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False Teachers Part 1



In this and subsequent midweek reflections, I will be addressing the reality of false teachers. We must address the threat of false teachers because faithful teaching is essential to vibrant Christianity. Indeed, since the spiritual well-being of the church is closely tied to sound and healthy teaching, false and unhealthy teaching poses a grave threat to the church’s vitality and mission. Paul charged Timothy to “preach the word” and to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2 ESV) in view of the approaching danger: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching” (2 Timothy 4:3 ESV). The biblical repository of sound doctrine, which itself is centered on the blood-bought grace of Jesus, is the soil in which good character and salty influence grow (Titus 2:1-14). Thus sound doctrine stands at the center of the church’s life: we declare the truth of the gospel in all its fullness, and then we explain how this gospel is meant to bear good fruit in every dimension of our practical everyday lives. If we would take heed to our spiritual welfare, then we must have the capacity to recognize and refuse false teachers who would lead us away from the green pastures of gospel truth.

For the sake of clear communication, let me offer a working definition of false teachers. False teachers are people who have a voice within the Christian community and who use their position and influence to steer the church family and individual Christians away from the Bible’s clear theological and moral instruction. False teachers may or may not occupy official leadership positions, but in either case they have a measure of influence upon the church community. Through their words and ideas, emphases and example, manner of life and way of relating to people, they influence people away from the gospel, away from God’s will, away from congregational unity, away from the path of righteousness, away from the demands of holy love.

The Bible has much to say about these destructive influencers – much more than we can cover in a single midweek reflection. Therefore we will devote several reflections to the topic of false teachers. In the rest of this first entry, I simply want to call attention to one thing: we should expect that false teachers will have a presence within and around our church family. What I am claiming here does not originate with me, but is found clearly in Holy Scripture.

The apostle Peter wrote, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1 ESV). There will be.

The apostle John wrote, “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.” (1 John 4:1 ESV) Many have gone out. And at least some have shown up on the church’s doorstep, which is why we have to examine whether any supposed prophet is true or false. The danger is real.

The apostle Paul said to the elders of the church in Ephesus: “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.” (Acts 20:29-30 ESV) Will come in; will arise. Fierce wolves, decked out in some beautiful sheepskin clothing, will end up “among you”, with full intent to devour. Moreover, some of the church’s own leaders will turn away from the truth and attempt to draw others into their errors.

In the life of any particular local church, there may be short seasons when the church family enjoys a stretch of stability in gospel truth. But on the basis of what Peter, Paul, and John have written to us, we must never rest easy. Because it is only a matter of time before the false teacher (2 Peter 2:1) or the false prophet (1 John 4:1) or the fierce wolf (Acts 20:29) or the treacherous insider (Acts 20:30) shows up and goes to work. In fact, by the time that we realize they have shown up, they have probably already been at work. And if we are asleep, naively assuming that we are immune and thus able to comfortably coast on spiritual auto-pilot, then we are going to be in real trouble.

“Therefore be alert” (Acts 20:31 ESV) Paul says to those Ephesian elders.

“[Test] the spirits” (1 John 4:1 ESV) John says to the beloved Christians to whom he wrote.

And after telling his faithful hearers that ignorant and unstable people are in the habit of twisting the Scriptures “to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16 ESV), Peter immediately adds this exhortation: “You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:17-18 ESV)

Be alert! Test the spirits! Take care! Grow!

Indeed, get as far away as possible from spiritual auto-pilot, and instead be resolved to grow. Grow in the grace of Jesus. Grow in the knowledge of Jesus. Grow in your grasp of all that the Bible teaches, and see to it that all that the Bible teaches is growing good fruit in your life. As you grow in these things, your spiritual radar is being built up so that, when Satan’s servant who is disguised as a servant of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:13-15) makes his first move from across the pew, you are not caught off guard.

NOTE: Header Image/Featured Image Photo by Thomas Bonometti on Unsplash

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