Godly elders protect the church against false teachers, says Union dean at Southern Seminary

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (SBTS) — Church leaders must be diligent to protect God’s people from the threat of false teachers, said Nathan Finn, dean of the School of Theology and Missions at Union University, during a Sept. 15 chapel at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“Friends, we need to remember that there is absolutely nothing that is cute or innocent or amusing or whimsical about false doctrine,” Finn said. “Eternity is hanging in the balance.”

Preaching from Titus 1:10-16, Finn argued false teachers are a significant enemy of God’s people. The letter of Titus presents a full picture of the Christian gospel, Finn said, and when any teacher contradicts that message, he or she is teaching false doctrine.

Nathan Finn, dean of the School of Theology and Missions at Union University, preaches in chapel at Southern Seminary, Sept. 15.
Nathan Finn, dean of the School of Theology and Missions at Union University, preaches in chapel at Southern Seminary, Sept. 15.

“Brothers and sisters, if someone is teaching anything different than this gospel, then he or she is proclaiming a false gospel, a dangerous doctrine.

In the time of Paul, false teachers who emphasized ritual purity were themselves deeply impure. They are actually unbelievers, Finn said — wolves wearing the sheep’s clothing who peddle their ministry for material gain.

“History has been filled with a long line of false teachers who have often accumulated great wealth and material possessions by selling bad doctrine to deceived people,” said Finn, who is also professor of Christian thought and tradition at Union, a position he has held since July.

Elders are the antidote to false teaching, Finn said. Their role is to understand biblical doctrine and protect God’s people by effectively teaching it to them. While most of the qualifications for eldership in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are true for all Christians, Finn said the one distinctive ability every elder must have is to teach the Bible faithfully. Speaking to future pastors, missionaries, and ministers, Finn encouraged them to cultivate competency in the Scripture by taking their spiritual growth seriously.

“Let me urge you to be men of prayer and the Word,” he said. “You need to spend a considerable amount of your time studying the Bible and learning sound doctrine so you can teach it to the people whom God has already entrusted to you or will one day entrust to you. And providentially, right now you’re in one of the best places in the world to spend focused time studying the Scriptures and learning sound doctrine.”

Finn contended that Scripture requires elders to confront false teachers, sometimes even calling them out by name. This requires wisdom, he said, since not all false doctrine is heresy, and not every Christian leader who is wrong is a heretic. But Christian ministers bear the responsibility of protecting their people from the wolves’ destructive teaching.

“[False teachers] are everywhere around us, and sometimes that even means in our very local churches. Be diligent men and women of the word who are striving to protect God’s sheep from all the different wolves that are out there, [who] try to infiltrate the body of Christ and lead God’s people astray.”

Prior to his position at Union, Finn was associate professor of historical theology and spiritual formation at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Finn is also an adjunct professor at Southern Seminary, where he is also a research fellow with the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies.

Audio and video of Finn’s chapel message are available at sbts.edu/resources.

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