How to “root up” false teaching

5 Feb

Jesus said (Matthew 15):

10 And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” 12 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” 13 He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up.”

Bishop J.C. Ryle comments:

Respecting FALSE DOCTRINE, our Lord declares, that it is a duty to oppose it, that its final destruction is sure, and that its teachers ought to be forsaken. He says, “Every plant which my heavenly Father didn’t plant will be uprooted. Leave them alone.”

It is clear from examination of the passage, that the disciples were surprised at our Lord’s strong language about the Pharisees and their traditions. They had probably been accustomed from their youth to regard them as the wisest and best of men. They were startled to hear their Master denouncing them as hypocrites, and charging them with transgressing the commandment of God. “Do you know,” they said, “that the Pharisees were offended.” To this question we are indebted for our Lord’s explanatory declaration–a declaration which perhaps has never received the notice it deserves.

The plain meaning of our Lord’s words is, that false doctrine like that of the Pharisees, was a plant to which no mercy should be shown. It was a “plant which His heavenly Father had not planted,” and a plant which it was a duty to root up, whatever offence it might cause. It was no charity to spare it, because it was injurious to the souls of men. It mattered nothing that those who planted it were high in office, or learned. If it contradicted the word of God, it ought to be opposed, refuted, and rejected. His disciples must therefore understand that it was right to resist all teaching that was unscriptural, and to “let alone,” and forsake all instructors who persisted in it. Sooner or later they would find that all false doctrine will be completely overthrown, and put to shame, and nothing shall stand but that which is built on the word of God.

There are lessons of deep wisdom in this saying of our Lord, which serve to throw light on the duty of many a professing Christian. Let us scan them well, and see what they are. It was practical obedience to this saying which produced the blessed Protestant Reformation. Its lessons deserve close attention.

Do we not see here the duty of boldness in resisting false teaching? Beyond doubt we do. No fear of giving offence, no dread of ecclesiastical censure, should make us hold our peace, when God’s truth is in peril. If we are true followers of our Lord, we ought to be outspoken, unflinching witnesses against error. “Truth,” says Musculus, “must not be suppressed because men are wicked and blind.”

Do we not see again the duty of forsaking false teachers, if they will not give up their delusions? Beyond doubt we do. No false delicacy, no mock humility should make us shrink from leaving the ministrations of any minister who contradicts God’s word. It is at our peril if we submit to unscriptural teaching. Our blood will be on our own heads. To use the words of Whitby, “It never can be right to follow the blind into the ditch.”

Do we not see, in the last place, the duty of patience, when we see false teaching abound? Beyond doubt we do. We may take comfort in the thought that it will not stand long. God Himself will defend the cause of His own truth. Sooner or later every heresy “shall be rooted up.” We are not to fight with carnal weapons, but wait, and preach, and protest, and pray. Sooner or later, as Wycliffe said, “the truth shall prevail.”

So, Jesus and the good bishop have advised us to be aware of, gaurd against, and root up false doctrine and teachers.  But how?  No process will be perfect of course.  But this is one major reason why reformed, confessional, and creedal Christians are in fact reformed, confessional, and creedal.  Familiarity with church history, a theologically learned clergy, and adherence to a received body of orthodox sound teaching found in good confessions and creeds, are perhaps the best means of protecting against false teaching (which comes alone usually innocent enough).  If a teacher’s insights, no matter how fresh, no matter if he is personally winsome and caring and loving, is brand spanking new, not to be found in the received wisdom and interpretations in ancient creeds or well developed confessions of faith (like the Westminster Confession of Faith and its Larger and Shorter Catechisms), you can probably bet it is problematic.  As R.C. Sproul has written:

R. C. Sproul has said: “Although tradition does not rule our interpretation, it does guide it. If, upon reading a particular passage, you have come up with an interpretation that has escaped the notice of every other Christian for two thousand years, or has been championed by universally recognized heretics, chances are pretty good that you had better abandon your interpretation.” (Dr. R.C. Sproul, The Agony of Deceit, pp. 34, 35)

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