Throughout history, deadly epidemics have ravaged mankind. In the fourteenth century, the infamous Black Death (an outbreak of bubonic plague) killed millions in Europe. Cholera, diphtheria, malaria, and other sicknesses have ravaged towns and cities. Our generation has witnessed the rapid spread of the fatal disease Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). More deadly than any of those diseases, however, is the plague of false teaching that has afflicted the church throughout its history. While illness may kill the body, false teaching damns the soul.
Like AIDS and the plague, false teaching has a definite, observable pathology—the elements of abnormality that characterize a disease. Scientists study the pathology of a disease to better equip themselves to recognize it and to combat it.
Every leader in the church should be a spiritual pathologist, able to discern deviations from spiritual health. Only then will he be equipped to diagnose the deadly disease of false teaching, and to do what is necessary to check its spread among his people. Paul warned of the subtle danger of satanic lies, describing their purveyors as
false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds. (2 Corinthians 11:13–15)
It takes careful discernment to see that the light is really darkness. Paul taught Timothy how to diagnose satanic darkness masquerading as divine light. Here’s how he described the key symptoms that identify those infected with the spiritual disease of false teaching:
Source: The Pathology of False Teachers