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Five Marks of a False Teacher

by | Feb 15, 2024 | Apostasy, Blog, heresy, Opinion, Religion, The Church, Theology | 0 comments

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In the pursuit of spiritual growth and understanding, the true Bride of Christ is a community that is rich in faith, hope, and love, all bound together by the Word of God. Yet, within this visible body, there lurks a danger that threatens the very fabric of our faith—false teachers. These people, driven by their own desires and agendas, stealthily introduce destructive heresies, leading many astray, and marching many straight to the pits of Hell. The Bible, our unerring and authoritative guide, illuminates the path to discernment and offers clear markers to identify those who distort the truth. Here, we explore five biblical traits of a false teacher, arming believers with the knowledge to protect their faith and community.

Trait #1: Twisting Scripture

False teachers are notorious for their cunning manipulation of Scripture, bending it to fit their own narratives and deceive the unwary. They cherry-pick verses, taking them out of context, to endorse sinful lifestyles or justify ungodly beliefs. Like the serpent in Eden, they ask, “Did God really say…?” leading people away from the truth of God’s Word. The Apostle Peter warns us of such individuals, stating, “They twist the Scriptures to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16). A true teacher of God’s Word handles it rightly, offering the full counsel of God, not just the parts that tickle itching ears.

This disgraceful practice almost always catapults them into the realm of rank heresy, challenging and distorting basic Christian doctrines that form the foundation of the faith. They will very often pervert the doctrine of the Trinity, a mystery central to our faith, by promoting heresies such as modalism or denying the distinct persons of the Godhead, which undermines the unity and diversity within the Trinity itself. Such false teachings not only confuse believers but also strip the Christian faith of its power and lead many into a superficial and insufficient understanding of God’s nature.

The denial of Christ’s deity is a grievous error propagated by some under the guise of enlightened teaching—a heresy, as ancient as the church itself that undermines the very foundation of our salvation—the incarnation, death, and resurrection of God the Son. And the prosperity gospel is another malignant distortion, promising health, wealth, and success as the inevitable outcomes of true faith.

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False teachers will also often misuse Scripture to endorse new revelations or secret knowledge, placing their own authority above that of the Bible. They claim direct revelation from God, bypassing the need for Scriptural support and leading their followers away from the sufficiency of Scripture and into the dangerous waters of subjective experience. This not only breeds confusion but also elevates human authority above divine revelation, a move that is antithetical to the core principles of the Reformation—sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone.

Trait #2: Greed for Gain

One of the most telling signs of a false teacher is their insatiable greed. They exploit their followers, weaving tales and fabricating “revelations” to line their pockets. Their messages often revolve around prosperity and financial blessing, contingent upon the giving of money to their ministries. Paul speaks to this in 1 Timothy 6:5, describing them as “men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” True shepherds of Christ’s flock feed the sheep without thought of personal gain, seeking rather to store up treasures in heaven.

This greed manifests most conspicuously in the teachings of false teachers like Kenneth Copeland, Todd Bentley, Jesse Duplantis, and their ilk—teachers of the prosperity gospel—who have turned their ministries into platforms for personal enrichment. These false teachers are known for their relentless focus on tithing and giving, often with the promise that such financial sacrifices will unlock God’s blessings of personal wealth and health. They peddle a gospel that is more about investment in earthly riches than in heavenly treasures, again, twisting Christ’s teaching that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

Kenneth Copeland, Todd Bentley, and Jesse Duplantis are all false teachers who twist the Scriptuers, abandoning the actual gospel for their prosperity teachings. They encourage their followers to give financially, even to the point that it causes them to go into extreme debt, all with promises of divine rewards. Copeland’s seed-faith concept, Bentley’s calls for donations tied to healing and breakthroughs, and Duplantis’s claim for a $54 million jet for gospel spread, all exemplify the distortion of biblical giving. These teachings not only distort Scripture but also pressure believers into supporting the extravagant lifestyles of these preachers as they exploit the faith—albeit a false faith—for personal gain.

These are just a few examples of this trait that demonstrate a fundamental departure from the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, who warned against the love of money and urged followers of Christ to seek first the kingdom of God. The apostle Paul’s admonition to Timothy about the dangers of desiring riches is a stark reminder of the true calling of the shepherds who lead God’s people—to shepherd with humility, integrity, and a focus on eternal, not temporal, rewards.

Trait #3: Denial of Christ’s Headship

An often overlooked trait of false teachers is a subtle, but profound and often concealed denial of the sovereignty and lordship of Jesus Christ. This denial may not always manifest through an open and direct rejection of His deity or the essential truth of His atoning sacrifice. Instead, it frequently surfaces in the attitudes and teachings of false teachers who, while paying lip service to Christ’s lordship, position themselves as the pinnacle of authority and spiritual insight within their “churches.” Steven Furtick very well may be the quintessential example of this tendency as he parades himself as the ultimate arbiter of truth in his church, focusing sermons on his personal achievements, insights, and so-called spiritual acumen, rather than on the teachings of Christ.

These leaders, self-styled as “vision casters” and the ultimate standard for their followers, subtly redirect the allegiance due to Christ to themselves. Their sermons overflow with references to their own accomplishments and spiritual journeys, overshadowing the gospel with narratives of self-glorification. This narcissistic approach not only diverts attention from Jesus but also fosters a culture where the leader’s voice holds more weight than Scripture, thereby eroding the foundation of Christianity—Christ as the head of the church.

The actions of these false teachers often betray a heart that is far removed from the humility and servitude modeled by Jesus. Such leaders demand obedience and subservience, not to Christ, but to their own directives and visions for the church. In this distorted framework, a believer’s relationship with God is mediated through, and contingent upon, their loyalty to the leader. This dangerous dynamic effectively sidelines the true essence of Christian discipleship, which is direct and personal communion with Christ, guided by His Word and Spirit.

This subtle yet pervasive denial of Christ’s authority undermines the very essence of the Christian gospel, which proclaims Jesus as the sole pathway to salvation and the supreme authority over all creation. Jude’s admonition against those who “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4) remains distinctly relevant in our modern religious landscape, cautioning us against the allure of charismatic leaders who, through their actions and teachings, detract from the supremacy of Christ. For true spiritual nourishment and growth, we must anchor ourselves in the teachings of Scripture, uphold the centrality of Jesus in all aspects of our faith, and resist the seductive charisma of those who would place themselves above the Lord they claim to serve.

Trait #4: Moral Compromise

False teachers will frequently usher their followers into a state of moral compromise, selectively disregarding the Bible’s clear directives on sin to promote a “tolerant” or misleadingly “progressive” moral compromise. This dilution of biblical morality and the gospel’s call for personal holiness often serves to rationalize sinful conduct, masquerading as a distorted understanding of grace. Paul’s warning to the Roman church about those who prioritize their own desires over service to Christ, using “smooth talk and flattery” to mislead the unsuspecting, rings ever true today (Romans 16:18). True spiritual shepherds will guide their flock toward a lifestyle of repentance and sanctification while opposing the sham “liberty” that is ultimately just continued bondage in sin.

This moral compromise among false teachers is not limited to their teachings but is very often reflected in their personal lives, rife with accusations and instances of affairs, sexual immorality, adultery, bullying, and more. Their actions, grossly at odds with biblical morality, spotlight a deep-seated, even pharisaical hypocrisy, as we see in Romans 2. These false teachers tend to view themselves as beyond the reach of accountability, enshrined within a self-constructed pedestal of infallibility. This dangerous mindset not only undermines the integrity of their ministry but also sets a perilous example for their followers, suggesting that power can exempt one from the moral strictures demanded of Christ’s followers.

The personal failings of such leaders—ranging from the exploitation of their positions for sexual gain to the manipulation and bullying of those who dare to question them—reveal a flagrant disregard for the ethical and spiritual accountability that is foundational to Christian leadership. The New Testament is replete with admonitions against such behaviors, emphasizing the need for leaders to be above reproach, faithful to their spouses, gentle, self-controlled, and holy (1 Timothy 3:2-3; Titus 1:6-9).

And finally, the tendency of these false teachers to cloak their immorality in theological justification—claiming grace as a cover for sin—perverts the gospel’s true message of redemption and transformation. Such perversions of grace not only lead people astray but also tarnish the witness of the Church in the eyes of a watching world. The biblical call to holiness is not an archaic or optional aspect of Christian faith but the very evidence of a life transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Trait #5: Creating Division

False teachers, in their quest for influence and control, often become the architects of division within the church, strategically undermining the unity that is found in Christ. They do this by promoting and prioritizing controversial or non-essential doctrines, creating factions and splinter groups that pledge allegiance to their distorted teachings rather than to the gospel of Christ. Paul explicitly condemns such behavior, instructing Titus to admonish those who cause divisions, and even calls for severing ties with those who persist in this disruptive conduct (Titus 3:10). Notably, not all divisions are detrimental. In fact, Scripture delineates a clear distinction between destructive division and the division that arises naturally from clinging to orthodoxy and exposing heresy.

Romans 16:17-18 stresses that the true agents of division are not those who call out false teachings in defense of biblical truth but the false teachers themselves—those who introduce heretical doctrines into the body of Christ. These false teachers tend to label their critics as “heresy hunters” or deploy other pejorative aimed at discrediting their legitimate concerns. This behavior isn’t limited to those who are teaching rank heresies but is prevalent within mainstream Evangelical circles. If you need an example of this, just look at the establishment leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention and see how they treat anyone who questions their positions on anything from women pastors to Critical Race Theory.

Nonetheless, the false teachers, through their rejection of sound doctrine, be it subtly or blatantly, bear the responsibility for fracturing the church’s unity. This differentiation is crucial—division over doctrinal integrity and the clear teachings of Scripture is not only justified but necessary to maintain the purity and integrity of the church’s witness.

The New Testament affirms the importance of discernment and the responsibility of believers to defend the faith against false teachings that threaten the core of Christian orthodoxy. Jude 1:3 exhorts believers to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints,” signaling that division in the face of false teaching is an act of fidelity to the gospel. This form of division is not a mark of disunity but a testament to the church’s commitment to truth and purity, safeguarding the community from teachings that lead away from salvation and the true knowledge of God.

False teachers exploit the biblical call for unity to silence criticism and continue their propagation of errors unchallenged. In reality, true biblical unity is rooted in shared truth and doctrine, not a superficial harmony that ignores or tolerates theological error for the sake of peace. Effective church leadership involves discerning these threats and acting decisively to protect the flock from teachings that deviate from the gospel of Christ.

I hope you found this list helpful. The Christian walk is one of vigilance and discernment, as false teachers abound, seeking to lead the faithful astray. We can identify and resist these wolves in sheep’s clothing by grounding ourselves in the Word of God and heeding the Holy Spirit’s guidance. We must always cling to the truth of Scripture, uphold the authority of Christ, and walk in unity and holiness, so that we may stand firm against the schemes of those who would pervert the gospel of grace. Our lives must reflect the light of Christ as we earnestly contend for the faith once and for all delivered to the saints.

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