Before you “overreact” to the title of this blog post, stop and consider it for a moment. I tried to think of another way to say it, but I couldn’t and it means EXACTLY what it says, we need to stop overreacting to false doctrines. To “overreact” means to react excessively or inappropriately. Yes, of course, we need to beware of, respond to, and rebuke false doctrines, but we need to make sure our response is appropriate and biblical. Because all too often we overreact to false doctrines by swinging to an opposite extreme.

overreacting to false doctrine

A Historical Perspective

Many of the false doctrines that exist today, in some way, began as an overreaction to other false doctrines. Here are some examples:

  • The Catholic doctrine of apostolic succession seems to have begun as an overreaction to heretics like the gnostics. The Catholic argument may have sounded something like this, “Don’t listen to those false teachers, listen to the men who were trained by the apostles, they couldn’t possibly be wrong.” Instead of appealing to Scripture, they panicked and appealed to the reliability of church leadership.
  • The Protestant idea that baptism has nothing to do with salvation may very well have been an overreaction to the ritualism of the Catholic church. The Protestants were right that water sprinkled on a baby’s head has nothing to do with salvation, because a baby lacks faith in Christ; but they were wrong to go so far as to say water has nothing to do with salvation (Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21).
  • And ecumenicalism – the idea that it doesn’t matter what you believe, we should all just come together as one – is an overreaction to the hideous dividing and denominating of “Christianity” into thousands of splinter groups.

We could go on and on, but the point is that when we see a theological error, we tend to swing to an opposite extreme and wind up holding an erroneous position ourselves.

Opposite is Not the Goal

Just because someone is wrong, doesn’t mean the opposite extreme is right. I’ve seen my brethren – even close friends – take wrong positions because they overreacted to false doctrine. And sadly, I’m quite certain I’ve been guilty of this myself.

  • Just because some people misunderstand grace, thinking it means you don’t need to respond to the gospel in obedient faith, does NOT mean we need to take a position that waters down, minimizes, or dismisses grace.
  • Just because some people allow their worship to be dictated by their emotions, does NOT mean we need to take a position against heart-felt worship or crush any signs of emotion during the worship assembly.
  • Just because some people falsely teach that you can be a practicing homosexual and a Christian, does NOT mean we need to take a position that is hateful toward homosexuals.

Taking the extreme opposite position of those who teach falsely on grace, worship, sexuality, or any other issue is not the goal of faithful Christians; but it is certainly easy to fall into this trap.

Moderate is Not the Goal

But then again, when this discussion comes up, someone usually quotes the cliché, “The truth is always somewhere in the middle.” But that’s NOT necessarily true either. And in reality, the position that truth is “always somewhere in the middle” is actually an overreaction to those who go to extremes.

Just because some people overreact and go to the opposite extremes, does NOT mean we should overreact to that and always take a moderate position.

God does not call us to be “moderate in all things.” He calls us to be a people who are radically committed to His glory. Which means there will be times when we take positions that are extremely different from those around us. So if you always take the middle ground, there will be times when your position is extremely wrong.

Biblical is the Goal

So how can we determine the right position? How can we determine the appropriate reaction to false teaching? How can we know where to stand?

Our goal should NOT be to take an opposite OR moderate position, but to take a biblical position on everything. Sometimes that will look like we’re “joining the crowd,” sometimes it will be the extreme opposite of the position everyone else seems to be taking, and sometimes it will be somewhere in the middle.

The way to determine the biblical position is NOT by making adjustments in relation to others, but in simply examining God’s word and taking a position in relation to God. Our ultimate goal is not to separate and distinguish ourselves from all the heretics. Our goal is to join ourselves with God and invite others to join us as well.

We become what we focus on. When we focus on Jesus, we become more Christ-like (Hebrews 12:2). When we focus on heretics, we become heretics.

I love you and God loves you,

Wes McAdams

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