Chapter 7 -- False Teachers
One Who Is Sent
In the early Church, Apostles would lay hands on disciples, pray over them, and send them to spread the word. The word Apostle means 'one who is sent'.
Paul says one must be sent in order to preach. If Paul had stopped after the third question in the verses above, one may have a legitimate argument to be a preacher simply by hearing the Word of God from another preacher. But Paul doesn't stop there. He goes to a fourth step in his logical progression, and states one can not preach unless he is sent.
Paul did not say any believer had authority to preach. Paul did not say anyone filled with the Spirit had authority to preach. Paul says one must be sent in order to preach. One did not send himself, the Church sent him. You could trust the messengers by the authority of who sent them.
God sent John the Baptist in Jn 1:6. God sent Jesus in Mt 10:40, 15:24, Mk 1:12, Lk 4:18, 43. God sent messengers in Acts 10:20. Jesus sent the Apostles in Mt 10:5, Mk 6:7, Lk 9:2, Jn 20:21 and His disciples in Lk 10:1. Jesus sent Ananias to Saul in Acts 9:17. John the Baptist sent his disciples in Mt 11:2, Lk 7:19. God sent the angel Gabriel in Lk 1:19, 26. The Church sent Apostles in Acts 8:14, 11:22, 15:3, 22, 30, 33, 17:10, 14, 3 Jn 1:6. Paul was sent by the church in Acts 13:3. Paul himself sent disciples in Acts 19:22, 1 Cor 16:11, 2 Cor 8:17-18, Phil 2:25, 1 Thess 3:2, 2 Tim 4:12, Tit 3:12. In all these cases, those sent had a message to tell, and all were trustworthy messengers based on the authorities of who sent them.
Here is an explicit example of placing hands and sending. The Holy Spirit said to send them, so the Church placed hands on them and sent them. Notice, Jesus didn't send Paul; the Church sent him. Jesus called Paul to work for Him, but in keeping with the system established by Jesus, the Church sent Paul.
Timothy could trust what he learned from Paul because he knew from whom he learned it. Paul was not some self-proclaimed preacher spreading his own version of the truth. He had authority from the Church. The Church sent him.
Here is an explicit example of sending someone to preach. Jesus sent the Apostles. Again, Apostle means one who is sent.
The Pharisees had the love of God in their hearts. They wanted to honor God in the only way they knew. But they were wrong. They did not teach what God wanted, even though they were sure they were right. God did not send them to teach others. Jesus says not only they, but their followers as well will fall into the pit. It is a heavy burden one bears when they decide for themselves they want to preach. If you follow such a self-proclaimed preacher, you too bear a heavy burden. If a preacher is not sent by the Church, he has not followed God's plan.
False Teachers in Paul's Time
Those who took it upon themselves to teach without the Church's blessing were called 'false teachers'. This was so, even if what they taught was true, since there was no authority behind their teaching other than their own authority. What they preached could be the truth, but there was no authority to confirm it. You were certain if someone with authority sent them.
God sends prophets. He makes that distinction. They are appointed or sent by God, not by themselves. God doesn't take kindly to those who send themselves preaching the delusions of their own minds. See also Ezek 13:1-23 and Zech 10:1-3.
Do these purveyors of delusions think they are openly defying God? It is more likely they think they are serving God, doing His will, but they are delusional. They see themselves as knowing what God wants. They pray for God to use them to reach others. They want it badly, and they "feel" the Spirit is with them. Through their own limited study, they feel they know what is right and they want to spread the word. But God doesn't work that way. It says so right in the Bible. God sends prophets, they don't send themselves.
Paul describes what one might consider an obvious example of a false prophet. They oppose the truth, are of a depraved mind, and are unqualified in the faith. Their foolishness is plain to all. They make a pretense of religion, but deny its power; they say they are seeking God's will, yet they deny the authority God gave the Church. Does that sound like anyone you know? Paul says to reject them.
Note: here is another example of oral tradition. Jannes and Jambres were the two magicians in Pharoh's court when Moses sought to free the Israelites. Moses laid down his staff and it became a serpent. Jannes and Jambres laid down their staffs, which also became serpents, but Moses' serpent ate the other two. Nowhere in Scripture are the magician's names recorded. These names were passed down by oral tradition to Paul's day.
False Teachers Today
But, these false prophets might not be as obvious today. Who is qualified in the faith? How can any individual know they are qualified in the faith? Probably every Christian alive today believes they are qualified to some degree to state the truth. After all, if they did not believe their faith was the truth, wouldn't they change their faith?
Every evangelist alive knows they are qualified in the faith, yet they oppose each other. Obviously, they cannot all be qualified. If they all differ, then at most, only one of them can be right, only one can be qualified. The rest oppose the truth to some degree. I propose to you that not even one of them is qualified. According to Paul, they are of a depraved mind. They make a pretense of religion, but deny its power. Non-denominationalists deny not only the power of a true religion; they deny all organized religion, contrary to this verse.
There may be close to 35,000 Christian faiths in the world today. That means at most one faith out of 35,000 is true. The preachers that follow the other 34,999 or so faiths are false teachers. They oppose at least some facet of the truth. They are of a depraved mind. They are unqualified in the faith. They deny the power of the true religion.
Do the math. Most of the preachers you hear fall into this category. No matter how spirit-filled someone appears, no matter how much you want to believe the message they preach, chances are they are opposing the truth to some degree. Paul says to reject them.
Discerning False Teachers
This is obvious, but nonetheless true. If the prophesy is ultimately proven false, the prophet who spoke it is false. Thus, if any preacher ever changed their stance on anything because what they originally preached was proven false, then anything else they ever told you becomes suspect. Other teachings of theirs may have been true, but the only truth you know for certain is they are false teachers.
Note, John says we (the apostles and disciples) belong to God, and anyone who knows God listens to us. You can know you belong to God if you listen to the office of the apostles. This is important. The Apostles and their successors are specifically addressed in Scripture as belonging to God. That's how you can belong to God, that's how you can know you hear the truth-listen to the Apostles and their successors.
John tells the faithful there are many false prophets in the world. He encourages all to test the spirits-if the spirit belongs to God, it acknowledges Jesus is the Messiah. This works well on a macro level, and may even seem obvious to us today, but, consider another scenario. What test is there when two or more spirits acknowledge Jesus is the Messiah, yet they disagree on the truth?
For instance, say one Christian preaches drinking any quantity of alcohol is a sin and another says drinking alcohol in moderation is just fine. Both profess to love the Lord and both confess Jesus is the Christ. Both may even have substantial support, Biblical and otherwise, for their position. What test is there to know which preaching, if either, is of God, other than waiting to see if their teaching comes true? That is one reason why God gave us the Church. The Church, the pillar and foundation of the truth, has the authority to send. That is the test-who was sent by the Church?
Peter Addresses Early False Teachers
Many will follow their licentious ways, and because of them the way of truth will be reviled. In their greed they will exploit you with fabrications, but from of old their condemnation has not been idle and their destruction does not sleep.
For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but condemned them to the chains of Tartarus and handed them over to be kept for judgment; and if he did not spare the ancient world, even though he preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, together with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the godless world; and if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (to destruction), reducing them to ashes, making them an example for the godless (people) of what is coming; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man oppressed by the licentious conduct of unprincipled people (for day after day that righteous man living among them was tormented in his righteous soul at the lawless deeds that he saw and heard), then the Lord knows how to rescue the devout from trial and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who follow the flesh with its depraved desire and show contempt for lordship.
Bold and arrogant, they are not afraid to revile glorious beings, whereas angels, despite their superior strength and power, do not bring a reviling judgment against them from the Lord. But these people, like irrational animals born by nature for capture and destruction, revile things that they do not understand, and in their destruction they will also be destroyed, suffering wrong as payment for wrongdoing.
Thinking daytime revelry a delight, they are stains and defilements as they revel in their deceits while carousing with you. Their eyes are full of adultery and insatiable for sin. They seduce unstable people, and their hearts are trained in greed. Accursed children! Abandoning the straight road, they have gone astray, following the road of Balaam, the son of Bosor, who loved payment for wrongdoing, but he received a rebuke for his own crime: a mute beast spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet's madness.
These people are waterless springs and mists driven by a gale; for them the gloom of darkness has been reserved. For, talking empty bombast, they seduce with licentious desires of the flesh those who have barely escaped from people who live in error. They promise them freedom, though they themselves are slaves of corruption, for a person is a slave of whatever overcomes him. For if they, having escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of (our) Lord and savior Jesus Christ, again become entangled and overcome by them, their last condition is worse than their first. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment handed down to them. What is expressed in the true proverb has happened to them, "The dog returns to its own vomit," and "A bathed sow returns to wallowing in the mire."
Peter pulls no punches (pardon the alliteration). He has no love for false teachers. He says they show contempt for authority. They lead the faithful away from the faith. They decide the life they want to live, and justify it by convincing others to follow their way. They promise freedom while they are slaves of depravity. Many will follow them. Don't be one of those who follow a false teacher. Show respect for authority. Listen to the Apostles and their successors, not a self-proclaimed teacher.
The reader can surmise these false teachers once knew the righteous way, but they did not believe it. They don't want to pick up their crosses daily; they want the easy way out. They don't want to hear the need to do good works, they want Sola Fide. They don't want to hear they have to persevere to the end to be saved; they want to know once-saved-always-saved. They don't want to hear they must suffer the consequences for their sins; they want to hear there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. They don't want to submit to God's authority for the Church; they want to be their own church.
Jesus Speaks of False Teachers
Furthermore, there is a price to pay for those who teach others to counter the Word of God. Even if God spares a false teacher, and eventually allows him into Heaven, he will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Anyone who prophesies in the name of Jesus certainly believes in Him. Anyone who drives out demons in Jesus' name has the love of the Lord in his heart. Anyone who claims to do mighty deeds in the name of Jesus wants to do His will. Yet Jesus set out a path for them, and they went in their own direction. Jesus will declare He never knew them.
Jesus does not know teachers who are not sent by Him. God gave us the Church as the pillar and foundation of the truth. God establishes teachers in the Church. God set it up that way for a reason. It is God's will for us to follow the system He established. You do the will of the Father in Heaven if you follow His system.
God Establishes Teachers
God appoints teachers. You may have the skills, the desire and the knowledge to be a teacher for God, but until He appoints you, you are a false teacher. God has reasons for appointing whom He will. We need to trust his decisions.
False teachers can even show miraculous signs and wonders, but it doesn't mean they speak with the authority of God.
Those with a golden tongue cause people to "put up with it easily enough". It is easy to get caught up in great oratory. False teachers can be very persuasive; they can spit forth an emotional diatribe that sways all but the most steadfast. Paul admits he was not a trained speaker, but he had knowledge. You need to listen to a Paul, sent by the Church, not a false apostle, sent by himself.
People Want False Teachers
Paul predicts the people will not want to follow sound doctrine. They will seek teachers who will tell them what they want to hear, and will rationalize these false teachers are profound and the Church is wrong.
If you pick and choose what you want to believe and seek a preacher who agrees with you, then you are one of these people. You won't tolerate sound doctrine as taught by the Church, but follow your own desire. Paul predicts you will accumulate teachers that appeal to you, and you will stop listening to the truth.
The people will follow their own desires; will do 'what feels right'. The Church does not preach what feels right, it preaches what is right. You do not want to be one of these teachers, and you do not want to listen to one of those teachers.
This was as true in Paul's day as it is today. Society today demands leniency; it demands tolerance. All around you are practicing birth control, or divorce, or homosexuality, so you rationalize it is OK, that the Church is over-controlling on these issues. Yet, Paul says we can not conform to this age. We must renew our minds to discern the will of God and practice it.
What You Know By Nature
There are those who revile what they do not understand. How many Christians have you known who did not understand Church teaching on a topic, any topic, and were destroyed by what they knew by nature? How many times has it happened to you?
For instance, the Church preaches you must attend Mass weekly. You know by nature this is unnecessary. You can read Scripture, pray, fellowship and generally be righteous just fine without the Church insisting you to follow a strict liturgy, the same liturgy, week after week. In fact, you can do it better than the Church. You will not love God any less if you skip Mass, and you will not love God any more if you go to Mass.
Jude says you have abandoned yourself to Balaam's error for the sake of gain. You carouse fearlessly and look after yourself. You are a complainer, a disgruntled one who lives by your desire. The problem is you don't understand why the Church does what it does. Rather than accept the Church's teaching or learn why it teaches as it does, you submit to your inner desire to resist being controlled. Rather than accept Paul's teaching, Peter's teaching, the Apostles' teaching, you revert to what you know by nature.
Hymenaeus and Philetus
In a large household there are vessels not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for lofty and others for humble use. If anyone cleanses himself of these things, he will be a vessel for lofty use, dedicated, beneficial to the master of the house, ready for every good work. So turn from youthful desires and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord with purity of heart. Avoid foolish and ignorant debates, for you know that they breed quarrels. A slave of the Lord should not quarrel, but should be gentle with everyone, able to teach, tolerant, correcting opponents with kindness. It may be that God will grant them repentance that leads to knowledge of the truth, and that they may return to their senses out of the devil's snare, where they are entrapped by him, for his will.
We see many things in this long exhortation to Timothy. Paul says people should stop disputing about words since it serves no useful purpose and actually harms those who listen. They should avoid profane, idle talk (gossip) for such people will become more and more godless and it will spread. Paul goes on to mention two such people by name, stating they deviated from the truth and are upsetting the faith of others. People must avoid foolish and ignorant debates for they breed quarrels.
Paul's solution is Timothy should impart the word of truth without deviation. In that way, Timothy, sent by Paul, can settle the dispute about words and can squelch the idle talk, thus eliminating the harm to others. God's solid foundation, the Church, stands. If Timothy is gentle with everyone, teaching opponents with kindness, God may grant them knowledge of the truth.
We, the Body of Christ, should stop disputing about words. How often have two Christians quarreled about what the Bible means by words that it used? Those weak in faith, and those with no faith, are harmed by the debate. Rather than draw souls to the faith, they are driven from it.
In Paul's example, Hymenaeus and Philetus were Christians. They heard and accepted the Gospel. However, they drew their own conclusions about the resurrection of lost souls, and felt compelled to spread their ideas to others. The Church did not preach what they were preaching; they did it on their own. Paul chastises them by name (for all eternity a part of Holy Scripture), for their deeds. They were wrong and harm ensued.
It is reasonable to assume Hymenaeus and Philetus loved the Lord. In their heart of hearts, they probably believed they were right about the resurrection. They probably had no malice; they were not out to intentionally deceive. They wanted to share what they thought to be true with others. It felt so right to them. They had support for their views. They were able to persuasively argue their points.
But, they were wrong. Paul, the Holy Spirit, the Word of God says they were wrong, and the Church, through Timothy, must right the wrong. See also Col 2:8, 16-19.
So it is today. God gives us the Church as the repository and arbiter of truth. Yet, well-meaning Christians, who are certain they are right, are compelled to spread their version of the truth. They are certain just like Hymenaeus and Philetus were certain. They are certain just like Martin Luther was certain. Their truth feels right to them and they can make it feel right to others. As we saw from these verses, feeling right is not the primary criteria for discerning the truth. You can not depend on what feels right. You can not trust self-proclaimed teachers. The Word of God says you can trust the Church.
Practice What You Preach
Paul is addressing the Christians in Rome. See Rom 1:7. He admonishes those teachers who don't practice what they preach.
As practicing Christians, they rely on the law, boast of God, know His will, discern what is important, confident they are a guide for others, train the foolish, teach the simple, and have formulation of knowledge and truth. Then they go out and do the very things they preach against.
Does this sound like any Christian you know? It sounds like most Catholics I know, including myself. All Christians must be mindful of the examples they set, but especially Christian teachers. Bad examples cause the name of God to be reviled among non-Christians (and even Christians with weak faith).
Being a teacher ordained by God has a tremendous burden to go with it. Souls are at stake, both the teacher and student. When you take it upon yourself to teach, without being sent by the Church, you may perish, and your students may be destroyed.
Teachers are judged more strictly than Christians as a whole. When you take it upon yourself to teach, without being sent by the Church, you carry a tremendous burden.
Is God Calling You To Teach?
James says if you know someone strays from the truth, you will save that person's soul if you to bring him back to the truth. It is safe to assume James is talking to rank-and-file Christians in this verse. James doesn't say only the 'sent' can recognize if someone strays from the truth.
For a rank-and-file Christian to recognize if someone else strays from the truth, the Christian must already know the truth. If this same Christian is qualified to bring the sinner back, is he not also qualified to teach the sinner about the truth?
Here James encourages you to bring the sinner back. The sinner need not accept your teaching; he need only be pointed in the right direction. The act of bringing a sinner back does not authorize you to be a teacher. If what you say turns him around, the Church has the responsibility and authority to take him the rest of the way.
God may use you to speak the truth, and if that is all that is needed at that moment, the Church need do nothing more. But, that is God's choice in how to handle the situation. If God uses you once, it does not mean you are ordained for ever more; indeed, if you pretend to be, God may choose not to use you again.
We Don't Like Church Teaching
We don't like Church teaching-that is why it is a narrow gate. Christ didn't promise it would be easy; He said the road is constricted that leads to life. We're supposed to pick up our crosses daily and follow Him (Luke 9:23). Instead, we readily follow teachers who were not sent by God, who teach by their own authority, who point us down the easy path-the path to the wide gate.
False teachers abound. We have seen numerous verses of Scripture that should cause many self-ordained teachers to shudder. Teaching the word of God is serious business. Just because you feel good about it does not mean God has ordained you. God established a system through the Church. If you teach by any other authority, you proceed at your own peril, no matter how good it feels, and risk the souls of your students.
Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur
So, how does a layman (such as this author) get to teach? Can only Church hierarchy teach?
Laymen can be sent by the Church also. Anyone who wants to teach need only present himself/herself to the local Bishop and be blessed. The Bishop will confirm your theology, then, if satisfied, will lay hands and send you on your way. Religious Education teachers frequently experience an abbreviated form of this blessing.
Authors have a system of getting their manuscripts approved as well. The Catholic Information Network hosts a website. One of the questions asked, answered by Father Mateo, found at http://www.cin.org/mateo/mat93008.html, invoked the following response:
"When an author of a religious book or article presents his work to the local bishop for review, the bishop gives the work to a knowledgeable priest, who reads it and, if corrections are needed, returns it to the writer. When the reviewer is satisfied with the corrections, he marks it with his 'Nihil obstat' (Latin for 'no problem'.) If the bishop is satisfied, he gives the work his 'Imprimatur' (Latin for 'let it be printed')."
The Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur usually appear on the same page as the copyright, in the front of the literary work. After the Imprimatur, one usually finds words similar to these:
"The NIHIL OBSTAT and IMPRIMATUR are official declarations that a book or pamphlet is free of doctrinal or moral error. No implication is contained therein that those who have granted the NIHIL OBSTAT and the IMPRIMATUR agree with the content, opinions or statements expressed."
The review assures the reader the manuscript is free of doctrinal or moral error. It also assures the reader the author has Church approval to print the work.
Think long and hard before you preach on your own authority, and think equally long and hard before you accept the preaching of someone not sent by the Church.
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