Monday, September 7, 2015

How to avoid false teachers (or, better, how to avoid becoming one!)

Subject: False teachers
Date: Sept. 6, 2015
Target passage: II Peter 2:1-10

For as many false prophets as there have been throughout Christian history there is surely a greater number of motives that drove these men and women from truth to something that ... well, doesn't quite match up to truth.

In this particular chapter, Peter narrows down the criteria. He warns the churches he wrote in Asia Minor against "licentiousness" (an attitude that we have a free license to sin, vv. 2 and 10), greed (v. 3), and a disdain for authority (vv. 1 and 10).

Stop here before you point an accusatory finger at a money-grabbing televangelist, a cult leader, or an overbearing coach you had in high school: aren't we all guilty of these things?

Yes, all who have ever taught are all guilty of teaching falsehoods from time to time (but good teachers are open to correction by their fellow teachers). False teachers, however, are those who continually teach falsehood, whether consciously or unknowingly.

Using perhaps the most extreme example of false teaching in all of Scripture, we can see what separates false teachings from the truth. In the famous account of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, the Spirit led Jesus to fast for 40 days. The little-known fact is that the Spirit also led Jesus to "be tempted of the devil." That's right: God led himself into temptation. Keeping in form, the devil waited until Jesus' weakest moment -- 40 days after -- to launch his introductory salvo.
"You're at the very peak of human hunger. Turn these stones to bread." (I paraphrase -- see Matthew 4:4) 
"Where are those angels who are supposed to be helping you right now as you stumble around famished? Jump off this cliff and they'll come to catch you." (Matthew 5-7) 
"Let's cut to the chase, shall we? Why wait until your second coming? I'll give you the entire world right now -- after all, it's already mine." (Matthew 8-11)
Watch how Jesus responds, matching Scripture with Scripture, and searching for the underlying truth behind the otherwise accurate verses Satan presented (check the footnotes -- ol' Scratch quoted the Old Testament with relative precision). And note that after Jesus resisted, then the angels came to minister to him following his long fast. God is faithful.

In the case of Satan in the wilderness and the false teachers Peter warned the churches of Asia Minor to be on the lookout for, practitioners of falsehood seek to expose, rather than to seek (they're more into "gotcha!" moments than "ah-ha!" moments). They lash out against authority rather than try to work together (or humbly recognize their own small place in God's universe). Their motive is gain (be it quantities of followers, money, fame, etc.). Sometimes the motive is simply to destroy all opposition -- often with holy intentions, but to the exclusion of God's purposes (in my personal experience, false teachers will put prayer, fellowship, and the input of older Christians in their crosshairs first).

A true teacher will test his students, but not prod them to failure. A true teacher will handle criticism with grace and not fear. A true teacher's reward is students who come to know the truth, and we all know that the best teachers are underpaid!

* * *

Our exercise for the evening was to compare four contrasting verses from each of the four Gospels to see how easy it would be to split at hairs on them. What would a true teacher do with them? And how would a false teacher respond?

The sign on Jesus' cross differs depending on who you ask: Matthew (27:37), Mark (15:26), Luke (23:38), or John (19:19). Go ahead -- take a look! A little skepticism won't pluck you from God's hand.

The underlying truth is that the sign read "King of the Jews." But what came before was up to the perspective or memory of the Gospel writers. And here's an interesting perspective.

Someone with a chip on their shoulder regarding authority might take the differences between the signs as "proof" that the Bible must be false.

Someone with a desire to start their own movement or trademarked corner of the truth may go off on some rabbit trail about Gentile vs. Jewish Gospels, and begin to exclude other Christians who don't agree with the person's new, wild theories.

Someone looking for excuses to sin may glance at the apparent "contradiction" here and use those difficult passages as justification to live anyway he or she pleases because the Bible is no longer authoritative in that person's opinion. This person may begin to lash out at Christians who boldly preach the Bible as authoritative.

Many others, under an innocent but mistaken belief that God had each writer of the 66 books "take dictation" -- e.g. that God authored each and every letter of the Bible himself  -- might begin to question their entire religious upbringing. This can leave them vulnerable to false teachings. Some in this category may resort to agnosticism or atheism at the shock of seeing a paradox in Scripture. Others may drift toward a hollow Modernism or relativistic Ecumenism as a coping mechanism.

But a reasonable person will, again, seek the underlying truth of what is being presented. He will use the "entire counsel" of God's Word. God inspired each writer of Scripture, as Peter said in Chapter 1 (being an "eyewitness" of the events contained in the Gospels!).

Today God stands ready to inspire us just as he did the Gospel writers. He will fill us with the Spirit of Truth if we willingly rid ourselves of our greed, our hatred for authoritative teachers, and our desire to sin. "Draw near to God and he will draw near to you" (James 4:8). Take him at his promise.

                                                                             * * *

And then we sung a hymn ... an encore of last week's "What Is Our Calling's Glorious Hope."

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