False Teachers

May 10, 2010 at 6:30 am | Posted in Christianity | Leave a comment
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With all of the different events taking place in the church and all of the men and women who claim to be preaching the gospel, a question arises. How do you know? How can you be sure that the man (or woman) that you are hearing speak is actually speaking the truth? Some talk about how they’ve heard from God and how God “told them” things. Others proclaim that the growth and size of their ministries is proof that God is “blessing” them. There are many “preachers” today, especially in America, and all of them profess to be Bible-believing, truth-preaching, Christians. But are they?

 In the New Testament, there are a number of passages of scripture that should give us pause before we go proclaiming that “Pastor so and so” is the next “up and coming” pastor. Unfortunately, a number of people in the church seem to go by appearance or charm. Others go by whether or not the one preaching agrees with what they already believe. We go by sound or size of the church or by popularity or by relevancy.

 So, how should Christians be testing their pastors/preachers and other people claiming to do the work of God? 

The easiest answer is not the easiest method. What I mean by this is that I would expect that many (but sadly not all) would say that the scriptures should be what we use to determine whether or not someone is rightly representing God. That may be a “Sunday school” answer, but it is not the easiest thing to do and it seems to be something that many in the church have drifted away from. To use the scriptures to test a man/woman of God and their teaching/preaching, it would mean that the person doing the testing has to have a few fundamental tools and know how to use them.  

 The first thing that a person needs to have is a correct hermeneutical understanding. Hermeneutics is the ability to correctly understand a passage of text by understanding the context of the text itself, the culture of the times, the customs, and the meanings of the words being used as they were used at the time the text was written. Already I can hear people groaning…and it is evidence that it is hard work to do this. Many people who sit in church are too content to just take for granted that the person that stands up in front of them on Sunday morning has done everything that they can to correctly understand the text that they will be preaching from in order to feed the sheep. The person testing the speaker also has to be willing to do the work to verify that the scriptures are being used rightly. The Bereans did this with everything that Paul preached (Acts 17:10-11). Instead of taking what Paul said at face value, they checked every word he spoke against the scriptures (the Old Testament!) and they were commended for it.  

 It is also important that we understand that there are people in the world who are purposefully using scripture to benefit themselves. There are people posing as preachers in order to get money, fame, and power by “preaching”. It is sad that so many people are taken in by this sort of thing, but it’s all too evident, especially in America. 

It would be foolish of me to talk about how to recognize a false prophet/teacher and how important it is to use scripture and then not use scripture. Please test the things that you are about to read and understand that my hope is to warn you as to how dangerous and how prevalent this type of thing is. It is always good to start with the words of Jesus Himself whenever possible and the Lord spoke pretty openly about false prophets and how to recognize them: 


Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know (recognize) them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and cast into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’ (Matt. 7:13-23)

There are a number of things to be learned in just this passage alone. First, this passage is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In it, He tells those listening how they should live their lives. He contrasts the way that they should live with the way that the religious leaders of the time lived. In this specific passage, Jesus warns the people that they should enter through the narrow gate. He tells them that it is easy to find the road to destruction and many people are on that road. He tells them that the narrow way is hard to find. He then warns them to beware of false prophets. These are people that look like sheep but are ravenous wolves. These are men (and women) who look, talk, and act like righteous men and women; but, they are only outwardly Christian. Jesus then tells the people, and us, how we can know whether or not the person in question is a true Christian or not. “You will know them by their fruits.” The fruit that Jesus is talking about isn’t acting/talking/looking like a Christian; they were already doing that. The fruit that Jesus is talking about are the fruits of repentance. They are the fruit of the Spirit. They are the evidence that the person has been saved and has the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. This is not a certain way of speaking, a certain denomination, or a certain doctrine that this person holds to. These fruit are the manifestation of the Spirit of God working inside that person to grow them in holiness. 


Jesus tells the people that good trees don’t produce bad fruit and bad trees don’t produce good fruit. This implies a few things that many Christians seem to misunderstand or overlook. First, to know whether the fruit is good or bad, we have to pay attention to the fruit. We can’t get caught up in the moment or be pragmatic about things. We have to honestly study the fruit of that person. Second, we have to make a judgment on whether the fruit is good or bad. We have to decide whether or not the fruit that we are seeing from the person is something that is in keeping with repentance. If it’s not, then it’s bad fruit. If it’s bad fruit, then the person is a bad tree. Some will gawk at this and say, “But Jesus said don’t judge unless you want to be judged!” You’re right, He did; at the beginning of this very chapter even! But this is part of the whole context issue.  


The context of the verse is that we shouldn’t be like the Pharisees. We shouldn’t judge the way they were. John 7:24 says that we shouldn’t judge by appearance but by righteous judgment. There is only One who has made a righteous judgment and that’s God. But, if I repeat the judgment that God has already made (in the correct context and meaning) then I’m not the one judging. All I’m doing is repeating the judgment that God has already made. Jesus continues by building on this point. He tells the people that there will be many on the Day of Judgment that will call Him Lord but will not enter the kingdom of heaven. There will be many who list all the things that they did in His name (prophesy, cast out demons, perform miracles), and He will tell them to depart from Him because they are workers of lawlessness.  


Later in the gospels, Jesus again warns those who follow Him about false prophets and the danger they pose: 


Many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many…For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will do signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you in advance. So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them. (Matt. 24:11-12, 24-26)

 Jesus again tells us that false prophets/false Christs will arise, do signs and wonders, and mislead people. Jesus says that they will be so convincing as to almost mislead the elect. This can’t happen, but it is an expression of how convincing they will be. There are many today who have misled thousands upon thousands with promises of wealth, fame, power, fortune, and righteousness. They have built gigantic, world-wide “ministries” on false doctrine, “miracles”, and worldly preaching. And we were warned about them 2000 years ago.


There are specifics that can be seen in the methods and tactics of those who are false prophets/false teachers. They are deceptive and crafty. They know that outright heresy will be contested, so they disguise their false doctrine with enough truth to make it believable. They understand that many will not take the time or effort to actually study the scriptures. If they can appeal to a sense of piety and holiness (not the biblical one) they can introduce their heresies virtually unnoticed to many people. Paul warned both the Corinthians and the Galatians of this: 

But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully. (2 Cor. 11:3-4) 

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you have received, he is to be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-9)

 The false teachers were preaching a different gospel than the one that Paul heard and preached to them. They added burdens and requirements to Christianity. They were distorting or outright denying the truth of the Lord Jesus for their benefit and favor. This distortion was most prevelant with Gnosticism, and it continues today in a number of forms. The men and women that preach these distortions are well-known, popular, and often have large congregations. This is not a set rule that can be used because there are a number of sound Biblical teachers who are the same. But, there are distinctions. Those who teach a false gospel do not have the power of God working through the preaching of the truth and must make up for that discrepancy in other ways. They boast about the money they make, the size of their church, the vehicles that they fly/drive, the number of people that get saved in their ministry, the wonderful things that they are doing, and how correct they are in their preaching. They mock those who call them out on their false gospel and put themselves above true Biblical teachers as well as scripture itself. They make themselves look like a man or woman of God preaching the truth to help people “get out of bondage”, but the truth is more devious:



But what I am doing I will continue to do so, so that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore, it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds. (2 Cor. 11:12-15)


Some of the most open and honest indictments on false teachers come towards the end of the New Testament. Two of the apostles closest to Jesus during His time on earth spend much of their writing teaching Christians about false teachers and warning them of their danger:  

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep…Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties, whereas angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord. But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reveling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed, suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children; forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but he received a rebuke fro his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of a prophet. These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for who the black darkness has been reserved. For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. (2 Pet. 2:1-3, 10b-20)

 Peter wastes no time mincing words. He talks about how the false teachers secretly introduce destructive heresies. Look around at the church in America today. Can you not see at least some of these heresies now? There are “pastors” who deceive large congregations with their “new Exodus perspectives” while dressing like 60’s jazz cats and sipping their Starbucks latte. The change the scriptures outright, twisting them to suit their viewpoint and how they think the scriptures should read and they teach others to do the same. They deny Jesus Christ as He revealed Himself in scripture and instead construct a new Jesus based on eisegesis and fanciful wonderings. They follow their feelings and their “instincts” instead of following the Way and letting scripture dictate the way their lives should be lived. They exploit thousands of poverty stricken families to satisfy their greed, using their falsely interpreted scriptures to mislead others into thinking that they deserve a “blessing” and should be wealthy “beyond measure”. To get this blessing, the poor have to sow their “faith seed” (give everything they have – just like the widow did! – ugh) and believe that God will provide more than enough. As their followers continue to get poorer and poorer, these men and women live high on the hog, buying mansions, expensive cars, personal jets, and $400 suits. They project a false image of what a Christian is and dupe the unsuspecting or desperate into parting with their money in hopes that they can bribe God into making them like the false prophet they follow.


These men and women would be bad enough if they stopped there, but they don’t. They put themselves in the place of God, giving themselves power and station that belongs only to God. They “speak against” the devil, cast out demons, and “kick the devil’s teeth in”; commanding all hell to listen to them and taking credit for the works of God. They have no respect for the power that angels (even fallen ones!) have and do things that even the angels in heaven won’t do. Peter calls them unreasoning animals and creatures of instinct. They carouse and play in the false image of Christianity that they’ve made, trying to walk in things they know nothing about and enjoying their deceptions and the profits they bring. Peter sees them as stains and blemishes, men and women who are all flash and no substance, people who speak arrogant words of vanity to delude themselves and justify their false doctrine.

The apostle John also talks about these men and women and spares them no niceties as well. John fought Gnosticism as well as other heresies and was truly concerned for those whom he had shared the gospel with. He warns them of the very things that many today see as the epitome of “modern Christianity”: 

Do not love the things of this world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. (1 John 2:15-19)

 If we truly watched and listened (like Jesus told us to do) these false teachers will be evident. The fruit that they bear would show that they are not of the sheepfold and instead are the wolves Jesus warned about. John, too, gives us a way to know the true from the false:



Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because 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; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He that is in you than He that is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth from the spirit of error. (1 John 4:1)

 Sadly, there are many who “preach” in the name of Christ who make it apparent through their “preaching” and their lifestyles that they don’t know the Lord. There are many who preach false gospels whether they are work-righteous gospels or other distortions. They work off of feelings and emotions instead of scripture and truth. They are unscrupulous in their dealings with men and God, and they have no shame for it. Their names are well known among both their followers and those Christians who see them for what they are.

People like Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Jesse and Cathy Duplantis, Jerry and Carolyn Savelle, Kenneth Hagin, Creflo and Taffi Dollar, Joyce Meyer, Joel and Victoria Osteen, Rick Warren, Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, Tony Campolo, Paula White, Doug Pagitt, Greg Boyd, Ed Young Jr., N. T. Wright, V. Gene Robinson, Benny Hinn, Todd Bentley, Rick Joyner, and T.D. Jakes are all examples of men and women who look and act like sheep but preach a different gospel. Many of them believe that it is a Christian’s right to be “blessed”. They preach that Christians should have a lot of money and that sickness should be something in their past. Benny Hinn has said on at least one occasion that if you are a Christian and you’re sick, you’re not saved because salvation and healing are intertwined. This isn’t scriptural at all! Just ask Job… He runs gigantic “healing crusades” where he supposedly performs “miracles of healing” through the power of the Holy Spirit. These “crusades” are broadcast on TV all over the world and they look amazing. Unfortunately, most people don’t see all of the people in the back of the auditoriums that don’t get healed. They come to see the ‘man of God’ and hope that tonight will be the night that their child will be restored to them, and they go home broken, dejected, and with their child in the same state as when they came.

Many of the people listed talk about being “blessed”; about how God wants Christians to have “the favor”. They talk about having ‘an abundance’ of money and gaining worldly goods. They boast about how they own expensive clothes, mansions, private jets, and how it’s all because “God wants them to have it”. Some, like the Copelands, talk about how Christians can control the weather. They can “speak” to storms and command them to dissipate “in the name of Jesus”. They speak in “tongues”, prophesy about how this is the “year of the breakthrough” (just like last year was…and the year before that…), and even have the gall to dance in money on the steps leading to the stage while people run up and throw more money! They talk about how Jesus is their “friend” and how they are just like Him. They claim to be able to speak to the devil and command him to flee (in the name of Jesus, of course). They believe that they are “little gods” and they can “speak things into existence”, causing things to happen just by claiming them and finding scriptures (out of context) to back them up. When pressed about “the blessing” many of these men and women tap dance their way out by saying that it is for the “ministries” they run and that “the blessing” isn’t just about money and health. They claim that it’s about spiritual prosperity too, but they always seem to end up preaching on money and material goods…

Others water down the gospel to the point that it’s not really the recognizable anymore. People like Joel Osteen and Rick Warren talk about feeling good, looking good, and being positive. They talk about “life” and “purpose”, filling their speaking time with platitudes and pithy sayings that have no basis in scripture (rightly divided). They don’t talk about sin or warn people that there is a judgment coming. Instead, they spend their time “uplifting” people and getting them to feel better about themselves. If they do try to talk about sin it’s not called sin. The sins of the congregation are “bad choices” or “unfortunate circumstances” that they can overcome if they just remain positive.

Still others completely abandon anything orthodox about Christianity and replace it with a universalistic view of Jesus. They ignore things that Jesus said like, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6). They replace it with an “all roads lead to heaven” outlook where as long as someone believes something and adheres to the tenets of that faith (whether it’s Buddhism, Hinduism, or even atheism) they will go to heaven. Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and Greg Boyd (among others) have taken this “emergent church” completely away from anything remotely Christian. Sure, they use scripture and they “preach” on things like sin, hell, and judgment; but from a viewpoint diametrically opposed to the one found in scripture. They read things from today’s time into the text instead of applying things in the text to today’s time. They rip scripture from its original context and place it into a setting of their own making that will support the un-Christian ideals they are trying to put forth. They are aggressive promoters of ecumenism and see no problem in working alongside people of other religions “to achieve a common goal” (which, in reality, doesn’t exist).

To get an idea of the difference between modern day Christian preaching and the way the gospel was preached 150-200 years ago, compare a “sermon” by any of the people listed to the writings of Charles Spurgeon, George Whitefield, John Knox, John Bunyan, or John Wesley. If you do try this, you may want to have a dictionary on hand to define the words that today’s “preachers” no longer use. Compare the passion for God and His Word to today. Compare the power of the words they spoke compared to today. Read the words of these preachers of old and see how they preached sin and hell. How they didn’t hold back the truth out of fear of what people might think. See how they talked openly and scripturally about the fate of mankind and what was necessary to be saved. See how they thundered from the pulpit about God’s holiness and His righteous anger at sin and sinners. And then weep for the loss of those great men and the dwindling number of men today who preach in the same manner…

If we take those things that Jesus, Peter, John, and Paul teach us in scripture about false prophets/teachers and, like the Bereans, hold those things up to the lives of preachers, pastors, and even other Christians we can see whether or not they are abiding by the truth. These things are not done with an attitude of hatred or pride; instead, they are done both to warn others of the danger that may lurk near them and to hopefully bring the false teacher/prophet to a true relationship with Christ and see them saved.

Those who are true preachers of the gospel will preach the truth of Jesus. They will not preach an idol that they’ve made to look like Jesus. They will preach the truth about sin, hell, and judgment. They will teach about grace, peace, mercy, love, and holiness. They would never consider themselves higher than God or presume to put themselves in a place that God has not put them. They don’t twist scriptures for personal gain. They don’t exploit the poor or play on the emotions of those who follow them. They don’t place unnecessary burdens on those in their congregations and instead teach them rightly how to bear the burdens they have while sharing in the burdens of others. They spend their time in study of the Word of God and rightly divide it so that they can teach their flock to grow in faith through honest, contextual application of the scriptures to their lives.

Are you deep enough in the scriptures that you could recognize a false teacher?…

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