When was the last time you thought about false teachers in the church? Have you had to combat false teaching recently? Is there false teaching in your church? Is it possible that you have been influenced by false teaching? These are important questions for every believer and every pastor to address. Much of the power of false teachers lies in the shadows of secrecy and disguise. If false teachers/false teaching is never openly discussed, warned against, or rebuked, we run the risk of slowly but surely allowing ourselves to be influenced (or overcome) by false teaching.
Jesus warned the church about false teachers. Paul warned the church about false teachers. Peter warned the church about false teachers. James warned the church about false teachers. Jude warned the church about false teachers. John warned the church about false teachers. Here are 10 timeless warnings and characteristics of false teachers:
1. They creep in unnoticed (Jude 1:4)
Not every false teacher is easy to spot. In fact, most are not. Most false teachers sneak in quietly without being noticed. They blend in, look like everyone else, and no one usually looks twice at them. Then, when opportunity strikes, they begin to influence a church negatively.
2. They operate in secret (2 Peter 2:1-3)
They enter into churches unnoticed and they slowly and quietly introduce false teaching and ideas contrary to Scripture. The false teachers we ought to worry about are not the loud, obvious ones; they are the quiet, sneaky ones that operate under our noses without detection.
3. They have many followers (2 Peter 2:1-3)
False teachers are not likely to be despised, hated, or ridiculed. Rather, they are usually likable, amiable, popular, and easy to follow. The Bible warns us that false teachers will often gain a loyal following of those led astray. If possible, they will even lead astray the elect of God (Mark 13:22)
4. They create division and obstacles (Romans 16:17)
False teachers are known for causing division and creating obstacles within churches. They cause arguments, quarrels, and disagreements over theology, practices, and anything else they can get people to argue about.
5. No matter what it seems like, they do not have God (2 John 1:7-11)
John makes it clear that no matter what they say and no matter what it seems like, false teachers do not genuinely have God. They are masters of disguise and manipulation and purposely masquerade as true believers, but their faith is not real.
6. Some began in sound doctrine (1 Timothy 4:1-5)
Some false teachers began in sound doctrine and true faith but then wandered away from the truth. This may be a pastor or a small group leader who was teaching sound doctrine when they began, but has since wandered into teaching falsities.
7. Their words seem intelligent (1 Timothy 6:20-21, Colossians 2:8)
False teachers are not only amiable and popular, they are also usually intelligent by worldly standards. They come across as wise and convincing in their false teaching, so that many mistake their worldly wisdom for spiritual wisdom.
8. They look like legitimate apostles of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:13-15, Matthew 7:15)
Most false teachers will look on the outside like authentic followers of Christ. Jesus himself says that they will look like sheep on the outside, but on the inside they are wolves seeking to destroy. Many false teachers creep in unnoticed, operate unnoticed, and remain unnoticed because they appear to be legitimate followers of Christ.
9. They target the spiritually naive (Romans 16:17-18)
False teachers are cunning and covert and will set their sights on churches and people that are spiritually naive and susceptible to false teaching. We must guard the impressionable among us (new believers, children, etc.) Like a wolf attacking the smallest and weakest deer, false teachers will attack the smallest and weakest believers.
10. They twist Scripture (1 Timothy 6:3-5, 2 Timothy 4:3-4)
False teachers make the Bible say what they want it to say. They are masters of twisting the words, warping the meaning, and convincing their audience that the Bible says something other than what it says. They are masters of convincing people that they are teaching biblical truth when in reality they are teaching falsities or half truths, which are often more dangerous than complete falsities.
Churches must be on guard against false teachers. If we do not keep our eyes open, focus on the truth of the Bible, and consciously rebuke false teaching when we encounter it – we run the risk of being led astray or perhaps even completely overcome by wolves and the schemes of evil.
What has been your experience with false teaching in the church? How have you had to combat it? What other identifiers would you add to the list? What should churches do to protect against false teaching?