Beware False Teachers

Beware False Teachers (2 Peter 2:1-12) from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

Twenty years ago this Summer, the Church in England was gripped with speculation about revival. John Arnott, the pastor of Toronto Vineyard church, was apparently searching for “a fresh spiritual anointing” and attended a meeting led by Benny Hinn, a neo-Pentecostal “Faith teacher”. Benny Hinn’s particular emphasis is upon a powerful “anointing” he is able to bestow simply by blowing on people. Arnott and Hinn had known each other for many years in Toronto and at that time Arnott had “longed for a similar kind of empowerment” as Hinn demonstrated. A year later, Arnott was also attracted to the “holy laughter” ministry of Rodney Howard-Browne. Randy Clark, another key figure in the Airport Vineyard Renewal apparently received his anointing through Rodney Howard-Browne at Kenneth Hagin’s “Rhema” church. The unusual manifestations which occurred in Toronto, occurred after a visit by Rodney Howard-Browne. Subsequently, the manifestations of hysterical laughter, growling, shaking, and falling associated with Howard-Browne and Hinn’s ministry were experienced by others who visited Toronto from around the world including the UK. Advocates of the Toronto Blessing implied, or explicitly stated at the time, that they believed this to be evidence of revival. Speaking at a Wembley meeting with Rodney Howard-Browne on 13th December 1994, Gerald Coates testified, “This is perhaps the greatest outpouring of God in our land ever.” Evangelicals Now, (February 1995, p.9).

Now it is important to note that the noun “revival” does not actually appear in the Bible. The verbs “revive” and “reviving” are used, in the Old Testament, to describe the action of God following his punishment, and His people’s repentance (Psalm 80:18; 85:6, Isaiah 57:15; Hosea 6:2). In Psalm 19:7 it is associated with the Law of God and in many verses in Psalm 119 with meditating on the Word of God.

As the manifestations of hysterical laughter, animal noises and uncontrollable shaking were causing a good deal of controversy and division, in December 1994, I was asked to debate with Sandy Millar and Nicky Gumbal before the Church of England Evangelical Council on the significance of the “Toronto Blessing”.

That same month I participated in a 24 hour Consultation under the auspices of the Evangelical Alliance. Together with Rob Warner I drafted a statement signed by those participating. In the Spring of 1995 I contributed to a video entitled “Rumours of Revival” produced by Nelson Word and later wrote a chapter of the book,  The Toronto Blessing : A Sub-Christian Movement, in Toronto in Perspective, published by the Evangelical Alliance. (see footnotes for further links).

Twenty years on, it all seems so shallow. No, it was not mass revival but a mass distraction. In the last 20 years there has been a 90% decline in attendance of under 20s in churches. Church leaders who went after manifestations like those seen in Toronto are partly to blame. It led to serious divisions in evangelical and charismatic churches. Half of Vineyard churches disassociated themselves from the manifestations. Even John Wimber, the founder, distanced himself from the unbiblical manifestations. It also led to splits in university Christian Unions across the country, including Royal Holloway.

So, now I have your attention, please turn with me to 2 Peter 2 and observe: The Description of False Teachers.

The Destruction of False Teachers. Our Deliverance from False Teaching.

  1. The Description of False Teachers

“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.” (2 Peter 2:1-3)

Notice Peter distinguishes between first generation false prophets (past tense) and second generation false teachers (future tense). This is because as Ephesians 2:20 says, the Apostles and Prophets were the foundation of the Church. The Apostles were uniquely inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the scriptures. Since then teachers have been universally inspired to interpret the scriptures. How do we identify false teachers?

1.1 They Teach Destructive Heresy

“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you.

They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.” (2 Peter 2:1)

How false teachers operate? They are sneaky, secretly or deviously slipping in the occasional false doctrine here and there. Notice, they were inside the church. They may even have been respected leaders or outstanding preachers. And notice the word ‘heresies’ is plural. What is heresy? Any teaching contrary to the Bible, the Word of God. In 1 Peter, Peter emphasized:

“We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place.” (1 Peter 1:19)

So any teaching that is contrary to God’s Word is a destructive heresy. It denies God’s purpose for the church, and it destroys the lives of people within the church. No matter how pleasant a person may be, no matter how much we may like them, if they are teaching heresy, they are undermining the work of Christ and destroying his Church. William Barclay states “A heretic [is]…a man who believes what he wishes to believe instead of … the truth of God which he must believe.”
They teach destructive heresy.

1.2      They Mislead the People

“Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.” (2 Peter 2:2)

Their example and teaching led other people astray.

William Barclay again, “They do not set themselves up as opponents to Christianity. Far from it. Insidiously, imperceptibly, so gradually and so subtly that they did not even notice it, people were being lured away from God’s truth to men’s private opinions, for that is what heresy is” And heresy is infectious. It’s possible they justified immorality or homosexuality, or deviant behaviour or alternative lifestyles that were the norm in the Greco-Roman world. The recent scandals over child-abuse by Roman Catholic priests is a contemporary example. Their false profession and hypocritical lifestyles brought the Church into disrepute. They teach heresy. They mislead the people.

1.3 They Exploit the People

“In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories.” (2 Peter 2:3)

The prosperity, health and wealth gospel is another contemporary example.

Exaggerated claims often based on unsubstantiated stories of miraculous healings are designed to part gullible Christians from their money. The description of false teachers: They teach heresy. They mislead the people. They exploit the people.

  1. The Destruction of False Teachers

Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping. For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly;… like animals they too will perish.” (2 Peter 2:3-6, 12)

Peter picks 3 examples from the highest to the lowest.

2.1 God did not spare the fallen angels

Lucifer was apparently the highest created being ever created. He chose to go his own way; he rebelled against God. He led a host of angels to rebel with him. Therefore, God judged Lucifer and the rebellious angels removing them from their exalted position to hell.

2.2  God did not spare the ancient world

The ancient world had become so absolutely wicked that God wiped out the entire population of earth except for Noah and his family. And if you have a problem with the story of Noah, remember Jesus cites it has history:

“As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark;  and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24:37-39)

2.3  God did not spare Sodom and Gomorrah

Sodom and Gomorrah were sister cites in the Jordan basin, located near the southeast corner of the Dead Sea. Imagine, an entire city openly and performing despicable perverted acts, in broad daylight. The apostle Paul described similar behaviour in Romans 1:26-32. God reduced the cities to ashes. So complete was the destruction that no trace of them has ever been found. From the angels in highest heaven to the lowest place on earth, no one is immune, or can escape the judgement of God.

The Description of False Teachers. The Destruction of False Teachers.

3. Our Deliverance from False Teachers

“if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)—if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment.”
(2 Peter 2:7-9)

Notice the “if… if… then”. The Lord knows how to rescue the godly. He does indeed. And he will, you can be sure of it. But he only rescued Noah because he was righteous. He only rescued Lot because he was righteous. So as we wait for our deliverance, there are three things we must do to avoid being led astray:

3.1 Understand God’s Word
The chief single reason for the success of the cults and false teachers is the spiritual naiveté and ignorance of the Bible among Christians. Too many are content with a superficial knowledge of the Scriptures. More common still is the belief that only other people are deceived. We must instead give ourselves to a life-long and detailed study of Scriptures and the doctrines they contain. Theology is simply right thinking about God, something we should approach reverently and systematically.

I commend Bruce Milne’s Know the Truth (IVP, 1992), and the older work by T.C. Hammond, In Understanding be Men (IVP). You know you can’t remain physically healthy on one meal a week. Well, nor can you be spiritually healthy on one sermon a week. Make it a daily habit to read, study and apply the Bible (Matthew 4:4)

3.2 Separate from Spiritual Error
The Apostle Paul was most emphatic when he warned us to have nothing to do with “godless myths”. “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” (Ephesians 5:11) “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.” (1 Timothy 4:7). Advocates of the Toronto Blessing used to say to me, “But you make it sound so black and white… but many Christians seem to have been helped by this movement.” My reply was that a little cancer is too much, a little adultery is still adultery, a little AIDS infection is enough to infect the whole body. That is surely why Jesus warned about the subtle but pervading influence of false teaching.

“Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees…Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Matthew 16:6-12)

God has forbidden contact with those who teach error.
We are to be wise and sober, and at all times to,

“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (I Peter 5:8)

Understand God’s Word. Separate from spiritual error.

3.3 Contend For The Truth
Sometimes, as happened between Paul and Peter, this may even mean coming to a point of contention with friends and associates where the truth of the gospel is at stake (Galatians 2:11). Indeed Jesus Christ Himself had on one occasion to turn to His beloved friend and say “Get behind me, Satan” (Matthew 16:23). The servant of Jesus Christ must be careful that his allegiance is absolute. By comparison, all human relationships are relative. We would do well to heed the Scriptural warning.

“If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” You must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deuteronomy 13:1-3)

The first principle of the universe is truth and this must be defended even at the cost of our lives. We live in a relativist culture which values tolerance and mutual respect more highly than truth. Our spiritual sentiments, and this is probably the most sentimental age in the history of the Church, would therefore lead us many times to feel that to contend for the faith of the gospel is somehow eccentric, unspiritual or undignified. Nothing could be further from the truth. God warns a few verses later in Deuteronomy not to be influenced even by friendship or personal loyalty when the truth is at stake. “Do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him.” (Deuteronomy 13:8)
The Apostle Paul was serious when he likened us to soldiers of the cross, describing the armour we must wear in order to contend for the truth (Eph. 6:10-20). Here Paul equates the “mighty power” of God not with signs and wonders but with the truth and righteousness, with the gospel and faith, and above all,

“the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God… Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.” (Ephesians 6:10-19)

We are indeed soldiers of Christ. The world is a battleground. The struggle is between truth and error. Our only weapon is the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. May God enable you to handle it more accurately as a workman who need never be ashamed (2 Timothy 2:15). Become a person who knows well and lives by the Word of God. Know the truth and the truth will set you free (John 8:31-32). Martin Luther once said,

“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at the moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved and to be steady on all the battle fronts besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”

Lets pray.

You can access several articles evaluating the roots of the Toronto Blessing and the manifestations of this movement here:

1: Introduction
2: The Roots of Toronto
3: The Phenomena Associated with Toronto
4: “Holy Laughter” and Rodney Howard-Browne
5: “The Roaring Lion” and Marc Dupont
6: “Spiritual Warfare” and David Yonggi Cho
7: How Should We Respond to Error?
8: Gamaliel – A Model of Godly Wisdom?
9: The Marks of the Cults
10: Conclusions
Appendix 1: Some Heresies of the “Faith Teachers”

I also wrote an article for a book published by the Evangelical Alliance entitled, The Toronto Blessing : A Sub-Christian Movement, published in Toronto in Perspective (Evangelical Alliance and Paternoster Press 2001)