I am really confused, the Bible talks about false prophets and false teachers but I don’t quite understand how to recognize them.
Hey my dear friend, I believe there are probably two extremes when it comes to “false prophets” —
1) Anyone who says anything weird is a false lying antichrist scumbag, or
2) As long as you’re positive and you name-drop Jesus, you’re a legit preacher.
But I’ve noticed that —
1) When someone yells false prophet, usually they’re saying, “I disagree with him, therefore he’s the devil,” or
2) We only like preachers who tolerate exactly what I already want to do.
Mostly I think we’re both too quick or too slow to say “false prophet.”
We’re too quick to say false prophet because most of us enjoy the surge of self-righteousness in our bowels when we find a point of disagreement, and we feel a divine-messenger-high when we can go after a pastor who does something slightly different than us.
We’re too slow to say false prophet because most of us enjoy watered down preaching that emotionally tickles us and goes down like cotton candy and entertains for a while, as long as we’re not challenged or convicted or have to change anything in our over-privileged comfort zone.
I also think there are some “misinformed” teachers who just don’t have all the information, and they end up misleading others. Other times it’s a tolerance of a certain idea or practice because they’re guilty of it too, and people flock there even when the Bible is expressly against it. They’ll twist just the one part of Scripture and people will go “Oooh aah” and gravitate to a loophole, because you know, flesh attracts flesh.
Yet here’s what I think in general. There are very, very few false teachers out there who are purposefully trying to deceive you — but there are ways we latch onto a false idea and get misled, even when it’s not the teacher’s original intention.
I’m not saying it’s always our own fault. Certainly we need to have very high discernment in all we read and hear. Obviously there are some false teachers who are sneaking into your wallet and they’re only in it for themselves. But many people hear what they want to hear. They’ll say “Yeah false prophet” if they want to dismiss someone, or they’ll say “Oh right on amen” if it fits their own choices.
Let’s take for example, our dear brother Joshua Harris. He wrote some books on dating that had really good intentions — purity, intimacy, courtship — but some Christian subcultures latched onto these and drove them to an intolerable extreme. Other subcultures started calling Harris a false prophet. And while I don’t agree with everything Harris says, it’s unfair to call him “the antichrist” just because his books have spawned some bad ideas. All good ideas are at the mercy of sinful people.
There is NOT a false prophet lurking in every corner. The worst false prophet is the sin that deceives us inside our own head. And to flip that, some of the best prophets can be those who are NOT Christians, but simply extend love like God does. I wouldn’t endorse all they believe, but what they do is so Christlike that it’s hard to argue.
So ultimately everyone can be a “false prophet” because we all live in our sin-broken condition, but there is a degree of truth in all of us by the grace of God. We just need wisdom and discernment to see what really comes from Him.
I’ve been accused of being a false teacher before — but in the end I always find that there are some people who don’t like my idea of grace or that I sometimes use the Bible as allegory (because so did Jesus) and that my God happens to love everyone, including the people they don’t like. And also, we throw around “false teacher” way too casually, when it’s a huge serious accusation that needs patience and prayer — and maybe we need more grace than that within our Christian circles.
So when a preacher uses tons of Scripture, it doesn’t mean they’re biblical. If a preacher is super smart and flashy, it doesn’t mean they’re all correct. If a preacher says a few things you disagree with, it doesn’t mean they’re not worth hearing at all. And all that is okay. We can show grace for when people mishandle truth, and we can seek the truth together in grace.
I would very much question everything but land on something. God wants us to be critical thinkers AND gracious listeners. It’s unwise to dismiss a whole person based on a single sentence. There might be a time to do that, but it’s not gracious to constantly grade others on an impossible scale. It’s also unwise to believe everything a person says, even if you really like that person. There might be a time to do that too, but God does want us to think for ourselves.
And a last thing. If you conclude that someone really is a false prophet, then instead of demonizing them with a nasty blog post, maybe we could get on our knees and pray for them like crazy. The very few people who are false teachers are also dynamic engaging speakers, so imagine if they repented and decided to get on God’s glory instead of their own. His grace can reach even the worst of us and uppercut us back to truth. And Jesus says you’re the evidence of that.
I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.
— Matthew 10:16
It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.