In light of my most recent post regarding the days of Noah, I’d love to take a break from all the heaviness and explore a topic a little less heady . . . . . false teachers. If you haven’t had your coffee yet, you might want to go ahead and get that over with before continuing.
I have felt so weighed down by this issue for some time now because we are walking around in a day and age where new false teachers are popping up every day and they are getting more and more clever yet brazen. The main reason being that it’s so easy for anyone to have a platform, thanks to the wonder of blogging and social media. Trust me, the irony of that statement is not lost on me.
But that is the reality we are living in. Anyone who thinks they have something to say can click a few buttons, type a few words, click submit, and bam! They’ve now put their thoughts out there for anyone with internet access to read.
The vast majority of these posts are about completely innocent topics such as the latest fashion trends on a budget, recipes for the best pot roast on the planet, and current movie reviews. To all of you, keep up the good work. You’ve saved many a buck for my family and plenty of meals at my house. But this is not who I’m talking about. The ones that we are to be wary of are those who dive into topics of the spiritual realm. Too many times now, this same scenario has played out in front of us . . .
Someone starts a blog targeting a specific demographic of people (i.e. moms of young children, people passionate about health and fitness, all the oilies). They find that their following is growing leaps and bounds. People are coming to them in droves telling them how funny, relatable, and real they are. They start delving into topics a little outside of their original subject matter. The affirmation continues pouring in and suddenly they’re being asked about topics a little deeper than they’re used to. But they feel obligated to respond to their devoted readers. A few months later, we no longer have a wit-filled instruction manual on how to handle a crazy toddler or which exercises will target belly fat after the holidays. Suddenly we have someone picking apart passages of scripture and tackling spiritual topics, as though they are a well-studied scholar, in front of an audience of tens of thousands of followers who cling to every word they say, as though they are gospel.
Now this is where things get tricky. In some cases, the person of influence turns out to be quite well-versed in their knowledge of the Bible and its application to our lives. Or they at least do a good job of making sure that their readers understand that what they write is their opinion and that they are just opening up discussion. However, we are seeing more and more of these unintentional spiritual leaders creating confusion over issues that God was abundantly clear about in His Word.
Sometimes it’s these accidental philosophers that are misguiding people. Other times it’s well educated people who are dangerously misguided in their teaching. A few weeks ago I was reading an article that a friend had posted as a defense for condoning a choice that is very controversial in our culture.
Throughout this 24-page document, the author uses the same phrase multiple times as part of his defense. He, for all intents and purposes, bases his entire stance on the fact that the Bible has nothing to say about this particular issue “as it’s understood today.” I was baffled that someone could possibly be so blatant as to imply that 1) God’s Word somehow loses its authority or meaning on certain issues as our culture changes, 2) because it doesn’t tackle a topic in specific ways, it must be indifferent about those behaviors and choices should culture change their understanding of it, or worse, 3) we should allow for some margin of error on God’s part because, in ignorance, He didn’t see this shift in culture coming. I looked further into the author of the article and this person, while I’d never heard of him, has multiple doctorate degrees from prestigious universities, has been deeply embedded in ministry for decades, and is renowned in his fields of expertise. Hundreds of thousands of people follow his different media outlets.
And this is just one of hundreds of people out there influencing our generation of believers. Some are bold and obvious. But some of them are just like Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount – wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15). 95% of what they teach and share is spot on and easy to get on board with. But there’s that sneaky 5% that’s just off enough to fool those who don’t know the Bible well. On the surface it sounds right, but if you take a closer look, you find that it directly opposes the character of God or goes against His Word.
So what does this mean for us as Christians? Just a few chapters over, in Matthew 10, Jesus is preparing the disciples for ministry. He tells them in verse 16 that they are to be “shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Why is that? Because they would be called upon to defend the gospel. They would be forced to answer for themselves. They would have to come against people who were ready to fight, and Jesus knew that the only way they’d be ready is if they knew their stuff. He also knew that in many cases, they would be the minority. So they needed to be prepared.
Paul says in 2 Timothy 4 that “the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”
The Bible also says in 2 Peter 2, that “there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.”
And here we are! You don’t have to look long or far to find a “Biblical” teacher, speaker, or author who is willing to tickle your ears regarding just about any subject matter. It’s almost absurd. They will skew and twist scriptures to mean something they were never intended to mean. And all to make themselves and you feel better about making a choice that does not line up with God’s Word.
So what are we supposed to do?
It has to start by being smack dab in the middle of the primary source of our defense – the Bible. The more you know the Word, the easier it will be to spot false teaching when you hear it or see it. If something comes up that seems fishy, test it against the Spirit and against scripture. And if it doesn’t add up, run!
Paul says in Romans 16 to “watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.”
Maybe you’re feeling some reservations about someone but you don’t think you have enough Biblical knowledge to really tell if what they’re teaching is legit. Ask your pastor or someone you believe knows the Word well. Trust that the stirring in your gut is not just that late night bowl of ice cream talking. There’s a good chance it’s the Holy Spirit prompting you to research something a little more – either to further your own knowledge of scripture or to help you point out false teaching.
I believe the biggest thing believers need to learn from the tricky spot we find ourselves in today is to never take something at face value. The enemy is cunning and he is patient enough to creep in just a little at a time, even through someone you feel like you’ve been able to trust up until now. We have to stop blindly following the teachings of 3rd party resources, and start holding up the information we’re being handed against the lens of scripture. When all is said and done, we don’t get to use the excuse of “but he said . . .” or “but she told me . . .” Rest assured, the day will come when they will be held accountable, but not for your choices.
As we continue growing in our faith, we are to become more and more responsible for who we let teach us and what teachings we trust. So as the different teachers in our faith increase in number and influence, especially outside of the church, let’s make it a priority to know the Word of God well enough to be aware when we are being fed real meat and when we are having the wool pulled over our eyes. Too many hearts are at stake for us to not be ready.
What safeguards have you put in place to make sure the people you allow to influence your faith are solid?