“Our job is to evaluate what we can see – the person’s behavior, writings, sermons, teachings, and conversation – and determine whether or not it aligns with Scripture. If it doesn’t – even if we personally believe the person is actually saved – those teachings, and the person who teaches them, have no place in our churches or personal study materials.”
(Michelle Lesley) I recently had the opportunity to read a fascinating and thought provoking Twitter discussion among some brothers in Christ about what constitutes a false teacher, and whether or not some false teachers might actually be genuinely regenerated Christians.
My working definition of a false teacher is someone who unrepentantly, despite biblical correction, consistently teaches, either implicitly, explicitly, or via his or her behavior, doctrine that is in direct conflict with clear cut Scripture.
It’s not a perfect definition, and I’m sure we can all think of exceptions, but that’s the general guideline I follow before referring to someone as a false teacher. But could someone who, despite correction, persists in teaching things and behaving in ways that contradict Scripture truly be a born again Christian?
Let’s take a look at what Scripture has to say:
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
This passage is in reference to the Judaizers, who were preaching a false soteriology. Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, says twice, of such a teacher, “let him be accursed.” The Greek word anathema, translated “accursed,” means “devoting someone to destruction in eternal hell.”¹ Is this something the Holy Spirit would say about someone who is a Christian?
1 Timothy 4:1-3
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared,3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.
Verse 2 as well as the phrase “teachings of demons” would seem to indicate that at least some false teachers are not saved. I think it’s fair to say that someone who is a Christian would not be marked by the Holy Spirit as a liar, or someone whose conscience is seared, or someone whose teaching is demonic.
Also notice the false teachings mentioned in verse 3: the forbidding of marriage and the requirement to abstain from certain foods. Some would say that only deviant soteriology qualifies a person as a false teacher, but here the Holy Spirit says false teachings on marriage and food (what most would probably call secondary or even tertiary theological issues) are leading people to “depart from the faith.” How can someone whose teachings lead people away from the faith not be considered a false teacher? Would someone who is genuinely born again knowingly teach things that lead people away from Christ?
CRN has a list of professing Christians to mark and avoid (Rom 16:17-18). Scroll down to WARNING