Some people see false teachers everywhere they look. All too often accusing someone of being a false teacher is done as casually as making small talk about the weather! All it takes to be labeled a false teacher in some church circles is to teach something which disagrees with the big name Church of Christ preachers, the brotherhood periodicals, or local congregational consensus. When someone is pronounced to be a false teacher, his integrity is nearly always called into question with statements like, “He doesn’t love the truth. If he were honest he’d see this topic the same way I do.”
Does it make one a false teacher to arrive at an incorrect conclusion about a matter and teach it to others? Who decides what is correct and what is incorrect? Is it not possible for two teachers to both love God, love the truth, be honest and intelligent and yet, after diligent study, still arrive at differing conclusions without one of them being a false teacher?
How does the Bible define a false teacher?
2Pe 2:1-3 ESV But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. (2) And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. (3) And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
Let's notice the traits that Peter says are characteristics of a false teacher.
Of course, it goes without saying that a false teacher can be expected to teach false things. Peter says they teach heresies which bring destruction both upon themselves and those who are deceived by their teaching. Now let’s be clear here, Peter is referring to teachings that can cause people to lose their salvation. He is not talking about a person who teaches it is okay to eat inside the church building, clap during worship, pray to Jesus, use multiple communion cups, use instrumental music, nor the dozens of other things that we accuse each other of being false teachers over. In spite of what some in the Church of Christ think, the Bible does not teach that those with genuine faith are in danger of losing their salvation over such matters. God’s grace is powerful enough to forgive our intellectual shortcomings when we make mistakes in understanding His will!
No, Peter is speaking of truly serious issues such as denying the Master. A false teacher may attempt to diminish Jesus and what He accomplished. There is no shortage of religious “scholars” who deny the divinity of Christ, deny the virgin birth, deny that His resurrection was an actual event but was instead a figurative literary concoction, etc. Perhaps the most common way to deny Jesus is to profess Christianity, but then fail to live up to it. “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.” Tit 1:16 ESV
False teachers tend to indulge their baser desires by embracing sensuality (Greek: aselgeia, Strong’s G766) . The Greek word “aselgeia” is defined as:
1) unbridled lust, excess, licentiousness, lasciviousness, wantonness, outrageousness, shamelessness, insolence
The false teacher is given over to excess in a number of ways and has no sense of shame. Their only concern is how their scandals might affect their popularity.
Eventually, false teacher’s sins will come to the surface and the way of truth will be blasphemed. Those who oppose Christianity take great delight when the hypocrisy of someone whom allegedly represents Christ is exposed. Great damage is done to the cause of Christ every time some fake self righteous televangelist, or the like, is exposed as a fraud. All Christians everywhere are considered guilty by association and people who need the salvation that Jesus offers may never find it because they consider us all to be hypocrites and our religion a sham.
Now I don’t know about you, but I haven’t heard of any non-Christians blaspheming the way of truth when they found out that the Church of Christ preacher across town conducts weddings and funerals in the church building, or that he has endorsed putting microphones on their praise team, or that he supports a praise team in the first place! Let’s face it, no one on the outside cares about such things and would question our sanity if they found out that we draw lines of fellowship over such matters. On the other hand, they will take notice when it is discovered that the preacher or one of the elders is fornicating with the church secretary; the way of truth will be blasphemed!
False teachers do what they do because it is all about them. Motivated by greed, they will exploit, manipulate and lie to get what they want. They are wolves in sheep's clothing (Mat 7:15) and the false teacher’s flock is just a means to an end. Whether that end be money, sex, popularity, attention, or power it doesn’t matter. They will use their sheep, eat their sheep or do whatever they want to their sheep to achieve their goals.
Peter didn’t use the words “false teacher” the way a lot of our brethren do. If someone has come to an honest, but incorrect, conclusion about some spiritual matter and teaches it to others this does not automatically make him a false teacher. Anyone who is growing in Christ has changed their mind about any number of topics as they learned more about the scriptures. This means they were either wrong before they changed their mind, are wrong now, or were wrong both times. By the non-biblical standards of some people, any of us who have taught something that we later learned to be incorrect are false teachers. By the way, if you have never been forced to a different conclusion by some new insight, you have not been studying.
A true teacher seeks to edify his students through instruction. In so doing, a person may teach something that is incorrect, but this doesn't make him a false teacher! In contrast, a false teacher isn't really a teacher; he is masquerading as one. This is why he is "false". He is not interested in edifying his students; his interest is in how he may use them. His aim is not to edify the flock, but to use it for his own greedy purpose. According to Peter, a person isn’t a false teacher unless he is exhibiting at least some of the sins discussed above. Let’s call Bible things by Bible names and stop accusing each other of being false teachers every time someone disagrees with us.