#Write31Days – Post 23 – False Teachers

MBA

A few weeks ago, during our small group, a woman asked me how to identify a false teacher.  Specifically, her concerns were based in the fact that she, herself, was still currently learning the scripture.  The Bible tells us to test false teachers and prophets against God’s Word, but if you are currently not well versed in the scriptures… how do you begin?   I am going to share here, the advice I gave to her.  I hope that it is helpful.

 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

Matthew 7:15

  1.   Begin in prayer.  Whenever I am presented with an opportunity to hear from a new speaker, read a new book, or perhaps even attend another church as a guest… I start in prayer.  I need the Holy Spirit to be that discerning voice, that physical presence in my body, that will help me.  It is that voice you get in your head, when something just doesn’t sound right.  That knot in the pit of your stomach when you are just not comfortable in your seat.  The voice that says do not listen, flee.  I pray that God will move me away from false teachers.
  2.  Do some research.  Thankfully the internet usually abounds with information on any sort of public figure.  Most churches, organizations, and conferences have websites that will clue you into their statement of faith, allow you to see past sermons or snippets from events, etc.  I want to know who this person is, what is their background, what do they believe in, and who is in their circle of influence, who do they consider a mentor or friend.  You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep.
  3. Remember context matters.  In your research phase, you may come across blogs and articles that speak against ANY given author, speaker, or well known Pastor.  What I would challenge you to do, is to not take their word as gospel truth.  If they post a 15 second sound clip, do not take that at face value.  Instead, take the extra time and see if you can find those quotes, video clips, etc in full context.  Many things can be taken out of context, the Bible often is.  We need the full context of the statement (including who their audience was, and WHEN this was spoken) in order to make an educated decision.  If I can’t find the quote/video in full context, I disregard it.
  4. Time changes people.  I am so thankful I am not the person I was 20 years ago, 10 years ago, and even 5 years ago.  I have grown a lot in my knowledge of the scriptures.  Therefore, I will generally disregard any old quotes, writings, videos as evidence against a speaker.  To be specific, I won’t usually consider anything that is over 10 years old…. UNLESS the speaker hasn’t changed their position.  If this is the same platform being recycled every few years, then certainly it is important.  But, I recently heard a woman call a current author a “false teacher” over a comment she made over 13 years ago… when the author was barely in her twenties.  She has grown a lot since then, and that is evident in her more recent work.  Therefore I am more interested in who the person is NOW, what to they believe today versus what their inexperienced youthful self saw as truth.
  5. Cautiously ask others.   I used the word cautiously here, because we are looking at personal opinion.  Personal opinion can quickly become gossip, it isn’t always factual, and even facts that are spoken may be inaccurate.  To proceed cautiously I would suggest not asking everyone (like a general “what do you think of this person” post on social media.  That will create a STORM.  Instead look to key people whom you respect, and ask their thoughts.  This could be your Pastor, his wife, bible study leaders, etc.   It is ok if they say something along the lines of “he doesn’t sit well with me, but I can’t tell you why”.  That’s their discernment at work (see #1).  However, if they start giving you “facts”, take the time and do the research (see #2) to ensure accuracy.
  6. Keep Studying.  No matter what, keep studying the Word for yourself.  The more acquainted you become with the scriptures, the sooner you begin raising red flags at false teachers/prophets.   In the beginning, it may simply come from your greater knowledge of God’s character over knowledge of the scriptures verbatim.  If a false teacher says something that just doesn’t fall in line with the nature of God, it will stand out…. even if you can’t put your finger on the exact scripture reference at the moment.  Over time, you will become more familiar with the scriptures themselves and improve your ability to recognize scriptures that are twisted or taken out of context.

These six tips are great ways to help you begin to identify false teachers, while you are becoming a better student of the Word.  The more you know the Word, the more you know God… and the easier it is to identify those who are misusing, misrepresenting, and misquoting the Scripture.

The following are some scriptures that clue us into ways we can identify false teachers and prophets:  (bold emphasis is mine)

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. – Ephesians 5:11        False teachers/prophets are going to make claims, but their claims will not come true.  They will claim healing, but there will be none.  They will give the illusion of miracles, but they will not be real.  They will prophesy, but the prophesies won’t come true.   

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.- Romans 16:17    These are people who are trouble makers, pot stirrers, always looking for a fight and to cause trouble.  They are creating divisions in the church, and spinning scripture out of context further causing division among the body of believers.

For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.  – Romans 16:18     They are smooth talkers, who say the things we want to hear.  It sounds nice, it sounds appealing, and it may even sound like truth.  But they are not trying to serve you, or God… but only themselves.  Everything they do is for their own gain.  More money, more prestige, more celebrity, more power.  They may also speak with authority and their words may seem credible, but their intentions are to build themselves up over man… not pointing man to God.

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.  – 2 Timothy 4:3   These teachers will tell us what we want to hear in a way that sounds like truth, and even those who love God will fall for it… if they do not know His word for themselves.  It will sound like truth, because it will distort scripture to support their claims.

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. – 2 Peter 2:1     False teachers and prophets are sneaky, and actively sneaking their way into the lives of believers.  They won’t always stand out and boldly proclaim things contrary to the scriptures. Some will slither in to our churches, sitting next to us in pews.  And like the serpent was able to get Eve to question what God really said about eating the forbidden fruit… they will make us question what the bible means in scripture passages.  They will claim to be our sisters and brothers in Christ, but will be wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt 7:15)

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. – 1 John 4:1-3  There will be false teachers and prophets that are more obvious, speaking directly against God, speak of God without Jesus Christ, or speak of God in a way that contradicts what the scripture reveal of Him.

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.- Colossians 2:8  False teachers and prophets will use human thinking, logic, theories and empty evidences as an explanation in an attempt to discredit God or to change how we think of God.

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.   2 Corinthians 11:13-15   False teachers will also disguise themselves as leaders, not just fellow believers.  They will call themselves apostles, disciples, pastors, bishops, reverends, priests, etc.  They will use terms we are familiar with to create a credibility.  However the Word tells us that we will see through their claims by their deeds, how they behave and what actions they take.

And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. – 2 Peter 2:2   Multiple times in the scriptures we are warned that false teachers are going to be attractive to people.  They may be good looking, seem to have their lives all together, the words that flow out of their mouths will be appealing.  They will have charm, charisma, and an attractive personality.  They will seem to be financially blessed, free of difficulties in their lives, everything appears to always go in their favor.

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.

  – 1 Timothy 3:6-5

There are many, many more, scriptures that talk about the false teachers and prophets found in the Old Testament through the New Testament.    These are just a small sampling of those scriptures.  This is also not a discount to those who have received Spiritual Gifts!  Rather it is a call to all believers to be students of the word, to have a solid foundation in sound doctrine, and an intentional prayer life that keeps their focus on WHO GOD REALLY IS, WHAT HIS WORD REALLY SAYS, AND HOW GOD CONSISTENTLY ACTS.

About a year ago, I read an article written by a Christian woman on a piece of scripture that was entirely off the mark.  She ended it with an invitation to challenge her interpretation of the scripture, but only if you could support your argument with the Bible.  I responded to the article, siting multiple resources on the historical context of it.  I also included Bible verses that discounted her interpretation.  Her reply???  I don’t have enough time to address all of this individually.  I disagree with you and she listed a few quick retorts.  Then do you know what she did?  She blocked me from responding.

I followed her rules.  I had more biblical evidence than she did.  She was unwilling to even check if my evidence was accurate.  And she closed down the conversation.

What did that tell me?  False teacher.

2 Pet2:1 – false prophets among the people, false teachers among you. —– She labeled herself a Christian.

2 Tim4:3 – they will not endure sound doctrine. —– She was unwilling to consider BIBLICAL evidence.

Rom 16:17 – cause division, create obstacles to sound doctrine.  —– Her argument took scripture out of context, and was pitting Christians vs. Christians.  You were only right if you supported her “interpretation”.

Ephesians 5:11 – take no part in fruitless work, but expose it.  —– When she was rebuked using scripture, she disabled me from continuing to expose her. 

1 Tim3:6-5 – teaching a different doctrine that didn’t agree with the words of Christ.   —– She was conceited in her belief that she was right. She was creating controversy and friction among God’s people.   She was absolutely unteachable, and her deeds exposed her.  (2 Cor 11:15)

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The Ministry of the Unnoticed (Oswald Chambers, “The Love of God”)

cpiece

Currently, I am in the midst of writing a college level course on Women’s Ministry.  As part of my research, I’ve been entrenched in statistics regarding women in the church.  What percentage of the church is made up of women?  What percentage of the church volunteers are women?  A result of that research is that I have also come across articles that address the fact that women are leaving the church.  It took me to pause for a moment, because if the statistics show that women are 55% of the church body… and this with women leaving… how much higher was that number in previous years, decades????

Scouring through these articles, I noticed a fairly common thread amongst the women who were interviewed about why the left the church… they didn’t feel valued in the church.  In other words, they didn’t feel they had a place in the church.  Or, a voice in the church.  Or, that they had anything of value to offer the church.

They felt unnoticed.  Not only when they were attending, but in their absence.  No one noticed they were gone.

I’ve been there, myself.  When we moved to our current city, we knew absolutely NO ONE.  A church came highly recommend to us, and we attended there for over a year.  Every Sunday, when we would enter the church… we were treated like it was our very first visit.  Over 52 Sunday’s would pass… and this bright haired red head was given directions to the children’s Sunday school rooms.  Even the Sunday school teachers didn’t seem to acknowledge us as familiar faces.    We attended faithfully, every Sunday.   The only break we took was the few weeks after our third child was born.  We attended the social events too.  We were present in the church, very present.  We tithed every week, faithfully.  Yet, we never felt at home.  We never felt like we belonged.  And, when we made the decision to leave and find a different church…. no one noticed we were gone.

There was no Pastor call, or card form the children’s ministry director… wondering where we had gone.  No one was concerned for our welfare, and they didn’t even notice when the tithing checks stopped coming in.  We were literally invisible to the people we worshiped with every Sunday.

This morning I was reading through Oswald Chamber’s book, “The Love of God”, and a title chapter jumped off the page at me:

The Ministry of the Unnoticed

Chambers writes:  “Our Lord called twelve disciples – but what about all those other disciples of His that were not specifically called?  The twelve were called for a special purpose, but there were hundreds who followed Jesus – sincere believers in Him – who were unnoticed.”

Oswald Chambers first wrote about “The Ministry of the Unnoticed” in 1936, this is not a new phenomena in the church… of feeling unnoticed.  Chambers not only recognized it in his writing in 1936, but pointed it out in the very scriptures written about the foundations of Christianity.  There were thousands of people, serving Christ, who were unnoticed.  They were not written about in the scriptures by name, but referred to as “the crowd” or “the many”.  People, who were fully devoted followers of Christ… just like you and me, and history would never know their names. Yet, they were just as important in the forward movement of the church as any named disciple or apostle.

Chambers points out that those who were named were exceptions, the first or the most extraordinary conversions.  And as extraordinary as they were, they were still exceptions… not the rule.  He points out that, “The majority of us are unnoticed and unnoticeable people”.  He cautions, in his writing, that if we take these exceptions and make them our standard, we are going to create a big problem, producing the spiritually proud… departing from the good news and building on religion.

In Matthew 5:3, Chambers points out, the scriptures read “Blessed are the poor in spirit”; clarifying that in this reference we are not talking about the economically poor… but those who are spiritually poor.  And in the history of time, poor people are fairly common.  They make up the largest percentage of many populations around the world.  Chambers suggests that it is in this poverty of spirit, that we are able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, not on our good deeds… but in humble love, adoration, and faith.  The every day people, living lives for God… seemingly unnoticed people, who carry great amounts of influence.

If you have ever had a chance to talk to someone who serves in missions, particularly in the third world countries, you can get a glimpse into what joy looks like despite poverty.  People, who in comparison to us, have nothing… yet they give everything they can.  They share the burdens of the community, with smiles on their face because they are full of love.  Kids who don’t have many belongings, running around kicking a soccer ball in their village.  It may be the only soccer ball they have in the entire village, but you don’t hear complaints… instead you hear laughter and see the smiles on their face as they pass the ball back and forth.

These are people who go unnoticed, just like many of us feel, but they do not wallow in it.  They are thankful and joyful for what God has given them.  They find joy in Him, in their community, and in the fact they woke up that morning.  We like to call those simple pleasures, but  think they are more like profound pleasures.  Finding joy in the everyday, TRUE JOY, is profound.

We encounter people like this stateside too.  It’s the woman in the projects who gives everything to make sure kids in her neighborhood have a full belly and a place to sleep, taking the prodigals into the safety of her home.  It is the homeless man, who has nothing but a cart full of what looks like trash, who sits on the corner sharing Jesus with those who pass by.  He has a smile on his face, that we can’t explain.   It is the mother who takes a house and  makes it into a home, welcoming in the neighborhood kids every day.  The husband who toils hard every day to provide for his families needs, but turns down the overtime because he’d rather be home with his family than own that new piece of technology.   It is the child who keeps a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter in his locker, making sandwiches for the kids in his school that don’t have lunch (true story).

Every day people, doing every day things.  Unnoticed.

Or, so we think.

Jesus notices.  It doesn’t matter what man sees or doesn’t see.  We shouldn’t be doing anything for the approval of man.

I love how Oswald addresses this point, when he states:  “The true character of the loveliness that influences for God is always unconscious.  Conscious influence is always prideful and un-Christian.   When we begin to wonder whether we are of any use, we instantly lose the bloom of the touch of the Lord.  …  If we begin to examine our outflow, we lose touch with the source.”

What Chambers is identifying here, is that when we become so focused on what we are doing “for God” we end up having more concern about our deeds.  We are paying more attention to the results.  We are focused on what we are doing.  Then our sin nature takes over because we want credit for it. We want to be noticed for our deeds, by others.  We want to be noticed that we are different, by others.  When we care more about what others are thinking about us, than God… we become prideful.

“Look at me!”, we shout.  “Look at this good thing I did for God!”

Dangerous grounds.

Don’t get me wrong, we are called to be different.  But, the only thing we are called to shout from the roof tops is the GOSPEL!  When we starting pointing out or making a spectacle of our good works, we are taking credit … not giving credit.  Every good deed should be done with the point of proclaiming Christ, of turning the gaze off of us toward God.

When we want accolades and adoration, when we want someone to praise us for being “godly women”, and when we need affirmation of man… we are doing these good deeds for the wrong reason.

Instead, if we are people who are changed by Christ… our “goodness” is just a part of who we are.  We don’t need to draw attention to it any more than the lilies of the field need to get your attention.  It is their fragrance that will cause you turn your head toward them.  They don’t work hard to create that fragrance, it’s just part of who they are.  They don’t fight against each other, so you pick one lily over another.  You catch the smell on the breeze, and your head turns the field… and what do you see?

Hundreds of lilies, waving the breeze.

Doing nothing out of the ordinary.

They were there yesterday, here today, and will be there tomorrow.  They are not shouting for you too look at them, they don’t need your affirmation.  They are just simply being the very thing God called them to be.  They don’t care that there are hundreds of lilies just like them, they don’t try to change their fragrance to stand out from the rest.  They are one part of many, and that is what makes the field so beautiful.

Once, I was in Europe, as we were traveling to our next destination…. something caught my attention.  As I looked out the window of the bus, I saw a sea of golden flowers.  It was absolutely breathtaking.  When I had a chance to get a closer view, I realized they were marigolds.  THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of marigolds.  You know, those yellow and orange flowers… that we consider “weeds” in some parts of the country, “cheap filler” for garden beds in other areas.  Something so simple, so ordinary and virtually unnoticed in my neck of the woods… was absolutely STUNNING.

I think that is how God sees his people, when He looks down upon His creation.  A sea of his children, moving about, creating a beautiful mosaic of every day love, care, compassion, and service.

And, that … is STUNNING.

If you are interested in reading more about “The Ministry of the Unnoticed”, you can find it the book “The Love of God” by Oswald Chambers.  There is another booklet by this name, so you’ll want to look for this cover:

theloveofGod

It contains reprints of several of his booklets, which were written in the 1930’s and are just as relevant to today.