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
• 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) :
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 Bible –Test 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.
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.