One of the common conversations taking place in the back seat of my car is a discussion between my children asking, “What does that road sign mean?” One of the very interesting signs you see on the road is warning signs. Warning signs on the road are important because they help regulate our driving activity, but they also inform us of a potential danger so that we can be protected.
As you take time to read the Scriptures you will come across many warnings signs. A regular warning sign that appear and you cannot miss is a warning concerning false teaching. Have you ever noticed how much of the Scripture is devoted to warning again false prophets, false teachers and false shepherds? These warnings assume the fact that there will be individuals in the church who are going to claim to be Christians and authorized teachers.
Just as we ought to be thankful for clear warning signs on the road, we ought to be especially grateful and familiar with the warning signs in Scripture. They are there to help regulate our thinking and warn us against impending danger. In my next two posts, I will discuss the methods of a false teacher and the marks of a false teacher.
THE METHODS OF A FALSE TEACHER
In John 10 is the familiar story of the Shepherd and the Sheep. In this passage Jesus speaks of a sheepfold, sheep, a door, a gatekeeper, thieves and robbers, and the shepherd. The thieves and robbers sneak into the sheepfold whereas the shepherd goes through the gate. The thieves and robbers enter so as to steal and destroy, whereas the shepherd comes to save and sanctify. So what we will see in this passage is a contrast between Jesus who is the true Shepherd and the Pharisees who are false shepherds. I would like to use the opening verses of this passage as a way to unmask the methods of false teachers.
The normal way to enter the sheepfold was through the gate. However, Jesus points out that there are those who climb into the fold using a different and deceptive way. Their method is wrong, deceitful and according to their own desires. What is Jesus talking about here? Jesus is saying that there are certain individuals who had crept into roles of authority without being authorized. They are doing it on their terms and not God’s terms.
How does this relate to the Pharisees and modern false teachers? Despite their claims, the Pharisees did not draw their authority from the Scriptures but from tradition. This means that when they were teaching the people of Israel, they were not doing this according to God’s authorized method. Instead, they were self-styled shepherds doing God’s business their way.
There are many people today who find themselves in positions of authority in the church and they teach and preach, but when one carefully examines what they are saying it is based on tradition. You even have others who preach but the basis of their message is drawn from their own experience. Some people have based an entire theology on an unverified and even bizarre experience. Whether it be a dream, a voice or gold dust falling from the ceiling, . They will have crowds following them, reading their books and lapping up their teaching. Sadly, in the end these teachers are not standing on the Word of God, but on tradition or experience. We should beware of any teacher who propagates ideas and teaching that is drawn from tradition or their own experience.
Notice that Jesus calls the individual using this method of entering the sheepfold “a thief and a robber” (10:1). Why is that? Their method actually reveals what their motive is. They are cunning, crafty and self-absorbed. On another occasion, Jesus boldly said to the Pharisees,
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in” (Matt. 23:13).
The methods false teachers will employ include things like spiritual intimidation, worldliness, an emphasis on money and softened messages. This is because their authority is not based on the Word of God but rather is drawn from things like tradition and experience.
False teachers are not interested in seeing their follows know Christ and grow in Him. What they are really interested in is the satisfaction of their own desires. Whether it is seen in the accumulating of wealth or popularity, they are nothing more than thieves and robbers.