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Five Reasons for False Teaching in the Church Today

Five Reasons for False Teaching in the Church Today

When I was in Malawi, Africa, I spent one week teaching at a Bible college and the following week at a pastor’s conference. I was exposed to the common false teaching among the students and pastors. We see much of this false teaching in the church today, including in the United States, versus only in Africa.

In Malawi, Africa, I kept notes about things I felt burdened to share with the congregation when I returned. Many of my notes were about the false teaching I observed. I attended a Bible college the first week and a pastor’s conference the second week, which gave me insight into church leaders’ beliefs. The title is “Five Reaons for False Teaching in the Church Today” rather than “Five Reaons for False Teaching in Malawi,” because much of the false teaching is prevalent in our country, too. So, I’ve chosen reasons that apply anywhere.

1. There Is False Teaching in the Church Today Because the Descriptive Is Confused with the Prescriptive

Malawi is a very charismatic country. There’s a strong belief in the supernatural, but not in a good way. I don’t mean believing the supernatural events in Scripture. I mean believing the same supernatural events are happening today.

One of the most common mistakes people make when reading Scripture is turning a descriptive passage (or one that merely describes what happened) into a prescriptive passage (or one that prescribes). In Malawi, this is a huge problem! For example:

Acts 5:12 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that AS PETER CAME BY AT LEAST HIS SHADOW MIGHT FALL ON SOME OF THEM.

Do you see the problem with making descriptive language prescriptive? You could be led to believe that you can healed by a false teacher’s shadow falling on you.

Acts 8:26 Now AN ANGEL OF THE LORD SAID TO PHILIP, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. 27 And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And THE SPIRIT SAID TO PHILIP, “Go over and join this chariot.”

Should we expect the angel of the Lord or the Holy Spirit to speak audibly to us? No. That wasn’t my point with these verses last week. My point was that we step out in faith – like Philip – and walk in obedience, and God’s plan tends to unfold. Usually, we don’t get to see the second step until we take the first step. That’s part of the application of these verses. But if we looked at this account and thought that the angel of the Lord or the Holy Spirit would speak audibly because He did with Philip, we would be in trouble.

What If People Don’t Hear Audibly from God?

When we don’t hear audibly from God, there will be four possible outcomes, and all are bad:

  1. We’ll doubt our salvation because God isn’t speaking to us like He supposedly speaks to others
  2. Or we’ll doubt God loves us because He doesn’t speak to us like He supposedly speaks to others
  3. Or we’ll conclude we’re not spiritual enough
  4. Or we’ll conclude the Bible is untrue

Consider this account:

Acts 19:11 And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.

If you take this account prescriptively rather than descriptively, you will believe false teachers who claim that their handkerchiefs and aprons can heal the sick. I know that’s the case in Malawi because this account was mentioned to me to defend people being healed this way.

One of the other big problems with taking descriptive accounts and making them prescriptive is that you believe the teaching of the people who claim to be able to perform miracles. If you believe their teaching, then you believe them when they tell you to give them money. This is how false teachers get rich in one of the world’s poorest countries.

2. There Is False Teaching in the Church Today Because of Belief in Modern-Day Apostles and Prophets

One of the main reasons these false teachers are believed is they claim to be apostles and prophets. The first coming of Christ and the subsequent apostolic age were the most unique seasons in human history. We can’t make what happened then normative for the church age.

Luke 9:1 [Jesus] called THE TWELVE together AND GAVE THEM power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, 2…and to heal.

Who is the “them”? The Twelve Apostles! Jesus didn’t give supernatural power and authority to everyone. He gave it to the apostles, who used it in the Gospels and Acts.

The false teachers in Malawi claim to be apostles, and the truth is that if they are, they should have this supernatural power and authority. So, let’s deal with whether there are modern-day apostles and prophets:

Ephesians 2:19 the household of God [was] 20 built on the FOUNDATION OF THE APOSTLES AND PROPHETS, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.

The church is being compared to a building, and the apostles and prophets laid the foundation. This could also be why the apostles’ names are on the foundation of the New Jerusalem. I’m not in construction, but I know two things about foundations: you only lay a foundation once, and the foundation doesn’t go up to the third and fourth floors. The apostles’ ministry came to a close after the foundation was laid.

That’s why the New Testament doesn’t emphasize apostles and prophets. Instead, it emphasizes elders and deacons:

Acts 14:23 When [Paul and Barnabas] HAD APPOINTED ELDERS IN EVERY CHURCH, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

Paul and Barnabas planted churches and appointed elders, but never apostles or prophets.

Titus 1:5 Paul said, “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and APPOINT ELDERS IN EVERY TOWN as I directed you.”

Again, appointing elders, with no mention of appointing apostles or prophets.

1 Timothy 5:17 LET THE ELDERS WHO RULE well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.

If apostles and prophets were continuing offices, we could be sure they would be considered worthy of double honor. Instead, it discusses elders.

James 5:17 Is anyone among you sick? LET HIM CALL FOR THE ELDERS OF THE CHURCH, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

If there were apostles in the church today with the supernatural power to heal that Jesus gave the Twelve Apostles, who would seek when sick? An apostle! But it doesn’t say to call the apostles because there are no apostles in the church today.

3. There Is False Teaching in the Church Today Because Wealth Is Considered a Sign of Godliness

False teachers love money. The most famous verse in Scripture about loving money, one even the unbelieving world recognizes, is:

1 Timothy 6:10 The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

The context of this verse is false teachers; they’re the ones who love money. Some of the most popular false teachers in the United States are Benny Himm, Joel Osteen, TD Jakes, Paula White, Joyce Meyer, and Kenneth Copeland. Something we immediately notice about them is how wealthy they are, and this is how Jesus told us to identify false teachers and false prophets:

Matthew 7:15 Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits.

These verses are not worded the way I would expect. I would expect Jesus to say to recognize false prophets by their false teaching. Instead, He says to recognize them by their fruits or what’s produced from their lives. Look at how they live, and often they live very extravagantly.

Now, we can understand why this would be a big problem in the United States, where there’s a lot of wealth, but we probably wouldn’t expect this to be the case in Malawi because of its poverty. But that’s why I titled this sermon “False Teaching in the Church Today,” because it is the same whether you are in the United States or Malawi.

The False Prophet, Bushiri

Bushiri is one of Malawi’s most popular false prophets. When we were preparing for the trip to Malawi, Andy Langdon, who led the trip, told us about the problems with false teaching, and this is the man he mentioned. Here’s the false prophet Bushiri’s famous video of supposedly walking on air:

I told the Bible college students that this miracle was false. When I asked them to raise their hands if they believed me, only about half did. We even picked Andy up and carried him down a few steps in the front of the room to show them how this trick could be performed, but they still believed it was a miracle.

Can you guess one of the reasons they believe Bushiri is a godly man who walked on air? Did you see the fancy staircase he walked down? He lives in an extravagant house, even by our standards.

In Africa, wealth and godliness go hand in hand. If God gives people wealth, they must be godly. Why would God give wealth to ungodly people?

Because the people believe in Bushir’s supposed godliness, he gets elevated to a sinful position, and this brings us to the next reason I noticed the people were susceptible to false teaching:

4. There Is False Teaching in the Church Today Because People Are Elevated Above Scripture

When I was in the Catholic Church, I saw people elevated to sinful positions, such as the priests, and especially the Pope, who seemed to be worshiped. I was convinced that if I wanted a relationship with the Lord, it had to go through these earthly mediators.

In Malawi, I noticed people did something similar, but with the four of us on the teaching team. Christians from America are wrongly put on platforms, and pastors from America are put on even higher platforms.

At the Bible college and pastor’s conference, the students and pastors seemed to feel they couldn’t learn or grow without us. It would have been one thing if they only said, “We would love for you to return.” But they also said, “We NEED you to return.”

There was so much dependence on us that one day, toward the end of the week at the Bible college, I interrupted the conclusion to tell the students that if they are Christians, they have the same Holy Spirit as us, not more or less. I said we were not doing anything they couldn’t do if they were willing to labor in the Word.

Teaching Under the New Covenant

The clearest prophecy of the New Covenant is in Jeremiah 31:

Jeremiah 31:31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make A NEW COVENANT with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 [the New Covenant is] not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord.

This refers to the Old Covenant, so Jeremiah’s prophecy prophesies of the New Covenant and contrasts it with the Old Covenant.

Jeremiah 31:33 For this is the [new] covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And NO LONGER SHALL EACH ONE TEACH HIS NEIGHBOR AND EACH HIS BROTHER, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord.

This prophesies of the dissolution of the priesthood. Under the Old Covenant, people knew God through the priests. They were mediators between God and man, which is why they were scattered throughout the land, so all the people had access to them and, by extension, access to God. Under the New Covenant, all believers are called priests in 1 Peter 2:5 and 1 Peter 2:9 because we all have access to God.

When Jeremiah prophesied that people wouldn’t have to be taught by priests, this would have sounded crazy to Old Testament believers because priests were the teachers:

Leviticus 10:8 The Lord spoke to [the priests] saying…11 YOU ARE TO TEACH THE PEOPLE of Israel all the statutes that the Lord has spoken to them by Moses.”

I’m convinced one of the most shocking moments of the disciples’ lives was when Jesus told them He would leave them. This statement troubled them, but Jesus encouraged them by saying He would send the Holy Spirit. One of the things he emphasized the Holy Spirit doing was teaching them:

John 14:26 The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, HE WILL TEACH YOU ALL THINGS.
John 16:13 When the Spirit of truth comes, HE WILL GUIDE YOU INTO ALL THE TRUTH.

Think about it like this: under the Old Covenant, people went to priests to learn ABOUT God, and they went to prophets to hear FROM God. But under the New Covenant, we have the Holy Spirit to teach us about God and the completed canon of Scripture to hear from God. I grieved that some students and pastors believed they couldn’t learn about God without us.

5. There Is False Teaching in the Church Today Because Theatrics Are Elevated Above Understanding

When I was in the Catholic Church, I was convinced that I couldn’t understand the Bible because it was too cryptic. If I wanted to understand anything, I had to ask my priest, like in the previous lesson, because they were the teachers.

So, my brother died of a drug overdose, and some Christians I taught with invited me to their church to talk to their pastor, who lost his brother when he was about my age. I had no intention of being saved or born again because those were not terms in the Catholic Church. I went simply to talk to the pastor but had no plans to return the following Sunday.

When I walked in, I was given a Bible. During the sermon, the pastor read a verse and explained it, then read another verse and explained it. I understood the Word for the first time and believed God was speaking to me through it. It was a powerful, life-changing moment. When I left that day, I hadn’t talked to the pastor about my brother, but I was already looking forward to returning the following Sunday.

Understanding God’s Word dramatically changed my life, and I have largely committed my life since then to studying the Bible and helping others understand it. I am still convinced that when the Word is taught, nothing is more important than people’s understanding of it.

Ezra Wanted the People to Understand

A few times, Scripture records what people said when they taught or preached, such as Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount and Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill. We are told what they said. However, Scripture doesn’t record the circumstances surrounding the teaching, except for one instance in Nehemiah 8. Ezra is the teacher, and we aren’t told what he taught, but listen to what is emphasized when he taught:

Nehemiah 8:1 All the people gathered…and…2 Ezra the priest brought the Law before…all who could UNDERSTAND WHAT THEY HEARD…3 And he read from it…from early morning until midday, in the presence of…THOSE WHO COULD UNDERSTAND. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. 4 And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose.

This is where we got the idea of having a pulpit so that the Word can be elevated and prominent and people can hear it.

Nehemiah 8:5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood.

This is also why many churches, like ours, ask people to stand while reading God’s word.

Nehemiah 8:6 And Ezra [was surrounded by many men who] HELPED THE PEOPLE TO UNDERSTAND THE LAW…8 They read from…the Law of God, clearly, and THEY GAVE THE SENSE, so that the people UNDERSTOOD THE READING.

So it seems that Ezra read the law, and men with him helped the people understand it. Notice the word understand or understood occurs four times, and the phrase “gave the sense” occurs once. The point is that people need to understand the public proclamation of God’s Word.

But in Malawi, there’s a focus on the theatrical rather than understanding. The most famous and popular religious leaders are dramatic and sensational. This is a big problem because many people don’t have Bibles and only hear the Bible from preachers. If the preachers aren’t helping people understand the Word, the people aren’t getting the Word.

So, I’m not joking when I say this: I believe God used my boring, simple teaching style to help the Bible college students and pastors, because I could contrast what I was doing with what they were used to seeing. I could say, “You seem to think highly of the men on the teaching team, but what you see us doing is the best thing you should do for your people: simply and clearly teach God’s Word.” And I’m convinced that’s the best thing we can do for our congregations in the United States.

Our Accountability Is High in the United States

Here we are passing out Bibles to the Sola Scriptura Bible College graduates:

I was standing before the Bible college students and pastors. Some didn’t have Bibles, or their Bibles were tattered. I don’t think they had access to sermons to listen to because even the godly pastors who preach in their language don’t have the technology to upload sermons.

Then there’s me with my numerous study Bibles and commentaries. I can pull out my phone and access countless sermons from godly preachers. So, besides being thankful, can you guess how else I felt? I felt convicted because I think we have very high accountability:

Matthew 10:15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town [that rejected the apostles].
Matthew 11:24 I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for [Capernaum].

It is hard to imagine any city facing worse judgment than Sodom, but Jesus said Capernaum would because Jesus visited Capernaum, and the people rejected Him. All of this is about accountability.

I don’t know how the Lord will judge Malawi. I know they will be judged because everyone will be judged. Malawi is not going to escape God’s judgment just because the people are poor and they don’t have many Bibles. But I know this: God will be much more tolerable to Malawi than us. Yes, it is wonderful having lots of Bibles and immense access to sermons, but with that blessing comes greater accountability:

Luke 12:48 Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.

I don’t know how much God expects the people in Malawi to read and understand His Word when many people don’t have Bibles. But I know this: God expects us to read and understand His Word. This is the best defense against false teaching in the church today.

But let’s be honest: it’s not because we lack resources that we don’t read the Word. It’s because of our priorities. It’s because of how we choose to spend our time. It’s because of the idols in our hearts. Robert Champion said: “The great cause of neglecting the Scriptures is not want of time, but want of heart, some idol taking the place of Christ.” So many Christians I spent time with in Malawi would give almost anything to be in our place and have such rich spiritual resources. Let’s not take for granted how much God has blessed us because He expects us to be good stewards of such a spiritual heritage.

6 Responses

  1. Scott,
    Those are some very good observations that show how legitimate growth takes more than logic to be acquired. It takes understanding, sort of like the AI issues. After the current rapture frenzy fades into falling away as we wait for all of God’s planned people to be born, it will be a different world.

  2. How have you integrated what is written in Isaiah 31:34, a passage in the Old Testament, which was written by a prophet living somewhere in the Middle East or Africa or wherever Jeremiah lived describing what was obviously possible and desirable and NECESSARY BEFORE JESUS CHRIST was even born:

    “NO LONGER SHALL EACH ONE TEACH HIS NEIGHBOR AND EACH HIS BROTHER, saying, ‘Know the Lord’ –

    I was thinking it might be more beneficial to stop acting like I have something valuable to teach to the well-educated and righteous people at my church and take a trip to serve the spiritual needs in a poor, rebellious African country instead. I was thinking about getting some of my pastoral associates together for a holy learning trip to Malawi this summer after hearing you tell all the stories about your trip!! Was it easy to get your congregation to approve a budget for the ridiculously priced flights, four-star African hotel lodging, and then, of course, the safest and, therefore, the highest quality (and priced to match!! ) restaurant-prepared meals that we will NEED to eat three times a day? Or does your congregation prefer to just stay out of your church leadership (financial) decision-making??? (I’m thinking about just approving it out of the paycheck I receive from the treasury every month from their tithes and offerings and requesting special funding from the other non-profit income sources we have set aside for “Missions” ). Praise the Lord and give God the praise for our special tax-exempt status in Jesus’ Name! Please let me know if you have any tips on where we can witness some of the most evil and sinful parts of Malawi where you spent all of your time. I would also like to get a group together to attempt the detestable magical floating staircase trick just like you and your team did when you were there… (when you lifted Andy into the air) … and convinced half of the audience that what they were seeing was NOT MAGIC. Half of the audience that WAS convinced and DID believe that the magic trick you performed in front of them WAS MAGIC. They must have been so disappointed when they found out it was evil for them to believe in such things and that they were wrong for doing so. Finally, a fresh idea that can be used to shine a light into the darkness of this sad, poor, and highly ignorant world. (I’m going on a Mission Trip to Malawi!!).

    Thanks again for being so transparent!

    1. Hello Jeremiah,
      Let me respond to your comments:

      How have you integrated what is written in Isaiah 31:34, a passage in the Old Testament,

      I didn’t have any verses from Isaiah. I think you mean Jeremiah 31.

      Was it easy to get your congregation to approve a budget for the ridiculously priced flights, four-star African hotel lodging, and, of course, the safest and, therefore, the highest quality (and priced to match!!) restaurant-prepared meals that we will NEED to eat three times a day?

      We didn’t seek the congregation’s approval for the trip’s budget, because each participant covered their own expenses.

      We never stayed in a four-star hotel. At night, we slept in the nursery. I think there were eight of us per room in bunk beds.

      Or does your congregation prefer to just stay out of your church leadership (financial) decision-making???

      No, the congregation does not stay out of the church finances. We run the budget by the congregation each year and they are welcome to attend every board meeting to see the monthly budget

      I would also like to get a group together to attempt the detestable magical floating staircase trick just like you and your team did when you were there… (when you lifted Andy into the air) … and convinced half of the audience that what they were seeing was NOT MAGIC. Half of the audience that WAS convinced and DID believe that the magic trick you performed in front of them WAS MAGIC. They must have been so disappointed when they found out it was evil for them to believe in such things and that they were wrong for doing so.

      It’s pretty clear you did not watch the sermon or read the notes. We did not perform that miracle. I was condemning the false prophet who claimed to perform it.

      You take care of yourself, Jeremiah.

  3. Excellent Pastor Scott! This truth is both comforting and convicting. Thank you for sharing it.

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