If a teacher teaches some things wrongly, but the Gospel rightly, is it OK to follow them?

A lot of people wonder when it is reasonable to leave off following a teacher. What are the standards for giving loving benefit of the doubt, and banning them completely from your mind, your church, and your home? Both are called for in the bible.

There are these verses,

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35)

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. (Romans 15:7)

And then there are these verses,

If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, (2 John 1:10)

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us  (2 Thessalonians 3:6)

How do we know when to do which?

First, it's helpful to understand the difference between brethren and teachers. All Christians are brethren, including teachers. But the standards for becoming a Christian and the standard for teachers are different.

All brethren stand on the same, equalizing blood-soaked ground. None are qualified to do so, except by the grace of Jesus and faith alone. This standard includes teachers.

But once in the Lord's kingdom through salvation, the Spirit bestows different gifts. The gift of teaching is given to some, not many, and for those, there are different standards of behavior and of scrutiny. In James  3:1-2 we read,

"Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body."

Not many of you. This indicates the seriousness of the calling. The verse also indicates the extreme fallibility in all of us. So teachers should be especially wary, because they handle the word of God, and are in a position to cause more damage and harm in Jesus' name. That is why they are judged more strictly.

So already we know that the first standard of teaching is that it is given by gift of the Spirit. It's not something that can be taught, adopted, or decided upon, and certainly not entered into casually.

The second thing we learn from that one verse alone is that it is a serious calling, and a stricter standard is given for the Christian's performance in it.

Thirdly we already know that 'not many' are given the gift.

So what are the standards for teachers from there? There are moral/behavioral standards, and there are doctrinal standards for teachers.


Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. (Titus 2:7-8)

not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. (1 Peter 5:3)

Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. (Titus 2:3

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, (Titus 2:3)


If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. (1 Timothy 4:6)

So what IS good doctrine? Well, we know that there are teachings of demons (1 Timothy 4:1). And likewise, there are teachings of God. Theologians generally categorize doctrine into ten major headings: (source MacArthur Study Bible)
  1. Holy Scriptures
  2. God the Father
  3. God the Son
  4. God the Holy Spirit
  5. Man
  6. Sin
  7. Salvation
  8. the Church
  9. Angels 
  10. Last Things
All good teachers will teach any and all ten doctrines rightly. But what about the Gospel? If a teacher teaches The Gospel rightly but some of the other doctrines wrongly, it still OK to follow that teacher?

Well, let's look at exactly what The Gospel is.

Here is 9Marks listing of the elements of the Gospel.
  • The one and only God, who is holy, made us in his image to know him (Gen. 1:26-28).
  • But we sinned and cut ourselves off from him (Gen. 3; Rom. 3:23).
  • In his great love, God sent his Son Jesus to come as king and rescue his people from their enemies—most significantly their own sin (Ps. 2; Luke 1:67-79).
  • Jesus established his kingdom by acting as both a mediating priest and a priestly sacrifice—he live a perfect life and died on the cross, thus fulfilling the law himself and taking on himself the punishment for the sins of many (Mark 10:45; John 1:14; Heb. 7:26; Rom. 3:21-26, 5:12-21); then he rose again from the dead, showing that God accepted his sacrifice and that God’s wrath against us had been exhausted (Acts 2:24, Rom. 4:25).
  • He now calls us to repent of our sins and trust in Christ alone for our forgiveness (Acts 17:30, John 1:12). If we repent of our sins and trust in Christ, we are born again into a new life, an eternal life with God (John 3:16).
If you compare the Gospel to the ten doctrines, you find the doctrines permeate the Gospel and the Gospel permeates the doctrines. A teacher must know holiness, speak of and understand how exalted God is. He or she must have a true understanding of sin. So many false teachers teach sin is just a mistake, or can be controlled, or is not our fault due to generational bondage, or any number of reasons that distance ourselves from responsibility for our sins.

A teacher must have a proper understanding of who Jesus is. There's 'this same Jesus' who will return (Acts 1:11) and 'a different Jesus' preached and taught falsely. (2 Corinthians 11:4).

A flawed teaching on the law vs. grace, of the cross, of the resurrection, or of sanctification affects the Gospel relating to those elements. Not understanding what God's wrath affects the doctrine of Last Things.

So you see, if a teacher teaches "the Gospel", they are really teaching 'the good doctrine' (1 Timothy 4:6)

In addition, if you still want to follow a teacher who seems to be teaching some things well and others poorly, remember the demon possessed slave girl.

As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” (Acts 16:17)

Is there anything inaccurate about what she said? No. Then why didn't Paul like the free advertising? Because nothing pure can come from a deceitful heart. Because her father is the father of lies. Who needs satan to advertise the Gospel when we have the pure word and holy servants to do so?

Matthew Henry commentary says of the slave girl verse,
Satan, though the father of lies, will declare the most important truths, when he can thereby serve his purposes. But much mischief is done to the real servants of Christ, by unholy and false preachers of the gospel, who are confounded with them by careless observers.
Mixing lies and truth is what satan did to Eve. And look what happened.

A little leaven leavens the whole lump. (Galatians 5:9 cf 1 Corinthians 5:6)

If a teacher is teaching wrongly have nothing to do with him or her.

That's not to say that a true teacher must teach all doctrines perfectly. We are imperfect individuals. But as I said in a previous essay, the Holy Spirit who is inside us will never allow a true teacher to remain in a false understanding. The Spirit always testifies of Jesus and points to Him, who is Truth. That's why discernment means being alert, and watchful and patient. A teacher should always be growing in Christ-likeness. A false teacher is always growing away from Christ.

1 Timothy 6:3 says that good teaching is sound doctrine according with godliness. An overseer's primary job is to "hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it."

Jesus IS Truth. Seek Him and don't compromise for anything less.


  1. Great post, Elizabeth. One other interesting thing about Acts 16:17 I have read concerns precisely what the girl actually said.

    Now, I do not know Greek (and I'd love to hear more on this from someone who does), but apparently when the girl said "These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you (the) way of salvation," in the Greek she does *not* use the definite article "he" (the).

    The Greek word used for "way" is "hodos," and it's the same word Jesus uses in John 14:6 when He says "I am the way." But Jesus said "I am HE HODOS." In other words, the definite article "he" emphasizes *the one and only way*.

    However, the girl in Acts 16:17 says, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you HODOS of salvation." Not "he hodos," just "hodos."

    Here's the thing, though. Some English translations *assume* the definite article and stick it in there, while others translate is as "a way," which is more accurate as far as I know. Again, anyone out there who really knows Greek is welcome to elaborate.

    So according to my understanding, the demon forced this girl to follow Paul and Silas around crying out "These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you *a* way of salvation," a subtlety I'm sure Satan hoped would lost on the people of Philippi.

    1. Acts 16:17 in the King James says THE way..... and that's good enough for me. The article "the" does not cease to make sense here. In fact, given the context of what is going on and also what happens after Paul calls out the evil spirit, it actually makes much more sense. It shows that her actions (continuing in sin) were not matching up with her words.... and this is why Paul was grieved. In his discernment, he knew better.... and we Christians in 2014 had better know the difference, as well..... because there is a tremendous amount of deception in our faces as we speak. Just my two cents.... :-)

  2. Interesting. I took the verses about the girl practicing divination to mean that Paul was grieved because, despite what she said about God and salvation, he knew she STILL practiced her divination and therefore knew she was not truly a believer. I assumed this because, in verse 19, after Paul had called the evil spirit out of her, it says the masters saw the hope of their gains was gone, which meant she was no longer practicing the sin that once consumed her. Perhaps, Paul knew her by her fruits? Am I misunderstanding these verses?

    1. That's how I take it too. As for how did Paul know she was proclaiming salvation via Baal and not the Spirit? It's the same way Peter knew both Ananias and Sapphira were lying. (Acts 5:3). By the Spirit, with His Spiritually given super-empowered insight

  3. I didn't mean that it was the content of what she said was grieving Paul; clearly he knew she was being controled by a demon and was being used to torment them to the point of hindering their ministry, regardless of what she was actually saying. Even if there is anything to this definite article business, the *content* of what she was saying would have been intended to influence the population of Philippi, not Paul.

    Maybe there's nothing to it. Maybe what she said legitimately means "THE way" and nothing else. I just thought maybe someone who knows Greek could confirm whether there is any ambiguity in her words, because I have read things that suggest that there is.

  4. Every teacher is wrong on some things, but we won't always know what. They are not perfect, and come with their own biases to the bible.

  5. Thanks so much for this. It's something I always wondered about. I generally start to distance myself from teachers when this happens because it's usually the beginning of a slippery slope.

    Does this also apply to Christians who are not teachers?

  6. Greg,

    the word that you are commenting on is “hodon,” which is a root of “hodos.” You are correct in that there is no definite article, thus, it reads “a way,” rather than ”the way.” Many today are willing to call the gospel “a way” of salvation, but they are not at all willing to concede that the gospel is “the way,” that is, the only way.


    1. I find this discussion interesting and would put the following pertinent question to you: A bias is either an error or a deception? How do you see the difference in the cessationist v continuationist argument as it applies to the sign gifts?

    2. I'm ignoring the word 'bias', and using 'error or deception' for the answer.

      Time reveals whether it is a temporary error or a thorough deception. The Spirit will not allow a person to persist in untruth. That's why we have to wait to see which way it will go, because both good fruit and bad fruit take time to ripen.

      At issue here for the example is John Piper. Piper has for many decades displayed sound theology. Lately he has entrenched himself in his continuationist stance. He is in error. Is this temporary, as it was for teacher Amada Bowers, and she openly repented?

      Or is Piper's error permanent and this the first worm out of the can with other theologically erroneous worms to follow? A discussion along those lines was held during and after the Strange Fire conference, where continautionist/charsmatic-mania was rebuked. The question came up- if continuationism is error (and it is) and John Piper is a continuationist, is John Piper in error? MacArthur answered:

      "My concern is not that he doesn’t seem “exegetically convinced enough to advocate” for the continuationist position with his own flock (though he has expressed his own confusion over this doctrinal issue [3]). Rather, I was making the observation that John’s commitment to the continuation of the miraculous gifts is a rare error—an anomaly—in his otherwise sound theology. It genuinely confuses me that such erudite and sound-thinking brothers like John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and others could get this issue so wrong."http://www.gty.org/blog/B140310/biblical-prophecy-and-modern-confusion

  7. Thanks Elizabeth. My concern would be - how much time do we allow this error to be rectified? Are the teachers and preachers in this category fit to teach and preach if we return to the heading of this blogpost? Your views accept that they have misinterpreted the Scripture and the whole word of God (that could refer to this topic) as we are in agreement (at least on this blog). Would they then be leaven in the body of Christ? 1 Cor 5:6-8
    6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

    I know that the chapter speaks to sexual immorality, but the principle certainly is not unique to this topic. Are we exhibiting love in being tolerant in something that is used as a tool to draw the unregenerate to accept Christ and Him crucified? It is but one spirit that would convince someone to follow Christ, and that is the Holy Spirit. When are we loving and when do we become legalistic? Do they boast that they have the sign gifts and the cessationists do not?

    1. How much time one allows depends on the individual's level of discernment, Christian love, prayers, and being led by the Spirit.

      As for your questions, again, the Spirit will lead you, if you pray seek His wisdom and read the bible. Don't ask me, ask Him. He will show you.


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