How to identify false teachers

The apostle Paul wrote to Titus that pastors must not only preach faithfully but also “refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). The idea is very simple. Pastoral ministry is not merely a building up, but also a tearing down. As Paul would say elsewhere, it involves tearing down every speculation and lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:5). To fail to do this is ministerial malpractice and harmful to God’s people.

Given this obligation, it becomes all the more imperative to be able to identify false teachers when they emerge. Sometimes false teaching originates from outside of the church. Sometimes such teaching originates from within. The New Testament teaches that a more rigorous response is required when it arises within. Thus faithful pastors must learn how to identify and deal with false teachers. But how do we do that?

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).

4. False teachers are motivated by greed or selfish gain.

Peter says that in their “greed” false teachers exploit God’s people with “false words” (2 Pet. 2:3). Indeed their hearts are “trained in greed” (2 Pet. 2:14). Paul says false teachers “suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Tim. 6:5). Teachers who love money and material gain will often say whatever they have to say in order to increase their bottom line. They are mercenaries, not following the call of God but going after the highest bidder. They will embrace novelty. They will scratch whatever itch sinners want scratched. They turn the ministry into a profit machine because they are motivated by greed. Beware of the pastors who seem to have an appetite for material gain. This is a tell-tale mark of a false teacher.

5. False teachers cause division.

False teachers will try to convince the flock that sound doctrine causes division. But this is a lie. It is actually the false teaching that seeks to divide and conquer God’s people. Jude warns about them in this way:

“In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.”These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly- minded, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God… (Jude 18-20)

Who causes dissension in the ranks? Not those teaching sound doctrine. Christ’s people unite around the truth. They divide over error. False teachers are the ones who draw people away from the standard of divine truth into error.

6. False teachers resemble the flock.

Jesus says to “beware of the false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15). The false teacher never comes to us with a cardboard sign around his neck saying, “I’m a false teacher.” The false teacher comes to us in the guise of Christianity. He has the form of godliness while denying its power (2 Tim. 3:5). If the false teacher looks and sounds like a Christian, then how are we to know if he is a false teacher? Jesus tells us how we know, “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). In other words, what they do will often reveal far more about who they are than what they say.

There is probably more that could be said to define false teachers, but these six characteristics are the very least that we might highlight here. Tomorrow, we’ll discuss what a faithful response to false teachers should look like.

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[Image Credit: The Gospel Coalition]

79 Responses to How to identify false teachers

  1. Jason Wert April 7, 2014 at 5:39 am #

    BRILLIANT.

  2. Terry Galloway April 7, 2014 at 5:54 am #

    The Lord is guiding and speaking to His watchmen/women. I don’t know if you posted this during the night because you wrote it at that time or not, but God has been waking me up in the middle of the night with a passion to expose false teaching here in Atlanta.

    Thank you so much for your well written, anointed writing. Jude 4 has been a pivotal verse for me. Twice I have met with Andy Stanley asking him to follow Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5. By his preaching, he is a false teacher, but he is also a false teacher in his role as pastor. I even mentioned Jude 4 to him.

    Godincidentally yesterday in the early morning I wrote an email to the woman who is living in sin with my husband. See Matthew 5:32. She is now leading a small group called Starting Point at Andy’s church. She is obviously also a false teacher who will be teaching a false gospel of cheap grace. I made the point that if we are both believers that we are in the church and told her the Bible instructions including the judgment one receives from taking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy way. I also sent a copy of the email to Andy Stanley. Biblically I have already done the steps of Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 but the problem still is with Andy’s refusal to follow instructions.

    Persecution is likely to come. I am praying for them as I pray for you too Denny. Ezekiel chapters 2, 3 and 33 say we must speak up! 2 Thessalonians 3:3 The Lord is faithful, He will guard you from the evil one. I believe Jesus is looking for His followers to speak more like John the Baptist and not be afraid of the consequences but remain focused on the prize of Christ Himself.

    • Kelly Hall April 7, 2014 at 9:49 am #

      Terry, peace to you. Your strength and perseverance is beautifully stated in your post (and actions with your husband and Mr. Stanley). Thank you for your honesty and I will add you to my prayers today.

      Denny, what a fabulous post. Thank you for taking time to teach the truth and go into such depth.

    • brendt April 7, 2014 at 3:10 pm #

      Why does the phrase “non sequitur” come to mind?

      • Brendt Wayne Waters April 7, 2014 at 3:22 pm #

        Apologies for the lack of last name on that one. If I could edit or delete it, I would.

  3. Bridget Platt April 7, 2014 at 8:04 am #

    Great post, Denny. What frustrates me is the lack of boldness on the part of pastors to call out and name false teachers. Paul did it, why don’t most pastors? I’ve always had a heart for doctrinal truth and I go to a large well-known reformed church where truth is preached week after week. But what I’ve learned over the years is that there is a great lack of discernment even among people who hear solid truth preached on a regular basis. And where I once would have thought that solid preaching and posts such as yours should be good enough to help people see which present-day teachers are teaching a false gospel and steer clear of them, experience has taught me not to assume everyone has this sort of discernment and can make that connection.

    Too often I see people who have been under solid Biblical teaching reading books by false teachers or clueless that certain preachers are preaching a false gospel. This is one of the reasons I respect John MacArthur so much, he is not afraid to do this and I think out of protection for his flock, it is the right thing to do. Great respect also to Shai Linne as well for the video he made: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MaYsruRT0d4

    • Cindy Bowen Zweber April 7, 2014 at 11:26 am #

      AMEN

    • Brendt Wayne Waters April 7, 2014 at 3:21 pm #

      Actually, MUCH more often than not, Paul DIDN’T do it. Instead, he addressed the false teaching (not the false teacher) — either directly (by showing the error) or indirectly (by teaching the truth).

      The idea of cherry-picking a few Scriptures where direct confrontation was right and necessary, in order to give a pass to as much confrontation as we want to engage in today, is the tiresome foundation upon which many “ministries” are built.

      • Bridget Platt April 7, 2014 at 4:12 pm #

        Brendt, I understand your frustration with ministries that seem to label every living soul a false teacher, but what do you think the solution is to the lack of discernment so many Christians have regarding false teachers, even those going to churches where solid biblical doctrine is taught? Should I not mention so and so is teaching falsely to friends either, or is it only ,who as a general rule, shouldn’t do this?

        • Brendt Wayne Waters April 7, 2014 at 4:54 pm #

          Bridgett, just to be clear, I’m not talking about “ministries that seem to label every living soul a false teacher” — they are beneath recognition of existence. But there are many “ministries” who portay themselves as much more respectable, and who have a chosen few targets. Yes, they pair Scripture references with their claims — I’ll give no comment on relevance — but it’s obvious that the issue is the person and not the teaching.

          My point is that the reasoning that a Biblical “good guy” did something is, at best, a weak argument for us to do the same. The “man after God’s own heart” knocked up another man’s wife and then had that man whacked in an attempt to cover it up. Granted, it’s obvious that the passage about *that* is descriptive, not proscriptive. But with the exception of Jesus, we need to be Berean about ANYONE’S actions before we decide if it’s descriptive or proscriptive.

          I’m not sure what the solution is (to the conundrum you present). But I can say this: If someone is attending a church where solid biblical doctrine is taught, and false teaching doesn’t stick out to them like a sore thumb, then they aren’t paying any attention. And no amount of naming names is going to change that — in fact, it will probably make such folks even lazier cognitively. I do not say this in theory; I have seen this first-hand far too many times.

          Your last question is a bit vague, so I can’t answer it directly. But let me give a brief illustration. Say that John Doe is teaching false belief XYZ. What’s the important part of that scenario — that John Doe is a false teacher, or that XYZ is a false teaching?

          Here’s the bottom line. Jesus died for false teachers; He didn’t die for false teaching. When we conflate the two, we do serious damage to the Gospel message.

          • Bridget Platt April 7, 2014 at 7:43 pm #

            Brendt, I think that comparing David’s sinful actions to Paul’s is quite a stretch. I’ll assume that we all know not to look to the sinful actions of Bible figures and emulate such behaviors. My point was simply that he did do it, and more than once and there seems to be such a hesitation (or fear perhaps?) of doing this in our day.

            You said the bottom line is that Jesus died for false teachers but not false teaching and we damage the gospel when we conflate the two. Hard as I try, I can’t follow this logic. I’ll agree that Jesus died for false teachers (who repent and trust Him) but I don’t see how naming a false teacher combines the teacher with the teaching and somehow damages the gospel unless you are just talking about mean-spirited, self-righteous, personal attacks against the false teacher. If that’s what you mean then I’d just say –yeah, I agree, don’t do that. But doing it humbly and patiently wouldn’t damage the gospel in any way I can see.

            • Brendt Wayne Waters April 8, 2014 at 12:00 am #

              Bridget, I would fully agree “that comparing David’s sinful actions to Paul’s is quite a stretch”. The thing is, though, I didn’t do that. Perhaps we need a level-set on definitions, because you apparently think that I *did* make such a comparison.

              Descriptive passages simply say “this happened”. Proscriptive passages say “this happened; go and do thou likewise”. The passages about David to which I alluded are Exhibit A of a descriptive passage. My point (which I thought was clear) was that — with the exception of Jesus — we cannot take any passage that describes a person’s actions (no matter how good that person is) and automatically — without consideration — declare the passage to be proscriptive.

              You actually supported this point by classifying David’s actions as sinful. I would imagine that you arrived at such a conclusion because there are specific passages that state that adultery and murder are sins. Therefore, this passage is obviously not proscriptive. Similarly, we must search the Scriptures to gather evidence that will show us if Paul’s actions of naming names is descriptive or proscriptive. We cannot simply say, “Well, Paul’s a good guy, and he did it; therefore, I should do it, too.”

              As to the rest of your comment, I never said that naming a false teacher is conflation; I said that conflation is damaging to the gospel. I believe at least part of the problem is that you are trying to personalize my general statements. I am neither condemning nor condoning your actions (largely because you haven’t detailed any, but also because I have no interest in doing so). I am giving some general principles designed to help you decide the best course of action in each instance.

            • Brendt Wayne Waters April 8, 2014 at 12:49 pm #

              Bridget, there is a good illustration of my point in Ian Shaw’s comment from April 8, 2014 at 11:19 am (EDT, I think). To be sure, I am not picking on Ian. I’m sure that his email was more substantive than his comment here.

              But by simply naming names here, he is assuming a shared baseline of understanding and belief. And it would seem that that baseline is shared by Terry, who applauded him.

              But here’s the problem — I don’t consider Stanley to be a false teacher, and so Ian’s assumption is invalid. To be frank, my guard is now officially up, such that any subsequent words on the topic will fall on deaf ears. Or at least he would have a much harder time convincing me, since he led off with a baseless accusation.

              • Bridget Platt April 8, 2014 at 6:19 pm #

                Brendt, after reading two more of your posts, I don’t think that you are realizing that you are doing the same thing you accuse Ian of doing. For I can like-wise say that by simply naming names here (only in your case, declaring your belief Stanley is a sound-Biblical preacher instead of a false one), you are assuming a shared baseline of understanding and belief. And the problem is – I DO consider Stanley to be a false teacher, and so your assumption is invalid. And to be frank, my guard is now officially up, such that any subsequent words from you on the topic will fall on deaf ears. Or at least you will have a much harder time convincing me, since you led off with a baseline assumption.

                I am not saying this to mock but to show you that this goes both ways. I think it is much wiser to simply look at the example of a great Biblical figure, such as Paul and assume that we should follow his good example and do like-wise rather than get into complex, logical arguments that go in circles and lead nowhere. This seems (to me) to be the path of many new, liberal-minded mega-church pastors.

                • Brendt Wayne Waters April 8, 2014 at 7:40 pm #

                  Um, I’m not assuming a shared anything with anyone. Ian cited two people, apparently assuming that we’re all on the same page and would concur that they are false teachers. I simply pointed out that this was an invalid assumption.

                  But, I have to say, I’m not surprised that my statements get misrepresented as soon as specific names are cited. Names get named, and immediately rational thought goes out the window. And non sequiturs like “liberal-minded mega-church pastors” get thrown around indiscriminately. And you wonder why I am less than drawn to the concept of naming names?

                  If you are comfortable with blindly emulating another HUMAN BEING whom God used, that is your prerogative. It is also your prerogative to say that careful study of Scripture “go[es] in circles and lead[s] nowhere.” I think the Bereans might disagree, though.

                  • Bridget Platt April 8, 2014 at 8:18 pm #

                    Maybe you’re not assuming that others on this blog share your baseline assumptions, Brendt, but if, for instance, you went on a blog where the person likes Stanley and you made a comment on his post that you like him too and really like a certain message he preached, then Ian could comment on your comment that you are “making assumptions that there is a shared baseline of understanding and belief” and since he doesn’t consider Stanley to be a Biblical teacher, your assumption is invalid and now his guard is up against any subsequent words you speak.

                    Truth is, you would be right in assuming there was a shared base-line of understanding and belief if you liked Stanley and visited and made comments on blogs that liked him too. And Ian is right to assume the same here.

                    • Brendt Wayne Waters April 8, 2014 at 9:32 pm #

                      First of all, do you realize how many implied “if’s” are in your hypothetical? That’s an awful lot of assumed knowledge about me.

                      But even if your hypothetical came true, what I would be doing (in the scenario you laid out) would not be the same as what Ian did. But trying to explain the (obvious) difference would just “go in circles and lead nowhere.”

                  • Ian Shaw April 9, 2014 at 8:20 am #

                    Brednt, you are right.
                    Maybe not everyone is on the same page when it comes to very well known names and perhaps the wool is still over people’s eyes or their heads are in the sand. I won’t do the work for you. Any variety of search engines on both of the peoplr I mentioned will show things/statements that are in stark contrat to orthodox Christianity. Am I bashing them personally, no. I’m making an observation. One of these things is not like the other.

                    • Brendt Wayne Waters April 9, 2014 at 10:58 am #

                      Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should send him to Google.

                      The vast majority of the sites that I have encountered (to which you allude) give very little — if any — context, and allow for no requests for that context. If (in the rare instance) that site allows comments and you happen to know that the greater context sheds a completely different light on the issue, your comment conveniently disappears (or is never approved in the first place).

                      In one instance, I was banned from a site for two years and told definitively that I was going to hell because I suggested that we examine what a particular person teaches rather than blindly rely on a label that someone else stuck on him with no evidence to back it up. But my favorite, by far, was a permanent ban from another site for quoting a salient Scripture verse with no additional comment.

                      So you’ll forgive me if I don’t go running to the internet for “proof”.

                • Brendt Wayne Waters April 9, 2014 at 1:45 pm #

                  I must say — when the bottom line of my idea is that we should study our Bibles more — I find it interesting that such a concept is being so roundly decried and dismissed.

      • Steve Lynch April 7, 2014 at 5:30 pm #

        You’ve gotta ask yourself… “What’s the goal of a ministry that is limited to discerning the accuracy of OTHER ministries?”

        • Brendt Wayne Waters April 7, 2014 at 6:30 pm #

          Well, that too. :) I was just trying to be gracious.

        • Bridget Platt April 7, 2014 at 7:56 pm #

          Maybe the goal is to defend the gospel of Jesus Christ and give glory to God. It always strikes me ironic when people bash discernment ministries and judge their motives because they bash false teachers and sometimes judge their motives. There is irony there. I do think that God gives the gift of discernment to some people more than others and also gives them a passion for doctrinal truth and purity. While there may be self-righteous, mean-spirited discernment ministries out there, there are also humble, Christ-loving ones. But sadly, sometimes I think that just the act of telling someone they’re teaching falsely and defending the truth brings the label “self-righteous and mean-spirited.”

          • Terry Galloway April 7, 2014 at 8:19 pm #

            Just like in the parable of the talents, when the servant is given a spiritual gift such as knowledge, discernment or prophecy, the servant must speak up and use the gifts. That is how God has the body at work in the kingdom. So thank you Bridget for bringing this up! The goal is to share the true gospel that is costly grace instead of the false teacher’s cheap grace. All of us are to use our gifts or be put into outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Andy Stanley, for an instance of false teaching (of many), preached on this parable, put his hands out to the congregation and said that it didn’t mean hell! He said it meant frustration of missing the opportunity. That makes all the tares, foolish virgins, goats and wolves feel comfortable in their seats. The gospel is offensive. Only the wheat, wise virgins and sheep will enter the kingdom of heaven. Only brokenness will get anyone born again, and with teaching like that, every one feels good instead of broken and desperate. Voddie Baucham has a great sermon on youtube called Brokenness.

            I know that besides using my spiritual gifts as God expects of the good servant, all of us have a responsibility to share the true gospel. To not tell the truth to church people about the false teaching is to let them hear Jesus say “Go away, I never knew you, you who continued in disobedience”. It isn’t even loving the false teacher not to tell him. Also unbelievers who hear the true gospel and the false gospel have no discernment to know the difference. I stick with Ezekiel 2, 3 and 33. Their blood is on my hands if I do not tell them, but if I do, I am not responsible for their failure to listen.

            6 And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words; though briers and thorns are all around you and you dwell and sit among scorpions, be not afraid of their words nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.

            7 And you shall speak My words to them whether they will hear or refuse to hear, for they are most rebellious.
            17 Son of man, I have made you a watchman to the house of Israel; therefore hear the word at My mouth and give them warning from Me.

            18 If I say to the wicked, You shall surely die, and you do not give him warning or speak to warn the wicked to turn from his wicked way, to save his life, the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at your hand.

            19 Yet if you warn the wicked and he turn not from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity, but you have delivered yourself.

            20 Again, if a righteous man turns from his righteousness (right doing and right standing with God) and some gift or providence which I lay before him he perverts into an occasion to sin and he commits iniquity, he shall die; because you have not given him warning, he shall die in his sin and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood will I require at your hand.

            21 Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man not to sin and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he is warned; also you have delivered yourself from guilt.

            Then whoever hears the sound of the trumpet and does not take warning, and the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be upon his own head.

            5 He heard the sound of the trumpet and did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But he who takes warning shall save his life.

            6 But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, he is taken away in and for his perversity and iniquity, but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand.

            7 So you, son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear the word at My mouth and give them warning from Me.

            8 When I say to the wicked, O wicked man, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his perversity and iniquity, but his blood will I require at your hand.

            9 But if you warn the wicked to turn from his evil way and he does not turn from his evil way, he shall die in his iniquity, but you will have saved your life.
            (Amplified)

    • Eric Freeman April 8, 2014 at 10:24 am #

      Can you name names? I’m not sure what to make of your point without knowing who you think the false teachers are.

      • Terry Galloway April 8, 2014 at 11:47 am #

        If you are asking me instead of asking Denny, I am not sure, but since this was posted after my comment, I will say that anyone who teaches (pastor, evangelist, Sunday School teacher, layperson, yikes-even a parent) a gospel that is different from the true gospel is a false teacher. You may think that is harsh, but the Bible warns us.

        Joel Osteen and Andy Stanley are the two I know the most about. I was a member of Andy’s church for six years, but the false teaching got worse and worse culminating with When Gracie Met Truthy. I haven’t followed him much after I left, but I recommend doing some research into terms like antinomianism, cheap grace, hyper-grace, easy believism, man-centered gospel and universalism. The website http://www.gotquestions.org has good definitions of those terms plus many Q&A on churches.. There are many truth-telling pastors who are speaking out. Denny is a brave one. There are books coming out about the truth– saying you believe is only proven by obedience- John 3:36, Matthew 7:21-23, Jude 4, Matthew 5:20 for instance. Anyone who continually teaches a false gospel/false grace/ false truth is a false teacher. Other truth-telling teachers who are bringing up this issue are Paul Washer-Shocking Youth Message youtube, Kyle Ideman- Not a Fan book, Voddie Baucham–Brokenness youtube, J D Greear Gospel-Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary-book that I am currently reading, Crawford Loritts-my pastor- a man of courage and truth telling @ http://www.fellowshiproswell.org, Michael Brown Hyper-Grace book and Go and Sin No More book, Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron at http://www.wayofthemaster.com messages Hell’s Best Kept Secret and True and False Conversion, Ken Philpott Are You Really Born Again? and Are You Being Duped?

        Another way to tell fairly easily is if the church doesn’t take the responsibility of warning people about taking communion unworthily to bring judgment on yourself, doesn’t take elder selection and responsibility seriously (or has the head pastor in control over the elders giving them no power) or doesn’t take 1 Corinthians 5 and Matthew 18 seriously.

        Other examples of false teaching authors are Rob Bell and William P. Young. This is a subject that I am well-versed on because I was a false conversion in a false- teaching, liberal Baptist church, but by the grace of Jesus, He came to me and showed me how wrong I was. I was in the church, but not born again until age 45 when Jesus brought me to repentance, faith and obedience. Jesus alone did it. I wasn’t reading the Bible or any books or sermons back then-2005. He began the relationship, and I am His servant. The more that you have the Scriptures written on your heart and memorized in your mind, the more discernment you will have when you hear false teachers. False teachers rely on the people listening to them not knowing what the Bible says and just wanting to hear it on Sunday and feel good. So many times as I was leaving Northpoint I would hear false teaching that just stabbed me in the stomach and then hear people telling each other how good that sermon made them feel!

        • Brendt Wayne Waters April 8, 2014 at 2:42 pm #

          Really? It’s *fairly easy* to know if someone doesn’t take elder selection and responsibility seriously? It’s *fairly easy* to know if someone doesn’t take 1 Corinthians 5 and Matthew 18 seriously? It doesn’t take careful consideration? It doesn’t take the asking of questions? All it takes is the crystal ball of “discernment”, and you automatically know the inner workings and motives of others’ hearts?

        • Steve Lynch April 8, 2014 at 3:47 pm #

          Grace isn’t cheap.

          It’s Free.

          • Terry Galloway April 8, 2014 at 4:23 pm #

            Well said! That is why we love Jesus so much we follow and obey.

  4. Paul Reed April 7, 2014 at 8:19 am #

    “False teachers contradict sound doctrine.”

    True, but that’s as useful a statement as “False teachers are ones that aren’t true teachers”. All Christians think they have correct teachings. Also, heresy is not something new. We have just about as much diversity of opinion among self-identified Christians in the first century as we do today. As one pastor said, put 4 people who identify themselves as Christians in an elevator, and you’ll get 5 different opinions.

  5. george canady April 7, 2014 at 9:12 am #

    You forgot to pray for our enemies and neighbors as is the norm for the current church culture to neglect the “whole counsel”.

  6. Eric Freeman April 7, 2014 at 2:35 pm #

    You identify only half the problem — teachers who want to abuse our freedom in Christ. You do mention the teachers who want to enslave us again to the law. Galatians 5:1-12

    • Brendt Wayne Waters April 7, 2014 at 3:13 pm #

      Exactly what I was thinking. There are many false teachers out there who promote very moral living and over-emphasize sin and judgment to the short-changing of grace.

  7. Steve Lynch April 7, 2014 at 2:35 pm #

    The biggest problem with this list… is that you have effectively eliminated the Prophetic voices in our midst who are NOT pastors.

    But since Stetzer has done it too… any protestation on my part will matter very little..

    #3 is poorly backed up with the scripture that was chosen. It’s also Calvinistic in flavor.

    #3 is also at odds with what you’ve stated about #5… and #5 would effectively call Jesus a false teacher for those with weak discernment (90%+ in this day).

    • Brendt Wayne Waters April 7, 2014 at 3:30 pm #

      I don’t know that #3 is at odds with #5, but your last statement is certainly true. #5 is very dangerous if not handled carefully. A famous pastor was recently accused of division and he referenced this verse. His “logic” was that he wasn’t causing division because false teachers are the ones that cause division and he isn’t a false teacher. And all of his followers said a hearty “amen”, completely ignoring his obscenely circular logic.

    • Ken Abbott April 8, 2014 at 3:27 pm #

      “It’s also Calvinistic in flavor.” You say that as if it’s a bad thing!

      FWIW, Steve, I believe Denny is Calvinistic at least in his soteriology, which may explain to you why the things he writes convey that impression.

      • Brendt Wayne Waters April 8, 2014 at 3:54 pm #

        Actually, it can be, regardless of which side of the soteriological fence you are on. Personally, I don’t see the flavor that Steve sees. But, in general, unless we are specifically talking about a particular secondary issue (or solely among those who agree with us on that issue), we would do well to try to avoid its insertion in ancillary ideas. To do otherwise is to unnecessarily alienate part of your audience.

  8. Jim Peet April 7, 2014 at 2:55 pm #

    Used on Sharper Iron here. Thanks. I am a frequent reader and I appreciate your writing ministy

  9. Ian Shaw April 7, 2014 at 3:28 pm #

    You also have to be willing to identify false teachers in a loving yet respectful way. It’s easy just to say that someone is full of “blank” and yell at people to stay away from them. You need to explain what that person does that is contrary to scripture to get others to see what they’re being mislead with. If we just get on our soapbox and yell, it doens’t do much.

  10. Nathan Machel April 7, 2014 at 5:02 pm #

    “The false teacher never comes to us with a cardboard sign around his neck saying, ‘I’m a false teacher.'”

    I see that, and raise you Brian McLaren.

  11. buddyglass April 7, 2014 at 9:27 pm #

    Re: #3, seems like many times a false teacher will over-emphasize sin and judgment, potentially calling things sinful that God doesn’t view that way. Consider the Judaizers Paul preached against.

    • Brendt Wayne Waters April 8, 2014 at 12:12 am #

      Since I — thank God — lack “discernment”, I cannot speak to the inner workings of Burk’s heart. But my experience in the past is that often (though not always) when the spotlight is shone on the false teachers who DE-emphasize sin and judgment, it is because the false teachers who OVER-emphasize sin and judgment aren’t seen as a threat (or at least not nearly as much so). Only the sins that are extremely divergent from my viewpoint get called out. The ones that are wrong, but a lot closer to my view — well, we’ll give them a pass. After all, if we look at them too closely, some of that spotlight might leak over onto me.

      • Terry Galloway April 8, 2014 at 3:04 pm #

        Since I — thank God — lack “discernment”, I cannot speak….
        Have you ever taken a spiritual gifts test? You say you lack discernment and are happy about that, so do you know which gifts you have? Part of having spiritual gifts are to use your gifts for the kingdom and to let others use their gifts which for these purposes of false teaching would be gifts such as evangelism, teaching, prophecy, knowledge and exhortation. Believers that have other gifts such as mercy, administration or giving, usually would not participate in these kinds of discussion because they are not gifted to understand these matters.

        There are great assessment tools online for free. http://www.assess-yourself.org is just one.•The Christian Character Index: Assess your character strengths and weaknesses (35 questions, 10 minutes).
        •The Obstacles to Growth Survey: Evaluate four obstacles that may be hindering your spiritual growth (40 questions, 13 minutes).
        •The Worldview Index: A non-denominational survey based on the classic creeds of the church (12 questions, 5 minutes).
        •The Love for God Scale: An estimate based on the Great Commandment (34 questions, 12 minutes).

        Do the work to determine what gifts you have because the truth is only those things that we do that are empowered by the Holy Spirit will be burned up. Those things that are done only through the power of the Holy Spirit will be rewarded in heaven. Also, though you may not have discernment or care about having it now, justification and sanctification will grow your discernment. Ask yourself when you were broken and brought to repentance to be like Isaiah crying “I am an man of unclean lips”.
        1 Corinthians 2:14
        But the natural, nonspiritual man does not accept or welcome or admit into his heart the gifts and teachings and revelations of the Spirit of God, for they are folly (meaningless nonsense) to him; and he is incapable of knowing them [of progressively recognizing, understanding, and becoming better acquainted with them] because they are spiritually discerned and estimated and appreciated.

        Matthew 5:6
        Blessed and fortunate and happy and spiritually prosperous (in that state in which the born-again child of God enjoys His favor and salvation) are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (uprightness and right standing with God), for they shall be completely satisfied!

        Do the work and ask yourself how much persecution you have had for following Christ. Matthew 5:10
        Blessed and happy and enviably fortunate and spiritually prosperous (in the state in which the born-again child of God enjoys and finds satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of his outward conditions) are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake (for being and doing right), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven!

        The thing is that Andy Stanley has many times preached in opposition to the Word of God and has made fun of and joked about God’s Word particularly God’s wrath which cheapens the gospel. How many times has Andy been persecuted for following Christ and speaking against popular culture’s hyper-grace message. God says: Matthew 5:11
        Blessed (happy, to be envied, and spiritually prosperous—with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of your outward conditions) are you when people revile you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things against you falsely on My account.

        I hope that this helps you to change to want discernment instead of thanking God for not having it!

        • Brendt Wayne Waters April 8, 2014 at 9:24 pm #

          You either missed or ignored the quotation marks around the word, “discernment”. The only correlation between discernment and “discernment” is that those with the latter claim to have (and claim to be exercising) the former. An excellent example of “discernment” would be broad accusations with no specificity that others are simply supposed to take at face value.

          • Terry Galloway April 9, 2014 at 2:19 am #

            Hi Brendt. I hope to have this be my last response to you if I can exhibit the fruit of self control. I am disappointed that we cannot find unity. This banter does not please the Spirit since we are to be in unity in the earthy body of Christ that belongs in the kingdom. I am heavenly-minded, and I feel that you are not. I have Scriptures written on my heart that come to my mind. I have a testimony of being born again and repenting to walk in newness of life and having a renewed mind. Fortunately, unity comes from the Holy Spirit indwelling believers so that the unity we share is from the agreement with Scriptures. I have repeatedly given you Scripture to try to get to unity but it seems to me that you are operating from a head knowledge instead of intimacy with Jesus through the Holy Spirit. I may be wrong, but I feel that your attitude is argumentative and prideful. I don’t feel that you have a “praying without ceasing” attitude. Maybe you haven’t been born again. Romans 15:4 For whatever was thus written in former days was written for our instruction, that by [our steadfast and patient] endurance and the encouragement [drawn] from the Scriptures we might hold fast to and cherish hope.

            5 Now may the God Who gives the power of patient endurance (steadfastness) and Who supplies encouragement, grant you to live in such mutual harmony and such full sympathy with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus.

            Ephesians 5:
            19 Speak out to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, offering praise with voices [[a]and instruments] and making melody with all your heart to the Lord,

            20 At all times and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.

            Colossians 3:1-4
            If then you have been raised with Christ [to a new life, thus sharing His resurrection from the dead], aim at and seek the [rich, eternal treasures] that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

            2 And set your minds and keep them set on what is above (the higher things), not on the things that are on the earth.

            3 For [as far as this world is concerned] you have died, and your [new, real] life is hidden with Christ in God.

            4 When Christ, Who is our life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in [the splendor of His] glory.

            I have the peace that transcends understanding, and I hope you do too. Peace be with you, Terry

            • Brendt Wayne Waters April 9, 2014 at 10:39 am #

              Out of deference to you, I won’t respond except to note that I did read this.

          • Steve Lynch April 9, 2014 at 12:28 pm #

            Well… I would say more… but there’s no point since Denny (or Denny’s mod) like to throw my posts in the trash.

            But personally… just a quick check of Terry’s posts with MY ‘discerning’ eye… says Terry is a false teacher for using verses out of context … more specifically verses that are CLEARLY directed at Israel… but applying them to the church.

            Thanks!

            (And Thanks Denny for being so hypocritical)

            You can reach me at stevend.lynch@gmail.com

            Hugs and Kisses.

  12. SLIMJIM April 8, 2014 at 4:03 am #

    This is good. Thank you.
    –Jim Lee

  13. Ian Shaw April 8, 2014 at 11:19 am #

    I had to refute lovingly refute my own Christian alma mater via email this morning as they are promoting and hosting a telecast of a leadership conference next month with speakes that include Andy Stanley and Desmond Tutu.

    Wonder what their response will be to me…or how I will respond when they call me for donations later this spring.

    • Terry Galloway April 8, 2014 at 11:50 am #

      A step of bravery! Be strong and courageous!

  14. Peter Jones April 8, 2014 at 3:41 pm #

    Denny, I like your list and I realize that you cannot say everything every time. But I Timothy 4:3 (you mention 4:6) implies that false teachers can be overly strict as well as too loose. Many false teachers try to restrict Christians where the Bible does not restrict us. They would not be the sexually immoral, but would instead be the sexually restrained ones who think all sex is bad. I realize this is not a huge problem in our culture, but as our culture reacts to promiscuity we can expect more of it.

    • Denny Burk April 8, 2014 at 8:03 pm #

      Good point!

      • Terry Galloway April 9, 2014 at 4:01 am #

        Denny, thank you for bringing this huge topic into the public arena. I had always been told that I am a modern day George Whitefield. I believe that you are too. For all of us, the message “Method of Grace” by George Whitefield is a classic about false teaching. Just the first few minutes explain what is going on with false teachers promising us peace, peace when there is no peace.Thanks to this discussion, I am listening to it again at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKudXOBelBw. It is meaty. It is truth. It survives the test of time. It preaches the truth about false teachers and about grace.

  15. Terry Galloway April 9, 2014 at 12:01 pm #

    I need to make a correction about Andy’s divorce and remarriage sermon. It is 53 minutes long.

  16. A. Amos Love April 10, 2014 at 10:58 am #

    Hmmm? “1. False teachers contradict sound doctrine.”

    Was wondering…
    What is “sound doctrine?” – And, Who gets to determine “sound doctrine?”

    I was-a-thikin… Wouldn’t *Sound Doctrine* be a teaching – Found in the Bible?
    Simple enough to understand for ALL – So ALL can determine – False Teachers?”

    Denny, in the first paragraph mentions – “Pastors in Titus” and “pastoral ministry.”
    “The apostle Paul wrote to Titus that
    *pastors* must not only preach faithfully
    but also “refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9).
    The idea is very simple.
    *Pastoral ministry* is not merely a building up, but also a tearing down.”

    When I check the scriptures – Seems, *pastors,* are NOT?mentioned in Titus.
    And, When I check – Seems,*pastoral ministry* is NOT mentioned in the Bible.

    And – When I check – In the Bible…
    I can NOT find one of His Disciples who called them self *pastor.*
    I can NOT find one of His Disciples who had the “Title” *pastor.*
    I can NOT find one of His Disciples who was, Hired or Fired, as a *pastor.*

    Was wondering…

    If, In Titus, *pastors* are NOT mentioned?
    If, In the Bible, *pastoral ministry* is NOT mentioned?

    If, In the Bible, NOT one of His Disciples had the “Title” *pastor?*
    If, In the Bible, NOT one of His Disciples was, Hired or Fired, as a *pastor?*

    What is “sound doctrine?” – And, Who gets to determine “sound doctrine?”

    • Randall Seale April 10, 2014 at 11:25 pm #

      Amos,
      Were your statements and questions intended as sarcasm?

  17. A. Amos Love April 11, 2014 at 11:22 am #

    Randall

    Also, in the second paragraph, it mentions “faithful pastors.”
    And these “pastors” are the ones responsible “to identify and deal with false teachers.”

    “Thus faithful pastors must learn how to identify and deal with false teachers.”

    But, what do WE, His Sheep, His Ekklesia, His Church, His Disciples, do….
    When it’s these wanna-be “faithful pastors” who are the “False Teachers?”

    Seems – Elders are to be “examples” to “His Flock.” 1 Pet 5:3.
    And, In the Bible, NOT one Elder, NOT one of His Disciples…
    Had taken, for themselves, the “Title/Position” – pastor/leader/reverend.

    Now I cudda missed that – In the Bible…
    Can you name one Disciple who had the “Title/Position” – pastor/leader/reverend?
    Can you name one Disciple who was Hired or Fired, as a – pastor/leader/reverend?

    What kind of “example” are today’s Elders, today’s pastor/leader/reverends, setting for, teaching, WE, His Sheep, His Ekklesia, His Disciples, when they take a “Title/Position” pastor/leader/reverend NOT found in the Bible? For one of His Disciples?

    Is this NOT “false teaching” by “example?”

    The only one I can find, In the Bible, referred to as Shepherd/Leader/Reverend – IS…
    ?
    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

    And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold:
    them also I must bring, and they shall “hear My voice; “
    and there shall be “ONE” fold, and “ONE” shepherd.
    John 10:16

    One Voice – One Fold – One Shepherd – One Leader

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

  18. Janet Oettgen April 11, 2014 at 12:49 pm #

    Excellent teaching and excellent points. A word of caution with regard to number 5 and divisions. Luke 12:51-53 points out that Christ came to bring division, so not everything that brings division is necessarily false. Confrontation brings division – wheat from chaff – and is what His presence does. It will either draw or repel. The passage in Jude seems to refer to the same sort of false teacher you have identified in points 3 and 4 only covers other possible motives and indicates a complete lack of spiritual life and depth.

  19. Rebecca Pruett April 12, 2014 at 8:35 pm #

    Great article! I am so grateful to read there are people with their eyes open, refusing to succumb to an effeminate Gospel that allows immorality and refuses to call sin wrong. I have been so discouraged recently with so many claiming Christianity when it is convenient, pulling out the “Only God can judge” whenever they don’t want to give up a sin, and believing God only loves people and does not require change or repentance. But when it is a minister doing it… my heart breaks into a thousand tiny pieces. Thank you for writing this! God knew I needed to see people standing up!

  20. Jen Sheppard April 16, 2014 at 3:16 pm #

    People need to stop looking for anyone to save them except the One who can. Paul is not going to save you, your pastor is not going to save you, your church is not going to save you.

    The world has gone crazy. Trust NO ONE but God. Open your Bible and let the Holy Spirit be your teacher. You don’t need a “doctrine” you need TRUTH. You don’t need a pastor, you need to have the proper respect for the Creator-of-all. The more you listen to men, the more you fall away from God.

    “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”- John 14:26

    Don’t listen to anyone. Not even me. Open your Bible. Read it. Pray on it.

    • Ken Abbott April 17, 2014 at 11:29 am #

      “Open your Bible and let the Holy Spirit be your teacher. You don’t need a ‘doctrine’ you need TRUTH. Your don’t need a pastor, you need to have the proper respect for the Creator-of-all. The more you listen to men, the more you fall away from God.”

      Well, yes and no. I agree with your exhortation toward submissive reading of Scripture with the expectation of the Spirit’s guidance.

      But I wonder if you haven’t gone farther than Scripture itself counsels. If there is no need of pastors, what did Paul write to Timothy and Titus, and why? How do you make sense of his instructions to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20? Why did he include in his list of qualifications for the role of elder the ability to teach (1 Timothy 3:2) if there is no need for human instruction?

      I believe as well you may have taken John 14:26 out of context and misapplied it.

  21. A. Amos Love April 18, 2014 at 10:14 am #

    Ken Abbott

    You write to Jen Sheppard…
    “If there is no need of pastors…”

    And, like you, I’ll wonder also. – As you say…
    “But “Ken” I wonder if you haven’t gone farther than Scripture itself counsels.”

    Because – If, in the Bible, there is a need for pastors – as WE, His Ekklesia, see them today…
    Wouldn’t there be at least one example, one Disciple, in the Bible, with that “Title?”

    One example of, Paid, Professional, Pastors, in Pulpits, Preaching, to People, in Pews?

    Seems, in the Bible, the shepherds/pastors mentioned are NOTHING like those Today…
    Who have mis-appropriated the “Title/Position” – shepherd/leader/reverend.
    That comes with, Power, Profit, Prestige, Honor, Glory, Recognition, Reputation, etc…

    In The Bible – Can you find “one example” – Any of His Disciples – Any…
    Shepherds who had “Title/Position” – pastor/leader/reverend?” Like we see today?
    Shepherds who called another shepherd, Disciple – “Pastor/Leader/Reverend?”
    Shepherds who called themselves – “Pastor/Leader/Reverend?”

    Shepherds who promote themselves – as a “Special Clergy Class?”
    Shepherds who promote *His Sheep* as lesser “Lay people?”

    Shepherds who promote themselves as – “Leaders?”
    Shepherds who promote themselves as – “Church Leaders?”
    Shepherds who promote themselves as – “Spiritual Leaders?”
    Shepherds who promote themselves as – “Christian Leaders?”
    Shepherds who promote themselves as – “Leaders to be Obeyed?”

    Shepherds who promote themselves as – “Spiritual Authority?”
    Shepherds who promote themselves as – “God Ordained Authority?”

    Shepherds who separated from the flock, wearing different, special, clothes?
    Shepherds who were – Hired and Fired – by congregations?
    Shepherds who would move from one congregation to another?
    What’s up with that?
    Shepherds who would “Exercise Authority” over another Disciple?
    Shepherds who had their own private parking space. :-)

    Well, you get the drift…
    NOT much of what todays pastor/leader/reverend gets paid for or does…
    Is In The Bible… ;-)

    Can you name one of His Disciples who called them self shepherd? leader? reverend?

    Hmmm? What did His Disciples know 2000 years ago? That those…
    Who take the Name of The Lord thy God – shepherd/leader/reverend – miss Today?

    “But I wonder if you haven’t gone farther than Scripture itself counsels.”

    • Ken Abbott April 18, 2014 at 10:31 am #

      Mr. Love: I have seen the various posts you have put up here recently and it is evident this is a favorite hobby horse you ride.

      In Acts 20, the passage to which I directed Ms. Sheppard, Paul makes his farewell to the Ephesian elders, leaving them with instructions on how to lead the church in that city. Beginning in verse 28: “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” (Acts 20:28-31)

      In like manner, Peter instructs the elders among those to whom he writes, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers–not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” (1 Peter 5:2-4)

      “Pastor” is merely the English word that has come directly from Latin that means “herdsman” and relates to those who care for groups of domestic animals, including shepherds. I haven’t sufficient Greek to tell you what the word is that is translated as “shepherd” in the above passages, but I do know that the word “overseers” is the Greek episkopos, from which we get the English word “bishop.” Maybe you would prefer that title?

      So long as men whom God has called to the spiritual direction and oversight of his people heed the admonitions of Peter and Paul, I have no real problem with calling them pastors, any more than I have trouble recognizing along with them that they all fall under the governing authority of the Chief Pastor.

    • Holly Ward August 15, 2014 at 3:47 pm #

      Mr. Amos, please refer to Ephesians 4:11 for the list of Christ officiated offices within a church. You will find Pastor listed among them. I agree that the pomp and circumstance that pastors are given today can be rather ridiculous. James cautions that not many should aspire to be teachers (I am one of the opinion that the positions of pastor and teacher have an overlap since part of what pastors do is teach and part of what teachers do is pastor) for the level of responsibility expected of them. I often wonder if even back then being a teacher/pastor was a prestigious position that came with perks. At the very least it came with the flesh-gratifying control of being listened to and looked up to.

      God has called me to be a teacher and I intend to take the position both seriously and humbly. I despise the pampering of pastors and teachers, as I think you probably do as well. However, I do not think that the fact that they have become spoiled in many churches today gives us the right to start denouncing the existence of church offices altogether. Church leaders are important for the equipping and edification of the body.

      We do have to be on our guard against attitudes of pride as well as other false teacher red flags. I have seen religious pride kill churches. The people still meet, but they go for a show and to gossip about one another. One principle of leadership that I was taught was that what the leader does in moderation, the followers will do in excess. This applies to attitudes, actions, and habits; both helpful and harmful. We are sheep, so we tend emulate the leaders before us.

      You seem upset. I’d like to know why, but I understand if you don’t want to share that information on a public forum. Just know that I have seen a lot in my few years on this earth and I think I understand your frustrations. Then again I might not. I do see some of what I was thinking when I had been wounded by teachers/pastors that had turned away from the Gospel and towards religiosity that glamorized them, rather than giving glory to God. Certainly as long as people are abusing a position we should eliminate that position, right? Unfortunately that is not the way that Christ designed his church. I wish you all the best and I will pray that your wounds will be healed and you will find a church body that has leadership that is humble and accepting as well as righteous.

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