Last week I talked about my encounter at the gas station. The man claimed he had heard God talking to him, but I don’t think he was expecting me to already be a Christian. The experience made for a good anecdote and illustration on the topic, but it was altogether harmless. Neither of us came away hurt or angry. However, not every person who claims to hear the voice of God does so in such an innocent way. The same Christians who are trying to find the hidden signals they think God is sending them can easily be misled by preachers making the same claims. For thousands of years there have been people claiming to hear the voice of God, but are abusing that idea in the pursuit of wealth, fame, or power. We as Christians need to be very careful, and always be checking whether we are hearing the voice of God or a false teacher.
What is a False Teacher?
False teacher is one of those phrases that we throw around a lot in the church. We might need to be careful it doesn’t become just a name we call people we don’t like or disagree with. Scripture lays out on multiple occasions some things to look out for, and why this is a serious issue.
Certain preachers make a habit of proclaiming the messages they received from God. One could say that every pastor’s job is to preach the messages from God, but that’s the public message of the Bible. When a pastor begins proclaiming that they had a special vision or message from God, take some notes. Look it up, test what they say, and see if it stands true. False teachers will use many other approaches, but I specifically want to focus on these 2 today.
1. Claiming Vague Prophecies
Maybe this is something you haven’t encountered, as it seems to be more common in charismatic churches, or churches that subscribe to a prosperity gospel approach. Typically, their goal is to be dramatic and, in their way, uplifting. They talk about their private vision from God to tell you what’s going to happen in your life. This naturally progresses into vague assertions about what your problems are, and how you can solve all of them with more faith. It’s sort of like blending a horoscope message or a fortune cookie in with a shallow sermon. That’s already a recipe for a weak sermon, but then add in the claims of prophecy, and you are playing with fire. Why would a preacher need to rely on vague prophecies when they have the entire scope of Biblical teaching at their fingers? It’s not a good sign.
2. Declaring Contradictory Doctrines
If the vague assertions are playing with fire, these are dumping the gasoline and tossing matches onto the pile. When a teacher begins claiming they hear the voice of God, and that it is telling them what changes need to be made to church doctrine, it might be time to go. At this point, the preacher has made their own authority higher than scripture, and they are moving away from the church and into cult-status. Do not let this slip in.
Responsibilities of the Pulpit
I think the man at the gas station may have had some wrong ideas about God. But I wasn’t going to argue with him or call him out on any of it. However, if the same claims were being made by a pastor or priest from the pulpit, the problem becomes far more serious. Teachers are held to a higher standard. As James the brother of Jesus put it,
“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”James 3:1
Pastors are an essential part of the church, and they deserve our respect. But the unfortunate reality of this world is that not every shepherd is a good one. Always test the prophets by the authority of scripture so that you are never misled. That is our foundation, and the way we can be certain if we are hearing the voice of God or a false teacher.
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