But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. -- 2Peter 2: 1-3 (ESV)
With profound sadness I watch every day as people continue to march merrily down the broad path that leads only to destruction. Following their favorite leaders who scratch their itching ears as they so desire. With weeping I watch pastors I know continue to fall for the deception that who they associate with is somehow irrelevant to God. That it doesn't matter that they lead sheep unwittingly to hell by pointing them in that direction by who they implicitly support. It is easier to label those who correctly stand for what the Bible says as "heresy hunters" or "ministry assassins." What absolute nonsense. Anything to not have to hold our brethren accountable for what they do in their leadership positions as well as what they teach. As if the very eternal lives of their listeners does not matter. This despite warning after warning after warning in the Bible and from Jesus Himself regarding false teaching in the church. That it is poison. That it spreads like cancer. That it will lead people away from Jesus Christ and salvation. When asked about it in the abstract, most preachers would agree but put a face on that abstract and suddenly the tune changes. Suddenly it is a chorus of "judge not" with a refrain of "you don't know their heart." But we do know their heart thanks to the Bible their hearts are as wicked as ours are and deceptive above everything. When it comes to false teaching we most certainly are to judge, especially if we fancy ourselves in church leadership:
As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. -- 1Timothy 1: 3-7 (ESV)
He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. -- Titus 1: 9 (ESV)
The first set of verses are the opening instructions to Pastor Timothy from the Apostle Paul. He charges him specifically with demanding that certain people who were teaching falsely to stop. In fact if they were preaching any different doctrine at all they should stop. That they ought not to get distracted from the real Gospel with their myths and endless genealogies. These genealogies referred to are Jewish tradition meant to keep the history of each tribe pure but over the centuries they had become so convoluted they seemed endless. The larger point was that now that the New Covenant had arrived, they were not relevant. Neither were the fables and myths of the Talmud and Mishna. These were traditional writings of Rabbis over the centuries that had become equal with Scripture to the Jews. It is actually from here that Mark Batterson drew his inspiration for the wildly heretical book called The Circle Maker. We see the same thing today as we are distracted with many fables being taught as doctrine that are simply unnecessary, false, and ultimately distracts from the real Gospel. The myth of prosperity. The myth of God not caring about sin anymore. The myth of gemstones, gold dust and angel feathers. The purpose driven myths that say the pastor does not have to shepherd anymore. The seeker friendly myths that make church about petting the goats instead of feeding the sheep. We need to pay attention here to what Paul is charging of Timothy. Do not play nice with what is false. Do not defend it. Do not feel badly because you think they are co-laborers. They are not. They have wandered away into vain discussions. That means discussions that do not matter. This is not a game beloved. The eternal destinations of the souls of man rely upon the correct preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and we cannot afford any distractions. They can be as confident in their assertions as they like and as well intended in their hearts as you think they are. It matters not because they do not understand. The verse from Titus only puts a bow on this. As preachers of the Word, we are not only to present sound doctrine but rebuke those who do not. We are not supposed to go listen to them at the latest networking conference. We are not to re-tweet or repost profound sounding quotes from them, even if those individual quotes might be true. We should not be in the business of leading people to others who are simply false. Why? Because their lives depend upon it! So let us again turn to the only thing that matters -- scripture. I had plenty of verse choices regarding false teaching to pick from but settled on the key verses from Peter's Second Epistle. Let us reason together and break down what God is trying to say:
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you
The opening salvo may often be overlooked but is crucial to understanding what is going on today versus what had happened in the Old Covenant. In the days before Jesus Christ there were no Bibles. God primarily communicated to His people through His prophets. This is why prophecy needed to be 100% accurate to validate whether someone was a true prophet or false. God does not stutter. But throughout history we see false prophets arising all the time to pretend that God had said something when He actually never said it. After the days of Jesus Christ we now have to final revealed will of God in His Word. We no longer need prophets as they existed in the Old Covenant. Yes there is a gift of prophecy but that is now dependent wholly upon the Word of the Lord; the Bible. Anyone "prophesying" outside of the Biblical text is in fact "prophelying." For the purposes of this discussion however look at this portion from the key verses. Just as there were false prophets arising in the Old Testament days, we can expect false teachers to rise amongst us in the church age. The conclusion is obvious. The terms false teacher and false prophet are interchangeable.
Why? Because both are claiming to tell us things that God has said. When we hear many false teachers today such as Joseph Prince, Joyce Meyer, or Rick Warren, there is always the direct revelation card played. But "God told me" should never be a replacement for scripture. Even those who do not claim direct audible revelation are essentially inferring it. I can live with the notion that Joel Osteen genuinely believes that God wants everyone rich. I can live with the notion that AR Bernard sincerely thinks Kong Hee was justified in stealing 50 million dollars from congregants to finance his wife's secular music career. I can even live with the notion that Rick Warren believes he hears from God. Their intents can all be as pure as the driven snow but it is irrelevant. Our wickedly deceptive hearts can convince us anything is "of God" but only scripture can reveal if what we have believed in and taught is true or false. That is the point.
who will secretly bring in destructive heresies
It is time to call things for what they are, not what we hope they might be. False teachings are not oopsies. They are not doctrinal differences. They are not different interpretations. They are two things according to the key verses. They are dangerous and they are heresy. Dangerous? What do you mean preacher? It is just a little sermon. It is just a different opinion. I know their heart. They give a lot back to the community. Where is the danger? We will let Paul answer that:
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. -- 1Timothy 4: 16 (NIV)
These are instructions to his protege Timothy as he embarks on his pastoral career at Ephesus. Breaking it down simply, as Christian leaders how we live and what we teach MUST line up with the Bible. For our own salvation and for the salvation of those who would listen to us. Do we understand this today beloved? At the end of the day it does not matter how big our building fund got. It does not matter how many playgrounds we built in Central America. It does not matter how many silly leadership seminars we attended trying to figure out how to attract 50% more goats next year. What matters is the salvation of those that would hear us. I always speak about the time several years ago when Rick Warren wrote an article for pastors about how to increase the likelihood that their Easter visitors would return the next week. One of his tips was to not preach the Gospel. Seriously. In his words, "so you give people a reason to come back." Only the Gospel is the power of God unto the salvation of man. What good are we doing by helping people repair broken marriages only watch them both end up in hell? How significant will someone feel when they hear "I never knew you."
even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.
I think we read this and wonder who it is referring to. I mean, no one "denies" Jesus Christ. Yes they do beloved. When someone chooses to mangle His Word, water down His Gospel, and preach things that are false; they are in fact denying their Master. To take things a logical step further, when we refuse to stand for correct doctrine by sharing the stage with someone who is denying the Mater, we too are denying Him. Do not hand me to carnal reasons why it is OK. Do not tell me that this false teacher really helps people feel better about themselves or that one built a million dollar community recreation center for youth. I am not even saying these things are not noble in another sense but these people are not filling the role of community activist or politician. They have chosen to claim the mantle of church leadership. They have chosen to be called pastor. Not Alderman or Senator; pastor. As such their primary responsibility is to guard their lives and their doctrine. Their primary duty is to their Master. To deny that, even by doing what many consider to be good works, does not remove the falseness from them. Maybe the community is far better off with that center built. Maybe people are able to overcome some temporal events because they have an improved self esteem. None of that will matter when they stand before Jesus Christ. The one person who is supposed to help them approach that day is their pastor.
And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.
There are two important truths to understand here. First of all, the desires to teach falsely are grounded in sensuality. An easier way to understand this is our flesh. Many like the limelight the mega church pastoral office holds because of the notoriety, the fame, and the accolades. Just like the Pharisees of old liked the best seats at banquets and to be greeted in the marketplaces. It is all sinful fleshly desires. Who wouldn't like being considered to be so wise and pious by so many? Pastors fall prey so easily to the whispering in the ears about how great they are and how enlightening their sermons are. Vanity is the devil's most favorite weapon many times. Local pastors are no different. Wanting to build their own empire. To take a church of 50 and turn it into 500. Sure they can give all the praise to God but the undercurrent in their flesh will be difficult to ignore as compromises start to settle in when planning to go from 500 to 1000. The end result will be what the key verses state here. The way of the truth shall be blasphemed. That is what false teaching does beloved. While it is true that the world is living in darkness they see darkness quite well. When darkness claims to be light, they see the hypocrisy. The number one reason why the unsaved do not go to church is because of the hypocrisy they see. Do we honestly think we can teach health wealth and happiness then hop into our Bentley and drive to our mansion without repercussions? Do we honestly believe that we can rail against the sinful world while neck deep in our own sins and there not be repercussions? What do you think the effect is on the image of the bride of Christ when our preachers refuse to rebuke what is false? When instead the world sees we embrace what is false. When mega church pastors with huge public platforms refuse to stop backing a man now convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison for stealing 50 million dollars. Even if pastor worship blinds their followers from doing what is right the lesson is not lost on the world that needs Jesus. Instead, the way of the truth is blasphemed.