Q: #373. What is a false teacher?
By: Steve Shirley
A: If you work in ministry long enough, eventually someone will call you a "false teacher." As this happened to me again last week (primarily over explaining why most Christians eat pork today), it got me to thinking more deeply about this subject. What exactly is a "false teacher?" How does the Bible describe what a "false teacher" is?
If we take this term literally, shouldn't it simply mean someone who "teaches" what is "false?" Something is either "true" or "false." Therefore, if someone is teaching what is not true, they are a "false teacher," right? However, I personally believe that we need to take great care in throwing this term at people, because the Bible does have some VERY serious condemnations for those who are "false teachers."
For example, I have made it clear on this website that I believe in "eternal security." If I was to guess, I would say that the church today is about evenly split between between those who believe in eternal security, and those who believe a person can lose their salvation. If I am right about eternal security, does that make everyone who teaches that you can lose salvation a "false teacher?" If half of the churches today teach that infant baptism is acceptable, and half do not, wouldn't this make one half of the churches "false teachers?" We can go on and on with this in many areas such as: the rapture, what spiritual gifts are for today, predestination, what is the "Baptism Of The Holy Spirit," and many more things. Is there ANYONE out there who is right on their interpretation of EVERY single thing in the Bible? (If you think "yes," I suggest you look at how many different views there are in "eschatology.") My point is, that ultimately, in the end, I think EVERYONE could be called a "false teacher."
However, this is why I have said that we need to be careful in how we use the term "false teacher." The views that Christians have on the examples I just gave above, and MANY more, fall into a category that is called "secondary issues." These are issues that Christians can disagree on, but do not need to divide over. Christians can hold one view, or the other, on these issues (i.e. eternal security or not), and still be an orthodox Christian. Falling into the wrong camp on one of these issues does not make one a "false teacher." However, if people are teaching in opposition to what are PRIMARY doctrines within the church, they SHOULD be considered "false teachers." Let's look at these "primary doctrines."
The Bible is the infallible, inerrant Word of God.
There is one God manifest in 3 eternal, distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Jesus Christ is God and Savior, who became man and came to the Earth, being conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary. He lived a sinless life while on the Earth, and His life was ended when He was crucified on a cross. Through Jesus' shed blood on the cross, He paid for the sins of all mankind. On the 3rd day, after His death, Jesus arose from the dead, spent 40 days on the Earth, and then ascended into Heaven, where He is now seated at the right hand of the Father as our High Priest and advocate.
Each person is a sinner who is lost and faces God's judgment for his/her sins. This judgment requires all sinners to spend eternity in Hell, eternally separated from God. However, by the grace of God, we can avoid this penalty by accepting Jesus' sacrifice for our sins. When we do this, we are justified before God, and begin a new life as a child of God. (You can do this here.)
The Bible confirms a number of times that people should be called "false teachers" for denying these "primary," "essential" Christian doctrines. It is said that "false teachers:"
"preach another gospel" (Gal 1:6-9)
(2 Cor 11:4)
"introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them" (2 Pet 2:1)
teach the "doctrines of demons" which cause some people to "fall away from the faith" (1 Tim 4:1)
"turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ" (Jude 1:4)
"do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh" (2 Jn 1:7)
"(do) not abide in the teaching of Christ" (2 Jn 1:9) (Also see: 1 Tim 6:3)
are "teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Mt 15:9)
"teach strange doctrines" as well as "myths and endless genealogies" (1 Tim 1:3-4)
"are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting" (Rom 16:18)
"speaking out arrogant words of vanity... entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality.." (2 Pet 2:18)
"oppose the truth" (2 Tim 3:8)
"distort" the Scriptures (2 Pet 3:16)
will say "I am the Christ" (Mt 24:5)
The Bible also has this to say about those who are "false teachers." They:
are "hypocrites and liars" with no conscience (1 Tim 4:2)
are "proud, knowing nothing" (1 Tim 6:4)
are "deceitful workers... (disguising) themselves as servants of righteousness" (2 Cor 11:13-15)
"do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions" (1 Tim 1:7)
are "teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain" (Titus 1:11)
are "detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed" (Titus 1:16)
are cunning, crafty, and deceitful (Eph 4:14)
are "greedy" (2 Pet 2:3,14), "blots and blemishes" (2 Pet 2:13), and have "eyes full of adultery" (2 Pet 2:14)
We are told to: avoid them (Rom 16:17), rebuke them sharply (Titus 1:13), judge them (Rev 2:2), and not welcome them into our house (2 Jn 1:10).
Having read these, do you understand why I say we need to be careful about throwing this term around?
While these are the primary things that I could find in the Bible for "false teachers," there are other things that can make one a "false teacher." For example, Balaam is accused of being a false teacher in (Rev 2:14) for trying to get Israel to "eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality." (1 Tim 4:3) says in the end times, (false teachers) will "forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared.." (1 Tim 6:5) says that "false teachers" will "suppose that godliness is a means to financial gain" (i.e. the prosperity gospel).
Friends, we MUST know the Bible so well that we know when something is counterfeit. Paul commended the Bereans for testing his words against the Bible (Acts 17:11) (Also see: 1 Cor 10:15). (1 Th 5:21) tells us to test all things, and hold on to that which is good. (1 Jn 4:1) tells us to "test the spirits to see whether they are from God." Not testing what others teach is grounds for BIG trouble. This is often how people fall into cults. And, as was said above, as we draw nearer and nearer to the time for Jesus' return, false teaching will increase. Be prepared!