(Disclaimer: Personal thoughts and feelings abound, I pray, that they are in accordance with God's Holy Word, lest I be a false teacher)
In Paul's letter to the Ephesians, we are told that God provides for his people, "pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ..." (Ephesians 4:11-12). Over the course of the last few weeks at Bethany, we've been attempting to teach out of Peter's second epistle where, in chapter 2, Peter begins his dire warning about false teachers.
Peter prefaces his strong remarks about false teachers by imploring the disciple to knowledge. Among the things we are implored to add to our faith, knowledge is 2nd, just behind virtue (2 Peter 1:5-7). At the end of chapter 1, Peter says he would not be negligent in stirring us to remembrance, and that he would base it not upon cunningly devised fables, but upon the bedrock of the Word of God. By following the exhortation to add knowledge, and remember that which we have learned from scripture, the Child of God can then be prepared to face the challenge that "shall" follow, false teachers.
It is at this point in my study of this epistle where I, as a teacher of the gospel, was once again reminded of the great responsibility laid upon my shoulders. During the short time of my ministry, I've used the second half of the first chapter as my rallying point many times. I've reminded myself time after time that the primary function of God's minister to His people was to stir them to remembrance through the gospel. If there was ever any doubt as to what a minister's calling entailed, I believed this was a pretty good place to return to, as every minister should. That as long as a minister lives, and even after he passes into God's presence, he ought to leave a legacy of stirring God's people to remembrance.
Then comes chapter 2 and the dire warning upon the church that just as Israel had experienced false prophets, that false teachers would come. For those of you that have had any conversation with me over the last 2 years, I've seemed to become infatuated with the idea of relativism. For some reason I can't escape the thought that at some level, we are all relative when it comes to scripture. In one sense, we ought to be. All portions of scripture, each thought, verse, and chapter ought to relate back to other portions of scripture, leaving out our own preconceptions and ideas, and allowing God's word to tell it's own story. It's the other sense of relativism that concerns me in my own teaching. While studying this portion of scripture, it was all too easy to relate this thought to others (Big famous preacher ____________ is a charlatan). What took me some time to realize is that this may as well be a warning to me.
Upon this realization, this question resounded in my mind, "Am I a false teacher?" Hauntingly, this question keeps re-appearing; sometimes at the strangest times. Could it be possibly that concerning oneself with this question, and attempting not to be false teacher is enough? No. Even Judas had second thoughts. Where we must go is two places, the word of God, and faith. Our own feelings of ineptitude, our own opinions, and our own circumstances aren't and can't be enough. In the account mentioned above of Peter's purpose as a minister, even he reconciles his own experience with the word of God by saying, "We have also a more sure word of prophecy...knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in the old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." 2 Peter 1:20-21
Many are unaware that the Secret Service's primary function is not only the protection of our dignitaries, but also the protection of our dollar, investigating fraud and counterfeiting. It may seem like the easiest way to identify counterfeit dollars is by seeing other counterfeits, but that isn't the best way. The best way to have an eye for forgery is to know the real thing. The better you know the real thing, the easier it is to identify the fake. Not that seeing forgeries isn't helpful. After all, Peter spends the entirety of the 2nd chapter of his second epistle on the counterfeits. But looking at scripture to define God's real minister is paramount to choosing men that qualify for the ministry, and seeing whether or not I qualify today.
There are two qualifications one must pass to be a true minister: God's qualification, and man's qualification. Firstly, God's qualification is the calling upon a man, wherein God ordains a man for the ministry. This generally comes as God gives a man the burden to share the word publicly to God's people. It evidences itself by a man acting upon this burden by prayer, study, and exercising his gift before the church, and acknowledgment by the congregation, and the laying on of hands. We can see this play out clearly in the life of Paul's ministry. Regardless of your position on seminaries, this is the biblical account.
Secondly there is the qualification of men as told by Paul to both Timothy and Titus (1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:7-9). A man must live his life by these accords to qualify himself as a minister of the gospel. This qualification, as opposed to God's qualification (which, as we see men ordained that may or may not have a calling) is unambiguous. They are commands to live a holy life. Contrary to what some may believe, this does not mean that ministers never fail at this duty. But as a whole, and generally speaking, a minister ought to be able to be described with these words.
With these two qualifications in mind, I present to you three versions of false teachers most evident in Christianity.
1. An uncalled man (in any form or fashion)
2. A God qualified man whom has disqualified himself with the life he leads.
3. A God qualified man whom qualifies himself with the life he leads, but teaches falsitites.
Firstly, a man who has not received a direct, undeniable calling for himself as a minister of the Lord Jesus Christ is a false teacher. He may teach correctly (generally), he may be a good orator, he may even convert others, but he is a false teacher. Compare this to a school teacher. You may be able to stand in a second grade classroom and teach children very well. You may even be considered a great teacher, but unless you have that certification from a higher authority, through acknowledgment and appointment, you are a false teacher.
Secondly we have the God qualified man, whom lives a life not in accordance with the order of scripture. Once again, He may teach correctly, be a good orator, and convert others, but he is living a life contrary to the word of God. This type of false teacher may be the most destructive to God's people. You've seen it countless times in the media. A supposed man of God is caught in the midst of sin and numerous followers (need we say anything about following Christ and not the man) shun religion completely.
Lastly, we have a God qualified man, who leads a spiritual life, but wrongly divides the word of God. A wise God qualified, man qualified minister once told me, "Brother Silas, there are things I preached thirty years ago that I would physically pull a man out of the stand for today." Any man of God must be willing to admit that from time to time, he messes it up. Whether it be a lack of study, using scripture out of context to fit into a subject, or a seemingly innocent lack of understanding, there isn't one of us who can say we completely pass this test.
As an answer to my own question, "Am I a false teacher?" I see myself in all three. From time to time, I wonder based upon the realization of my own sinful personality if I'm called to do this, or if it's something I took for myself. I also see myself in my own depravity as the second guy, maybe I just hide it well, or maybe folks see it and give me a pass. But how long will that last. Furthermore, the third example is something I battle with. Is this right? Did I misunderstand that and teach it wrongly to the church. A little over a year ago, I lost my primary preaching bible and went back to the bible I used as a novice in the ministry. Some of these notes.....Wow, what was I thinking?
I mentioned above, that there were two places we need to go as ministers to affirm the vocation wherewith we are called. The word of God, and faith. This is where faith must play a part in our ministry. Faith that the Lord has burdened us with this task. Faith that the Spirit will guide us in our teaching. And Faith that when we mess it up doctrinally or practically, that the Lord has means to correct our error and that he died for this sin as well. Faith that the elect of God saw in my teaching, and my life an evidence of God's calling upon me as a minister of Jesus Christ. It is by this faith that I can proclaim solemnly, as Paul did, "Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness." (Titus 1:1 Now I'm not an apostle (scripturally speaking, neither is anyone who proclaims to be one today), but I am a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, by faith.