Question

Can you be saved and still follow a false teacher? What of these type pastors?

Answer

Excellent question. The short answer is "yes," it is possible (see the 7 Churches of Revelation). When one is initially saved they normally know very little of the truth. All they are familiar with is the elementary truths of salvation - and even then they can not fully explain (i.e. the Trinity, etc.), but only know they have joyfully experienced them. But salvation is not dependent on how much we know (i.e. Gnosticism), but rather whom we know - a relationship with Christ (in which one will grow in spirit and truth).

The Bible specifically teaches us that as "there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them - bringing swift destruction on themselves" (2 Pet. 2:1). Thus, it is possible for Christians to follow false teachers at times and so John warns us "do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1). Their deception is so well disguised at times that they may even deceive the elect (cf. Mark 13:22).

Though the elect will never fully and completely fall away from Christ, they may still be deceived. They may be deceived pertaining to certain doctrines. In saying this we should differentiate between "error" and "false teaching." As J.C. Ryle once said in Warnings To The Churches:
Divisions and separations are most objectionable in religion. They weaken the cause of true Christianity...But before we blame people for them, we must be careful that we lay the blame where it is deserved. False doctrine and heresy are even worse than schism. If people separate themselves from teaching that is positively false and unscriptural, they ought to be praised rather than reproved. In such cases separation is a virtue and not a sin.
When I view the WCF view of Baptism (paedo) against the LBCF view of Baptism (credo) they differ. While both profess Christ, one of them are in error over this issue. They cannot be co-joined together as some attempt (New City Catechism). Someone is wrong (i.e. the credos, New City Catechism, LBCF). When we see numerous teachings on end-times - A-Mill, Post-Mill, Pre-Mill - someone is incorrect! (See Millennial Views). As serious as these examples are (where we cautiously affirm In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity but the proclamation of truth should continue to go forth; cf. Gal. 2:11) - they are not as serious as "false teachings" - like Antinomianism (see Legalism and Antinomianism: Why do I have to obey God's law?) or a works Gospel (see Justified - Galatians 2:16). See Can Catholics be Saved?

So, it is possible to be a Christian and still not understand everything fully and completely and even submit one's self to false teachers. Thus, it is imperative for the Christian to: (1) study the Scripture for themselves (2 Tim. 2:15; Rom. 12:1-2, which includes familiarity with theology, history, etc.), (2) submit themselves to others who know (and live) the truth (Eph. 4:11-16), (3) but continue to examine even what they say (and do) (1 John 4:1), and (4) confront them when there appears to be discontinuity in word and deed (Matt. 18:15f). If a saint determines a teacher to be false though he is responsible to take appropriate actions (i.e. not follow their shameful ways, 2 Pet. 2:2, etc.).

This brings us to our pastor. Since we are to "obey [our] leaders and submit to their authority [as] they keep watch over [us] as men who must give an account, [we must] obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to [us]" (Heb. 13:17), seeking a church with true biblical leadership and teaching is an imperative. We need to study and understand the Word of God and sit under a pastor trained in the Word and its interpretation. Though pastors will not be perfect in all that they say or do (1 John 1:8-10), they will be loyal to the Gospel. In addition, this is where denominations are important as they indicate a particular doctrinal understanding. Some are more correct than others. For instance, I choose to sit under the teaching of a Church that submits 'basically' to the WCF (where it agrees with the whole counsel of God) vs. one that teaches according to the LBCF. But this does not mean (1) that I disagree with everything in the LBCF (I actually agree with the majority of it - as it replicates the WCF on many points) or (2) that I necessarily agree with my pastor on "everything" he says - but I do diligently listen, learn, and change (and correct my pastor if need be) as convicted by the Scripture and Spirit. This said, though I presently attend a PCA church, I personally would not attend "every" PCA church for various reasons (i.e. opinions on New Perspective on Paul, Federal Vision, adoption of the New City Catechism, differences in worship styles, etc.). Though each true church is a part of the greater church, each is also individualized. Thus, one must pray and be diligent in following Christ in this most crucial of decisions.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).