Weeding Out False Teachers and Teaching

I attend a men’s group at my church each weekend. This weekend we discussed the fourth chapter of First John. While the director of ministries lead the session I started noticing some points that drew my attention. While trying to fill out my notes page I started writing notes in the margins of my bible. What follows is an exposition of the points that grabbed my attention.

1 John 4:1
1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

First John is calling the church to have a little skepticism (notice I say a little because there are many overly skeptical Christians that won’t even acknowledge a miracle when it is staring them in the face). We are called to test the spirits. The Greek here, pneuma, can also be translated breath or wind. Just because something that is said seems motivating or compelling doesn’t mean it is true. We are to examine what is being said so that as Ephesians 4:14 says “so that we will not be carried about by every wind of doctrine.” Ephesians 4 calls the leaders in the church, prophets, evangelists, teachers to equip the saints until we attain unity in faith and knowledge of the Son of God. We must be involved in a community of believers to be built up so that we might have the tools necessary to test the spirits. Also a Christian must not rely solely upon this community but should pray regularly and study God’s word.

1 John 4:2-3
2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.

Most of us when we hear the term antichrist think of someone blatantly or unabashedly denying Jesus and attacking all that He was. Unfortunately, Satan isn’t as straightforward as that, he tends to be more subtle and appeals to carnal desires. The word confess here in Greek is Homo-logeo, which literally means “to say the same as”. So the first test of a false teacher or prophet or false teaching is if it does not say the samething about Jesus and His word that Jesus says you can be sure it is not from God. The way to know what Jesus said about Himself and what He taught is to read the Bible. You don’t have to deny Christ to deny Christ. If anyone redefines or reprioritizes who Christ (the anointed one, the messiah and THE Savior) is or if they redefine what Christ did, His purpose, then they are advocating a different Christ and have denied Christ. This is incarnational deviation. To present Christ as a good teacher or to present Christ as having come in Spirit only as a super-being unable to relate to us; these are historic and even in varying forms contemporary false teachings.

1 John 4:4
4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.

The second test for a false teacher or teaching is the point of confidence and objective for fulfillment. Where does the power come from to overcome? We have overcome because we have Christ abiding in us. A false teacher or teaching will point us to human ability, social movements, and will focus on what can be accomplished here on earth. Paul Washer provocatively asked, “Does our gospel presentation get people excited about what God can do for them here on earth or who God is?” Jesus condemned religious leaders when He quoted Isaiah in Matthew 15:9, “But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.” Is our confidence in inspirational or motivational speakers, is our confidence as Christians in the inspiring accomplishments of Team Hoyt? Are we hoping to get out of Christianity our best life now?

1 John 4:5-6
5 They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

Thirdly, if the world does not object, if what is being taught is popular then look out. Jesus said in Luke 6:26, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way.” The truths of God and the bible come from a Kingdom which is not of this world and therefore its culture is not of this world. Whether it comes from a man or a company of men what cultures arise come from fallen men. Redeemable qualities present in culture are a product of Common Grace and come from God limiting the degeneration of man. The truths of scripture will for the most part be counter cultural. It was Leonard Ravenhill who asked, “How can the world not get along with the holiest man that ever lived and can get along with you and me?”

1 John 4:7-11
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

Fourthly, what is the focus of affection, and value and what is the impetus for love? To put it another way; what are we to love and why are we to love it? The word of God spends time telling us to do that which does not come naturally to us, because if it came naturally then it wouldn’t have to tell us to do it. Over and over again the Word of God tells us to love others, to love our neighbor, to especially love our brothers and sisters in Christ. It tells us to love because God first loved us. I have yet to find a passage which tells us to love our self. Yet many teachings in the church try to address the problem of low self-esteem or an overdrawn love bank account. Yet the word tells us that no one ever hated his own flesh, yet he clothes and feeds it. Further scripture tells us that in the end people will be haters of God and lovers of self; so self-esteem is not a solution, it’s a problem! Yet so many teach that we are to love our-self better and love others not because Jesus first loved us but because through loving others we can build a better social situation that will be beneficial to our-self. Many false teachings will turn the focus back on to one-self and this appeals to our desires to be the center of attention.

1 John 4:12-13
12 No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.

Fifthly, is the teacher or teaching claiming a special new revelation from God? Is the teacher claiming to have seen God? God has given us His Spirit and His word. We have God’s word and any true prophet will speak God’s heart into the situations we face from God’s word. This is the definition of a prophet.

1 John 4:14-15
14 We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.

And the final test; does the teacher confess that Jesus is the Son of God and THE only Savior of the world? There are many teachers and teachings today that either try to replace the definite article “the” with the indefinite article “a”; teaching that Jesus is “a” savior. Also some are trying to teach that Jesus is revealing Himself, His character in other religions and those that receive His calling and embrace Jesus character in those other faiths are receiving Christ. Yet scripture tells us that behind idols, behind the deities of other religions are daemons. Such teaching, in other words, is claiming that Christ is working behind daemons that are working behind these false gods. This is nothing less than blasphemy! In the name of peace and unity, the truth is denied. This is a unity and peace we cannot afford!

A Quick Review of the Tests

Let us quickly go over the tests for false teaching and teachers in summary once again.

  1. Does the teaching say the same thing about Jesus that He said about Himself and that His Word says about Him? (v2-3)
  2. In what is being taught; what is the source of confidence and the object for fulfillment? (v4)
  3. Is what is being taught popular? Does the world have little or no objection to what is being taught? (v5-6)
  4. In what is being taught; what is the focus of affection, and value and what is the impetus for love? To put it another way; what are we to love and why are we to love it? Is love being focused back on self?  (v7-11)
  5. Is the teacher or teaching claiming a special new revelation from God? Is the teacher claiming to have seen God? (v12-13)
  6. Does the teaching deny that Jesus is the Son of God and/or THE ONLY Savior of the world?

Application

Before anyone goes off and starts hunting for wolves we need to make sure we can tell the difference between wolves and sheep. I think it will help if we place some parameters around the situations we will run into. Teachers and what they teach will fall into several categories.

  1. False Teachers are teachers that have adopted a non-biblical world view and who persistently teach based upon that world view.
  2. Descent Teachers are teachers who over the course of their life teach persistently based upon a biblical world view and proclaim Jesus as the Son of God and only savior but who may occasionally make misdirected statements. We cannot expect teachers to get it right all the time.
  3. Worldly Motivators are teachers that have adopted non-biblical principles and who persistently use carnal motivations to entice and manipulate peoples passions to achieve self-serving ends. They only call on Jesus name to steal legitimacy.
  4. Descent Motivators are teachers who over the course of their life teach persistently based upon a biblical world view and proclaim Jesus as the Son of God and only savior but who occasionally employ methods based upon worldly presuppositions that are enticing to carnal motivations. Again, we cannot expect teachers to get it right all the time.

I have chosen to leave Good Teacher out as a category because when the Pharisees addressed Jesus as “Good teacher” He asked them “Why do you call me good, for only God is good”. Only one teacher rightly deserves the title Good and that is Christ. It is the task of Christian leaders to identify False teachers and teachings and Worldly motivators and call them out so that the sheep are not lead astray.

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About Devin Adint
I have always had many interests; technology, science, philosophy, theology, politics, history, etc... Currently, life for the past twelve years has placed me in the area of technology fulfilling roles in System Administration and Architecture. But I have always been involved in the local church and enjoy researching and discussing issues of theology, philosophy, history and politics...

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