This work specifically counters Third Wave/NAR and any use of the term “charismatic” is for purposes of readability only.

[2] Revelatory gifts is the name widely attributed to what Scripture names word of knowledge, word of wisdom, prophecy, and the discerning of spirits.

[3] Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1982), 48.

[4] Alexander Chalmers, trans., The Table Talk of Martin Luther (London: H. G. Bohn, 1857), 183.

[5] William Hordern, New Directions in Theology Today, Vol. 1, Westminster, 1966, p. 83 [as quoted by Millard Erickson, Reclaiming the Center, Crossway, 2004, p. 324]

7 thoughts on “Four Reasons to “Call Out” False Teachers

  1. Why do you connect the third-wave with New Apostolic Reformation? Especially when pastor Bill Johnson does not identify with any formal or informal relationship with the New Apostolic Reformation? The same would be true for myself. While I do identify with the third wave movement – i.e. Evangelicals that are not cessationists, who embrace the gifts of the Spirit as continuing until Jesus returns, as the early Church believed; I do not identify with the New Apostolic Reformation, nor do I know anyone who has told me they are an official part of or identify with this movement. I believe the Bible and church history teaches the gifts are to continue until the return of Jesus. I believe all five fold offices have continued in the history of the Church, even when those in the apostolic office did not believe they were, such as Ludwig von Zinzendorf, John Wesley, John G. Lake, John Wimber, Ignatius Lyola, and Francis of Asisi as examples. This view does not believe in the restoration of the offices of apostles and prophets, it believes they never ended, therefore, do not need to be restored. However, I do not believe the role of the 12 Apostles has continued. Thankfully, this is not the only use of the term apostle in the New Testament. I believe it is easy to point to failed leaders who are not biblical enough in their theology in all movements. What I am waiting to see is someone answer Jon Ruthven’s arguments from the Bible, in his book, On the Cessation of the Charismata: The Protestant Polemic on Post-biblical Miracles. In this book he thoroughly points out the failed system of B. B. Warfield, in his book, Counterfeit Miracles. Ruthven points out that Warfield’s arguments that were suppose to be based upon Bible and history fails on both counts. Warfield has an inconsistent historical method using one approach to the Bible, and another approach to the miracles after the biblical period. He accepts the first category, but when it comes to the second category Warfield applies the higher-critical methods of liberalism – which methods he totally rejects when applying to the Bible. This is an inconsistent and broken historical method. In regard to the Bible Warfield’s book actually gives very few pages to biblical exegesis. It ignores all the Scriptures that would repudiate his cessationist position and the Kingdom of God. And, the passages upon which he builds his method actually contradicts his own principles of interpretation – hermeneutics. I hope one day there is an attempt to answer Ruthven instead of attacking in general terms the third wave, charismatics, Pentecostals, and Word of Faith movements. Each of these is a different movement with different emphases, and don’t agree with each other in various areas.

    1. Randy,

      It’s great that you remind people continually you do not identify with the NAR, I applaud that. Can you help me know what you consider the difference between Third Wave and NAR?

      Also good news is that Dr. Mattera and Dr. Brown seem to be redefining the NAR from the previous generals definition (C. Peter Wagner). Do you like that change as well?

      I would like to leverage your understanding of the differences for my conversations on these topics.

      Thank You,

  2. Ignatius Lyola, and Francis of Asisi as examples.

    Wow…. false teachers are your example? There is no salvation in the Catholic church…

  3. I have a question for you guys…how theologically “right” do you believe one must be to be saved?

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