Three Tests of a False or True Teacher

How Can You Tell if a Teaching is Sound or Rotten?

How Can You Tell if a Teaching is Sound or Rotten?

This morning, I preached on , where Jesus warns us, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.”

But how exactly can we recognize whether someone’s teaching is prone to leading us astray or not? As I look at the best-selling Christian books in America, I see much that is mis-leading or deceptive and some that is rich and Biblically faithful. How can we tell the difference?

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Here are three things to examine as you consider the fruitfulness of a teaching: What is the focus? What is the source? and What appears to be the motivation?

Focus: Is the teaching Christ-centered?

“For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” – , ESV

It amazes me how non-seeker-driven Paul was. While later in 1 Corinthians, he would say, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (9:22), he did not do so by changing the focus of his message. He did not give the Greeks the wisdom they sought but the folly of the cross. He did not give the Jews the signs they sought but the stumbing block of a crucified Messiah.

So, the first test of any teaching is this: Is the focus on Christ and the cross, the redemptive work of the Son of God?

Many teachers focus their teachings elsewhere:

1. Self. Some teachers focus all of their teaching on self-esteem and self-assessment, including Norman Vincent Peale, Robert Schuller and Joel Osteen. They teach people to find hope in themselves instead of in the cross of Christ.

2. Morality. Instead of focusing on a feel-good self-esteem message, some teachers focus on the 10 Commandments and Biblical morality. This is the focus of many fundamentalist teachers, who teach the Moral Law as if people were capable of keeping it if they really wanted to, rather than as a mirror to show us our sin and drive us to Jesus.

3. America. Many pastors and preachers are very patriotic and focus as much of love of country as on love of Christ. We intentionally do not place the American flag in our sanctuary because we are gathered to worship Jesus, who is not the American Messiah, but is King of kings and Lord of lords.

4. Israel. Many others focus too heavily on the nation-state of Israel, giving ethnic Jews a more central place in God’s redemptive purposes than Christ and the church. The focus is more on current events in Israel than on the glory of the Gospel.

5. Politics and culture. I myself know well the temptation to focus on the political and cultural rather than the Gospel. Elections and laws don;t change hearts and lives; only Jesus can do that.

To be Biblically faithful, teachers should center their teaching where the Bible centers its teaching, on Christ and the Gospel.

Source: Is the teaching Biblical?

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” –

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” –

God has revealed to us everything we need to know in His word. He has held back nothing needful or truly beneficial, but He has not revealed everything. God does keep secret things for Himself and we need to respect the Biblical boundaries.

1. God has not revealed the timing of the Second Coming of Jesus. God has not revealed and will not reveal when Jesus is coming again, either in a specific sense or even in a general sense. We are to live expectantly, for “concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” ()

This applies to the obvious errors of Harold Camping and other like him as well as to those who watch the news in Israel thinking that the current American foreign policy team is ushering in the age of the Tribulation, which means that the rapture is going to happen soon. “No one knows” really does mean “no one knows.”

2. God has not given us a detailed description of heaven nor any first-hand reports from anyone who has been there. Most Bible scholars believe that Paul visited heaven, perhaps when he was stoned and left for dead in Lystra (). They believe that Paul is referring to himself in the third person (out of humility) in :

“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.” (ESV)

If applied to the Apostle Paul, who was an Apostle given authority to write Scripture, then certainly it also applies to others who may (or may not) have been to heaven.

3. God has not filled the Bible with hidden codes and secret prophecies about the future. The things God has revealed in is word He has revealed for all to know who will study His word faithfully. He does not intend for us to seek hidden codes in the Hebrew letters or secret prophecies about America hidden in obscure verses.

4. We cannot “listen” to God in prayer, pick up our pen and start writing and think that we’re hearing the voice of God or that what we write down as being “from God” in our prayer journal is actually the voice of God. This is not Biblical and is not safe. God speaks in His word. His voice is in the pages of Scripture.

Motivation: Is the teacher glorifying God or serving Self?

This third test is trickier because no one knows the heart of another person. Still, rotten fruit comes from a bad root. If a teacher’s motivation is self-serving, then the fruit he bears will be bad. Teachers who are looking to sell lots of books, to get their name promoted, to be hugely popular, etc. are not focused on the glory of God.

While it can be difficult to truly assess motive, sometimes it’s obvious. The recent scandals involving Atlanta mega-church pastors Bishop Eddie Long and Wiley Jackson are just the latest fruit to come from the root of egotistical self-promotion. If a pastor wants his name and picture all over everything and insists on controlling everything in the church, it’s highly unlikely that he’s humbly seeking the glory of God.

Response: What do we do?

Jesus says “beware” because these false teachers are “ravenous wolves” which seek to feed themselves on the flock of God. Now, not everyone who ever gets a little off-center in his focus is a “false prophet” in the sense of the term, but we need to beware and stay away from those things which would get us off-center ourselves. Remember that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” ()

More importantly, we need to feed ourselves on the Word, follow Christ and seek out those faithful under-shepherds who will lead us to hear and follow the voice of our Good Shepherd in the Scriptures and especially in the Gospel.

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Jason A. Van Bemmel is a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Pastor of Faith PCA in Cheraw, S.C. This article appeared on his blog Ponderings of a Pilgrim Pastor and is used with permission.

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (ESV)

22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, (ESV)

29 “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (ESV)

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, (ESV)

36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. (ESV)

14:1 Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles. When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country, and there they continued to preach the gospel.

Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, 10 said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking. 11 And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. 14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, 15 “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” 18 Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them.

19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. 21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

24 Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. 25 And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia, 26 and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. 27 And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they remained no little time with the disciples. (ESV)

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. (ESV)

and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. (ESV)

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. (ESV)

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? (ESV)

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