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What Is A False Teacher?

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What is a false teacher? I remember someone telling me several months ago about a new church forming in a neighboring county.  This church is centered around one doctrine, namely that repentance is not required. It is always dangerous to have a church formed around one doctrine, but the interesting part of this story is that one of their founding members responded to someone else in their community who disagreed with their one doctrine on Facebook by calling that person a false teacher.

I think the word is used rather loosely in the church today, mostly in the same vein that people blast away on social media…to stop anyone from disagreeing with them. I decided to play it safe and only include pictures of David Koresh and Jim Jones as finger puppets…although if you dare to google “false teachers” you will get a lot of pointing fingers.

So, what is a false teacher? First of all, a false teacher is not someone who has made a mistake in something they taught or is simply incorrect about something in Bible.  No teacher is perfect and we all have room to grow in both our maturity in Christ and our understanding of the Bible. The real truth is that I have been in ministry for over 30 years and my belief system has modified itself (in small ways) during that time. I had a very simplistic theology when I first became a believer and I now understand more of the complexities expressed in Scripture.

Secondly, a false teacher is not someone who disagrees with your interpretation of something in the Bible. Just as no teacher is perfect, no system of doctrine gets everything exactly right. An important thing to remember when it comes to what we believe is that all doctrines are not equal. There are some things taught in the Bible that are essential and cannot be compromised.  These are the things relating to the nature of Christ and His saving work expressed in the cross and the resurrection.

A good way to think about this is to picture three concentric circles. The center circle contains the things that cannot be compromised.  These beliefs form our understanding of the gospel and the nature of God. This inner circle really represents what makes a person a disciple or follower of Jesus.

There is a second circle which is a little farther out and surrounds the first. This circle represents beliefs or doctrines which allow churches to form and doctrinal statements to be generated. Things in this circle would include our understanding of baptism, the meaning of communion and how we govern the church. It becomes important to agree on things in this circle because we are working and worshipping together.

The third circle that surrounds the first two represents beliefs, that although they come from Scripture, do not affect either our faith in Christ or how we worship together. In this circle you find interpretations about the book of Revelation, time tables(?!!) for the second coming of Christ and things of this nature. (I think I just gave away something I believe that belongs in the third circle…). As long as something is genuinely based on the Bible, you can believe as you feel led, and include some speculation on your part as you fill in what the Bible teaches with things that seem logical or consistent with your thinking.

A false teacher is not someone who has a weird theory about the second coming of Christ or who belongs to a church that uses a different form of baptism than yours does. A false teacher is someone who deliberately propagates a wrong understanding of the gospel. A red flag is attached to his/her lifestyle because generally there is a problem there if you are able to look closely. Both Jim Jones and David Koresh taught that they were incarnations of the Son of God. This has obvious implications for the gospel, as they both taught that they were a source of salvation. When someone looks at their lives, one can see obvious moral issues as well. Both men had a practice of sleeping with other men’s wives from among their followers as a part of their “ministry.” Indeed, both of these men developed what we call a cult.

Not all false teachers are cult leaders. Not all false teachers have obvious moral problems. And to be absolutely fair, not every minister who has had a moral problem is a false teacher! But all false teachers are in the ministry for their own profit. This may be financial profit, or power, or control or any combination of these things.

Be careful about throwing “false teacher” out as a label unless you see obvious problems with what they teach about the gospel. At the same time, be aware of teachers who have moral issues, who orient their ministries around money or power, or who claim to have truth that no one else is teaching from the Bible.

Darrell Brown
Minister of Adult Discipleship
Notes:
  1. Image of David Koresh is public domain; http://www.therightperspective.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/david-koresh.jpg
  2. Image of Rev. Jim Jones. This file is licensed under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 4.0 International By Nancy Wong [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
  3. Handskelett im Röntgenbild; https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en. By Hellerhoff [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
  4. All three of these images have been altered with a filter and as such do not adequately represent the original work.
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How I Get the Most from My Bible Reading

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Reading the Bible seems intimidating for some people, when it really should not be. A part of this, I think, is a common fear that they may not understand everything they read. Let me offer some tips on how I get the most from my Bible reading.

  1. I read in multiple translations. Now that Pastor Craig has outlined the difference between a translation that tries to translate word for word (literal) as opposed to those that focus on thought for thought (dynamic), I would say use one of each when you do your Bible reading. If you missed Craig’s message, go on to our website and download the May 7th 2017 message! Using multiple translations allows you to see more things in the text as you read it and it helps you grasp the meaning of that passage.

  2. I read the references listed with the verses. References are the footnotes or the center column references. These fall into three main areas: a) a note that explains the meaning of the verse; b) a cross reference to another passage that has the same word or topic and c) a reference to the Old Testament when it is quoted in the New Testament. While we were reading in the Gospel of Mark this Spring I noticed a few things in the text.
     
    The first was that Jesus quoted a verse from the Old Testament in Mark 14:47. This was further indicated in my translation by the fact that these words were in all caps on the page. I looked at the reference column in my Bible and saw that this quotation came from Zechariah 13:7. As I read Zechariah I quickly saw that chapters 12-13 were one long prophecy that God delivered through this prophet.

    What also immediately caught my attention is that these two chapters seemed filled with messianic prophecy (references to Jesus). Zechariah 12:10 and 13:1 immediately jumped out at me (I will let you look these verse up for yourself!)

  3. I highlight verses that catch my eye. I use a set of colored pencils so they will not bleed through the pages to the text on the back side. You can buy expensive ones from the Christian bookstore, but I use ones I buy from an art store because I like a greater variety of color options. If you begin to use more than four colors you can consider this as well. I look for verses I think God is using to speak to me that day or verses that relate to a topic I enjoy tracking through Scripture.

  4. I make notes in the margin of my Bible. I do this for several reasons. The first is that if God speaks to me personally I need to write this down and remember it. Sometimes I just write down my question beside that verse. I have written down sermon ideas, theological points (for later debate with my friends) and thoughts about what God might be saying to me. My wife writes down sermon notes from the service in her Bible, but I reserve the space for my own thoughts about what God is saying to me. That way when I look back there is no confusion about what was on my heart as opposed to what was on Pastor Craig’s heart as he preached. I use the worship bulletin to take my sermon notes. When God speaks to me personally from a sermon, that justifies a note in my Bible.

  5. I take time to read and re-think the things I wrote before. It is always amazing to me when I read something I wrote at some point in the past (I don’t date anything) and think: “What an inspiring insight!” Then I realize that I had forgotten this inspiring insight and it might have been lost for an even longer period of time if I had not written it down in my Bible. The older I get, the more important it is to write things down! Let me add here that if you begin writing in your Bible, then always write in the same Bible if you own more than one. If you are reading in multiple translations, pick the one with the best margins and references to be the one you use to record where the Holy Spirit leads your thoughts. If you have a “go-to” translation use it for everything you are highlighting and writing down.

  6. I let my Bible reading take me to places I would not have normally gone. I am using the Bible reading plan we offer at the church, but for me the point is not to get through the reading plan. The point is for God to speak to me and hopefully use this to transform my life a little closer to the image of Christ. The truth is, I probably would not have woken up one morning and just decided that I needed to do some reading from the book of Zechariah. Sometimes the minor prophets in the Old Testament are more challenging to read. But when I follow a reference or even a passage that the Holy Spirit brings to mind as I read then I am truly listening and not just marking Bible reading off of my to-do list for that day. I discovered some riches in Zechariah because I was willing to go off the beaten path and peek into a part of the Bible that seems to be a little more challenging at first glance.  It reminds me of that line from the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken:”
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference 
 
Darrell Brown
Minister of Adult Discipleship
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