The Bible calls false teachers “wolves.” Unlike a shepherd – who feeds and protects the flock – these saboteurs creep in and tear apart the flock – spiritually, physically, and corporately. (See Jude 3-4…and the rest of Jude, too.)
Thanks to some recent sermons at our church, here’s a quick list of red flags to spot these duplicitous leaders.
Your church leader might be a “false teacher” if:
The Bible tells us that “a worker is worthy of his hire” and that people who do a good job (including church leaders) deserve to be paid fairly for it. (1 Tim. 5:18)
False teachers, however, tend to be more focused on the pay than the work (Jude 11). Private jets, anyone?
Throughout the letters of Paul, it’s plain that he accepted contributions from the churches he ministered to…but as a sign of their faithfulness, generosity, and love, not because he was “owed” it. (See 1 Thes. 2 and 2 Thes. 3)
The Philippian Christians supported his work not just with supplies, but by sending a member of their congregation to take care of him (Phil. 2). And yet, Paul stresses that he will be content with whatever God provides (the famous “I can do all things” passage – Phil. 4:11-14). His biggest reason for mentioning this church’s faithful giving is to encourage them that they’re doing exactly what God wants them to be doing, and to build them up in God.
As for the church in Corinth (Cor’-inth), Paul refused to take their money while he was preaching there. We know from Acts that he had a job as a tentmaker (Acts 18:2-3), and in 1 Corinthians Paul accepted contributions, but not from Corinth…he’d rather work with his own hands all night long than be a burden to them.
When Paul was collecting money to send to the Christians in Jerusalem, who were experiencing a famine, he made a point of bringing along members from all the churches that had contributed. (See 2 Cor. 8-9)
Not only did he want them to give of their own free will (not out of guilt, or to look good to others) he wanted everyone to see it was not for his benefit…and he wanted to be able to say boldly that he had no opportunity to “dip into the till.”
Not just to keep everyone in the group honest, but also to protect their witness before unbelievers, Paul knew the value of taking partners.
The real-life application: your pastor shouldn’t touch the money. Offerings, salaries, etc. should be handled by someone else. Even if he is the soul of discretion, and glittering gold holds no attraction to him, it protects you from accusations in the event something does happen.
Even the Apostle Paul admitted that he wasn’t “already perfect” (Phil. 3:12). He trusted that God would keep working in him until the transformation was done, but he didn’t raise himself above others by claiming to have “arrived”.
In 1 Tim. 1:12-16, Paul declares that he used to be a “blasphemer” and “persecutor” — pretty strong words. But now he has “received mercy” so that Jesus could show off His patience on Paul.
Remember the story Jesus told about two debtors, one who owed a lot and one who owed a little? His point was: the man who was forgiven the bigger debt will love the Master more. But that doesn’t mean that the man who was forgiven little should be ungrateful…He couldn’t pay his debt any more than the other debtor could.
Does your pastor act like he’s God’s gift to mankind? Does he refuse to admit when he’s in the wrong, apologize when he hurts someone, or accept anyone else’s way of doing things?
Check out the rest of the Bible:
When accosted in the street, Jesus replied to the man who called Him “Good Teacher” by saying, “Why do you call me good? Only God is truly good.” (Sarcasm meant to make the man think, since Jesus is God, therefore good.)
Sanctification is a fancy church word for “God gradually changing us from the inside out to be like Jesus.” The key here is gradually. We’re not going to wake up the day after we get saved and be perfect. The whole point is that God is remaking us day-by-day.
The Apostle John tells us that if anyone claims to have no sin, he’s basically calling God a liar (1 Jn. 1). Denying your faults (sin) is denying that you have something that needs fixing. Denying that you have something that needs fixing is to deny that Jesus fixed it. To deny that Jesus fixed it is to deny what Jesus did on the cross…and boy, you don’t want to go there.
A full discussion of this is beyond the scope of a blog post, but if your church leader tells you that you can’t rain on his parade because he’s totally faultless, he’s just raised a red flag and waved it for everyone to see. He just might be a false teacher.
Reprobate is a fancy, church-y word for talking about “not Christian.”
The Bible is clear that how your kids behave reflects on you. To the point that, in the Old Testament Law, a son who wouldn’t obey or respect his parents would be stoned to death. (Deut. 21:18-21)
We aren’t bound by that rule anymore (even Paul was a murderer – but cleansed by the blood of Jesus!) but the principle is still important. How do your pastor’s kids behave?
They might be hell-on-wheels and the primary reason the church’s insurance is through the roof.
They might be friendly, good in school, diligent at their jobs…and haven’t been through the doors of the church (or any church) since they turned 18.
When Paul was telling churches how to interview elders (fancy word for “church leaders”) he insisted that the men’s children must be well-behaved. “If a man can’t control his own household, how can he control the household of God?” (1 Tim. 3:5)
Obviously, every person must make his or her own decision about whether or not to obey Jesus, and kids are no different. But this rule is in the Bible for a reason.
If your church leader’s kids have no interest in God, or don’t seem to understand how “good Christians” live…then maybe he’s spending too much time organizing other people’s kids and not enough time discipling his own. Or…maybe what he taught his kids wasn’t God’s truth.
Maybe he’s a false teacher.
And if what I’ve just said is ringing a bell, maybe y’all should stop reading this blog post and go read 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus (because this doesn’t just apply to church leaders)!
“All Scripture is God-breathed, and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.”
“The Law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The ordinances of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.”
“These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
This book – written over the space of 4000 years, yet hanging together like a carefully plotted novel – is the foundation of everything we say and do. It is God’s Word, which the Holy Spirit (living in our hearts) uses to teach us what God wants, and spank us when we don’t do that thing that God wants.
Example from the wild…
We had a pastor once upon a time who was reading out of Luke 2, and from the pulpit said, “Now, we don’t really know who the governor was when Jesus was born. It might have been Quirinius, but we don’t know.”
To which the entire pew of our family replied (internally), “Did you not just hear what Luke said? Educated, first-hand witness, diligent historian, and inspired-by-God-Himself Luke just said Quirinius was governor!” (Lk. 2:1-2)
When it comes down to a fight between the guy who was actually there, and some worldly seminary professor who’s trying to get tenure with a radical paper, I’m backing God and the guys He picked to write down His story.
Is anyone surprised that within months the church had split? That’s what I mean when I say “false teachers tear apart the church”. Over a dozen families walked out…visible evidence that this organization was hemorrhaging, dying.
God tells us in the Bible that the very stars talk about Him (if we’ll listen). He doesn’t keep secrets. The entire mission of the church is pretty much, “Go and tell.”
In the Proverbs, it’s Folly (fancy word for Dunder-Head) who slouches at the mouth of an alley, beckoning gullible young hunks into her bear trap. Wisdom, on the other hand, stands on top of buildings and yells, “Hey! Get a clue, people! Plus free food!” (See Proverbs 8.)
False teachers want you to think they’re selling you something exclusive, something rare, something cool. But they’re puffing themselves up, instead of focusing on Jesus and giving Him the glory He deserves (Col. 2:18-19).
Been there, seen that.
Going all the way back to the Gnostics that Paul and John fought, false teachers and cults have claimed to have “secret knowledge” that they’ll give you if you buy in to their system. Think Wicken, Scientology, the Masons, the Mormons…
To show you the difference, I’m going to spill some big, important Christian secrets right here! Tell your friends! Here are a couple juicy secrets from Paul:
You don’t have to be a Jew to be saved by Jesus. Jesus died on the cross and rose again for every single person in the world! Yes, even the weird barbarians who aren’t even a little bit Jewish.
When we believe in Jesus and “invite Him into our heart” – He comes! Like, He actually lives with us every moment, every day. (Col. 1:26-28)
There. No offering contributions or church t-shirts required.
God’s gift is for everyone. If your church leader says you need to trust in Jesus to be saved…and get baptized in his baptistry, or believe his side of the Calvinist/Arminian divide, or stop smoking, or wear a skirt the proper length to church…then he’s just tried to make himself the gate-keeper of heaven, and that job is already taken.
I told you false teachers tear the sheep apart physically, right? Well, what about church leaders who make moves on women who aren’t their wife? Who post photos of teenage girls on their Facebook page? Who give teen girls a ride home without someone else in the car?
Even if they don’t start out bad, this particular temptation is huge for all humans. All it takes is a little relaxing of the guard…working late with the secretary because, y’know, someone has to plan out the VBS program…a troubled woman in the church who gets so much out of counseling and is just so grateful for the sweet, understanding pastor –
SNAP. Sin is crouching like a lion, waiting to devour you. You must master it.
Why do you think there’s been an explosion of scandal and resignations lately? Because this particular monster loves to get its teeth into pastors. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will scatter.”
That’s not even counting the devious false teachers!
Joseph Smith, Jim Jones…famous names and famous movements that also involved men gratifying their “appreciation” for womanhood. (Otherwise known as their “sensuous desires”.)
While the Mormon church has officially moved on from its polygamous roots (and Mr. Jones is beyond repenting), it should be no surprise that when people become unmoored from what God says, it shows in their behavior.
So watch those baby steps…those tiny movements in the wrong direction. Smarter people than I am have written about the danger signs of this particular sin. Don’t wait until your daughter is a victim to sit up and do something.
And if something terrible should happen – don’t sweep it under the rug! Read Matt. 18 and 1 Corinthians, then get that creep out of leadership. Whether you call the police is up to you – but do not allow him to have authority over any other women!
EDIT: The same week I published this post, I read this article in WORLD Magazine about the emerging sexual abuse scandal in Protestantism. Sin is crouching at the door, and we don’t defeat it by “trying harder” or pretending it doesn’t exist. We defeat it by drawing closer to Jesus.
Yes, I know I’m a girl. I’ve had quite some time to get used to the idea. That’s why I’m not “teaching” you like a church leader would do… I just “get out the Bible and read it, and whether you like it, you need it; sure as I can see that better than 90% of you happen to doubt me.”
Paul says, “I do not permit a woman to teach a man” (1 Tim. 2:11-12).
Women are built differently. Our brains aren’t wired the same. We’re made to raise children, and solve sibling arguments, and orchestrate harmony, and nurture growth.
Men are built to look at Truth, look at Falsehood, then separate them with a razor-sharp, double-edged sword (Sword of the Spirit). And that’s exactly what we need in church leadership.
This is not to say that all women are dumb-dumbs who can’t grasp spiritual truths by themselves. That’s a straw-man. My own mother is one of the smartest, wisest people I know and has been an indispensable part of my own life and faith journey.
But she’s not made to get up in front and lead.
God in His word tells us that, “Christ is the head of man, and man is the head of woman, and God is the head of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:3). Thus, the marriage relationship is meant to mirror the relationship within the Godhead, and God’s relationship with us – sacrificial love, paired with submissive respect.
But a full discussion of that is beyond the scope of this blog post. The point is that a woman’s role is support, not point. When she tries to take an officer’s role, things start to mess up.
Yes, this even applies to the women who mean well…and aren’t loopy.
She might have the best of good intentions. But you know where good intentions go when they die. They use ’em as paving stones.
Women can have a wonderful role encouraging and instructing other women. But keep your antennae alert. The minute they step beyond that, the minute they try to be a leader – the pressure is on, the focus gets warped, and…well, see Point #6.
Saying, “I meant well” is useless to the broken lives strewn behind you.
If your leadership has one of these red flags, get your magnifying glass and look for the others. They might be a false teacher.
And if your church leaders look like a parade float tackled a freight train careening downhill…well, you might want to do something before you get run over.
‘Cause false teachers are like wolves. They’re only worried about filling their bellies; they’re more than happy to feed on you; and if the rest of the sheep scatter when they make their kill, it’s that much more fun.
There’s only one kind of ammunition that’s effective against them. So pack your barrel with God’s Word and scan the horizon. God promised “they” would be everywhere (1 Jn. 4:1).
Lion image is from Unsplash.
Image of caution sign is from Unsplash.
Her pastor and church are also getting in training to hog-wrestle with the Southern Baptist Convention. Dude, Jesus totally pwns this competition!