False Prophets and Teachers
“But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1).
It is amazing the number of scriptures in both the Old and New Testaments which speak about false ministries in the church. In the above verse, Peter warns the church that just as there were false prophets among the people of Israel, so there would also be false teachers within the body of Christ. The warning to the church was because these false teachers weren’t outsiders easily recognized as preaching heresy or anti-Christ doctrines. The danger was that they were ‘among them,’ in the body of Christ as wolves in sheep’s clothing. John said, “They went out from us, but they were not of us” (1 John 2:19). They are like tares among wheat. These false teachers and prophets have a form of godliness: they learn the language, talk the talk, worm their way into the hearts of the people, and are usually very charismatic and seductive.
As the scriptures warn us, these false prophets have always been with us. The Didache, written somewhere between 50 and 120 AD and one of the earliest known Christian documents outside of the canonical scriptures, gives us a glimpse into early church practices. This document gives some insight into problems with false prophets and teachers in the early church. It is interesting that the roots of the problems then are the same as we are experiencing today: financial corruption and sexual immorality. These two issues have been at the root of every fallen Christian leader over the past several decades. They seem to go hand in hand. As Hosea declared, “The more they increased and multiplied [in prosperity and power], the more they sinned against Me; I will turn their glory into shame” (Hosea 4:7 Amplified).
Apparently, this was such a serious problem in the early church that they gave special instructions as to how the body of Christ was to receive teachers, apostles, and prophets. If they came teaching righteousness they were to be received as of the Lord. Isn’t that interesting? Today, if you preach righteousness and holiness you are rejected by the church.
The Didache outlined two main tests to tell if a minister was false or not. “But if he ask money, he is a false prophet” (Didache 11:9). If a prophet came asking for money he was to be considered a false prophet. Now that right there would eliminate nearly every one of these charismatic ministries who seem to spend all of their time finding new ways to take up offerings. Every week someone has a new formula for success rooted in giving to their ministry. I’ve seen Passover offerings, atonement offerings, prophecy offerings, healing offerings, 777 offerings, New Year offerings, and even sin offerings. And every one of them has a special blessing attached to it. With all of the promises of blessing going forth week after week you would think by now every Christian would be a multi-millionaire!
The second test had to do with his character: “But not every one who speaks in the Spirit is a prophet; but only if he holds the ways of the Lord. Therefore from their ways shall the false prophet and the prophet be known” (Didache 11:12,13). This comes straight from the teaching of Jesus: “Therefore by their fruits you will know them. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:20,21). Jesus made it a point that we were not to discern men by their gifts but rather by their character. Even as the Lord judges us according to the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12), so are we to judge those who minister among us. When ministers are living in sin, especially sexual immorality as so many have been exposed in, they need to sit down and get their hearts in order. To say that they are just human and allow them to go on as if nothing happened is not scriptural. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. Paul said, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9,10). These are the very sins we are seeing exposed in the lifestyles of Christian leadership, especially the fornication, adultery, homosexuality, covetousness, and extortion (yes, extortion! Using manipulation and ungodly tactics to take up offerings is the same as extortion). If these will not inherit the kingdom of God, how in the world can they minister to the body of Christ?
Sadly, most Christians today have fallen into the very deception Paul warns us about: being oblivious to both of these warnings concerning money and character. They continue to throw their money and support at these false prophets and teachers who are basically divining for money while living in sin.
When it comes to giving, Paul teaches a system of justice and equality. “For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack; that there may be equality” (2 Corinthians 8:13,14). The concern was that there would be no lack in the body of Christ and that the poor among them would be taken care of. This is what we see demonstrated within the early church as those with abundance sold what they had in order to supply those in need. Jesus taught the same principle: “And He said to them, ‘Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses’” (Luke 12:15). Christianity wasn’t to be about material possessions but rather about righteousness, justice, mercy, and love demonstrated in our care for one another. We seem to have lost this concept in today’s church. Those who have seek more and more while those who don’t have are left with less and less.
The early church gave some guidelines dealing with this issue. “Woe to him who receives; for if one receives who has need, he is guiltless; but he who receives not having need shall pay the penalty, why he received and for what. And also concerning this, it has been said, Let your alms sweat in your hands, until you know to whom you should give” (Didache 1:18-23). The Gospel was never intended to be used to make people rich no matter what all these prosperity teachers tell us. We would do well to stop and question all of these offerings being taken by unscrupulous men for the lusts of their flesh. Why are they receiving it and for what? Is there really a need or is it so that they can live the life of a millionaire? Is it really for the work of the Gospel or is it for their lavish lifestyle? We need to learn to hold on to our gifts until they sweat in our hands, until we know the mind of the Spirit and give according to the will of the Lord and not according to the emotion of the moment hyped up by charlatans promising us reward. Jesus warned us of the dangers of prosperity:
“Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: ‘The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, “What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?” So he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.’” ‘But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?” So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God’” (Luke 12:16-21).
It wasn’t too along ago that a prominent minister used his television program to beg for money because his house had burned down. He played on the sympathies of his audience with a tragic sob story giving the impression that he and his family would be homeless. It eventually came to light that he had another million dollar house with a swimming pool. These kinds of abuses are commonplace in the body of Christ today. It is time for the church to wake up and see what is happening. If we don’t judge these things, God will and when God has to judge it is usually severe, not only for the false prophets but for their supporters as well.
There is a reason the scriptures speak so much about this issue: because it is and has always been so commonplace, and because it so damaging. We must recognize the damage these abuses are doing to the body of Christ as well as to our witness before the world. And more importantly, it is preventing us from fulfilling our supreme calling as Christians – to love one another. The heaping of finances to false ministries is to the detriment of the poor in our midst. “But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17). When we become so obsessed with giving to ministers to receive for ourselves, we fail to see the brother in need sitting right next to us. If we would take the time to read the word, we would find the truth concerning sowing and reaping: “But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). The blessing was not based on giving to wealthy ministries and ministers, but rather on giving to the poor in your midst! Just keep reading what Pauls says: “As it is written: "He has dispersed abroad, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever’” (2 Corinthians 9:9).