There is a dark side of many of the New Testament Epistles. But it occurs in some form in just about every New Testament letter: it is the subject of false teachers.
I have avoided it in my meditations so far because it hasn’t directly been a part of my experience, and it doesn’t make for the easiest of subjects to meditate on. I feel very safe in the Reformed Episcopal Church, but the truth is you can never be too safe, and no one is completely safe from false teachers.
St. Peter makes it quite clear: just as there were false prophets in the days of the prophets, there will be false teachers among the churches to whom Peter is writing. Not “there may be,” but “there will be.” This puts a chill in my spine, like I’m watching a horror movie and know that Freddy Krueger or Jason or Alien will be coming to get me, but I don’t know when or where.
These false teachers will secretly bring in destructive heresies, denying the Lord who bought them. Be on the look out for them. They will come. The bad news is that they will come secretly at first. They will not be so bold as to trumpet that they are teaching heresy (though actually some have now gotten so bold after decades of not being restrained.) They will whisper to you that your faith will save you, with little mention of the grace of God, and will treat faith as if it were some mystical force that could be transmitted through TV screens. They will tell you that it doesn’t matter how you live in this life as long as you have this faith. They will say that Jesus Christ isn’t the only means to salvation and that such a belief would be “exclusivistic,” and they will tell that man is basically good.
One of their favorite tactics has been to go to work on the Bible and undermine its authority in every way possible. To the studious and rational-minded, they will seduce you into thinking that the Bible is not the Word of God but only “contains it” or is only “potentially it,” or, when they have gotten bold enough, that it isn’t even the Word of God at all. They will lead you to believe that the Bible is “full of errors” and therefore can’t be trusted. I was amazed and appalled at how many “Bible-believing” Christians I knew actually gave The Da Vinci Code the time of day, for that book taught error so clearly that it shouldn’t have been entertained for even a nanosecond. They will teach you the method of “divining” the truth in the Bible by using your finger as if it were a divining rod and will magically turn to the isolated verse you need for the day. And they will teach you that you are a prophet and a presbyter and are the Church and therefore have the authority to interpret the Bible all by yourself. They will discourage you from reading what Christians have believed for the past 2000 years and will lead you to only carefully selected 20th century teachings.
They will be covetous (verse 3), and they will covet your money. They will covet you because every one of you they can get to watch their show or read their books or go to their church is another notch in their belt. If you suspect that a teacher you know might be covetous, just ask yourself if you could see Jesus or St. Paul riding in the car he drives or living in the house he lives in.
Peter brings up the example of righteous Lot, which I think is very relevant today because of the sexual temptation pastors and teachers often face. One of the statistics I shared when meditating on 1 Timothy 5:17-25 (Thursday of Trinity 20) was that 37% of pastors admitted to having being involved in an inappropriate relationship. Sexual temptation for pastors is one of the primary causes of a fall. If it was good enough for Solomon, why not Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, Ted Haggard, and countless others? Remember: both the teaching and the life of our teachers and pastors are crucial. Don’t ignore it when you see your pastor acting in ways that may be inappropriate, and if you have any true knowledge of his misbehavior, you are to hold him accountable.
They will work secretly at first, to catch you off guard and to trap those who are still drinking milk, those who haven’t been willing to show up for Sunday school, and those who think “studying” the Bible and theology is a waste of time. It has becoming increasingly clear that in the church formerly called the Episcopal Church U.S.A. (ECUSA), which now prefers to be called The Episcopal Church (TEC), that false teachers have been loose for decades. They came in secretly at first. They said they just wanted freedom of theological speculation, to bring back a social conscience to the church, to fight for individual freedoms, and to be relevant. And within a few decades they have brought that church to ruin.
Please be vigilant. The false teachers today will look different than they did in Peter’s day. They will come as entertainers disguised as pastors, and they will teach you (indirectly, of course) that to be a Christian is to be entertained and that the dusty, old, dry call to the Cross is a hangover from the Middle Ages and went out with flagellation. They will seduce you with choice, for you will be able to find the teacher of your choice on TV or in your favorite Christian bookstore. From the outside, all of these books will look alike, and after all, if they’re in a Christian bookstore, then they must be O.K. They have even given you the choice of churches, so that if your own pastor has dared to confront you with sin in your life, or if you feel “unfulfilled” at your own church, or “just don’t feel the Spirit” there, you have an excuse to choose something else. (I’m not talking about legitimate reasons to leave a church that is not shepherding you: obviously this whole meditation is based on the possibility that you will confront false teaching or false living in your local church.)
But God will not be mocked. A teacher and pastor who is godly is worthy of a double honor, but a false teacher will receive a greater punishment that those whom they have led astray. Peter says they will bring on themselves swift destruction (verse 1).
But the “Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority” (verse 10.) God will protect His people, but He has recruited you as a means to protecting His sheep.
Watch your pastor’s teaching and his life. This applies to anyone whose teaching you are subjecting yourself to, whether in person, by book, by TV, or by Internet. Be a Berean and check out what every teacher is teaching, especially if it sounds like it’s heading in a wrong direction. Be especially afraid of any man who presumes to be a teacher and yet “despises authority”(verse 10). Watch out for any teacher who is unaccountable to the Church and who is teaching on his own authority.
Finally, pray for those who are teachers, and pray that you and those you know will be preserved from false teachers. The best way to fight off false teachers is to ordain and submit to godly teachers and pastors. They will teach you what will make you strong in the Lord. They have also taken a vow before God to drive away all false teachers. A godly teacher is your best security against the many false teachers out there today.
But the most important thing you can do today is to guard the Scriptures in your own life and in the life of your children.
Prayer: Father of Truth, who has given us Your Word of Truth, protect us from false teachers. Deliver us from temptation and from those who would seek to tempt us away from a life in You. In Your time, remove the false teachers from Your Church, and help me to be more vigilant in guarding my own life and the teaching I allow in it. By a greater love for You and Your Word, protect me from false teachers in my life. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
Consider the ways in which you can protect yourself and others against false teachers. Should you study the Bible more? Be more careful in what you read and watch? Are there times when you should have said something to someone about false teaching but didn’t? Have you studied God’s Word enough to be able to help guard the truth?
Resolution: I resolve to be vigilant in looking for false teachers and in guarding my heart against false teaching. I resolve to consider one practical step I can take to assist me in this godly activity.
© 2015 Fr. Charles Erlandson