Do you agree with this statement?
false preachers and teachers are everywhere and into everything ‘Christian’
How would anyone know if that’s true? And if it’s true, what could you do about it?
Turning to our Layman’s Guide To False Preachers and Teachers (the Bible) we read this –
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.Matthew 7:15
Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.Acts 20:28-30
Even as Paul warned the leaders of the 1st century Ephesian church that ‘savage wolves’ would come in among them, “not sparing the flock,” we are sharing that same warning in the 21st century.
The Apostle Peter warned about it as well –
But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you.2 Peter 2:1
As we pointed out in the last part of our series, false preachers and teachers are in most every church, denomination, conference, Bible college, seminary and Christian concert. False preachers and teachers have a ravenous appetite and their feeding ground (‘killing field’) is the Church. That’s the clear warning of Jesus and His apostles.
Jude wrote –
Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ … These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves. They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame; wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.Jude 1:3-4, 12-13
So, what’s a Christian to do about that? It’s one thing to know false preachers and teachers are leaders in our churches and denominations, instructors at our colleges and seminaries, speakers at our camps and conferences, authors and publishers of our books, and song writers of our church music and singers at our concerts. It’s another thing to be able to identify them and warn others about them in a way that is clear and effective.
Identifying False Preachers and Teachers
God has given us many ways to identify the false preachers and teachers among us.
Jesus said “You will know them by their fruits.” Here’s His statement in context –
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. Matthew 7:15-20
For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. Luke 6:43-45
The Apostle John wrote this about how to identify false preachers and teachers –
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.1 John 4:1
John is well into his first letter and has already addressed some of the issues concerning false preachers and teachers. His identification included the phrase “children of the devil.” That’s pretty strong, but we’ll wait to get into that in more depth in the next part of our study.
John’s identification process is:
- Do not believe every spirit
- Test the spirits, whether they are of God
It’s interesting that John wrote ‘do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits” instead of “do not believe every man, but test every man.’ Why did the apostle write it the way he did?
It’s clear from John’s first letter that our battles in this world are spiritual and with spirits. He wrote this several sentences before sharing how to ‘test’ the spirits –
He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.1 John 3:8
False preachers and teachers are part of “the works of the devil” that Jesus came to destroy. How does Jesus destroy the ‘works’ of false preachers and teachers? It appears through what Jesus told His apostles and what they told followers of Jesus that He will oppose false preachers and teachers through Christians.
WHAT? We are just flesh and blood. How can we participate in the Lord’s plan to destroy the ‘works of the devil’? How can we as physical beings test spiritual beings?
It’s good to remember that the letters of the apostles have no chapter divisions. The context for 1 John 4:1 is found in what we read in 1 John 3. Here’s the verse that John wrote just before telling Christians to ‘test’ the spirits –
Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.1 John 3:24
We know that Jesus Christ ‘abides’ (μένω – stay, remain) in us “by the Spirit whom He has given us.” Jesus has given every Christian great spiritual power because of of the Holy Spirit whom He has given us. Our ability to ‘test’ spirits comes through the Holy Spirit who lives in us. That would include the first step John gave to us (‘Beloved’) of not believing (πιστεύω – trust, have confidence, be persuaded) every spirit.
It shouldn’t surprise us that Christians are so easily led away by false preachers and teachers. The Apostle Paul wrote this shortly before his death –
Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.2 Timothy 4:2-4
Paul told Timothy to ‘Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long-suffering and teaching.’ That sounds like a serious charge to the young pastor. Why so serious? Because the falling away of Christians from sound doctrine (ὑγιαίνω διδασκαλία – healthy, uncorrupted, instruction, teaching) was going to happen in Timothy’s lifetime.
Has anything changed in the past two-thousand years? It has not. Christians are still not enduring (ἀνέχομαι – holding up, bearing with) sound doctrine. Because of their own desires, because they want to hear something that makes them feel good about themselves (itching ears), they heap up (ἐπισωρεύω – heap together, accumulate, obtain multitude of) for themselves false preachers and teachers. They turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside (ἐκτρέπω – turn away, avoid, shun) to fables. False preaching and teaching is about fables (μῦθος – untruth, false account, idle tale, fanciful story). It’s never about truth.
Don’t Believe Them!
The first step, says the Apostle John, is “do not believe every spirit.” Christians must understand that false preachers and teachers are sitting next to them in church, serving on boards and committees with them, preaching from the pulpits of their churches, teaching classes in their churches and small groups, and singing to them from church stages on Sunday mornings. Until we understand how pervasive the problem of false preaching and teaching is in our churches, we will not be able to take the first step to combatting this terrible problem.
If I believe everything every Christian preacher, teacher, singer, song writer, denominational leader, special speaker and author says, sings and writes is true, then I am not going to be able to’ test the spirits.’ I have to take step one and ‘not believe every spirit.’ We must understand that the danger is all around us and be ready to identify it.
Some of us wonder why Christians don’t see the danger. How can they see something that is so clear to us? Others wonder why we make such a big deal about false preachers and teachers. If someone says they’re a Christian preacher or teacher, that’s good enough for them. We should believe them and give them a platform to be heard. What’s wrong with that?
What’s wrong with that is we’re ignoring the plain warnings of Jesus Christ and His apostles! If falling prey to false preachers and teachers isn’t something about which we should be concerned, why did Jesus and His apostles warn us about them so many times? Why did Jesus call them ‘ravenous wolves’? Why did Paul call them ‘savage wolves’? Because Christians are sheep and hungry wolves eat sheep! Do you want to be eaten by wolves? If not, heed the clear warnings in the New Testament. Begin by acknowledging that what Jesus and His apostles said is true and start “not believing” everyone who claims that what they’re saying (or singing or writing) is true.
Now, I don’t mean that we should become unfriendly and contentious with everyone at church. Not at all. That goes against many other things Jesus and His apostles said and wrote. What it does mean is that our ‘truth antenna” is always engaged. We are always listening and comparing what is said/sung/written by people who say they are Christians to the final authority of Christianity – the Bible.
We invite you to watch this video and consider what you see.
We will look at the process of ‘testing’ the spirits in our churches, denominations, schools, concerts and conferences in the next part of our special series – A Layman’s Guide To False Preachers and Teachers.
We have been publishing articles and eBooks about false preachers and teachers for many years. Here are some you may find helpful:
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.