- We must disagree with false teachers on the basis of what the Bible says. One should not argue with them on the utilitarian basis that their views could result in other people doing evil actions. In our calling to uphold God's truth, the Apostle Paul's perspective should be determinative: 'Let God be true, but every man a liar' (Romans 3v4 - KJV).
- We must not impute views to false teachers that are not evident from their own statements. We should avoid theological smearing. They will accuse us of negative opinions that we do not hold, so for our own integrity and credibility we must not resort to their tactics.
- We should not treat some false teachers more nicely than others. We should not be swayed by personal considerations of like and dislike in contending for the truth of the biblical gospel. Again, the Apostle Paul is our role model: 'We speak not to please men, but to please God who tests our hearts' (1 Thessalonians 2v4b - RSV).
- We should not entertain naive hopes that false teachers will be converted by our arguments. Paul was not naive in his attitude to false teachers. He recognised that the false teachers he was up against had made their own spiritual and moral choices, describing two known to him in 2 Timothy as having 'swerved from the truth' (2 Timothy 2v18 - RSV). The injunction in Jude to 'convince some, who doubt: save some, by snatching them out of the fire' (v22&23b) surely refers to the victims of false teaching because in his letter Jude, like Paul, faces up to the spiritual reality about false teachers. Like their Old Testament antecedents, they have made a deliberate choice to lead others to disobey God - 'Woe to them! For they walk in the way of Cain and abandon themselves to Balaam's error, and perish in Korah's rebellion' (v11). The point of arguing against false teachers is for the benefit of those in local churches whom they are leading astray with their spiritual and moral poison.
- One should remember that one is just as much a hell-deserving sinner as the false teacher. One should see oneself as totally dependent on God's grace in the Lord Jesus Christ for one's own submission to the authority of God's Word written. Again Paul's attitude is exemplary: 'I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost (of sinners), Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life' (1 Timothy 1v16).
- We should not use descriptive terms about a false teacher in front of a friendly audience that we are not prepared to stand by if flak flies afterwards. The language we use about false teachers must be prayerfully thought through. That is surely one entailment of obedience to the principle of Paul's pastoral command to Timothy to 'charge them (church members) to avoid disputing about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers' (2 Timothy 2v14).
At a Reform Conference several years ago, the Revd David Holloway, vicar of Jesmond Parish Church in Newcastle, very helpfully reminded delegates that the mark of a false teacher is...false teaching.