False teaching in the church is subtle. It sneaks in all shiny-like. As the rock bank Wilco put it in their song Hell is Chrome
When the Devil came
He was not red
He was chrome
And He said
Come with me
Satan doesn’t look like the Devil. Nor do his teachings. They both come in chrome.
Eugene Peterson, when commenting on the false teachings that Jesus mentions in his letters to the churches in the book of Revelation, writes,
It is unlikely that the terms “Satan” (four times), “Nicolaitans” (twice), “Balaam,” and “Jezebel” refer to any conspicuously outrageous sin or teaching that was taking place in John’s churches. Church, the head and body of Christ, is rarely defied and challenged outright from within. Sin and lies within the church work at a more subtle level. They almost always show up as a promised improvement or an extension of what has been already definitively revealed in Jesus Christ. [Practice Resurrection (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), 153]
You can’t improve upon Jesus and you can’t extend him. That word, “extension”, that Peterson uses, is meant to, I believe, make us think of something like a fake hair extension. We don’t get to take the work of Jesus and attach something to it.
False teaching is anything that improves upon or adds to the person and work of Jesus. It takes what is peripheral and makes it central. It seeks to dilute or enhance the message of the crucified and resurrected Jesus and all that he accomplished at the cross.
False teaching doesn’t come with horns nor do its proponents carry pitchforks. They smile and slither from within the body of Christ slowly adding to and/or subtracting from the person and work of Jesus.
Jesus didn’t come in chrome and he didn’t offer a flashy message. He came as a servant, was crucified on a Roman cross, and has risen from the dead in victory over Satan and his minions. The message of the gospel will always be tweaked by charlatans to offer something better than or in addition to Jesus, but the robust once-for-all accomplishment of Jesus is always the best news in the whole world. It is not chrome, but it is blood-red purifying the worst of sinners by the one-and-only Savior.