Christs tells believers in Matthew 7:15 to beware of false prophets and warns they will come to us disguised as believers. They will outwardly appear to be His followers but inwardly they are “ravenous wolves” seeking to destroy the flock. How can we know if someone who appears to be a fellow Christian is in actuality a false prophet (or teacher)? One helpful resource is the Book of Ezekiel.
Ezekiel was a priest called by God to be a prophet to Judah in the sixth century, B.C. In the thirteenth chapter of his writings, Ezekiel speaks against the false prophets of Israel who were leading the people away from God and into judgment – just as false teachers and prophets do today. Though his message is hundreds of years old, the characteristics he describes continue to be true of those who attempt to lead believers astray.
- Follow their own spirit rather than God (Ezekiel 13:3). Today we might say they take Disney’s advice and follow their heart rather than the scriptures.
- Claim God has spoken to them or through them when He has not (Ezekiel 13:6-7). In Ezekiel’s day this meant claiming to hear from God outside His chosen channel of revelation – His prophets. Now we should be wary of anyone claiming extra-biblical revelation from God.
- Are liars (Ezekiel 13:8). People for whom truth flies out the window the moment it is inconvenient or unpopular.
- Speak “peace” when there is no peace. In other words, they give people false assurance regarding their standing before God (Ezekiel 13:10).
- Whitewash evil. They dress up wickedness trying to make it presentable (Ezekiel 13:11-12).
- Will eventually be exposed and judged by God (Ezekiel 13:13-16).
- Utilize good luck charms and other superstitious methods (Ezekiel 13:18). They are syncritists – dabbling in the practices of false religions. This is seen in such things as efforts to mix new age practices with Christianity.
- Do not really care for those they claim to minister to (Ezekiel 13:18). The false teacher’s main concern is himself, not those sitting under his teaching.
- Spare the guilty and punish the innocent, often for financial gain (Ezekiel 13:19). Is the teacher willing to compromise truth or cover up wrong-doing in order to avoid personal loss or achieve personal gain?
- Encourage sinners to continue sinning leading to their destruction (Ezekiel 13:22). False teachers encourage people in their sin rather than pleading with them to turn from it.
Notice how many of these concern their approach to truth. The primary characteristic of false teachers is that they hate God’s truth and therefore they use their teaching to undermine it. Nothing is more dangerous to the church than truth-haters in positions of authority. Like Ezekiel, we should be quick to call out such teachers. The protection and health of Christ’s church demands it.
Have you encountered a false teacher in the church? If so, how did you handle it?