A few months ago, I began a short series called “The False Teachers.” I wanted to look back through church history to meet some of the people who have undermined the church at various points. We looked at historical figures like Joseph Smith who founded Mormonism and Ellen G. White who led the Seventh Day Adventists into prominence, and we looked at contemporary figures like Benny Hinn, the prominent faith healer, and T.D. Jakes, who has tampered with the doctrine of the Trinity.
I will soon be starting a new series looking at The Defenders, Christians known for defending the church against a certain theological challenge or a specific false teaching. I will be focusing on modern times and modern issues such as inerrancy and Open Theism.
But before I do that, I wanted to reflect on some of what I’ve learned as I’ve spent time considering false teachers and false teaching.
Here are a few lessons I’ve learned from false teachers.
1. False teachers are common.
When and where there are teachers of truth, there will necessarily be teachers of error.
The first and most fundamental thing I learned about false teachers is that we ought to expect them and be on the lookout for them. They are common in every era of church history.
This should not surprise us since the Bible warns that we are on war footing in this world, and that Satan is on full-out offensive against God and his people. And sure enough, history shows that whenever the gospel advances, error follows in its wake.
When and where there are teachers of truth, there will necessarily be teachers of error. Perhaps the most surprising thing about false teachers is that we continue to be surprised by them.
2. False teachers are deceptive.
False teachers are deceptive. They do not announce themselves as false teachers but proclaim themselves angels of light, people who have access to wisdom others have missed or misplaced.
As Denny Burk says, “False teachers typically won’t show up to your church wearing a sandwich board saying, ‘I am a false teacher.’”
Instead, they begin within the bounds of orthodoxy and announce themselves only slowly and through their subtly-twisted doctrine. They turn away from orthodoxy one step at a time rather than all at once.