Qualifications of a False Teacher

There is an unfortunate turning-of-a-blind-eye when it comes to recognizing false teachers within the church. And I think the taboo of judging others in evangelical Christianity, particularly in America, has done damage to the integrity of the Church (1). Furthermore, the fact that many Christians have an un-biblical understanding of the role of the pastor means they have an un-biblical understanding of a false ‘pastor.’

When a man believes he is called to the pastorate, he must meet the qualifications set forth in Scripture. Paul gives these qualifications in his first letter to Timothy, who though had a “spirit . . . of fear” (2 Timothy 1:7), needed guidance for his task of shepherding the souls the Lord entrusted to him. And to do that he needed to train up other men of the faith to assist in that work, which is why Paul laid out the criteria, setting the standard for that role.

Pastoring a flock is more than just showing up on Sunday, delivering a sermon, shaking some hands, catching up with the folks, and then back home until the following Sunday. The pastor is responsible to care for the souls of his congregation. He is responsible for feeding the sheep a nourishing diet, the words from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4). He is also the one who is to train up men in the faith, shaping them into future ministers and pastors. He is responsible to council those going through emotional and spiritual struggles, which is a constant aspect of ministry. Meeting the needs of his people is a calling that can only be done in submission to Christ, following his lead as a servant to his people.

This special calling can be a dangerous one . . .

The author of Hebrews tells us that pastors will have to give an account for the souls of the flock (13:17). And James warns us that not many should become teachers because those “who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (3:1). It is indeed the most important calling a man can have, which is why Paul says he who “aspires to the office of overseer [pastor], he desires a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1).

So, if the accountability is steep, then the criteria must be steep as well.

He must be:

•    above reproach,
•    husband of one wife
•    sober-minded
•    self-controlled
•    respectable,
•    hospitable
•    able to teach
•    not a drunkard
•    not violent but gentle
•    not quarrelsome
•    not a lover of money.
•    He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children   submissive
•    He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.
•    He must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil (1 Timothy 3:2-7).

Peter exhorting those who are elders of the Asian churches, writes,

•    shepherd the flock of God that is among you,
•    exercising oversight . . . as God would have you . . .
•    not for shameful gain, but eagerly;
•    not domineering over those in your charge,
•    being examples to the flock. . . .
•    Humble yourselves,
•    Be sober-minded;
•    be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith (1 Peter 5:2-3, 6-9).

For the task of shepherding, these are indeed stringent qualifications and steep expectations.

However, the topic of this post is not about the qualifications of elders; rather, it is the qualifications of false teachers.

So, then, “What does a false teacher look like?”

Does he talk like a smooth-tongued car salesman?
Or, is he a quiet man, keeps to himself, and never seems to smile?
Or, maybe he is the arrogant type, full of himself, who leaves his duties to others so he can focus on growing his muscles in the gym?

While these attributes surely are unsuitable for a pastor, it doesn’t mean one is a false teacher.

Now, you may be thinking that a Mormon, a Jehovah’s Witness, or an atheist is in this class. Though it is true that one who is from a cult or an atheistic perspective holds to teachings that conflict with Scripture, the true false teachers are within the church (2 Peter 2:1).

So, then how are we to identify false teachers? What does the Bible give as ‘qualifications’ for false teachers? I will look at some key passages that will help us identify these ‘qualifications,’ of which I will give five (in no particular order).

The first warning comes directly from Jesus: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15).

1st qualification: prophets who teach what is false (i.e., conflicts with and contradicts God’s Word). So, you better know your Bible to identify this one. Be sure to read Deuteronomy 13 and 18:20-22.

2nd qualification: they come wearing sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. Have you seen or read the story of Little Red Riding Hood? Even a nasty looking wolf can resemble a sheep. The Greek word for ravenous is ἅρπαγες (harpax), which means: vicious; destructively ferocious; violently greedy, like a robber or swindler. Their motives are for personal gain, not to serve the Lord and his people. Again, know your Bible, and hold others accountable if doctrinal issues arise.

In Acts 20:29-30, Paul gives a prophetic warning to the elders of the Ephesian church. He writes, “ I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”

3rd qualification: they will come from among your own selves, speaking twisted things, to draw away other believers. I already mentioned this—they will come from among us; that is what makes them difficult to spot. Again, know your Bible; know your doctrine.

In Peter’s second epistle, he speaks of the rising of false teachers prior to this letter and speaks of the false teachers that will come.

He writes, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words” (2:1-3).

4th qualification: they will bring in destructive heresies, even denying Christ. This might be hard to imagine because it seems it would be too obvious. But that is what can happen when Christians don’t know their Bibles and are lacking nourishing, gospel-saturated preaching. They can unwittingly reject orthodox teaching because of their failure to mature in the knowledge and wisdom of God. So, the wolves prey on that lack of knowledge within the church and lead many astray. Those who believe in a Jesus different than the one of Scripture believe in a false Christ. And because of this, many factions have formed, spurning off into cultist religions (JWs, Mormonism, Unitarianism, Christian Science).

Paul, continues in the same vein as Peter, foretelling of this time to come. In 2 Timothy 4:3-4, he says, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”

5th qualification: they will teach doctrine that suits the passion of the flesh. Whenever the word passion is used in the New Testament, it is never used in reference to godliness. The flesh desires to gratify itself; they are against the Spirit, as the Spirit is against the flesh (Galatians 5:16-17).

A current example of this is in the popularity of the name-it-and-claim-it prosperity gospel movement. Many false teachers are spreading a doctrine of earthly wealth, physical health, and prosperity in the name of Christ. They get people to support their ministry, promising them great material blessings if they do so. But this only increases the wealth for the wolf. Many of these teachers have New York Time’s best sellers, TV shows and national fame outside the church.

So, just looking at these five qualifications, can you think of any pastors/teachers who meet these criteria?

Go to a Christian book store or look in the religion/Christian section in your nearest Barnes & Noble and look at which authors’ books are best sellers in the secular market.

Here are few well-known pastor/teachers teaching heterodoxy (not inline with orthodox Christianity) :

RobBell TDJakes JoelOsteen RickWarren StevenFurtickJoyceMeyer

Many of these teachers are loved by the world . . .that should be a red flag. Jude expresses clearly that those who have crept in unnoticed have been designated for condemnation, for they are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of God (v.4). False teachers have a dark destination waiting for them; they don’t belong in the church (for those false teachers who fail to repent after being rebuked for their heretical (2) doctrines)

The Lord instituted church discipline (Matthew 18) for the purpose of keeping the church holy and blameless and for restoring those who are in sin. And churches that choose to not exercise that discipline because they don’t want to be judgmental are in sin themselves. It is damaging to the health of the church because it sends the message to the other sheep that certain types of sin are acceptable.

Paul, unlike modern evangelicalism, says that we are to judge—we are to judge those who say they are one of us, those inside the church (1 Corinthians 5:11-12).

Therefore, purge the evil one among you (1 Corinthians 5:13b).

What is the key takeaway from this article? Know your BibleTest everything with Scripture

Also, make sure you are in a church that preaches expositionally, where the intent of the sermon is the intent of the passage. Pastors have been tasked by Christ to feed his sheep. The sheep will only grow on a steady diet of gospel-saturated preaching and teaching. If you are one who feels malnourished because all you are being stuffed with are opinions of your pastor, then you need to leave. Hold firm to the true doctrine in accordance with the gospel of Jesus Christ but make it known to the rest of creation.

—Romans 11:36

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1). Now, the true church is sanctified in Christ and does not have an ‘integrity’ issue in that sense. I am looking at the factions and false teaching that is quite apparent within the church but has been accepted (seeker-sensitive moralistic models, extreme charismatics, word-of-faith preachers, oneness Pentecostals, churches that except homosexuality, etc.).
2.) The definition of a heretic is one who believes and teaches a doctrine that distorts, diminishes, or is contrary to the gospel message in any way. One can hold to a different view on eschatology and not be considered a heretic because though the views differ on when he returns, none of the views deny his return (accept for full preterism). However, if one does not believe in an eternal hell, then the work of Christ on the cross to save sinners was done in vain. Scripture teaches that there is an eternal hell. But, if there is no eternal hell, then what are sinners being saved from? Christ spoke of an eternal hell, and if that were false, then that would make Christ a liar, thus voiding his sinlessness, rendering his work on the cross as insufficient, making him another fallen human, and leaving a Christian’s faith in vain because he who died on the cross did not redeem anyone. Each doctrine is linked together in the gospel message.

Why Do People’s Temporal, Finite Sins Earn Them an Eternal, Infinite Punishment?

 

One of the most offensive doctrines in orthodox Christianity, and especially to the non-Christian, is the biblical teaching of divine, eternal judgment. To most people, the idea of a loving God and a wrathful God do not go hand-in-hand. When lost people are confronted with the gospel message, most of them understand they are not perfect, have violated God’s law, and recognize that God is a just God that will not let sin go unpunished. However, the idea of God pouring out his divine judgment and placing a sinner in hell for all eternity does not sound fair or just to them.

How can God eternally punish someone for committing temporal, finite sins? The Scriptures do not give a clear reason as to why the punishment is eternal. Jesus spoke of hell and punishment more than any other person in the Bible. He made it clear that he will return and appear before all nations and will separate the sheep from the goats. They who are goats are those that are unrighteous, who did not care for his needs, welcome him in, clothe him, or visit him in prison; they will go away into eternal punishment (Matthew 25:31, 41-46). Although, when Christ ascended back to heaven, his teaching on eternal punishment seems to have gone with it.

The explanations behind the doctrine of divine punishment seem to be inferential and philosophical rather than scriptural. Likewise, those who try to develop a view contrary to the orthodox perspective have to look to possible inferences and alternative explanations as well to support it.[1] For example, Rob Bell explains that the Greek word gehenna, which meant the Valley of Hinnom, was known to be the city dump. At this dump, there was a fire that burned continually as it consumed the trash. Furthermore, he explains that the gnashing of teeth is actually the sound of the animals’ teeth gnashing as they were fighting over scraps of food.[2] And then he says, “So the next time someone asks you if you believe in an actual hell, you can always say, ‘Yes, I do believe that my garbage goes somewhere…’”[3] The various views that pastors and theologians have inferred from Scripture to show why God condemns sinners for eternity in hell are helpful—and some not so helpful. However, does Scripture explain the reasoning behind God’s decree of eternal punishment for those who reject Christ?

The New Testament has many verses that demonstrate and support the doctrine of eternal punishment (Matthew 8:12; 12:32; 25:10; Mark 9:43, 47-48; Luke 3:17; 12:5, 32; 13:28; 16:26). As mentioned previously, the words of eternal punishment come from the mouth of Jesus more than anyone else in Scripture. That makes sense considering hell is a place he created and knows more about than anyone. The idea of hell is horrific and unimaginable. The imagery of unquenchable fire that never goes out, utter darkness, and a place where the worm eats a person’s flesh and never dies is indeed dreadful. Scripture nowhere shows that the punishment of sin ever ends, and “nowhere is there a hint of any possible reversal of the last judgment.”[4]

In his message, “The Echo and Insufficiency of Hell,” John Piper says, “The length of your sin is not what makes the length of your suffering just. It’s the height of your sin that makes the length of your suffering just. The height of your sin is measured by the dignity of the one you are sinning against, and it is an infinite dignity.”[5] Piper, who is a biblically sound pastor and theologian in his own right, was merely echoing what Jonathan Edwards, theologian par excellence, said in regards to this subject:

“. . . it is not inconsistent with the justice of God to inflict an eternal punishment. To evince this, I   shall use only one argument, viz. that sin is heinous enough to deserve such a punishment, and such a punishment is no more than proportionable to the evil or demerit of sin. If the evil of sin be infinite, as the punishment is, then it is manifest that the punishment is no more than proportionable to the sin punished, and is no more than sin deserves. And if the obligation to love, honor, and obey God be infinite, then sin, which is the violation of this obligation, is a violation of infinite obligation, and so is an infinite evil. Again, if God be infinitely worthy of love, honor, and obedience, then our obligation to love, and honor, and obey him is infinitely great. – So that God being infinitely glorious, or infinitely worthy of our love, honor, and obedience, our obligation to love, honor, and obey him (and so to avoid all sin) is infinitely great. Again, our obligation to love, honor, and obey God being infinitely great, sin is the violation of infinite obligation, and so is an infinite evil. Once more, sin being an infinite evil, deserves an infinite punishment. An infinite punishment is no more than it deserves. Therefore such punishment is just, which was the thing to be proved. There is no evading the force of this reasoning, but by denying that God, the sovereign of the universe, is infinitely glorious, which I presume none of my hearers will venture to do.[6]

As compelling as this sounds, there are no scriptural texts to support this view. Nowhere does Scripture clearly tell us why God condemns the reprobate for eternity. The views proposed to address and understand this issue have been developed to some extent by engaging in inferential reasoning.[7] Here, Edwards infers God’s just action in punishing sinners for eternity based on his character—his holiness.

The holiness of God is an attribute that is completely foreign to mankind. God is not like man but only better. He is completely separate from his creation in this regard. In Isaiah 6:3, the prophet has a vision of the Lord and records the words of the seraphim surrounding God on his throne: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (ESV)[8] No creature is given this type of reverence or place of importance. His holiness is central to his nature as one who is just, merciful, and loving. Because God is holy, sin cannot be in his presence (Habakkuk 1:13). Because he is holy, he loves and executes justice on the wicked (Psalm 99:4). And because he his holy, he is love (1 John 4:8). There are those, however, that would argue from the fact that since God is love, a place of hell for eternal, punishment cannot exist. Mankind, marred by its noetic influence of sin, cannot conceive of or contemplate such a place. Furthermore, neither can it justify a reason to send someone to such a place—at least not for eternity. However, “God is a better judge of what is consistent with his goodness than we are, and it is he who says that hell is eternal.”[9]

If one comes to understand who God is, one can see how a violation of his laws can carry an egregious punishment. The creator of heaven and earth decided to create humans in his image to rule over and have dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:28). After God formed man from the dust of the ground, he breathed life into him from his nostrils making him alive (Genesis 2:7). Man is alive because of God. God’s intention was for his special creation to spread his glory, to listen to him, to love him, to obey him, and to rely on him for all things. But that did not happen. Parents understand the feeling when their child is disobedient and defiant. They do nothing but care, love, and support their child and all that they ask is for him to obey. It does not matter if their child failed to listen to them when asked to take out the trash or to remember to turn off the lights when leaving the bathroom. All acts of disobedience demonstrate a lack of love, respect, and trust in the eyes of the parents. So if a child earns himself a week of restriction in his room for not taking out the trash, on the surface that may seem harsh, but (using Piper’s words) it is not the “length” of the sin that earned the punishment, it is the “height” of the sin measured against the dignity of the offended party.

An illustration of what Piper and Edwards are talking about can be demonstrated in a scenario of a person hitting another person. For example, if a twenty-one-year-old man punches another man at a bar, he will most likely get kicked out of the bar by the bouncer and maybe get arrested but probably no jail time or any further punishment. Now, exchange the offended party for that of an elderly man. This time the twenty-one-year-old man is in the parking lot of a grocery store and decides to punch the elderly man. In this situation, another person shopping or working at the store, after observing the attack, would contact the police department. The store management or store security would, hopefully, detain the man until the cops arrive. This guy is looking at an assault charge, a misdemeanor, and is looking at some time spent in jail. Why the difference? The dignity of the offended party has heightened.

For the last scenario, take the same situation but this time the twenty-one-year-old man punches the President of the United States. The offender would be taken down by a group of secret service agents and arrested. He would be interrogated, sentenced with some serious prison time, and have a felony on his record. Again, the dignity of the offended party has increased (regardless of your opinion of the president). Now think of God as the offended party. The Scriptures speak of God’s level of dignity as the creator and sovereign Lord of the universe (Genesis 14:10; Psalm 24:1; 89:11; Psalm 104; Romans 11:36; Revelation 4:11). The height of his dignity is infinite (infinitely greater than any president), and any sin against him “is cosmic treason.”[10]

The reason God has a dignity of infinite proportions is because of his character. His holiness, love, and justice demand that he not take sin and evil lightly. And “loving persons are sometimes filled with wrath, not just despite of but because of their love.”[11] However, God is not a person like that of a man, he is utterly incomprehensible as is the level of his love for righteousness. God created humans for a purpose, and they have violated that purpose. But God has extended his grace and patience in order to lead sinners to repentance.[12]

According to human standards, people are good. They are considered good if they have not murdered anyone and do not steal. If they live by the golden rule, then they are considered good and upstanding citizens in society. However, when someone commits a murder, most people have no issue with the murderer’s punishment fitting his crime. The killing of an innocent person, that is innocent according to human standards, is a monstrosity and deserves quick and severe retribution for that injustice. The issue here is the human understanding, or lack thereof, of God’s standards. When it comes to God’s standards, the Bible says that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God . . . None is righteous, no, not one; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:23, 10, 12). In his Gospel, John writes, “people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (John 3:19-20). People by nature hate the light—that is Christ.

“Everyone has always had enough revelation to know at least that there is a God with certain characteristics (Romans 1:19-20).”[13] However, unsaved-mankind will always reject God’s law (Romans 8:7). The entire theme of Scripture is that of God redeeming mankind because of its rejection of him. So in mankind’s violation to its, as Edwards writes, “obligation to love, honor, and obey God,”[14] it has committed a sin of an infinite evil since nothing but a change of nature could result in a fulfillment of that obligation. When God casts eternal judgment on sinners for rejecting his Son, people cannot understand why God would sentence them to such a harsh punishment. However, Christ, the perfect and holy Lamb, was slain for sins he did not commit. The only one who was truly good and without sin was killed, yet no one was arrested or punished for that injustice. Most people do not take issue with the only true injustice that ever took place. In John 12:48, Jesus says, “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” The judgment is given to men because they prefer darkness to light, and so the word, not Christ, but God’s Word judges men.[15]

The Bible is clear that God demands perfection because he his perfect and holy (Leviticus 11:26; Matthew 5:48). However, because humans are sinners and far from perfection, he sent his perfect, holy Son into creation, born of woman, under the law, to live a life that mankind could never live; a life of complete obedience, love, and devotion to God to the point of death on a cross. God, in knowing the fallen nature of mankind, made a way to reconcile himself to his creation through Christ. Because “he first loved us,” (1 John 4:19) he came to his own through Christ, but his own did not know him (John 1:11). And because they did not receive his Son in faith and repentance, God’s wrath remains on them (John 3:36). The lack of submission in the affections of humans toward God is an infinite evil that, based on the dignity of the offended, requires an infinite punishment. The only way to escape from this judgment is to respond to God’s divine grace by repenting of sin and trusting in him for salvation.[16]


Conclusion

One thing that is clear in Scripture is that there is wrath for those who reject Christ (John 3:36). It is eternal and never ending. Other than God’s warning and decree of eternal punishment for the reprobate in Scripture, there is not much to go on in regards as to why the punishment is eternal. The examples given from John 3:19, Romans 1:19-20, and Romans 8:7 do shed some light on the reasons for eternal punishment. Likewise, the views John Piper and Jonathan Edwards inferred from Scripture do help in understanding the reasons behind God’s justification for eternal condemnation on the wicked. But just as mankind places an immeasurable worth on an innocent, human life without clear reasoning other than the innate understanding of the uniqueness and dignity of humanity, God, as the maker of his most glorious and precious creation—humanity—whom has an infinite level and understanding of dignity, does not have to give an explanation behind his reasons for eternal punishment for the unrepentant. The nature and character of God is reflected in his creation. “For all things were created through and for him” (Colossians 1:16). God made man in his image, and man reflects God’s character to the extent that a finite person can. People are given attributes analogous to God’s that give them the ability to see and understand the ethical, moral nature of life according to God. So just as it is in the nature and character of finite, human beings to see life as precious and irreplaceable, God, who is infinitely perfect, holy, just, irreplaceable, and in whom “we live and move and have our being,” (Acts 17: 28) sees his life as having a infinite level of dignity. And sin against him has an infinite effect that deserves infinite punishment.

—Romans 11:36
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1. L. L. Morris, “Eternal Punishment,” in Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), p. 395.
2. Rob Bell, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2011), pp. 67–68.
3. Ibid., p. 68.
4. L. L. Morris, “Eternal Punishment,” in Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, p. 395.
5. John Piper, “The Echo and the Insufficiency of Hell,” Desiring God, http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/the-echo-and-the-insufficiency-of-hell (accessed August 29, 2012).
6. Jonathan Edwards, “The Eternity of Hell Torments,” http://www.jonathan-edwards.org/Eternity.html (accessed August 29, 2012).
7. John S. Feinberg, The Many Faces of Evil (Revised and Expanded Edition): Theological Systems and the Problems of Evil, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), p. 435.
8. Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures will be taken from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, (Wheaton, IL: 2007).
9. James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001), p. 545.
10. R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, 2nd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2000), p. 116.
11. Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, Reprint. (Riverhead Trade, 2009), p. 75.
12. Sproul, The Holiness of God, p. 117.
13. Feinberg, The Many Faces of Evil, p. 403.
14. Edwards, “The Eternity of Hell Torments.”
15. C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2001), p. 124.
16. Feinberg, The Many Faces of Evil, p. 403.