Why Can’t They Look Like Wolves instead of Poodles?

J.C. Ryle's 8 Symptoms of False Teaching


In conversation with a good friend of mine earlier this week discussing the tendency that we all have to listen to someone who is passionate, but not necessarily right, he asked the following brilliant question:  “Why can’t the wolves look like wolves instead of cute little french poodles”?

Why indeed- as much as it is frustrating, it is simple – the nature of a false teacher is that they will be passionate and persuasive.

Over 100 years ago, J.C. Ryle shared the following eight symptoms of false teaching that still has tremendous relevance for the church today.

Keep in mind that a ‘symptom’ is different than a ‘description.’ The list below shares the bad fruit of false teachers and are not necessarily signs of a false teacher—i.e. someone may be an earnest teacher (see #1 below) and not be a false one, but false teachers are often incredible zealous and passionate with their erroneous teaching. Many times, we are overwhelmed by their zeal and fail to measure their content against the standard of God’s word as we are commanded to do with all of our teachers.

1. There is an undeniable zeal in some teachers of error–their “earnestness” makes many people think they must be right.

2. There is a great appearance of learning and theological knowledge–many think that such clever and intellectual men must surely be safe to listen to.

3. There is a general tendency to completely free and independent thinking today–many like to prove their independence of judgment by believing the newest ideas, which are nothing but novelties.

4. There is a wide-spread desire to appear kind, loving, and open-minded–many seem half-ashamed to say that anybody can be wrong or is a false teacher.

5. There is always a portion of half-truth taught by modern false teachers–they are always using scriptural words and phrases, but with unscriptural meaning.

6. There is a public craving for a more sensational and entertaining worship–people are impatient with the more inward and invisible work of God within the hearts of men.

7. There is a superficial readiness all around to believe anyone who talks cleverly, lovingly and earnestly, forgetting that Satan often masquerades himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14).

8. There is a wide-spread ignorance among professing Christians–every heretic who speaks well is surely believed, and anyone who doubts him is called narrow-minded and unloving.

Ryle continues: “All these are especially symptoms of our times. I challenge any honest and observant person to deny them. These tend to make the assaults of false doctrine today especially dangerous and make it even more important to say loudly, “Do not be carried away with strange doctrine!”

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