Yesterday we finished our series through the one-chapter books of the New Testament (a series appropriately entitled “One”) by exploring all that was tucked inside Jude’s exhortation to “contend for the faith” (v 3). It’s a fantastic flow of 25 verses designed to keep us on mission with mercy.
Though I didn’t take questions live, I did encourage those there to still text in their curiosities and I’d address them here. Two emerged. So, as promised, here is some insight.
Q: Do you believe false teachers (wolves) are always aware of what they are, acting to deceive with lies they themselves may not believe in order to destroy God’s work? Or do they aim instead to convince others of their wrongful views simply out of false conviction?
The descriptions in Jude, 2 Peter, as well as Jesus’ own words about the Pharisees in the gospels (i.e., Matthew 23:1-36) lead me to believe that there is nothing accidental about a false teacher. Just as the Pharisees did in Jesus’ day—intentionally planning and devising a way to get rid of Jesus—so false teachers throughout history have acted similarly. They still do today. So yes, I think they act with intentional deceit in order to ultimately destroy. Their appetites are based in selfish greed, and their actions follow suit.
Your question seems to wonder if maybe false teachers “mean well” but just haven’t yet “seen the light.” So they act with good intentions even though they are misguided. Perhaps this isn’t what you meant to connote, but if it is, I encourage you to rethink that position. There are never any “good intentions” behind a false teacher’s motives or methods. Anyone who leads a charge against God’s known, written revelation and standard is knowingly subverting the Almighty’s revealed will and truth, an act that is rooted in and evidenced by deception from start to finish.
I’ve written a 4-part post on false teachers and the church’s responsibility to call them out. Should we? When? How? Why? You can read those posts by beginning here (or just search my site using the words “false teacher”).
Q: You talked about the confused, the convinced, and the committed (in terms of unbelievers) from Jude 20-23. How do you recognize these different groups in today’s world and when would you treat someone differently than others? What are some examples of these different people in today’s culture?
A: For starters, keep in mind that entire books have been written on the subject of engaging unbelievers and how to do it well based on the depth of their unbelief. So my short answer and brief bit of insight is just that—short and brief, not exhaustive.
Personally, questions tip me off to where someone is on Jude’s “unbelief spectrum.” And I gauge two things when it comes to their questions: 1) the amount of questions, and 2) the level of questions. More could be said here, but suffice it to say that confused seekers (i.e., skeptics perhaps?) will ask a lot of good, honest questions about weighty matters, while those who are convinced of or even committed to false teaching seem to limit theirs to the kind of questions intended to divert or debate, ones generated from a leader’s guided talking points, selfish agenda, or repeated rhetoric. Essentially, the more deeply entrenched someone is into false teaching, the fewer deep questions they’ll ask initially and publically. Oh, make no mistake—they’re wondering personally when it’s late and they’re in bed looking up at the ceiling. But because there’s so much at stake, they’re usually more apt to make statements than ask questions.
Curious, confused people, however, just ask the obvious and want a plain answer. And they usually keep asking till their thirst is quenched. So when you hear lots of questions from someone, be aware that he or she is, more than likely, genuinely spiritually confused. So seize the day and “contend for the faith” with great compassion. What do I do? Ask questions in return to keep the conversation going!
As far as examples, generally speaking, leaders and/or spokespersons for various religions and -isms will be more in the convinced/committed category, while the regular participant in that religion or -ism will tend to be in the curious/confused category. Whether it’s Mormonism, Jehovah Witnesses, Roman Catholicism, or any of the eastern -isms, those “up the ladder” will be less likely to ask honest questions (probably in the committed category) than one of the general adherents who may actually have lots of questions and be in the confused category. This isn’t a hard and fast rule but a general, observable trend.