Are you looking for where to find false teachers and ministers? They are closer to you than you would ever know. Just scroll up the social media, you would bump into one, get to the bookstore, you would lay hands on books that sound very Christian but full of deception. Look up so-called Christian channels on TV and you hardly come across teachers who aren’t false. These things keep thriving every day with great momentum and some church folks especially leaders continues to encourage us to keep quiet about it all in a bid to show love and protect the image of the Church. One thing I know is this, the devil will always take advantage of our silence to discredit the Church and also to deceive others.
Before considering anything else, let’s take a look at Titus 1:5-9
“For this reason I left you behind in Crete so that you would set right what remains unfinished, and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, namely, a man of unquestionable integrity, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of being immoral or rebellious. For the overseer, as God’s steward, must be blameless, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not violent, not greedy for dishonest gain [but financially ethical]. And he must be hospitable [to believers, as well as strangers], a lover of what is good, sensible (upright), fair, devout, self-disciplined [above reproach—whether in public or in private]. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy word [of God] as it was taught to him so that he will be able both to give accurate instruction in sound [reliable, error-free] doctrine and to refute those who contradict [it by explaining their error].”
The above is the qualification for elders, they should have integrity, they shouldn’t be caught in many webs of immorality, deceit addictions and other vices. And the Bible said they will be able to give accurate instructions in sound doctrine and they should also be able to disavow those who oppose the gospel directly or indirectly. We usually allow false teachers to creep into gospel-centric Churches when we skip these things. Elders aren’t appointed based on Charisma or availability but based on qualification. God chooses anyone who is available but they are called into leadership only on the grounds of qualifications. Availability gives you the opportunity of growth and maturity brings you to leadership.
Now that we have determined what true leadership in ministry is, we can go further with what Paul had written to see how we can handle false prophets.
1. IDENTIFY FALSE TEACHERS
Paul wrote in Titus 1:10-12
“For there are many rebellious men who are empty talkers [just windbags] and deceivers; especially those of the circumcision [those Jews who insist that Gentile believers must be circumcised and keep the Law in order to be saved]. They must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families by teaching things they should not teach for the purpose of dishonest financial gain. One of them [Epimenides, a Cretan], a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.”
We don’t just assume that people are false teachers just because they made one statement that wasn’t scriptural. Peter once acted unchristianly but it didn’t disqualify him nor made him a false teacher. Although we tackle false teachings with the same seriousness that we tackle false teachers, some people are not false teachers simply because they made one error in communicating. People make mistakes and these mistakes are minor and often followed by genuine repentance. However, in recognising false teachers, Paul gave us some things to look at.
- Empty Talkers
- They mix the law with the gospel
- They upset families
- They are focused on financial gains
- They are glutton, interested in self!
When you look at the above, you discover that we must look at their characters, their mode of operation and what is the motivation behind their operation. It is easy to identify false teachers the moment you take cognizance of the above list. Anybody who makes it on this list, not necessarily 6/6 is a false teacher.
Jesus said in Matthew 7:15-20
“Beware of the false prophets, [teachers] who come to you dressed as sheep [appearing gentle and innocent], but inwardly are ravenous wolves. By their fruit, you will recognize them [that is, by their contrived doctrine and self-focus]. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the unhealthy tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore, by their fruit, you will recognize them [as false prophets].”
Do you see that? They are known by their fruits and not by their gentle and kind appearance, not by their charity gestures or ambience. Their fruits are usually about self and not about the body of Christ, their doctrine is so flawed and it keeps people attached to them but not to Christ.
2. REBUKE FALSE TEACHINGS/TEACHERS
Paul wrote in Titus 1:13-14
“So rebuke them sharply so that they will be sound in the faith and free from doctrinal error, not paying attention to Jewish myths and the commandments and rules of men who turn their backs on the truth.”
When we have identified false teachers, we shouldn’t just take it lightly and play to the gallery. Anyone who condones false teaching isn’t worthy to be a leader and no sound Christian will condone false teachers because they are the biggest damage! We weren’t asked to control the damage but to prevent it from happening.
Paul didn’t just ask us to rebuke them but to do it sharply. To rebuke sharply means to take swift action against false teachings and teachers. The essence of doing this is so that people are directed to the truth and not the lies that come from the pulpit. We don’t just rebuke them privately, we also do it publicly so that baby Christians can understand that their teachings are false! Many believers argue that we should be silent about false teachers so that we can protect the image of the Church but what does the Bible say about that?
Rebuke is never done in silence.
Often times, it’s the same people who are silent in the effort not to judge others that end up judging those who are speaking up. They even go as far as trying to discredit those who speak up as weak! Some people who speak against the way Pastors exploit Christians financially have been called demonic agents by so-called Christians who don’t want to judge. But even if a weak Christian protested against false teaching, we know that God’s word gave us a guideline on how to relate with the weak. Paul wrote in Romans 14:1
“As for the one whose faith is weak, accept him [into your fellowship], but not for [the purpose of] quarrelling over his opinions.”
A weak Christian should have an opinion too and our response to their opinion shouldn’t be from the angle of unhealthy judgement. A false teacher and a weak Christian aren’t the same. The weak Christian is growing towards becoming strong but the false teacher is intentionally bent on deceiving believers. The weak Christian may speak ignorantly but grow if fed with the sincere milk of God’s word but the false teacher has a mission; to exploit and take advantage of others.
Rebuke is never done in silence, it is very vocal and fierce! Love is not soft all the time, sometimes it comes very hard and harsh. Love is clearly visible in the motive!
- Rebuke is truthfulness
There is no such thing as love without truth. To remove truth from love is not possible. Any feeling where we claim it’s love but can’t say the truth is a dangerous display of mere emotions and sentiments. We rebuke false teachers by shedding light to their lies and by calling them out where necessary! We can’t be in fellowship with false teachers just for the sake of unity. The unity God wants is the unity of faith in Christ Jesus and not necessarily having fellowship with every Dick and Harry that uses the “Christ Label”.
The essence of abounding in knowledge and discernment is so that we can be able to approve what is true and right as written in Philippians 1:9-10. This way, we aren’t tossed around by every wave of doctrine. Let’s see how Paul puts it in Ephesians 4:14-15
“So that we are no longer children [spiritually immature], tossed back and forth [like ships on a stormy sea] and carried about by every wind of [shifting] doctrine, by the cunning and trickery of [unscrupulous] men, by the deceitful scheming of people ready to do anything [for personal profit]. But speaking the truth in love [in all things—both our speech and our lives expressing His truth], let us grow up in all things into Him [following His example] who is the Head—Christ.”
Lots of baby Christians are carried away by skilful words of men, by crafts and tricky stage-managed miracles which are solely aimed at financial gains by these false teachers. When Paul wrote “speaking the truth in love” he wasn’t referring to being soft in the way we rebuke these things, he was rather referring to being bold to speak the truth with the right motive as we express and live in the truth. Growth is possible only in the reality of the truth.
Rebuke is not disrespect
Many people argue that believers have no reason to rebuke false teachings when their rank isn’t up to the level of who they were rebuking. That is to say, a Pastor has no business rebuking a Bishop because the Bishop is a father, a church member has no business rebuking a Pastor probably because the church member doesn’t have influence like the Pastor. However, genuine believers rebuke false teachers and teachings because of their loyalty to God and not royalty to man.
Being a bishop doesn’t immune false prophets and teachers from rebuke, being a founder of the world’s largest religious auditorium does not in any way disqualify us from rebuking lies and receipts targeted at believers by the founders. A false teacher may be controlling crowds and it is possible that one who doesn’t even own a congregation but knows the truth can rebuke him or his teachings. This is important because lives are at stake here. Paul wrote 2 Timothy 4:2-4
“Preach the word [as an official messenger]; be ready when the time is right and even when it is not [keep your sense of urgency, whether the opportunity seems favourable or unfavourable, whether convenient or inconvenient, whether welcome or unwelcome]; correct [those who err in doctrine or behaviour], warn [those who sin], exhort and encourage [those who are growing toward spiritual maturity], with inexhaustible patience and [faithful] teaching. For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine and accurate instruction [that challenges them with God’s truth]; but wanting to have their ears tickled [with something pleasing], they will accumulate for themselves [many] teachers [one after another, chosen] to satisfy their own desires and to support the errors they hold, and will turn their ears away from the truth and will wander off into myths and man-made fictions [and will accept the unacceptable].”
From the above verses, we see that false teachers can control the crowd because people are moving towards what they want to hear. Some want to hear prosperity, some want to hear healing, some want to hear all kinds of miracles and their hunger isn’t about understanding God’s word and growing into maturity. Having a crowd is not a sign that one is a servant of God. You must not let their levels of fame intimidate you and make you feel unqualified to stand for the truth in love.
Rebuke is right judgement.
In the context of this article, to rebuke means to pass the right judgement, it doesn’t mean to judge wrongly. Whenever false teachers and teachings are rebuked, people say we’re judging others, they say it is God who will judge His servants and they also quote Matthew 7:1-5 which says we should not judge so that we don’t get judged. But let’s understand what Jesus meant. Jesus never called off discernment and examination of what other people are doing, Jesus wasn’t actually referring to us becoming silent towards false teachings. In fact, that verse was addressed to religious folks who live in hypocrisy.
Few moments from that verse, Jesus was already telling us that we can judge with the right judgement. He said in verse 16
“By their fruit, you will recognize them [that is, by their contrived doctrine and self-focus]. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?”
We can determine false prophets by their fruits and Jesus called them all manner of names like dogs, pigs and wolves in sheep clothing! To identify them, Jesus said in John 7:24
“Do not judge by appearance [superficially and arrogantly], but judge fairly and righteously.”
Do you see that? Judgement isn’t the big issue, we are rather to judge righteously. False teachers are not weak Christians, they are dubious agents who propagate self rather than Christ! To rebuke them is to judge them fairly. We shouldn’t defend them because they are not our brothers, they are our enemies. They are not serving God, they are serving self.
3. RAISE SOUND BELIEVERS
Paul continued in Titus 1:15-16 saying
“To the pure, all things are pure; but to the corrupt and unbelieving, nothing is pure; both their mind and their conscience are corrupted. They profess to know God [to recognize and be acquainted with Him], but by their actions, they deny and disown Him. They are detestable and disobedient and worthless for good work of any kind.”
One problem we have with so many Christian communities is that Christians aren’t encouraged to know God for themselves, they are made to depend so much on their Pastor for everything. They are made to take every decision with Pastor’s consent and they are robbed off that wonderful fellowship they should share with the Holy Spirit. When a believer depends on his pastor for everything, that believer is not sound. Jesus never died to get us into another bondage but to free us from religion!
To biggest way to prevent false teachers from advancing with speed especially towards the elect is by coming to the knowledge of what the true gospel is and teaching it to others without reserve. A believer shouldn’t need a Pastor to be able to refute false teachers and their teachings. The gospel is supposed to be common knowledge of which every believer can at some point tell the difference between the truth and the lies.
It is this gospel that purifies us and keeps our mind pure! When we come to this knowledge, we can quickly recognise what is not right and we can discern without too many questions. One thing the gospel does is that it keeps our gaze on Jesus and not to any man! It also produces good fruits in us, making us live like Jesus. We know sound believers when:
- Their loyalty is to Jesus
You must have heard statements like “you can’t be loyal to God if you are not loyal to the man.” But I think it’s the other way round. Many people made huge mistakes in life and fell into error because of who they were loyal to. When people were becoming competitive about their loyalty to either Apollos or Paul, Paul rebuked them because their loyalty wasn’t supposed to be on anyone but Christ! Paul 1 Corinthians 3:4-7
“For when one of you says, “I am [a disciple] of Paul,” and another, “I am [a disciple] of Apollos,” are you not [proving yourselves unchanged, just] ordinary people? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Just servants through whom you believed [in Christ], even as the Lord appointed to each his task. I planted, Apollos watered, but God [all the while] was causing the growth. So neither is the one who plants nor the one who waters anything, but [only] God who causes the growth.”
When our loyalty is ultimately on God, it is easier to drift away from the errors of those we are following on the earth. We don’t just follow elders, we follow them when they follow Christ. Does this in any way encourage any kind of disloyalty in Church? No, the point is, whenever we find ourselves on the crossroads to choose between following a Pastor and Christ, then we maintain our course with Christ.
Their hunger is to grow in knowledge
People who are ignorant of the word will always be tossed around by every wind of doctrine. Concerning this, Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:14
“So that we are no longer children [spiritually immature], tossed back and forth [like ships on a stormy sea] and carried about by every wind of [shifting] doctrine, by the cunning and trickery of [unscrupulous] men, by the deceitful scheming of people ready to do anything [for personal profit].”
False teachers only take advantage of people’s ignorance but when a believer is sound, he or she isn’t prone to such deceits anymore. Peter, in his closing remark, wrote in 2 Peter 3:17-18
“Therefore, [let me warn you] beloved, knowing these things beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men [who distort doctrine] and fall from your own steadfastness [of mind, knowledge, truth, and faith], but grow [spiritually mature] in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory (honour, majesty, splendour), both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”
It is the responsibility of every believer to be on their guard because the moment they lose it, false teachers are always ready to sweep them off their feet! Peter calls them unprincipled men who are prone to error! We can grow in the knowledge and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and that is all we need! We were never asked to pursue miracles, we were never asked to pursue breakthroughs, we were never asked to pursue all manner of things but we were asked to grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ! This is because growing in the knowledge settles a lot of things
It explains God to us and helps us relate to God as who He is.It helps us understand our personal role on earth.It explains what Jesus has done and who we have become.It empowers us to extend this beautiful gospel to others both in winning them and training them.
It helps us understand our personal role on earth.It explains what Jesus has done and who we have become.It empowers us to extend this beautiful gospel to others both in winning them and training them.
Everything we ever need as believers are wrapped up in the word of God and the more we know, the more we live it out. Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:1
“Blessed and worthy of praise be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ.”
Everything God has to give us has been given to us, we don’t get them by looking for miracles, we get them by discovering them in the word of God. Paul wasn’t talking to those who already knew what all of these blessings were, that was why he prayed to say in Ephesians 1:17-19
“[I always pray] that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may grant you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation [that gives you a deep and personal and intimate insight] into the true knowledge of Him [for we know the Father through the Son]. And [I pray] that the eyes of your heart [the very center and core of your being] may be enlightened [flooded with light by the Holy Spirit], so that you will know and cherish the hope [the divine guarantee, the confident expectation] to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints (God’s people), and [so that you will begin to know] what the immeasurable and unlimited and surpassing greatness of His [active, spiritual] power is in us who believe. These are in accordance with the work ng of His mighty strength”
This should be the heart desire of every believer and this way, we can know that even as false teachers appear with all manner of doctrines and style of deceits, we are strongly rooted in Christ and cannot be shaken.
*All Bible quotations taken from The Amplified Bible