How to identify false teachers

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Denny Burk, Professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College, offers six characteristics that are helpful in identifying false teachers:

Photo credit: Apprising Ministries

Photo credit: Apprising Ministries

For the next two blog posts, I want to address each half of that question. First, how to identify false teachers in the midst of the church. Second, how to deal with them.

The Bible suggests at least six characteristics that commonly identify false teachers. Not every false teachers exhibits all of these characteristics at once, but often times they present some combination of these traits.

1. False teachers contradict sound doctrine.

Even in the first century during the lifetimes of the apostles, there was an authoritative body of truth that functioned as the norm for faith and practice. Jude calls it “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Paul calls it “sound teaching according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God” (1 Tim. 1:10-11). Elsewhere, it’s the “standard of sound words” and “the treasure” (2 Tim. 1:13-14), the “words of faith” and “sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:6). John calls it the “the teaching of Christ” (2 John 9).

In the first century, sound doctrine consisted of the Old Testament plus the apostolic word that Christ assigned to His apostles. The apostolic word was eventually written down as the apostles began to pass on. For us, the standard of sound doctrine–the faith once for all delivered to the saints–is the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. False teaching, therefore, is any teaching that departs from that norm. A false teacher is anyone within the church who stands against what the Bible teaches (1 Tim. 6:32 John 9).

2. False teachers promote immoral living.

Jude shows us that false teachers often sneak into the church and “turn the grace of our God into licentiousness” (Jude 4). Licentiousness means a lack of moral restraint, especially with respect to sexual conduct. It is a total suppression of the moral norms of scripture. It is a life that excuses behavior that the Bible condemns. Peter says that such teachers deny the Lord Jesus by following “sensuality” (2 Pet. 2:2). A person who will not be ruled by God’s word is often being ruled by their own lusts. There is no shortage of charlatans who infiltrate churches with their charisma only to prove themselves lecherous meddlers with the women of the flock.

Some of them will try to justify their own sexual immorality or the immorality of others. But they often won’t mount a frontal assault on the moral norms of scripture. That is too obvious. Instead, they will redefine the Bible’s terms so that they no longer witness against their evil deeds. Those who redefine the Bible’s teaching about marriage and sexuality fall into this category.

3. False teachers deemphasize sin and judgment.

This is a trait that false teachers share in common with the false prophets of old. Jeremiah describes them this way:

For from the least of them even to the greatest of them,
Everyone is greedy for gain,
And from the prophet even to the priest
Everyone deals falsely.
And they have healed the brokenness of My people superficially,
Saying, “Peace, peace,”
But there is not peace (Jeremiah 6:13-14).

False teachers characteristically downplay sin. Instead of naming the people’s “brokenness” as sin, they simply say, “nothing to see here, move along.” The false teachers tell sinners whom God will judge that they are not really that bad and that there’s no need to fear God’s judgement. They divorce God’s love and grace from His holiness. They tell people who should have every reason to fear God’s judgment that they really don’t have anything to worry about. They flee from the confrontation that truth brings, and they tell sinners whatever their itching ears want to hear (2 Tim. 4:3-4).  Continue reading

Related:

Part 2: How to Deal With False Teachers by Denny Burk

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12 Responses to How to identify false teachers

  1. John November 18, 2016 at 12:44 pm #

    #1 and #3 are the bigger ones. I don’t know of preachers who promote immoral living who are bigger churches unless you want to point at prosperity preaching.

    • Elizabeth Prata November 19, 2016 at 11:25 am #

      Failing to confront sin is a sin of omission, (James 4:17), and many false teachers fail to confront unbiblical divorce, premarital sex, co-habitation, and/or homosexuality in their churches or in their para-church curricula/books etc. Yet all are examples of immoral living. Many of these teachers have divorced unbiblically, themselves, or support their adult children who have. (Beth Moore, case in point).

  2. noel rochford November 19, 2016 at 4:50 pm #

    To any one interested wheat/ tares . 5 wise virgins 5 foolish . foolish in strongs con 3474 MOROS check out please . It is for now the time of SEPERATION 2 cor 6 the whole chapter if we dont do this WHEAT AND TARES time is on us ECCLASIA. 2cor11/ the whole chapter please read it VIRGINS being addressed here and APOSTATES FALSE ONES masqerading as ministers of LIGHT in the Corinthians church. So if then what is it going to be in the HARD AND PERILOUS AND FIERCE TIMES that lay AHEAD bro/sis 2tim 3/1 read also perilous5467 in strongs con . To all out there HAVING DONE ALL STAND.As CHRIST said to them to tarry here and watch and pray with me and when he came back he found them sleeping. But CHRIST held up his WATCH for us to do ALSO. SHALOM / SELAH.

  3. Edwitness November 20, 2016 at 4:34 pm #

    Noel Rochford,
    ALL of the virgins heard the call to meet the Lord and 5 went out to meet Him. While the other 5 went to buy oil for their lamps. Mt.25:1-10

    “Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
    And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
    They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:
    But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
    While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.
    And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.
    Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
    And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.
    But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.
    And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.”

    It is my understanding that since Jesus was speaking to Israel, then it is Israel that is the virgins.
    The five wise virgins are those Israelites who have trusted Christ and go in the rapture as part of the bride(the church age believers). The five foolish will remain for the great trib. Israel is the virgins. The bride is the church and is not part of the 10 virgins. But, 5 virgins join with the bride as Christ’s bride because they trust in Him during the church age. Eph.2:15- the two, Jew and Gentile, were made to be one.

    Blessings:-}

  4. Edwitness November 20, 2016 at 4:35 pm #

    Context is very important Noel.
    Blessings:-}

  5. Edwitness November 20, 2016 at 4:37 pm #

    Noel Rochford,
    ALL of the virgins heard the call to meet the Lord and 5 went out to meet Him. While the other 5 went to buy oil for their lamps. Mt.25:1-10

    “Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
    And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
    They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:
    But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
    While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.
    And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.
    Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
    And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.
    But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.
    And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.”

    It is my understanding that since Jesus was speaking to Israel, then it is Israel that is the virgins.
    The five wise virgins are those Israelites who have trusted Christ and go in the rapture as part of the bride(the church age believers). The five foolish will remain for the great trib. The bride is the church and is not part of the 10 virgins. But, 5 virgins join with the bride as Christ’s bride because they trust in Him during the church age.
    Eph.2:15- the two, Jew and Gentile, were made to be one.

    Blessings:-}

  6. Daniel Knezacek November 26, 2016 at 12:41 pm #

    One way a lot of false teachers get into Churches is by stealth; They get in and give a seemingly orthodox testimony, and then only later, once they are well known and accepted, do they slowly introduce errors.

    This is how a church I used to attend, that once used the KJV, almost exclusively, switched to every alphabet bible under the sun, including the Message!

    Another great way is to redefine terms, and then what you say to one group will be interpreted differently by them than another group!

    There are different definitions to words like “grace”, “atonement”, “gospel”, & etc.

    If we do not take pains to define our terms we can easily be deceived by slick hucksters!

    Oh, and another great method that Satan uses all the time is to fill Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries with heretics! This way impressionable young people are taught gross error, by respected professors, in schools their pastor recommended, at their parent’s expense!

    When that young man returns to his home church they are usually received with open arms, because they are already a part of the church!

    It is very difficult for a church to reject a young person who grew up at that church and went to a “Christian college” at the encouragement and even expense of the church itself!

    • Edwitness November 26, 2016 at 3:41 pm #

      Daniel K,
      “There are different definitions to words like “grace”, “atonement”, “gospel”, & etc.”
      You could not be more correct! But, when we let the Bible define these words for us instead of dictionaries, we will come much closer to the truth in our conclusions. Dictionaries are ok for most definition finding applications. But, not for the word of God. The word of God defines itself.

      For example; To define what justification is the most logical place to look would be where God tells us the duty of a judge He set up is. And when you read in Judges 2:16 you find that the duty of a judge was to “…..delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them.” So justified means delivered. Or deliverance. This happens to be the same definition of the word save or salvation. Luke19:10

      And this is why Peter could say that “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.
      For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” 2Peter 1:20,21

      Blessings:-}

  7. Manny1962 November 26, 2016 at 1:12 pm #

    Amen Daniel, amen……. One of the reasons wolves have spread far and wide is because the sheep have no interest in reading the bible, it’s easier to sit on a chair or a pew Sunday morning and let someone tell you what the bible says. No knowledge, no discernment equals heresy and apostasy, the hallmark of churchianity.

    • Edwitness November 26, 2016 at 3:22 pm #

      Amen Manny1962,
      We really need to get familiar with our Bibles.
      Blessings:-}

      • Manny1962 November 26, 2016 at 5:28 pm #

        Good evening Ed,

        Hosea 4:6 comes to mind:

        “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children”

        This is one solemn warning, for those behind the pulpit and the sheep.

  8. Mike December 1, 2016 at 7:37 pm #

    MATTHEW 7:15,17..Jesus speaking,

    15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

    16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?

    17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.

    According to Jesus..we will know false teachers..false bringers of God’s word..by how they GATHER..more specifically..by how they gather their fruit.! This is NOT how to identify other Christians or those who bring the true genuine Gospel. This is how to weed out the false prophets the false teachers.! In short..How do they gather the “fruit” the offerings.! Are they nothing more than money, a tax write off given by a government approved 501C3 Charity..or are they Holy Sacrificial Offerings given in worship to God.! IF your Pastor gives you a Tax Write off..you are being led by a government approved false Pastor Teacher Prophet speaker forth of God’s word.! Not one authorized by God.!

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