by John MacArthur
What would you call a man or a woman who claimed to receive direct messages from God that contradicted the clear teaching of Scripture? Words like charlatan, heretic, liar, and phony probably come to mind. And yet there are many Christians—often earnest but ignorant believers—who follow and even defend such men and women.
Scripture is clear about the danger false teaching represents to God’s people. We even see examples of how leaders in the New Testament church dealt with false teachers. The apostle Paul confronted the Judaizers throughout his ministry. When they tried to gain influence in the Galatian church, Paul sent this warning to the believers there:
I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! (Galatians 1:6–9)
Much that the Judaizers taught corresponded to the true gospel. They no doubt affirmed that Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah predicted by the Old Testament prophets, and a great miracle worker. They likely believed that He was crucified and resurrected and that salvation demanded belief in Him. But they also taught that to be right with God and to maintain that righteous salvation a person must conform to all the laws of the Old Covenant. In doing so, they undercut the power of the true gospel—God’s sovereign, saving, and enabling grace. By adding works to salvation they had subtly but completely undermined the gospel of God’s grace, of which there is really not another. This was bad news, since man cannot maintain his right relationship to God by self-effort and good works. He will produce good works as a result of God’s saving grace and power working in him (Ephesians 2:10; James 2:14–26), but he does not do good works to earn or keep salvation.
Because of their deception, false teachers such as the Judaizers are even more dangerous than those who openly deny “that Jesus is the Christ” and thereby clearly participate in the work of the antichrist (1 John 2:22). False systems labeled as Christianity always distort the nature and work of Jesus Christ. Those who deny Christ altogether are easily seen as the unbelievers they are; but those who claim to teach and follow Christ while undermining the gospel of His grace are immeasurably more dangerous—because they give the appearance of leading people to Christ while they are actually erecting barriers to salvation by grace.
False teachers not only should not be believed or followed but should be left to God’s judgment to be accursed. Accursed translates anathema, which refers to that which is devoted to destruction. The apostle John wrote:
For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. . . . If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds. (2 John 7, 10–11)
Christians are to have nothing to do with false teachers, no matter what their credentials. It is both naive and unscriptural to believe, for instance, that staying in a religious school or church that denies the Bible and distorts the gospel gives a believer the opportunity to be a positive influence for the Lord. Even a leader like Timothy, well trained in divine truth, was warned to stay away from error and to concentrate on the pure truth of God (1 Timothy 4:6–7, 13; 2 Timothy 2:15–17). To subject oneself to false teaching, no matter how orthodox one’s own convictions may be, is to disobey God, to compromise and weaken one’s testimony, and to tolerate distortion of the grace of God in Christ.
The surest way to confuse the faithful, corrupt the truth, and impede the work of the gospel is to tolerate and accommodate false teachers.
(Adapted from The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Galatians.)
#1 Posted by
Rudi Jensen | Wednesday, February 26, 2014at
Damnable Deception is the headline, and that is what 2 Peter chapter 2 and the epistle of Jude is all about.
I was engaged in a public debate with liberal confessing christians in my country about homosexual marriage, and pointed out the clear teaching by the Apostles.
That resulted in me being called all kinds of blasphemys, and that their God is much more loving and tolerant than my little (profanity removed) Jesus. And I was denied login to the debate, twice.
Why do we love God? Because He loved us first, and gave us His Holy Spirit.
#2 Posted by
David Blakely | Wednesday, February 26, 2014at
Would it be possible for this website to have a list of preachers that we should definitely stay away from?
#3 Posted by
Ben Enders | Wednesday, February 26, 2014at
Another great wake up call by Dr. MacArthur.
This reminds me of the conversation I had with David (a few blogs back) who thought Richard Foster’s teachings didn’t seem too bad. These guys are slick…it isn’t always obvious. The best lie uses some truth in it. In Foster’s case he promotes spiritual contemplation (mysticism) and has been quoted (I heard it) saying the bible contains errors.
FALSE TEACHER ALERT!!!
#4 Posted by
Dankmar Schroeder | Wednesday, February 26, 2014at
Dr. MacArthur, thank you so much for this important statement.
Churches can preach and teach a lot of true things about Jesus Christ. But then they can add just this ONE law that you have to keep - and voila - its no more grace alone.
There is this deception in some churches that the pastor/teacher is the "Man of God" or equal to Old Testament Prophets and therefore his teaching equals the Word of God. (I just heard a chilling statement like this in a church by its pastor where the pastor likens the prophet Jeremiah to an IFB preacher). (At another time an IFB missionary to the Philippines taught that if the preaching of the pastor/teacher does contradict the scriptures, the church members should follow the pastor/teacher anyway). - TRUE bible believers (teachers and pastors included) are UNDER the authority of the Word of God.
IFB = Independent Fundamental Baptist
Thanks again for this much needed blog!
#5 Posted by
Rose Michels | Wednesday, February 26, 2014at
Is it me or does anyone else notice that this type of deception is sweeping our country like wildfire--with momentum never before seen? There are days I feel almost overwhelmed with the magnitude of it all. I know that this should come as no surprise for it was written about in scripture, but it is one thing to read it and another to be living in it. If ever there were a time of necessity to be in the Word, it surely is now.
#6 Posted by
Charles Williamson | Wednesday, February 26, 2014at
I will ask you again John, do you love your brother?!
#7 Posted by
George Canady | Wednesday, February 26, 2014at
I thank Dr. MacArthur for your long suffering in warning us for many years and bringing to our attention the real and very dangerous traps these people lay for people in the power of God's ultimate enemy. However, I rarely, if ever, here you talk about the other biblical categories that these false teachers fall into, namely enemy and neighbor.
#8 Posted by
Gabriel Powell | Wednesday, February 26, 2014at
I'm uncertain why you ask that question. Are you implying that in order to love our brother we ought to reject what the Holy Spirit instructs regarding dealing with false teachers? My guess is that's not what you're implying, though it surely sounds like it. If you listen to the entirety of the Strange Fire messages, there are a number of points where John expresses compassion for the deceived, and the reality that love for the truth and love for people is what drives him to point out false doctrine and teachers.
While it is true that false teachers fall into those other categories, it is also true that the Holy Spirit instructs us to deal with them in specific ways because of the uniquely destructive influence they have. This is similar to how there is a different discipline process for elders than for others in the church (1 Tim 5:19-21). Why? Because of their unique position of influence.
While we should desire to see false teachers and deceivers repent, our greater responsibility (assigned by the Holy Spirit) is protecting the flock. That priority determines the method of method of dealing with false teachers.
#9 Posted by
George Canady | Wednesday, February 26, 2014at
I am thankful and agree with the priority but the secondary, to my knowledge, never gets any air time as if God is just please with partial obedience to his commands. In other words, no public plea here for the salvation of the deceivers.
#10 Posted by
Astrea Jones | Wednesday, February 26, 2014at
It IS sweeping the country (world) like wildfire, and it's not just in the charismatic camp. Many so-called "New Calvinists" are also preaching a different gospel. If I hear one more person say that men who teach that Genesis 1 is poetry, contemplative meditation is good, Jesus came to bring social reform, are SOUND I think I might get up on a soap box and start chanting (they should like that) Galatians 1:6-9.
Pastor MacArthur has some great stuff on "Men Who Must Be Silenced" we certainly shouldn't be giving them a platform or looking the other way as they proclaim a different gospel, a different Jesus and a different Scripture! I think I heard somewhere that it was the truth that would set you free not the transcendental meditation!
#11 Posted by
Shawn Clauther | Wednesday, February 26, 2014at
To David (#2):
Though it may be useful in the short run to have a list of false teachers, it may also prove destructive in the short run and useless in the long run.
A list of names may be destructive because it invites the question, "And who are YOU to say that Pastor X is a false prophet?" And that could lead to a side-debate that could slow the ministry's progress. Of course, pastors today must be willing to name names--this very blog said so (http://www.gty.org/blog/B140218)--and names have been named in the course of these blogs (see, e.g., http://www.gty.org/blog/B091211)--but note that there have always been reasons attached to those names; never do we see just a list of names. Consequently, whenever we see Pastor McArthur say that someone is a false prophet, we know that he is not just blasting someone whom he may dislike or disagree with, but that he is protecting his flock from a legitimate threat.
And that leads to my second point: A list of names is useless in the long run. A list will always need updating: a particular false teacher may repent, and even if not, more will always appear as time goes on; there will always be another name that the list may miss.
As the proverb goes: "Give a man to fish, and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime." It is better to show people how to spot a false teacher than just to say "Avoid Pastors X, Y, and Z"; if a Pastor A shows up, who is not on that list, but who is indeed false, it is more advantageous if the Christian is able to recognize him as a false teacher right away instead of having to wait until some higher authority deems him a false teacher.
#12 Posted by
Gabriel Powell | Wednesday, February 26, 2014at
George, the last message at Strange Fire conference was "An Appeal to Charismatic Pretenders." It seems that may be what you've been wanting to hear.
Nevertheless, I'm not convinced that this is a matter of partial obedience. For that to be the case, there would have to be specific instructions on dealing with false teachers that are not obeyed. Again, while it is true that false teachers do in a sense fit in the categories of neighbor and enemy, the Holy Spirit seems clear that that their status as false teachers overshadows the rest; and in some cases, indicates that their repentance is impossible (e.g. Heb 6:4-6; 12:17). There seems to be a categorical difference between being deceived and being a deceiver, being a follower and being the leader. I think if you read the pastoral epistles, that distinction is vivid.
At the end of the day, though, we ought to seek and pray for the repentance of all before they are forced to their knees on that Day.
#14 Posted by
Rudi Jensen | Wednesday, February 26, 2014at
#6 Charles Williamson
"I will ask you again John, do you love your brother?!"
Well, I do not get the point of your question. Is it about being perfect? Whitout fault and blemish? Or is it an excuse for keep doing wrong?
We are dead to Sin, Alive to God (Romans 6)
#15 Posted by
George Canady | Wednesday, February 26, 2014at
I thank you Mr. Powell for your obviously caring concern and studied approach. I did not listen to the last Strange Fire but I will now and thank you for the link. If I am wrong, I want to be corrected. However, many times it seems like the tone is that we are ready to "get a rope" when talking about the deceivers. Many believers and some preachers seem to talk as if we can know who is finally condemned. I am sure that is a debatable subject but I am not sure how we would, through our kindness, heap burning coals on someone's head if there is public kindness for our preferred enemies. I am an advocate of warning for sure but I am for full public obedience so that all can see the full submission to God's commands. It seems logical to expect the appeal right after the warning so to obey and teach the complete biblical categories as to not down-play any of the difficulties in dealing with the harder command to love our enemies and neighbors. It seems to me there is power to tap while in full public biblical submission when praying for the lost, save none.
#16 Posted by
David Smith | Wednesday, February 26, 2014at
Ben Enders #3
I realised when I saw your comment that you were referring to me, despite the lack of a full name.
Here's your comment:
"This reminds me of the conversation I had with David (a few blogs back) who thought Richard Foster’s teachings didn’t seem too bad. These guys are slick…it isn’t always obvious. The best lie uses some truth in it. In Foster’s case he promotes spiritual contemplation (mysticism) and has been quoted (I heard it) saying the bible contains errors...FALSE TEACHER ALERT!!!"
What I actually said (on a blog entitled "Beware of false teachers") was:
"Richard Foster may be wrong in some areas (I'm not that familiar with him) but to my mind he doesn't meet the threshold to be labelled a false teacher - I believe his basic theology is orthodox. It's still OK to object to his materials being used, but he doesn't ring the alarm bells in the way that Osteen does."
I didn't say what you allege - that I think Foster's teachings don't seem too bad - I said I'm not that familiar with them, but questioned whether the label of false teacher was appropriate for him.
I think we need to carefully define, from scripture, what a false teacher is, before sticking the label on anyone. Pastor MacArthur's comments here suggest that it's someone who changes the gospel of grace into a gospel of grace plus works. Elsewhere, a love of money is also offered as a characteristic of false teachers.
I'm having a hard time understanding how promoting spiritual contemplation and saying the Bible contains errors fit the above definition. Neither have any bearing on the gospel of grace, nor is Foster a money-grabbing televangelist.
I am not defending the man - there may be plenty wrong with him - I don't know - I just can't see how you've made a case for calling him a false teacher, based on a Biblical definition of the term.
If we use "false teacher" about everyone who is in error (or that we disagree with), it devalues the phrase, which should be reserved for those who are seriously wrong. It is effectively a term of condemnation and needs to be used with great caution. I have no hesitation applying it to prosperity preachers or hyper charismatics, but I'm reluctant to apply in a way goes beyond what the Bible says.
#17 Posted by
Steve Nuhn | Wednesday, February 26, 2014at
I have a few specific questions about recognizing a false teacher. Is it possible to make faith a work?
Ephesians 2:8 says "for by grace you have been saved through faith"... Our pastor referenced that verse and stated it this way, "by faith you have been saved through grace". I asked if he meant to say it that way and he said yes. I questioned that isn't the intent of the passage and the proceeding passages beginning in verse one to teach us that grace comes to us before faith while we were dead, walking according to the world..., but God being rich in mercy...made us alive.
He further supported his notion of faith before grace by referring to the parable of the sower and seed. He stated that all soils were regenerated but three fell away due to a lack of faith. I would agree with the lack of faith but not with being regenerated then a lack of faith.
My other question also addresses faith but in regards to prayer. My pastor also teaches that we should have faith when we pray that God can answer it and we must not be doubtful and ask for specific things. He says we shouldn't add "...unless it's not your will God", when we are asking for something. He says in seeing these prayers being answered we will have our faith strengthen. He does admit that it may not always be answered and maybe not in the way we want it to be, but he teaches that by having this kind of faith we can change God's will.
I would say that my pastor would identify more with Michael Brown than with John MacArthur, he believes in speaking in tongues, etc., although we have not done any of those things in the 2 years he’s been at our church. I ask specially about the faith aspect as it seems to be very subtle but also very man centered, experience centered.
Are these the sings of a false teacher? I would say he has good intentions but am I lacking discernment? I have been that person that wants to stick around and hopefully "be a positive influence for the Lord". After reading this post I fear I'm in disobedience.
#18 Posted by
Milton Bonet | Wednesday, February 26, 2014at
I also want to thank pastor Macarthur for this message. I live in the Philippines where the Catholic Church has a strong presence and we usually go to the garbage dump to feed the children there who spend their day scavenging for items to sell (cans,cardboard,etc) We once were told by Catholic Church elders we were not allowed there because we were trying to teach the children a false religion? The situation was not an amicable one either!. My wife who is Filipina and comes from the island of Olongo ( Cebu) took me to the church services there and I was indirectly spoken about by the Father of the church giving the sermon. My wife had informed me of what was said and after services I wanted to ask but the Father jumped on his motorcycle and took off.
#19 Posted by
Ben Enders | Wednesday, February 26, 2014at
I apologize if you took my comments as an insult. It was not intended that way at all. I was trying to illustrate how cautious we need to be. If you remember I was struggling (based on my limited knowledge) with what to do with Joel Osteen.
I define (through my understanding of scripture) a false teacher as someone who teaches a false gospel. The gospel I define as the truth about who Christ is and what He taught. Paul said anyone teaching something different than what he (Paul) taught is a false teacher.
That being said, anyone through their teaching who says that God is not sovereign, that God is a liar, that the joy we have in Christ is through our works and not the grace of God through Jesus which is a free gift that we were predestined for (meaning we didn’t initiate our own salvation) is false teaching and Richard Foster teaches all of that in his book “Celebration of Discipline”. Read Bob DeWaay’s critique when you get time. What I’ve seen of the book indicates he is correct in his statement that “it is a virtual encyclopedia of theological error”. In addition I consider anyone who attacks the bible (it contains errors and antimony’s) to be attacking the sovereignty of God. They are in essence calling God a liar. Richard Foster sounds good with his biblical terminology but telling us that meditating on nature helps us speak to our inner Jesus or emptying our minds so that an unknown spirit can fill it goes against what scripture teaches and devalues God’s word.
I don’t take this subject lightly which was one reason I didn’t classify Osteen even after I listened to MacArthur dissect his prosperity teachings. I want to hear it out of their mouths myself.
#20 Posted by
Wilton Quattlebaum | Wednesday, February 26, 2014at
If John MacArthur didn't truly love his brother, he would not care enough to give him the truth of scripture even if it pricked his comfort zone....
#22 Posted by
John Cox | Thursday, February 27, 2014at
Why is it so important to pay attention to this sort of thing?
Why is it so important to drive out Apostasy?
Our enemy's main Modus Operandi from Of Old is to use "Religion" simply as a way to keep control of the people. If he can keep the people in line (Docile and cooperative) - he can then do anything he wants..... which is to usurp God's power and Authority for himself.
When we allow Deception and Apostasy to prosper in our churches.... Churches become enamored with worldly power, position, and a political voice rather than with Christ.... (Ref John 11:48)
At that point, the Apostate Church simply becomes a Vehicle for Control.. just like every other false religion out there.... That is why you frequently see persecution of the True believer most strongly WITHIN the church... as the Apostate Religious Organization (The Woman who rides the Beast) knows which side it's bread is buttered on.... If people experience fellowship with the True Christ - then, the Empire looses some of it's total control (You can't serve 2 masters..)..... The ruler of this world will be challenged... They can't let that happen....
It's OUR job to push back against this Apostasy! To have our eyes WIDE open to the Deception. To Search out Jesus. It's not OUR job to sort out the World - that's God's job... but we can't serve 2 masters.
Keep it up John!
#23 Posted by
Shane Haffey | Thursday, February 27, 2014at
"It is both naive and unscriptural to believe, for instance, that staying in a religious school or church that denies the Bible and distorts the gospel gives a believer the opportunity to be a positive influence for the Lord"
Good point. Many like to justify not sending their children to private schools or homeschooling them because they're strong faith will bless the lost. Public schools are a haven for false teaching and many Christians don't think twice about sending their children there for what equates to roughly half their young lives.
#25 Posted by
John Cox | Thursday, February 27, 2014at
@ Steve Nunn,
"My pastor also teaches that...we shouldn't add "...unless it's not your will God", when we are asking for something. He says ... that by having this kind of faith we can change God's will."
You are right to be very concerned about this.
This is the serious error that permeates the "Prosperity Gospel" and "Word of Faith"... They somehow foolishly believe that they have the authority to FORCE the Hand of God! To stand in the face of God himself and declare to God "Not YOUR will but my will be done!"
We don't have the power or authority to move the Hand of God. Wishing won't make it so.
We should be absolutely terrified of the consequences of this sort of attitude - which is the OPPOSITE of Faith.
How important is this? Jesus himself as Son of God deferred to the will of the Father... When praying in the garden stated "let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will but as You will" Matt 26:39
If Jesus himself had to defer to the will of the Father - how much more so for us?
This circles back around to true Faith - which is aligning our will with the Will of God.... Acting in Faith is obedience. It requires Humility to bend your own will to that of God. It's absolutely not the other way around - wishing to bend God's will to our own.
#26 Posted by
Daryl Little | Thursday, February 27, 2014at
Clearly he does or he wouldn't be writing articles like this.
#27 Posted by
Michael Kennedy | Thursday, February 27, 2014at
I have been concerned recently by posts on Facebook by a number of Messianic Jews. It seems to me, imho, that some of them are doing this very thing by clinging to the Jewish Festivals and keeping separate from non Jewish believers that they are in fact denying the completeness of the sacrifice of Jesus. What do you think? I am not saying they all are, just some. One of my favorite programs was Zola Levit when he was still preaching.
#28 Posted by
Guy Lacelle | Friday, February 28, 2014at
At my previous huge church in Ottawa Canada I rebuked two members who were attending Catholic Mass with friends on occasion and they refuse to listen so I went to the senior Pastor. I will never forget what he told me as it shocked me "we don't talk against other churches here". My response to him "first off it's not a church and second, the Bible tells us that we should and so must we"! Sad reality of most churches today. I have two new words describing most churches today "comfort and compromise"! Sad.
#29 Posted by
John Cox | Friday, February 28, 2014at
The burden upon the Messianic Jew is different than the Burden placed upon the Gentile.
Ref Acts 15:29 for the specific command to Gentiles - We are to keep away from food offered to idols, Sexual immorality, Blood, and things strangled.
To the Jew - Matt 5:17 "Do not think I came to abolish the law but to fulfill it" and Matt 5:19 "Therefore, anyone who sets aside the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, and he that practices and teaches others to follow them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven"
Most of their practices point towards remembrance, a witness, and a living testimony of the work of God. We as Gentiles are not obligated to keep them - although as we recognize their significance, we may wish to keep some practices as a remembrance and as a witness of the things God has and will continue to do.....
#30 Posted by
James Skrabacz | Monday, March 03, 2014at
To Michael Kennedy:
I am a gentile believer and member of a biblically sound Messianic congregation. Our Lead Pastor (Rabbi) is a Messianic Jew and our Assistant Pastor is a Gentile believer. So your misinformed if you believe there is a separation. My wife and I have been believers for nearly 15 years and due to military moves been members of 5 non-denominational traditional Churches. I was skeptical at first , but our new assembly is a true family & is the most loving, spiritual group we've ever been a part of with a true heart for teaching, studying, and preaching the truth from the Word. Yes, we celebrate the festivals. Messianic Jews do this to remember, but most importantly to call the lost Jew to saving grace of Yeshua. May the scales fall from their eyes. Praise Adonai! Jim
#31 Posted by
Stephen John | Wednesday, March 05, 2014at
The God-told-me-people. Avoid 'em.