LIAR! LIAR! HOW TO SPOT A FALSE TEACHER

August 4, 2015

Dr. David Allen | Dean of the School of Theology
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

**This article was previously posted by Dr. David L. Allen on his website www.drdavidlallen.com and is used by permission.

Dr. Allen is: Dean of the School of Theology, Professor of Preaching, Director of the Center for Expository Preaching, and George W. Truett Chair of Pastoral Ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Learn more about Dr. Allen, HERE.
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How do you discern the presence of false teachers in the church? How do you distinguish false teachers from true teachers? From the very earliest days of the Christian church, there have always been false teachers. Whenever you find the genuine article, beware of Satan’s counterfeits.

In today’s world, to listen to some people, you would get the idea that there is no such thing as a false teacher in the church. It seems today that almost anything can pass for Christian truth.

Heresy is considered by many to be a dirty word. After all, who wants to be known as a heresy hunter? Who wants to be considered narrow and bigoted as to say that his view of the truth is the only view of the truth? In fact, in some circles, if you affirm evangelical Christianity, you are labeled a religious terrorist.

Departure of false teachers from the fellowship of the church confirms their unsaved status (vv. 18-19).

The presence of false teachers is a sign of the end times (18) and their defection is proof of their true nature (19). John says that you have heard that there will be an antichrist (singular) that is coming in the future. That is a reference to a final world ruler who will arise in the end times according to the book of Revelation. No one knows when that will happen. We are not on the planning committee for the return of Christ; we are on the reception committee.

John says there were many antichrists (plural) that appeared in his own day. These are false prophets who pretend to be Christian but actually are not. Their presence leads John to conclude that “it is the last hour.”

If John thought the last hour was in his own day, and here we are more than 1900 years down the road, that is one long hour! I’ve been through what seemed like some interminably long hours in my life: in school, church, at the hospital, and a host of other long hours. Of course, we have to understand that God does not operate on Eastern Standard Time, Central Time, or Mountain Time; rather He operates on his time.

When the Scripture writers talk about “the last hour,” they are not speaking about duration of time, which is the way you and I calculate time. What John means is not time as it is reckoned sequentially, time as it tick-tocks off the clock second by second, but rather an epoch of time. Since the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ, in symbolic eschatological terms, we have been in the last days or the last hour.

If you were Satan, how would you go about diluting and destroying the church of the Lord Jesus Christ? Well, you might say: “let me bring foreign pagan armies in and try to kill all the Christians.” But that has never worked.  If I were Satan, I would sow the seeds of false teachers within the church. I would not enter the church and say that Jesus is a liar and Jesus is not divine. I would come in just like an angel of light and with crafty cunningness I would lead the sheep astray little by little through false teaching.

That is what Satan does. He has his counterfeits in the churches and outside the churches. What does a counterfeit imply? The real thing. Why do people not counterfeit $3 bills? There is no such thing as a $3 bill. Satan counterfeits what is true. So he has his counterfeit preachers who are in churches today. There are churches today with a false prophet, a counterfeiter, standing behind the pulpit teaching people. Jesus told us we should not be surprised about that. He said there will always be false prophets. Jesus said that when he goes away (after his resurrection), there will be many false prophets that arise who will lead many astray. They will claim to be the Messiah and they will deceive many.[i]

How are you going to know the difference between a false teacher and a true Christian teacher? A false teacher departs from the fellowship of the church (19).

Have you noticed that virtually every cult that is out there today was founded by someone who came out of the church? They became disgruntled with a church or denomination. They left the church to form what they called the “true church.” There have always been those throughout church history who claim that everybody else before them got it wrong but then suddenly God spoke the truth to them personally.

The departure of false teachers serves an important purpose: to make clear to the true church that false teachers were not part of the true church.

B. H. Carroll used to say:

“When you see a star fall you know it’s not a star.”

Stars don’t fall; stars shine. We call them shooting stars but astronomically that is incorrect. When you see a star fall, what you are seeing is not actually a star. When you see a person who may be a member of a church turn his back on Jesus and orthodox doctrine and depart into false doctrine, in the vast majority of cases, you can be guaranteed that person was not a true Christian in the first place. Profession does not necessarily mean possession.

Speaking of Jesus’ parable in Matthew 13:2–30 and 1 John 2:19, James Boice is right on target:

“The implication of Christ’s parable and John’s statement is that some Christians are so much like non-Christians and some non-Christians are so much like Christians that it is impossible to tell the difference between them in this life.”[ii]

 

[i] Matthew 24:11
[ii] James M. Boice, The Epistles of John (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), p. 87.

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Max

Someone once said “Heresy is an over-emphasis of a long-neglected truth.” False teaching can slip in the back door with an emphasis on one truth to the exclusion of another truth. It sounds good because it is close … a little counterfeit which almost makes it look like the genuine.

According to a post on Christianity Today, there are approximately 41,000 Christian denominations and organizations in the world. They are separated from each other by expressions of what they each perceive as truth in belief and practice. In my vicinity, I have counted at least 20 different flavors of Baptists! Makes a guy wonder, does any denomination have a corner on the Truth (the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth)?!

During my Christian experience, I have applied an error litmus test “Do you agree with ‘me’, or not?” Sounds arrogant, but I suppose we all think we are 100% correct in what we believe; therefore, what “I” believe is the final word on truth (thank you Lord that I’m not like that other guy!). I formerly considered that test for other denominations … but now find myself challenged to explore that amongst divergent theological sects within the SBC! I guess it depends on what essentials you would put at the top of a theological triage, followed by less-important secondary and tertiary matters of faith … vs. how I might stack those same things up.

Do any of us have a corner on the Truth? Are we allowing the teachings and traditions of men to supplant the commandments of God? Jesus advised us not to do that. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We need to camp out with Him until we get it right, allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth … which is the only journey we should be on and the only life we should be living. A daily walk with the Living Lord is our best protection against false teachers and their teachings. As an old man, I’m still learning that after having been tripped up by the counterfeit a few times.

    Robert

    Max,

    “Do any of us have a corner on the Truth? Are we allowing the teachings and traditions of men to supplant the commandments of God? Jesus advised us not to do that. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We need to camp out with Him until we get it right, allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth … which is the only journey we should be on and the only life we should be living. A daily walk with the Living Lord is our best protection against false teachers and their teachings.”

    Your words here brought back a memory. When I worked in counter cult ministry, one of Walter Martin’s favorite illustrations, that he repeatedly shared with us. Is that of the bank teller. Bank tellers need to know how to distinguish the real money from the counterfeit money. Walter would remind us that they did not train the bank tellers to know every possible counterfeit that was out there. Rather, they spent time feeling, smelling, getting to know real money so well that when the counterfeit came they would recognize it because they knew it did not fit what real money was like.

    Well the same applies spiritually, there is no way you can know nor should you even try to know all spiritual counterfeits to genuine Christianity (as you noted there are just too many variations and versions of things: “According to a post on Christianity Today, there are approximately 41,000 Christian denominations and organizations in the world. They are separated from each other by expressions of what they each perceive as truth in belief and practice. In my vicinity, I have counted at least 20 different flavors of Baptists! “).

    Rather, know the Lord and His Word so well that when the counterfeit comes you know it is not real and it is not Him. I think that is what you are suggesting Max.

      rhutchin

      I think what Max is suggesting is that the antidote to false teaching is to follow the example of the Bereans – “they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” To “know the Lord and His word so well,” takes effort; one should not think that they can study casually and achieve very much. There are three helpful habits that the Christian should be taught to do: (1) read the Scriptures daily just to become acquainted with what it says, (2) do in-depth study, in bite-size chunks, on a weekly basis (an easy way to do this is by following your church’s weekly Sunday morning Bible lesson plan) and (3) attend church services regularly and take notes during the sermon. A person doing these things will find themselves increasing in the knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures at a good rate.

Robert

Hello Dr. Allen,

Your article is very good and focuses primarily upon one aspect of discerning false teachers (i.e. they tend to eventually depart from the church as you stated: “Departure of false teachers from the fellowship of the church confirms their unsaved status (vv. 18-19). Having worked in counter cult ministry and having dealt with numerous false teachers (some well-known and some most here would not know): I will add some more indicators that a person is a false teacher to help others with their discernment of false teachers.

One clear indicator is an obsessive focus on money and material things (cf. Titus 1:11 – “teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain”, “having a heart trained in greed” 2 Pet. 2:14). False teachers seem to be into making money and having all sorts of possessions (sometimes their overly materialistic lifestyle gives them away).

Another indicator is an inordinate focus or obsession upon sexual matters (e.g. there are double standards regarding intimate relationships with one standard applying to the leader/guru/false teacher and another for the followers/ordinary people, “ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness” Jude 4, “having eyes full of adultery” 2 Pet.2:14 “they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality” 2 Pet. 2:18).

The last indicator that I will bring up here, which is closely related to the previous two, but I will state it separately because in my opinion it is **the** indicator of a false teacher, is character problems. These are evident in all the NT descriptions of false teachers.

We also see these indicators of false teachers by contrasting the qualifications for biblical elders (see especially 1 Tim. 3: 1-7; Titus 1:5-9) with these indicators of a false teacher (biblical elders are not to be “greedy of filthy lucre” as the Old King James put it or “free from the love of money” as modern translations put it, cf. 1 Tim. 3:3; they are to be committed to one woman, “the husband of one wife” literally a “one woman man”). And the qualifications of an elder are mostly about their having good character (seen in all the elder qualifications listings in the NT) indicated especially by their healthy relationships with spouse and their children ( cf. 1 Tim 3:4-5 “He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God).”

False teachers usually are not family men happily committed to only their spouse. Their zealousness for money is shown by the cars they have, the places they live in and their overabundance of possessions. Their character problems also tend to be evident in all of their interactions and actions.

Scott Shaver

In this day of confused “evangelicalism” (especially within the mixed theological composition of the SBC), being assigned the currently proper label of “heretic” may be the very best sign of all that an individual is on the right track with his or her expression of Christian faith….best sign perhaps that they’re attempting to follow Christ rather than trends, fads, and the latest en vogue “theologies”.or theories of social reordering.

    Max

    “… being assigned the currently proper label of “heretic” may be the very best sign of all that an individual is on the right track …”

    Yep, the magisterial reformers considered the Anabaptists heretics.

Lydia

“If I were Satan, I would sow the seeds of false teachers within the church. I would not enter the church and say that Jesus is a liar and Jesus is not divine. I would come in just like an angel of light and with crafty cunningness I would lead the sheep astray little by little through false teaching.”

He would also paint evils and wrong doing to others as righteous or “protecting” the church. Rotten fruit would be positioned as good fruit. He would sin level making our very existence as “sinful” so that heinous crimes would be categorized the same as benign sins. To the raped and molested he would say, but you are a sinner, too, so lets put it all behind us! Satan despises justice, too.

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