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Combating False Teaching: The Essential Duty of Pastors in Defending the Church

by | Jan 19, 2023

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As a faithful steward of the gospel, it is the sacred duty of every pastor to combat the proliferation of false doctrine within the church. This is the urgent exhortation the Apostle Paul gave to his young protégé Timothy in the opening verses of the first epistle bearing his name. The book of 1 Timothy serves as a guide for pastors on how to lead and organize a church, and how to qualify and appoint overseers, all in light of the gospel. The Pastoral Epistles, 1 Timothy, and Titus are invaluable for pastoral training as it provides clear instruction on how to lead the church and defend against false teachers.

In his first letter to Timothy, before delving into any other pastoral duties, Paul’s primary concern is the threat of heresy. He does not lead with instructions on how to perform acts of mercy or funeral services but rather instructs Timothy on the importance of rebuking those who would spread false doctrine.

As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine,  nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship[ from God that is by faith. —1 Timothy 1:3-4

This same concern is echoed in the Pastoral epistle to Titus, where Paul exhorts Titus to “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to instruct in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Titus 1:9)” It is clear that Paul’s primary concern for Timothy and Titus was to make sure that the Church remains pure and undefiled by false teachings.

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It is a two-fold duty for every pastor to study the Scriptures: not only to properly shepherd the flock of Christ but also to defend against wolves in sheep’s clothing, false teachers who seek to lead the faithful astray. This is an important duty and one that should not be neglected. The pastor is a warrior for the Lord, called to defend the flock with the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. The Bible is not only the guide for pastoral ministry but also the weapon against false teachings.

But this duty can be daunting, and it is easy for pastors to become overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy and fear of losing members or having their church struggle. But the pastor must remember that he is a watchman on the wall, and it is his duty to sound the alarm when there is an attack, even if it means disrupting the comfortable slumber of his congregation. The pastor’s responsibility is not only to his congregation but also to God and the truth of the gospel.

The pastor is not alone in this fight, however. The Lord has equipped him with powerful weapons in the form of the whole armor of God, as outlined in Ephesians 6:10-20. It is not only the pastor’s duty but also God’s provision to protect him from the devil’s schemes. So let us take up this armor, and with the strength of the Lord, stand firm against the schemes of the devil and the spiritual forces of evil that seek to corrupt the purity of the church. It is not the pastor’s strength but the Lord’s power that will enable him to withstand and overcome the attacks of the enemy.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. —Ephesians 6:10-20

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