While there is a ton of material on correct theology, I’m curious to find out God’s view on bad theology.

In Paul’s letters, he seems to acknowledge the churches he addresses as brothers and sisters, while at the same time correcting some beliefs that we would consider heretical.

Are there any other insights on how God handles sincere believers having questionable theology?

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    I suggest that the entire epistle to the Galatian churches indicates how bad doctrine affects the church and how it is remedied. I am loath to try to 'summarise' the epistle or to merely pick quotes from it to make an answer. I suggest the entirety of the epistle is a satisfactory 'answer' to the question. The Son of man says, himself, 'I hate the doctrine of the Nicolaitans' which is a good example of Christ's response to falsity. But the question, I suggest is too broad for the site, and needs to be more focussed. There is an abundance of scripture could be quoted.
    – Nigel J
    Apr 6 at 22:36
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    Ultimately, none of us has our theology 100% correct. I think the distinction will be between genuine confusion and deliberate obfuscation. God sees the heart. Aug 7 at 13:22
  • I view theology as being a study that falls under the umbrella of doctrine. Incorrect doctrine is not as serious as specifically incorrect theology which at some point leads to a false god or idol worship. Jesus' most important command should clue us in. Aug 8 at 7:03
  • "Questions that can be answered from multiple Christian viewpoints are not allowed. They must be edited to ask for one perspective, or to explicitly ask for an overview of all Christian positions." Aug 9 at 4:59

2 Answers 2


I would be hesitant about claiming to know God's view on things, but a few New Testament clues may guide us in the right direction.

On the general subject of bad theology, the New Testament criticises the bad teachers, the leaders astray, more severely than those who are led astray.

James warns his brethren that those who teach “shall be judged with greater strictness”, because “we all make many mistakes” (James ch3 vv1-2, RSV). I still remember, as a nine-year old schoolboy, teaching the next boy that “there are ten tens in a hundred, ten hundreds in a thousand, and ten thousands in a million”, so I certainly know that I’m not infallible.

When Paul speaks of a time when bad teachers are making their way into households, he describes their victims merely as “weak women, burdened with sins, and swayed by various impulses”, but the teachers themselves are men opposed to the truth, “men of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith” (2 Timothy ch3 vv6-8).

He also says that if someone who is helping to build God’s church is building badly, then what he has achieved (not the man himself) will be “tested” as with fire. If his work passes the test, he will be rewarded, and otherwise he will “suffer loss” (1 Corinthians ch3 vv12-15). Paul does not explain the practical difference between reward and loss, but we know that he expected to feel pride on that day when he presented his charges to the Lord (e.g. 1 Thessalonians ch2 vv19-20), so presumably the “loss” of the careless church-builder would be, at the very least, a sense of shame as the Lord reviews his flock.

While Jesus is even more severe. Speaking of those “little ones” who believe in him with childlike faith, he says that if anyone causes them to “stumble”, then being thrown into the sea with a millstone round his neck would be preferable to his actual fate (Matthew ch18 v6).

It matters if people are teaching wrong things, because it may have the effect of misleading others and driving them away from the Lord.

But the question is about “sincere” believers, so it is necessary to consider those who have been led astray or whose minds are confused, so that the doctrine in which they believe is inaccurate. Traditional church theory has been severe against faulty understanding of theology even on points of detail. Thus the introduction of the Athanasian Creed, as printed in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (1662 version) declares that salvation depends on holding the Catholick (sic) Faith, as defined in the following exposition of the Trinity and the Incarnation, and that if anyone fails to keep that faith whole and undefiled “without doubt he shall perish everlastingly”. But I suspect this may be a symptom of the normal human drift towards legalism, which no Christian group has been able to escape entirely.

I would prefer a faith-based perspective. There is an implied distinction running through John’s gospel between believing THAT (HOTI) and believing IN (EIS or EN), which may throw light on the matter.

Believing THAT is about accepting the truth of statements. In this gospel, that means believing something specific about the nature and identity of Jesus. Thus his disciples believe that he is “the Holy One of God” (ch6 v69), or the Christ (ch11 v27). Jesus says “You have loved me and have believed that I came from the Father…” (ch16 v27) and prays “that they may believe that that thou hast sent me” (ch17 v21).

Whereas believing IN is about trust in a person. “He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (ch11 v25). “So must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life… He who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (ch3 v14, v18). My take on the relation between the two is that believing THAT is important to the extent that it helps us towards believing IN. “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” (ch20 v31). We believe THAT Jesus died on the Cross and rose from the dead, with the result that we believe IN him as Lord and Saviour.

The historic church has tended to focus on belief THAT (i.e. accurate theology) because it is easier to teach and monitor. You just ask the test questions and insist on getting the right answers. But it may be possible to trust in the Lord while having uncertainties or even doubts about some of the details of theology, and God may be willing to accept that trust as faith in himself.

But I would still recommend cross-checking these observations against what the Holy Spirit is telling you. I would not want to be a bad teacher.

  • "But it may be possible to trust in the Lord while having uncertainties or even doubts about some of the details of theology, and God may be willing to accept that trust as faith in himself." +1 Aug 7 at 13:18

The only way to answer that would be to quote verbatim what the scriptures report God as saying on the matter of incorrect theology. Fortunately, there are a couple of particular chapters in the last book of the Bible that do exactly that.

Although the Apostle John wrote this down, what he saw and heard was given directly to him in visions from the risen Christ, which God had given to Christ in the first place. The opening verses of the book of the Revelation make that clear, e.g. "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty." So, what does this Lord Almighty tell John to write in letters to be sent to seven congregations of Christians dotted around Asia Minor?

The Lord praises the fellowship in Ephesus for exposing evil people, false apostles and the lies they tell. He also knows that they hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, "which I also hate" (2:2-6). We do not have details of that group, just that they were liars, but the recipients of John's letter would know full well.

Next, he praises Christians in Smyrna for suffering tribulation due to "the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan" (2:9).

The third 'church' is based in Pergamos but they are warned about tolerating in their midst "them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate" (2:14-15).

Fourthly, the believers in Thyatira have this against them: "Thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce my servants to commit fornication" (2:20-23).

The fifth church was located in Sardis and although no specific doctrinal error is identified, they are warned that they are actually spiritually dead. They must repent and "Remember therefore how thou has received and heard, and hold fast, and repent... and watch" (3:1-3). This shows that forgetting how they received God's saving grace, forgetting hearing by the word of faith (Romans 10:8 & 17) can be a spiritually disastrous negligence. They have become lethargic and are no longer watchful. That opens the door wide to incorrect theology and practices.

Sixthly comes the Philadelphian believers who have kept God's word and have not denied his name. They are promised that liars who claim to be Jews but who are of the synagogue of Satan will be made by God to bow before them, and to know God loves them. Also, "Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth" (3:9-10).

Lastly comes quite an indictment for the church in Laodicea. God says they are lukewarm, and if that doesn't change, he will spew them out of his mouth. They have succumbed to pride and materialism (3:15-18).

Significantly, God then adds that, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent" (3:19). This shows that God desires his people to be alert so as not to tolerate lies, immorality, false teaching, spiritual indolence, pride and materialism. At the end of the first century, those particular churches would know what particular matters God was calling them to attend to. In every century there have been particular snares for God's family, and they all involve lies, immorality, false teaching, spiritual indolence, pride and materialism.

The key to not tolerating them is to remember how we received and heard the gospel of grace, and to be alert to see where any deviation starts in that area. Keeping God's word and not denying his name is said to be vital. When wrong teaching is tolerated in a fellowship, wrong behaviour will soon follow. When wrong behaviour is tolerated in a fellowship, wrong teaching will be close on its heels. Not keeping God's word leads to false teaching, while denying his name shows itself in sinful behaviour. Those two chapters in Revelation show that.

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