By Rick Becker 29 March 2018
The greatest threat to the church are not those who oppose the gospel, but those who distort it. Many in the visible church are fearful that the growth of other religions, godless governments, and the ongoing calamities of this world pose a threat to the church. These serve to distract from the greatest threat which comes from within – false teachers. Jesus described them as ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing – they look like sheep but feed on sheep. How do these false teachers manage to captivate and deceive millions within the visible church?
1. They are Established in the visible church.
The false teachers that present a very real and present danger are not those living on some isolated plot of land with a few hundred followers. To the contrary, they are the ones revered in the industrial evangelical complex with thousands of followers. Disguised as apostles of Christ, they speak of revival, fill stadiums, operate in signs and wonders, and claim to have new revelations for the body of Christ. Their books dominate the shelves of christian bookstores, and their conferences and courses flood the market. They are on GOD TV, TBN, and the Sid Roth show. In his epistle, Jude exhorted the saints to “earnestly contend for the faith” because “certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” Jude 4
Paul forewarned the elders at Ephesus that false teachers would come from within:
“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. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.” Acts 20:29-31
Many new or undiscerning believers are led to believe that these false teachers are the anointed ones, the ones who “hear from God.” The humble preachers who faithfully exposit God’s word are ignored in favour of the celebrity teachers who motivate, entertain, and promise something new. The enemy of the church lurks within it’s pastures!
2. They Exploit weakness.
Paul warned Timothy that in the “the last days” there will be false teachers who prey on the weak: “For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth”
2 Timothy 3:6-7
False teachers prey on the sinful desires and passions of the women mentioned in this example. They prey on those oppressed by their sins, perhaps giving them a solution not offered in scripture or alternatively, justifying their sins The result is that these women never arrived at a “knowledge of the truth.” In our generation, millions of men and women sign up for the latest “christian” course on offer by well know teachers or ministries, yet never come to know the truth. Unbeknownst to them, their weaknesses are being exploited by teachers who are peddling myths and doctrines of demons.
The parable of the sower reveals that two things “choked the word” that was sown among thorns: “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” Matthew 13:22
These two things are likewise two weaknesses that false teachers exploit – the cares and the pleasures of this world. False teachers teachers prey on those looking for an increase in wealth – the pleasures of this world. Teaching for shameful gain, they offer formulas such as seed faith giving and tithing in order to achieve prosperity. False teachers prey on those in desperate circumstances such as relationship and health issues – the cares of this world. False teachers also prey on passionate youth eager to be great in the kingdom of God. Like James and John they covet a distinguished position in the kingdom on earth, yet have no understanding of the kingdom of God or the cup of sufferings true believers will endure. The subtlety of pride deceives those who are determined to be part of a new breed of anointed revivalists that will leave a legacy. These naive youth are taught that all can prophesy, perform miracles, and the end result is a journey into mysticism, vain imaginations and even the occult. They have been deceived into believing they can rule and reign in this present world by false teachers.
“ 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.”
3. They Entice people
“These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption.” 2 Peter 2: 17-19
Their messages are appealing because they offer what the flesh desires, and justify it with scripture. The top priorities of the world include wealth and health and this is exactly what false teachers offer. The gospel they market is nothing short of a dream destiny manual and a means of self motivation. The old nature is extolled instead of being exterminated. False teachers tell their audiences they are awesome, inherently good, worthy, and deserve the best that life has to offer. False teachers make you feel like you deserve a crown, whereas the true gospel leads us to a cross. False teachers will never tell you about the cost of following Christ, but merely what you will gain. By gain, they are not referring to redemption or knowing Christ, but taking dominion and guaranteed health and wealth. In other words, they will tell you that the kingdom of God is of this world. The sobering words of A W Tozer ring hollow on the ears of those who are professional ear ticklers and their audiences: “The whole purpose of God in redemption is to make us holy and to restore us to the image of God. To accomplish this, He disengages us from earthly ambitions and draws us away from the cheap and unworthy prizes that worldly men set their hearts upon.”
Three areas that we are tempted in are recorded in 1 John 2: 15-17: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life – is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”
The devil used these three areas to tempt Jesus in the wilderness, and in two instances the devil justified his temptation with scripture. This is what false teachers do – use scripture, out of context, in order to entice and flatter their followers.
4. They Eisegete texts
You may have been in a bible study when the question is asked: “What does that verse mean to you?” The proper question should be “What was the original meaning that the author intended?” Exegesis is the result of applying hermeneutical principles to the text in order to establish the true meaning. Factors such as the type of literature (historical narrative, wisdom, law, apocalyptic etc), the context, and the difference between the law and the gospel are crucial when interpreting scripture. False teachers employ eisegesis instead of exegesis. This means that instead of rightly dividing the word and drawing out the proper meaning, they ignore the historical context and original meaning of the text. Instead, they impose their meaning into the text.
Another faulty method of interpretation is narcigesis. Eisegesis imposes a faulty meaning into the text, whereas narcigesis places you in the text. In other words, its all about you. In some cases people are actually encouraged to insert their own names into a text. You become David, and Goliath your problem etc. This self centered approach makes the gospel about you – not Christ. By modifying the gospel, false teachers are able to deceive those who accept teachings without making any attempt to emulate the Bereans and search “the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”
To give credence to their teachings, false teachers use scripture, but it is in fact an abuse of scripture due to their faulty interpretations. The visible church is in such a bad state that not only do false teachers abuse scripture, they ignore it altogether. It is common to have meetings that exclude scripture and the gospel, and the focus instead is on signs and stories.
5. They are Eloquent
False teachers are good speakers. They captivate their audience through eloquent speech.
“For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error.” 2 peter 2:18
They use high sounding words and exaggeration to fool their listeners. These words however are meaningless, devoid of the knowledge of the truth. Suave False teachers will mesmerize their followers with stories, testimonies and new revelations.
Paul lacked oratorical skill, unlike the false apostles who were skilled speakers: “Indeed, I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things.” 2 Corinthians 11:5-6
Some in Corinth had described Paul as someone who had a weak “bodily presence” and having “speech of no account” 2 Corinthians 10:10
Paul was the exact opposite of the teachers that flaunt their appearance and oratory skills on stages and behind pulpits today. Paul relied on the word of God to have it’s effect. When the word of God is rightly divided, believers are able to grow in their knowledge what of scripture actually teaches, and in the knowledge of God. Smooth talkers abound in the visible church, but despite their eloquence and fanciful stories they proclaim “another Jesus” and their followers receive a “different spirit” and a “different gospel.” (2 Corinthians 11:4)
“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. 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 16:17-18
6. They Elevate themselves
With “loud boasts of folly” they present their new teachings and tell you of their encounters with God. Their new revelations are touted as “messages for the body of Christ” as that the “Lord gave them” the word. They describe themselves in their promotional materials as “sought after speakers” and remind you of how many books they have sold. They make sure you know about the charity work they are involved in, and what great humanitarians they are. Jude 16 describes them as being: “grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage.” While claiming to be anointed, their actual condition resembles the church in Laodicea: “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” Revelation 3:17
False teachers are self centered individuals, they take credit due to others, commend themselves, compare themselves with others, and boast in themselves (2 Corinthians 10:12-18) This is how they elevate themselves, creating a successful persona that is merely a facade for a ravenous wolf. A new adulterous priesthood take trips to heaven, receive direct revelations from God, and function as God’s mouthpiece for lesser creatures who have not been allowed access into the heavenlies. Naturally, the keys to access the heavenly realms false teachers supposedly frequent can be obtained by purchasing their latest course.
7. They promote Experiential Christianity
We are not always going to sense the presence of Christ within us. As emotional beings, we are susceptible to place more emphasis on the subejctive, and neglect the objective. Experience has replaced reason, and the result is a generation of of people who would rather soak in subjective feelings and their own imaginations than study the word of God. The word of God is our objective source of truth, so when feelings and manifestations take precedence over the word of God we are left with relative truth. Chasing after signs and mantles, lying on graves of the deceased to soak up anointings, running after prophets to receive impartations, and being incapacitated by the “power of God” are some of the ingredients of an experiential based Christianity. False teachers want it to appear as if God is present in their meetings in order to justify their ministries. To this cause, they go to great lengths by preparing their venues. Trending worship songs, lights, smoke machines and other modern technologies are utilized in order to create the right atmosphere. Signs and wonders are advertised, and they key word “revival” is thrown in for extra effect. Which leads us to the next point:
8. They create Expectation
Peter describes false teachers as “waterless springs and mists driven by a storm”
2 Peter 2:17. Jude describes them as: “hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.” Jude 12-13
False teachers create a false hope by offering health, wealth, intimacy with God and the ability to walk as Jesus did on the earth in signs and wonders. It is this expectation, or hope that keeps people coming back for more. “There is more” – they shout from their stages and from their positions of power, but the more never comes. Like clouds without water, these false teachers cannot deliver what they promise. When those who are deceived do not receive what they hoped for, they shipwreck their faith or embark on a journey without end. They have to attend the next revival meeting to experience holy laughter or be slain in the spirit, they need a word from the next prophet, they need to do the next course etc. When results are not forthcoming, don’t expect a false teacher to take the blame. The problem will be your sin, your lack of faith, the fact that you don’t tithe, you lack commitment to the church etc.
9. They Entertain
“ 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” 2 Timothy 4:3-4
That time is now. The visible church at large is a business, and members are consumers demanding a product that suits their passions. Entertainment is used to attract and keep people in many churches. Large churches that entertain goats are viewed as successful; smaller churches that feed the sheep are deemed as failures and in need of church growth strategies. The true Gospel that offends the natural man, has been replaced by a false gospel that excites the natural man.
“A German philosopher many years ago said something to the effect that the more a man has in his own heart, the less he will require from the outside; excessive need for support from without is proof of the bankruptcy of the inner man” – A W Tozer
Entertainment is a vital cog in the machinery of the post modern church. Hedonists are at ease in a church that stimulates the senses and stifles the word of God. Sermons are based on movies, there are props on stage, hip “worship leaders”, special effects, and celebrity speakers are brought in to satisfy consumers. The early church flourished under this model – “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” Acts 2:42.
These four elements don’t attract the majority of people that constitute the visible church today – carnal people and false converts. There is nothing entertaining about carrying a cross and dying to self. The reverence of God has been replaced with a blatant flippancy that has reduced God to our partner who wants us to be happy, not holy.
“Many churches these days have become little more than poor theaters where fifth-rate “producers” peddle their shoddy wares with the full approval of evangelical leaders who can even quote a holy text in defense of their delinquency. And hardly a man dares raise his voice against it.” A W Tozer
10. They Excuse their moral failures
The biblical qualifications to be a teacher or pastor basically covers two areas – the life of the individual, the doctrine of the individual.
False teachers can therefore be recognized by their failure in these two areas. Teachers must be able to rightly divide the word of God. They “ must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it“ Titus 1:9
False teachers have swerved from the truth, and distorted the gospel. ” There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” 2 Peter 3:16
Those who are captivated by these false teachers have failed to compare the teachings on offer to what the word of God really teaches.
The second way to identify a false teacher is by examining their lives. Scripture is clear regarding what is required. (1 Peter 5:1-4; 1 Timothy 3: 1-13; Titus 1:5-9) Some of the requirements listed include: humility, not teaching for shameful gain (greed) not domineering, above reproach, self controlled, family life in order and mature in the faith.
False teachers are masters at disguising their moral flaws and indiscretions. The sad part is that in today’s society, some of these attributes that actually disqualify a person from church leadership, are openly flaunted. This makes it easy for false teachers to excuse their moral failures as they follow the pattern of this world. Carnal people are only too happy to hear how awesome they are, how great they will become, and what a legacy they will leave. They want to hear this from someone who is seen to have “arrived.” Humility, brokenness, transparency and contentment with God’s will, can only serve to sabotage the false teachers image as a confident and successful individual. False teachers teach for “shameful gain”and they are motivated by greed.
“And in their greed they will exploit you with false words.” 2 Peter 2:3
They excuse their greed by preaching the prosperity gospel, a false gospel that will never take hold unless the one preaching it is actually prospering. Mansions, Jets, expensive cars, watches, expensive clothes and jewelry are justified because God wants to prosper his children.
Barely a month goes by without some well known teacher’s indiscretions brought to light. Abusing church funds for self promotion or pleasures, controlling and abusing members, and of course having an affair with someone are common. Guilty pastors simply lie low for a while without neglecting to blame others and shame their spouses or the one’s they betrayed. Within a few months they have a new wife, or have moved to another city, and it’s business as usual. Endorsements from fellow false teachers and a re-commissioning by an apostolic or prophetic team ensure the wolf is kitted out in a new sheepskin.
The false shepherds of today are similar to the rulers of Israel that Ezekiel rebuked: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.”