"Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves” (Matthew 7:15). Unfortunately, some of us believers have failed to take heed of this warning from our Lord Jesus Christ. Consequently, we have fallen prey to these cunning so called ministers of the gospel.
There is a difference between false teaching and bad teaching and it is very important that we distinguish the two because this is where there can be confusion. A false teacher has a motivation to divide and gather; divide the unsuspecting from their churches and leaders and gather them unto himself.
On the other hand, bad teaching is simply caused by lack of knowledge. It can be equally as damaging, but the motivation is not divisive. Almost every Bible teacher has been guilty of bad teaching at some time, but their hearts were genuine. A lack of revelation does not make a false teacher. I have also been guilty of following and believing in bad teaching because of lack revelation on my part. This is what led me to go to the Bible School because I was getting tired of religion and the tradition of man (Mark 7:13) and yet there was no fruit in my life.
My belief system was faulty. I used to believe that in order for God to love me, I needed to pray and fast frequently. I would go to a specific mountain 120 kilometers away from the capital to pray. I would make sure that I would pay my tithes on time. I was doing all this out of fear that God would curse me. This was the kind of teaching I was exposed to which was laced with fear and intimidation.
Please note that there is nothing wrong in praying and fasting especially if one wants to deal with their unbelief and make their heart sensitive to God. Prayer and fasting is not about moving God because God is not stuck. It is about us making our heart sensitive to the Holy Spirit and be able to hear God’s voice as we deal with different situations in our lives. There is nothing wrong in giving to the Church. Paul is very clear about the importance of giving in 2 Corinthians Chapters 8 and 9.)
It can be hard to discern whether or not we are listening to a false teacher or a bad teacher. Typically, a bad teacher will not seek to divide believers and question leaders. They flow within the parameters of their church or movement without starting or encouraging their own group of followers. A false teacher, however won’t respect the labor of others and will look for the weak to “set them free” from the bondage of their church, leader or group.
False teachers are often motivated by money. Economic challenges create a wonderful and fertile ground for the mushrooming of false teachers and prophets. They take advantage of the gullible followers who are equally desperate to “be blessed by Papa” not knowing that “they have already been blessed with ALL spiritual blessings in heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3).
“In their greed they will make up clever lies to get hold of your money. But God condemned them long ago, and their destruction will not be delayed (2 Peter 2:3 NLT).
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One of the quickest ways to spot false teaching or a false teacher is by discerning their relationship with the Bible. Most false teachers adjust the scriptures to fit their particular doctrine. In some cases, the authority of the Bible will be questioned. Only a false teacher can tell you what the Bible is “really saying”. The unsuspecting are encouraged to go to the false teacher in order to “understand the scriptures”.
Some false doctrines require Bibles that have been altered or paraphrased toward a particular prejudice. Some “one author” paraphrased editions of the Bible follow a doctrinal prejudice that the author supports. It is therefore advisable to make sure that you don’t just blindly follow a “bible version” especially if it is a “one author edition”. King James is one of the most highly recommended versions though I know some find it difficult to read the English. Please note, I am not saying that we should not use other versions of the Bible. You can use them however you just need to be careful that it is not just a one author version. In this article I have used New Living Translation because I have seen that it is easy for someone who is not a bible scholar to understand. Even some Bible scholars also find it very reader friendly. Whatever version you use, please take note that it is not just from one author. Try and compare with the other versions.
False teachers often speak in generalities while seldom quoting scriptures. The concept of God’s love or God’s sovereignty will be discussed philosophically, and rhetorical questions will be asked, but no biblical foundation will be offered. Some of the examples are, “If you have Jesus and the Holy Spirit, do you really need the Bible?”. If God desires that all men be saved, isn’t He big enough to save all?” These type of questions are the breeding ground for false teaching.
One of the ways to recognise false teaching is to read the Epistles, verse by verse, to see if what is being taught by men is what was being taught by the New Testament authors. If a “new” doctrine is so important, it should be easily found in context and with supporting scriptures in the New Testament. Taking single verses and portions of verse to create a new doctrine is the road to error. If Jesus and Paul didn’t clearly teach what is being taught by the teacher, it is probably false.
Typically, false teachers are lone rangers and highly critical of the “organised” church or other ministries. In today’s era of social media, it is much easier for a false teacher to build a financial base without submitting to church leadership or ministry oversight. The focus of a false teacher is often to “liberate” other Christians from the traditions of men and religious thinking. They seldom accept correction or counsel, even spurning past friendships and ministry relationships.
False teachers will often portray themselves as persecuted for their open minded search for the truth. They see themselves as victims whose only goal is to set people free. The true motivation is self-justification and desire to have others sympathize with and support them.
They “secretly introduce destructive heresies” — “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.
These false prophets often speak in very coded language that does not reveal their true intentions. Their vocabulary may sound orthodox but words have been given new meanings so as not to be immediately noticed as false.
Furthermore, many false teachers resist and oppose authority (2 Peter 2:10). They teach falsehood and they “reveal” truth which they falsely claim to have received from God (Jude 8).
I pray that God will help us in identifying these false teachers. It is very sad to note that most people are flocking in their numbers to some of these false teachers, pastors, bishops or prophets. It is very important for you as a believer not to be just gullible. Be like the Berean church “who received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth” (Acts 17:11).
Paul wrote more than half the New Testament of the Bible and yet these people still searched the scriptures to validate his message. What more of our pastors, prophets and bishops. Like I have said before, you also have the right to examine what I am teaching here to see if it aligns with the Word of God and this is why there is that contact address.
- Dr Doug Mamvura is a graduate of Charis Bible School. Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @dougmamvura