HOW DO WE IDENTIFY FALSE TEACHERS?
by Shawn Brasseaux
How do we go about identifying false teachers? An extremely broad question, it has no simple, concise answer. It would be impractical and impossible to provide here an exhaustive list of all such heretics and heresies. Primarily, false teachers support and defend an enormous range of theological positions. Secondly, each erroneous doctrine has nuances, or varieties, further multiplying the false teachings that would have to be covered in this study. No solitary article could adequately cover it all.
The author has thus judged that the best way to address such a topic is to provide fundamental guidelines. These criteria are designedly not restricted to a select few false teachers; they are valuable in revealing them in all sorts of systems and situations. Nevertheless, in an effort to maximize this study’s effectualness, there will be provided specific examples of dangers of which you the reader need to be vigilant.
Dear friends, it is with great joy in our Lord Jesus Christ that we now present to you our special-edition 500th Bible Q&A study!
We will begin with something we will call “The Patterns Rule.” It is quite critical that we pay very close attention here!! Recognizing patterns is your greatest strength in recognizing false teachers. Instead of focusing on just a few instances of doctrine or behavior, your goal is to see long-term patterns (habits) in doctrine and behavior. This will minimize the chances of you wrongly accusing good, honest, sincere Bible teachers who (like all of us) simply suffer the limitations of fallibility. Believe it or not, all preachers and teachers (including this author) make mistakes. We misspeak. We give a wrong reference, say an incorrect name, read a verse too quickly and skip over a letter or word, misquote a passage, use poor grammar, mispronounce or misspell Bible terms, and so on. These slip-ups do not make us false teachers. It is the Christian approach to give people the benefit of the doubt when they make mistakes. Let us consider a few examples.
Not long ago, this author heard a preacher reading Mark 15:43. Where Scripture had “boldly,” he said “bodily.” On another occasion, he said “armies” when the Bible read “army” in Revelation 19:19. Yet another time, in Zechariah 1:17, he read aloud “spared” when Scripture said “spread.” There is no need for alarm here. This does not make him a false teacher. Instead of saying he is a “false teacher,” a better way to describe him is “dyslexic”… or maybe just someone who reads too quickly to pay attention to individual letters. This is still a case in point: we need to have a Bible in front of us as much as possible when listening to someone else read the Bible out-loud to us. Why? The next preacher might be deliberately misreading the verses! We would do well to discuss that kind of individual now.
When someone gains a reputation (remember, long-term patterns!) for misquoting verses, for repeatedly misrepresenting the same passages, for usually or always giving wrong Bible-verse references, for constantly claiming “The Bible says” and yet never providing specific chapter and/or verse numbers, these are strong indications the person is being willfully dishonest. Let us take it a step further now.
If one single sermon or book—or perhaps several sermons and countless books—abounds with these errors, those are warning signs that the preacher or teacher is not under the control of the Holy Spirit. Such numerous inaccuracies in rapid succession are not honest mistakes. Human wisdom, speculation, and religious tradition have obviously replaced the pure Word of God. The words of God are being deliberately altered, purposefully suppressed, and intentionally ignored. Someone has a theological system to maintain, a pet denominational doctrine to uphold, a vain speculation to guard, or a heresy to hide. Therefore, that person will not think twice about violating the Scriptures. What they want is control, dominance, over a person or group: they do not care where they are going with it, so long as they are leading!! It happens more often than we would care to think, dear friends. Do NOT think it cannot happen at your local assembly! (This cannot be stressed enough—oh, how this cannot be stressed enough.)
First John 4:1 speaks of Israel in the future: “ Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” Did you notice the liars? There are “many false prophets”—many deceivers. Yet, they are quite “pious” in their appearance and vocabulary. Just as God has His preachers, so Satan has his counterfeits.
Notice 2 Peter 1:19–2:3, also Israel in the future: “[1:19] We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: [1:20] Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. [1:21] 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. [2:1] But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. [2:2] And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. [2:3] And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.”
Now, consider the Apostle Paul’s comments in 2 Corinthians chapter 11: “ For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.  And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.  Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.”
Finally, hear Paul’s words to the elders (church leaders) of the church at Ephesus. We read in Acts chapter 20: “ Take heed [Beware!!!!] therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.  For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.  Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.  Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.  And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.” Not only are there Satanic men outside the church aiming to come in and deceive; they are also in the church leadership (!!!!) those wanting to deceive people and draw them out so as to form new groups (sects)!
In light of these verses, and numerous others we could have listed, we think it best to address false teachers. There are doctrinal perverts not only outside the Grace Movement, but (unfortunately) in it as well. It would do us well to learn doctrine to guard ourselves against falling prey to them. Now, we will get to the bulk of the study.
Doctrine is the most important criterion; it must be considered first. Other criteria—those that are supplementary—will be discussed later in this section.
Read 1 Timothy 4:1-2: “ Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;  Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;….” There is such a thing as “doctrines of devils.” Friends, not all doctrine is equal; not all supposed “Christian” people preach and believe the same thing. Therefore, when the “Ecumenical Movement” proponents tell us to throw away doctrine and just gather with all professing “Christians” around “the love of Jesus,” they are telling us to ignore verses that scream against false doctrine. When such ecumenists make the claim they really do not care what people believe or teach, that is a warning to us. Having such a carefree attitude toward doctrine is to be contrary to dozens upon dozens of Bible verses. Notice some other Scriptural admonitions about false teachers.
Reading from Titus chapter 3: “ But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.  A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject;  Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.” The “heretick”—or false teacher—is flipped about, turned over, perverted. What he believes and teaches is SIN. It does not glorify Jesus Christ. If he twice refuses to be corrected, the Bible says to leave him alone. If he twice refuses to be corrected, the Bible says to leave him alone. Did we get that? If he twice refuses to be corrected, GOD says to leave him alone!
As we saw in 2 Peter at the beginning, there were false prophets in ancient Israel. Deuteronomy 13:1-5 describes them: “ If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder,  And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them;  Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.  Ye shall walk after the LORD your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him.  And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to thrust thee out of the way which the LORD thy God commanded thee to walk in. So shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee.” What was God’s solution to false teachers under the Law economy? Israel was to put them to death! Friends, God does not take false doctrine lightly!!
We can categorize false teaching into two groups. One is a false gospel message—this is the most serious. Then, there are the other types of misleading information. We will look at both classes now, one at a time.
A. GOSPEL PERVERSION
As touching the Gospel message for today, the easiest way to spot the false gospels is to listen for the emphasis of religious works. The constant stressing of human effort to get into Heaven is a false gospel. A false teacher’s “gospel invitation” is dominated by pleas to walk an aisle, say a prayer, make a confession of sins, make a public profession of faith, get water baptized, keep the Ten Commandments, kneel at the “altar” and weep, turn from one’s sins, and so on. It is a lie straight from the pits of Hell to suggest to a lost person that he has something to offer God, some inherent goodness or sincere effort that will cause God to pass over his sin. God’s grace is pushed aside in favor of pleasing man. The cross of Christ is ignored. God’s grace is hidden. What a damnable message!
Galatians 1:6-9 says that if someone is preaching anything other than Paul’s Gospel, we are to have nothing to do with that person: “ I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:  Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.  But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.  As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”
Paul’s Gospel is 1 Corinthians 15:1-4: “ Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;  By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.  For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;  And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:….”
Notice Acts 16:30-31: “ And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?  And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” The Apostle Paul was under the impression that faith in Jesus Christ was enough to get someone into Heaven. We would do well to agree with God’s spokesman to us Gentiles (Romans 11:13; Ephesians 3:2). You may also see Romans chapters 1-5 for a fuller treatment of the Gospel of the Grace of God. This is your “litmus test” to see what is a true Gospel and what is a false one (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:1-4).
Romans 3:24-28: “ Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:  Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;  To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.  Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.  Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”
While a clear Gospel message is important—the most vital of doctrines—there are other types of Bible information of which we need to be aware.
B. OTHER DIDACTIC DEVIATIONS
The Bible is the world’s most important Book. It threatens Satan’s policy and plan of evil. God’s Word equips the lost person with the Gospel that can save his sinful soul from the everlasting wrath of God in eternal hellfire (what we just covered)! Also, Holy Scripture furnishes the Christian with the mind of God as pertaining to daily grace living (which we will now address). If Satan can attack God’s Word in the subtlest of ways, he can keep lost people on their path to Hell and keep Christians on their path to more ignorance!
Beware of those who say, “It makes no difference what Bible version you use; they all basically say the same thing.” Stated another way, “Doctrine means nothing to me.” (As per copyright laws, all modern English bibles must read differently. The way publishing houses achieve variety is by relying on assorted Bible manuscripts, texts that the Church the Body of Christ has refused to accept over the centuries because of those texts’ obvious faulty readings. There are significant resultant alterations to the Bible text. They are not minor differences!!) As English-speaking Christians, we need to use an Authorized Version King James Bible. This author has spent many, many years researching the Bible versions issue. He had to abandon his modern-version position because it was incorrect—theologically, historically, and morally. We will get to that later.
The most important Bible study verse is the only verse that tells us to “study” the Bible. Second Timothy 2:15 is that verse: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Since Paul tells us to “rightly divide the word of truth,” he will also tell us how to do it.
Genesis 1:1 opens the Bible with, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” There is a program for the heavenly places, and another program for the Earth. It is absolutely imperative that we keep these two programs separate!!
Peter the Apostle preached in Acts chapter 3: “ Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.  And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you:  Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.”
God spoke some truths “since the world began” (when He placed Adam on the Earth). We see that He used prophets, or spokesmen, to manifest that information to man. Therefore, the Bible says this is “the prophetic program.”
Paul the Apostle wrote in Romans chapter 16: “ Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began,  But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith:….”
In stark contrast to God speaking information “since the world began,” He also withheld some information. This body of truth was “kept secret since the world began.” It is “the mystery program.” God did not make it known until He first revealed it to the Apostle Paul. This shows us that Paul has a unique apostleship, a special place in God’s dealings with man. Notice how the Holy Spirit led Paul to write “my gospel” in verse 25. God entrusted to Paul a special Gospel message, some good news that no man prior ever knew anything about.
Paul also wrote in Ephesians 2:11-13: “ Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;  That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:  But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.”
We should think of the Bible as a timeline. There is “time past” (verse 11), and there is “but now” (verse 13). Verse 7 talks about “the ages to come.” Such divisions show us that there was a time when God made a distinction between Jew and Gentile, Israel and the nations (verses 11-12). However, with Paul’s ministry—“but now” (present-day)—that racial and religious distinction is temporarily suspended. In this “the Dispensation of the Grace of God” (Ephesians 3:2), God does not see Jew and Gentile. He sees saved (those in Christ) and lost (those in Adam). You may read Ephesians 3:1-9, for example. Those who are saved (who have trusted Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour) are members of the Church the Body of Christ. The Church the Body of Christ is separate and distinct from the nation Israel because the former belongs to the mystery program and the latter belongs to the prophetic program. We the Body of Christ do not belong in prophecy. The nation Israel does not belong in mystery.
The ministries of Peter and Paul are not to be combined. They are to be rightly divided. Israel and the Body of Christ are not to be mixed. We must rightly divide them. Prophecy and mystery are to be separated. Law and Grace are to be rightly divided. Earth and Heaven must be separated. The most common form of false teaching is when all these distinctions are “smoothed over” as though there is only one church in the Bible, only one Gospel in the Bible, only one group of apostles in the Bible, only one realm in the Bible, only one program in the Bible, only one operating system in the Bible, and so on.
As noted earlier, Paul is our apostle (Romans 11:13): he is God’s spokesman to us. If we ignore the Pauline epistles of Romans through Philemon, then we are ignoring God’s Word to us. Alas, there is the constant plea today that we need to “go back to Pentecost, Acts chapter 2.” While such people may be sincere, they are sincerely wrong. Our pattern is found in Pauline doctrine, Romans through Philemon. We do not go to the Old Testament—Genesis through Malachi, or even Matthew through John (Christ’s earthly ministry)—to find God’s Word to or about us. We do not go to the early part of Acts, and we do not go to Hebrews through Revelation. These are all God’s Word to and about Israel. We study the whole Bible, for it is all the inspired Word of God, but we study it rightly divided. Paul’s ministry is to and about us Church the Body of Christ, believers in the Dispensation of the Grace of God.
That being said, we should see that a false teacher is someone who does not make the above distinctions. They do not like dispensational Bible study. They may actually and openly declare it to be “heresy,” a “manmade system,” “cultic,” and so on. Rather than answer the doctrine point-by-point, they resort to character assassination and insults. Dispensational Bible study is a threat to their religious system, their denomination, and they recognize it as such. They will fight it as much as possible to maintain their preconceived ideas. Whether they realize it or not, they are false teachers. They are teaching error by grabbing Israel’s verses and making them fit us today—legalism (Law-keeping), water baptism, confession of sins, spiritual gifts (tongues, healing, et cetera), Sabbath-day observance, kosher food laws, tithing (forced giving), feast days and holy days, and so on. They will even try to fit us (the Body of Christ) into the Tribulation period, the wrath to come, the reign of the Antichrist. Such people are not serving Jesus Christ with their perverted (non-dispensational) teachings.
The most dangerous false teacher is a legalistic one. First Timothy chapter 1: “ As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, 4 Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do.  Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned:  From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling;  Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.  But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully;  Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,  For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;  According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.”
Paul told Timothy to command those in Ephesus not to change the doctrine (verse 3). Doctrine is important. They would change the doctrine by moving from Pauline revelation (grace) over to the Law (see verses 7-8). They were legalists; their motto was, “Perform, work in religion, to get God’s blessings! Keep His commandments or receive the curses!” (Does that sound familiar?) That is indeed what Moses instructed, it is Scripture, but Moses is not God’s spokesman to us. Paul is God’s messenger to us, and Paul said nothing of the sort in Romans through Philemon. We are blessed because of and in Christ (Ephesians 1:3)—not because of something we did but because of something He did (Ephesians 1:6; Colossians 2:10; Titus 3:4-7).
In 2 Timothy 2:15-18, we see some false teachers who mix prophecy and mystery by having the Church the Body of Christ enter the Tribulation period: “ Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.  But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.  And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus;  Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.” They would tell Christians that they had missed the Rapture (resurrection of the Body of Christ into Heaven) and were now experiencing the wrath of God. We hear that even today—a placing of the Body of Christ into the Antichrist’s reign. They are false teachers… and Paul was not afraid to name them in verse 17!!
Romans 16:17-18 tells us: “ Now I beseech you, brethren, mark [identify] them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.  For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” What are the “marks” of such people? They change the doctrine by moving away from sound Bible doctrine (dispensational Bible study—namely Pauline dispensationalism). Their goal is to attack the Bible text, discredit God’s Word, so they can then replace it with an introduction to their opinions and biases. How sad it is, but they use their convincing words to sway the ignorant masses to their side!
Let us show you, dear readers, 18 specific instances of how these false teachers operate.
A. Entertaining Preacher
False teachers seek to entertain because they want popularity, the acceptance and approbation of men. Now, dear friends, please do not misunderstand. A preacher or teacher telling a joke is not a sin. What is a sin is when the minister gains a reputation for “comic relief” (remember, long-term patterns!). People go to his “services” simply to get a good laugh. They love to hear his myriads of jokes and hilarious stories. He places little emphasis on teaching the Word of God because that Word is not always palatable. The Bible offends, dear friends, the Bible offends. We will discuss the “Ear-Tickling” and/or Prosperity Preacher later.
B. Generalizing Preacher
False teachers try to avoid dealing with controversial matters in public. They do not get into too much detail in their teachings. Mostly (remember, long-term patterns!), they stay general or vague so as not to offend. Their goal is not to preach Bible truths; rather, it is to entice the audience to keep coming back. While time and space constraints limit us all, false teachers waste time. They will focus most of their efforts on one indistinct or non-specific issue. Or, if they go into some detail, they try to focus on nothing but teachings that most people would agree on—the shallow things or basics of Christianity. This way, people of “all denominations” will come without hesitation. Their information is usually common knowledge. They read Bible verses but actual commentary is lean—perhaps totally nonexistent. At their home Bible studies, for example, you ask them pointed questions about what they have just read, and you see them “wiggle.” They will comment on specifics only if you ask them to do so. They will not naturally be specific in public. “Putting them on the spot” is the only way to catch them in duplicity. Sometimes, they will not comment at all.
C. Disinclined Preacher
Everyone can be shy when meeting new people. Due to our personalities, some of us are naturally introverts and we retreat. We do not like mingling with others, particularly strangers. Please do not misunderstand us here either. Shyness is not sinful. However, when a preacher has very little social interaction with you—especially in-person—he may have something to hide. He does not greet you first; you usually or always have to approach him if you are to have a conversation with him. He does not want to draw too much attention to himself or his teaching, and he has little to no interest in discussing doctrine with you. False teachers show no real enthusiasm when dealing with people over the Word of God. There is apathy—no outward joy or enthusiasm, no emotion at all—when they are given opportunity to evangelize or teach others. They could not care less. There is disinterest in ministry opportunities. Of course, this is to be expected. The Holy Spirit has been quenched, hindered from working. (Remember, long-term patterns!)
D. Prayerless Preacher
False teachers rarely, if ever, open and close their messages with public prayer. If any preacher or Bible teacher simply begins and abruptly ends his sermon without praying, that is a major problem that cannot be ignored. Friend, you should be careful getting involved with that ministry. Sometimes we forget to pray, either before or after the sermon. That is unintentional and no need for alarm. However, when a minister habitually skips public praying entirely, this is serious. Remember the patterns rule! The incessant absence of prayer indicates that the speaker has no interest in God blessing the time of study, no desire for God the Holy Spirit to speak through those words read from the Holy Bible. This prayerless speaker has an agenda—he wants to teach what he wants to teach, and he brings his Bible only to hide those intentions. In the energy of his flesh, he delivers a message that the Spirit of God would never endorse. He certainly will not involve the Holy Spirit if he knows the Holy Spirit disapproves of his message.
E. Pestering Preacher
A false teacher will continue to beleaguer you, time and time again, trying to convert you to his line of thought. He may repeatedly send you his literature/media, when you did not subscribe to that mailing list. He keeps calling your phone, emailing you, and/or sending you physical mail. When you make it clear to him that you are not interested, he continues sending booklets, visitors to your home, and so on. These patterns all suggest he is desperately attempting to proselytize you. He is not interested in giving you free will; he wants to control you.
F. “Unapologetic-Bible-Scoffer” Preacher
The false teacher will openly laugh at you when you show him from the Bible how he is teaching heresy. When you confront him about the wording of a specific Bible verse that he misquoted, he will further misquote it just to maintain his theological system he tried to advance earlier. He will make light of serious matters; his lighthearted attitude about doctrine is obvious, and his unbelief cannot be hidden. You caught him erring in doctrine, but he refuses to be corrected by the verses.
G. “Ear-Tickling” and/or Prosperity Preacher
If there has not been a controversy at that teacher or preacher’s assembly in recent years, that means that he is telling people what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear. If there has not been a dissonant voice in the near past—a long-time adherent breaking away from the group, or a newly-come visitor soon leaving—this author would wonder about the doctrinal integrity there. God’s truth offends; doctrine divides. Departing individuals are expected. When you hear nothing but flattering remarks, complimentary language, “always positive” content, that means the preacher is there just to entertain (which entices individuals to stay). He will avoid using the “negative” Bible words—“sin,” “Hell,” “judgment,” and “wrath,” for example. He will share nothing but positive stories, heartwarming ditties to soothe people’s troubled ears. False teachers also say that Christians are to never be sick, never to be poor, and so on. (This would naturally cause poor and/or ill believers in Christ to doubt their salvation, right?) Such a minister is to be avoided at all costs.
H. Eloquent and Bombastic Preacher
Related to the Ear-Tickling Preacher, the persuasive orator uses polished, inflated language. Please do not misunderstand. There is nothing wrong with being educated, having an extensive vocabulary, and using good grammar. Still, it must be said. Some preachers and teachers are nothing but intellectuals. You can hear it in their voice and read it in their books. They gather their people to have a “philosopher’s club,” where they talk about Scripture and various “spiritual” ideas, but they never really get into the meat of the Bible. There is no serious Bible study. They make it a point to use all these elaborate, multi-syllable words that very few (if any!) in the audience understand. Such mental gymnastics actually hinder the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit. Theology is preferred; academics are emphasized. First Corinthians chapters 1-3 should be consulted here, as the Corinthians were rebuked for worshipping philosophy!
I. Habitual Original-Bible-Languages Preacher
Some false teachers refrain from using common language (in our case, English). They have been trained (at seminary, Bible College, et cetera) to depend mostly—if not entirely—upon Greek texts, Hebrew texts, Aramaic texts, Latin texts, and so on. Occasional references to Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek are okay, but false teachers become addicted to appealing to original Bible languages (remember our patterns rule!). “Bible study” for them is nothing more than flipping through a lexicon, reading a Bible dictionary, writing entire Greek passages on a chalkboard, and so on. A Bible may not actually be present in the room either! The common person does not speak these (technical) languages, so they are at the mercy of the false teacher. It is a form of control, a “beating up of the ‘lowly, unenlightened bumpkins’ in the pews!” They have no idea of what is really going on; they have no way of verifying what the teacher is actually saying. The “Anti-King-James-Bible Preacher” and “Private-Translation Preacher” are closely associated with this.
J. Anti-King-James-Bible Preacher
Some teachers have simply been misinformed here. They have good intentions but have been taught wrong about Bible versions. (This author was once a false teacher in this point!) Still, others are willfully ignorant of it. They do not want to give the King James Bible the benefit of the doubt. In their mind, it is wrong and that is that! In the English-speaking world (much of our ministry’s audience), the false teacher will constantly correct the King James Bible. What makes this ministry so problematic is that people are taught in church to question the Bible. This minister decries how colleges destroy people’s faith in the Bible; meanwhile, he tells us the King James Bible is flawed throughout and we must look to him (and others like him) for a “more accurate Bible text.” His sermons and books abound with such phrases as, “This word should have been this…,” “A better translation is…,” “The most ancient and reliable texts read something else…,” “Our 1611 translators goofed here…,” and so on. Authority is taken away from the Protestant Bible—the King James Bible line of witnesses and manuscripts—and given over to Roman Catholic texts (modern English versions). It is really a continuation of the Counter-Reformation that the Roman Church initiated 500 years ago to: (1) discourage Protestants from using their personal Bible, and (2) cause them to seek counsel from the tradition-worshipping Roman priesthood that possessed “the better text.” Many Protestants, sadly, have adopted such a practice; they attack their own Bible text! How Satan loves it!
K. “Private-Translation” Preacher
Another type of minister you want to watch out for is someone who makes his own Bible translation as he goes long in the service. He refuses to use a Bible in his audience’s language: he deliberately avoids using a Bible written in the language of his spectators. Rather, he uses a Greek/Hebrew/Latin Bible and translates as he teaches. A private interpretation is dangerous. Friend, you have no way of knowing if he translated correctly or just fabricated something! (And, what difference does it make… he is the authority and you are the know-nothing peon in the pew who cannot make comparisons between languages!) While in translation, our 1611 King James Bible was reviewed many, many times by many, many qualified men. This author will take their judgment over the opinions of one man in this day of mass apostasy!
L. “Experience-Based/Extra-Biblical” Preacher
When something other than the Holy Bible is the authority, that is false teaching. That offends people, but so what. It must be said. In such groups, experiences will take the place of the Scriptures—“I saw this miracle, I heard that voice talking to me, I felt this inner impression….” They make it a point to tell stories of other people’s superstitious experiences as well. “God spoke to me…. Angels appeared throughout the room…. I am filled with the Holy Ghost and let me tell you what He said… I had this vision, dream, hunch, leading inside to do this or that….” Second Timothy 3:15-17: “ And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.  All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:  That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” Friends, the Bible is all we need to know everything God wants us to know and to do everything God wants us to do! We do not need angels, hunches, opinions, visions, and so on.
M. “Praise and Worship” Preacher
This man is akin to the “Experience-Based/Extra-Biblical Preacher” and the “Ear-Tickling Preacher.” When a preacher or teacher spends most of his ministry stressing music and singing, this is precarious. The Word of God is not studied at his meeting-place; instead, priorities here include dancing in the church building, loud (perhaps deafening) “concerts,” and the like. Loss of self-control is rampant. Emotions are exalted. Entertainment is key. There is no semblance of spiritual sanity. The flesh (sin nature) is in complete control—God the Holy Spirit is not! We can find such people in 1 Corinthians chapter 14
N. “Lone-Teacher” Preacher
False teachers claim that they do not need anyone to teach them the Bible. They say that “God” (?) has taught them and they alone are equipped to teach others. No one can teach them anything because they know it all. Some will tell you outright that you do not need preachers, teachers, or commentaries. Who are these individuals? They are preachers, teachers, and writers of commentaries! This is actually a cult in the making, if not already a well-founded one. Their so-called “revelations” deny the sufficiency of the Scripture itself. In fact, they may exalt their own writings as “the Word of God.” When they isolate you so as to make you believe that you have to come to them and them alone for Bible answers, that is dangerous and certainly not of the God of the Bible. Their flesh is running the show, and they will not submit to the Holy Spirit’s leading. You have no reason to stick around that assembly or Bible study group!
O. “Spiritualize-to-Tell-Spiritual-Lies” Preacher
This individual tells you that when the Holy Bible says one thing, it really means something else. They depart from a literal interpretation; this error is also known as the “allegorical/figurative method” of approaching Scripture. For example, “Babylon” really means “Rome,” “Israel” actually means “Body of Christ,” “grace” really means “works,” “Jerusalem” actually means your hometown, and so on. You are always supposed to be looking for code words, hidden meanings, clandestine definitions, mystical implications, and so on. If that were the case, how would you ever figure out anything in Scripture?
P. Self-Professed “Infallible” Preacher
False teachers refuse to hear where they are wrong. They waste all their opportunities they had to correct their mistakes. They do not want to have anyone questioning what they teach. They discourage all opposition and all discussion. They may tell people in their assembly, “You are correcting me about the Bible? What do you know about the Bible? You let me teach you and you be quiet.” They come into groups and try to make major doctrinal changes without Scriptural authority. They are despots. Leave them be!
Q. Tradition-Dominated Preacher
Every religious traditionalist is a false teacher (whether they realize it or not is beside the point). That is brutal but that is honest. Whenever church tradition creeps in, it will soon push the Holy Bible aside. Their unique expressions are, “The Church says…,” “Brother So-and-So teaches…,” “Doctor This-and-That holds to this…,” and so on. Jesus Christ addressed this crowd in Mark chapter 7: “ For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men….  … Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition….  Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.”
R. “Scant Verses” Preacher
A false teacher will use just a couple of verses in each sermon. He will not do comparative verses because verse comparisons restrict the meaning of the verses he just read. In order to have as much latitude with a verse as possible, the false teacher will concentrate as much as possible on that verse (or a few verses). This way, he can read the Bible, appear to be teaching the Bible, but actually not let the Bible define more fully what it means.
We have seen how doctrine can be examined to expose false teachers. Also, we have discussed how mannerisms can be considered to uncover false teachers. Lastly, we will look at how the preacher’s or teacher’s own audience will demonstrate him to be sound in the faith or sick in the faith.
Try, as much as possible, to interact with any converts or congregants of the teacher or preacher you are evaluating. Individuals who have sat under a false teacher’s ministry will exhibit a great number of the above doctrinal and practical departures and oddities. They have such a basic understanding of the Bible—perhaps even no understanding.
When gaining information from congregants or converts, you do not want to say, “Hey, your preacher is a false teacher. You know what I heard him say? You know what I read in his book?” No, that will draw attention to your investigation, and that may “tip off” the alleged false teacher to change or hide his teachings just so you not catch him in the act. Rather, you ask their position on various issues and see what they say. The more converts or students you ask, the more things they say in common, you are safe in concluding they have likely heard it from that one preacher. The preacher, whether good or bad, will set the example. His ministry will duplicate himself in the minds and behaviors of those under his ministry. For example, if someone from one person’s ministry usually asks the same related questions concerning one particular controversial issue, the chances are great that that ministry embraced that quirky position.
1. DOES THIS REALLY MATTER?
What better way to begin closing this article but by answering objections? (This author has heard them, and he will be glad to address them now.)
A. “We all sin—no one is perfect!”
Indeed, see Sub-Section “E.”
B. “We are all still learning—no one has all the answers!”
Indeed, see Sub-Section “E.”
C. “We cannot read hearts—only God knows if they are truly false!”
Indeed, and No. See Sub-Section “E.”
D. “We all have our disagreements—no big deal there!”
Indeed, and No. See Sub-Section “E.”
E. What God says
We all sin, but that is no excuse for false teaching. We are all still learning, but that is no reason to accept false teachers. We can disagree, but there are places where we cannot disagree. God knows we all sin, God knows we are still learning, God knows we can disagree, God alone can read hearts. Yet, He still told us on numerous occasions to “avoid” false teachers. He did not say, “Well, everyone sins, everyone disagrees, everyone does not know everything, no one can read hearts, so you need not be so concerned with someone teaching error here and there!” It is as if God thought He gave us enough information to spot and avoid false teachers. Are we willing to hear those words? Or, are we just going to blindly gravitate toward personalities?
Galatians 1:6-9 says that if someone is preaching anything other than Paul’s Gospel, we are to have nothing to do with that person: “ I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:  Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.  But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.  As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” Is that clear enough?
Romans 16:17-18 tells us: “ Now I beseech you, brethren, mark [identify] them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.  For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” Is that clear enough?
Second Corinthians 6:14-18: “ Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?  And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?  And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.  And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” Is that clear enough?
First Timothy 6:3-5: “ If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness;  He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings,  Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.” Is that clear enough?
Christians who have no appreciation for the Word of God rightly divided, as well as those who are unsaved (outside of Jesus Christ), will tell us not to “attack” false teachers. They tell us we should not be giving out names, we should not be criticizing “other Christians,” and we should not be “nitpicky” because nobody has all the answers. Why? They have their own flawed theological systems that they do not want you to expose! They want to defend the false teachers they embrace. They want to soothe their raging emotions. How they will lash out at you, and call you the most vicious of titles!
Contrary to what many people would have us believe, doctrine matters. The Holy Spirit knew all our limitations, our lack of perfect understanding in every Bible detail, and yet He still warns us over and over and over again in the Scriptures to be on the lookout for false teaching. God called those people liars and deceivers, so we need not worry about “reading hearts.” He said if they are teaching bad doctrine, they are not worthy of our time and support. They are not serving Him. End of story. Period! The only reason for being unable to discern truth from error is just plain laziness. People refuse to get in the Bible and study it for themselves. That is offensive, but that is the truth. We all need to accept that.
It should also be pointed out that even the smallest of departures from the truth are problematic. Just as a building under construction is “offset” little by little as each floor is constructed—the result being a massive difference from the blueprints—so “little” doctrinal errors will combine to form one gigantic apostasy. Galatians chapter 5 speaks of legalism (doctrinal error—works-religion) creeping into the Christian groups throughout central Turkey: “ Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?  This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you.  A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” As a little yeast would make a whole ball of dough expand, so a little false teaching corrupts an entire assembly. It will grow worse and worse. And, to think—it all started with a “little!” (Do you want to eat just a “little” poison?)
2. THE SIMPLE PREY
Read 1 Timothy 4:1-2 once again: “ Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;  Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;….” These “seducing spirits” are preacher’s voices. They draw naïve people away from the truth by delighting or pleasing them in some way.
Romans 16:17-18 tells us: “ Now I beseech you, brethren, mark [identify] them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.  For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” False teachers fool the simple. These “simple” are innocent and unsuspecting. They do not realize what is happening to them—that someone is spiritually weakening and destroying (poisoning) them. Galatians 3:1 says, “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?” The false teachers put their people under “spell,” sort of like hypnosis. They are no longer thinking clearly; they are like spiritual zombies now. How awful!
Finally, 2 Timothy 4:3-4: “ For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;  And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” The false teachers are telling them just what they want to hear!!
3. PERFECTING YOUR “FALSE TEACHER RADAR”
My dear friend, be not discouraged if this study has caused you to see where false teaching has affected or misled you. This author his had his own “rough experiences” in religion. It has taken him over a decade in ministry to see his own faults and false ideas he once held and defended. We are all growing, purifying our ministries, and (Lord willing) we will do so until the Rapture (or physical death). As long as you heed the verses quoted in this study, and consider the advice presented here, this author is fully confident that the Holy Spirit will give you the readers the strength to perfect your ability to spot false teachers. How does he know? It has been his firsthand experience. Diligent Bible study, long prayer, careful investigation, and a believing heart are all key to fine-tuning how you discern the ministries of preachers and teachers.
4. THE RISKS
If you take this information to heart and act on it, this author guarantees you that you will lose friends. (He knows firsthand many times over!) As he has become accustomed to saying in recent times, “So be it!” You will also gain the friendships of people who do want to know God’s truth, who share your desire to maintain sound Bible doctrine. Just remember when Paul confronted the deceived Galatians in Galatians 4:16: “Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?”
5. CAN FALSE TEACHERS BE “SALVAGED?”
One final note before we wrap this up, dear readers. This author has learned that some preachers and teachers can indeed turn from error to the truth. Usually, however, this is not the case. They have too much too lose—power/influence, popularity, wealth, and so on. This author would greatly caution (!) anyone who is attempting (or considering attempting) approaching a false teacher close to them. Unless the person is grounded in the Word of God rightly divided, the false teacher may very well corrupt the well-meaning person. This author would advise those people to be very careful here, and perhaps seek the advice and/or aid of more skillful Christians.
While we should attempt to recover those in Satan’s trap (2 Timothy 2:24-26)— particularly as it concerns brothers and sisters in Christ (Galatians 6:1-2)—it is never wise to risk a whole congregation just to reform one errant Christian. A group that openly and significantly disagrees with a false teacher, that group should be very careful in any “salvaging” operation. It is highly likely that the false teacher will further corrupt the group. If he does eventually turn from his evil teaching, fine—praise the Lord. He should be showing progress in his reformation. If he is still retaining and teaching his errors after a significant amount of instruction in the truth, it is best to leave him alone (Titus 3:9-11). He wants to stay confused, and we give him his free will choice (1 Corinthians 14:38).
For the sake of our ministry, for the sake of our audience, we will have to separate from false teachers. We should not apologize for it. It does not matter how kind he is, how comical he is, how knowledgeable he is, how handsome he is, how articulate he is, how much he claims to “love the Lord,” it is time to let him go his way. With a broken heart, you give him over to his error. It is what he wants. It is what GOD wants (Titus 3:9-11).
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