In the news recently four young men have filed lawsuits accusing an Atlanta area pastor, Bishop Eddie Long of sexual misconduct. You can Google it, or read the Atlanta Journal Constitution article here. I was listening to CNN Radio, and they went on to describe his church, which they called a “mega-church,” his style of preaching, and his lifestyle. According to this report, Bishop Long is a proponent of the “prosperity gospel”. Wikipedia lists him and many others in this link as a prosperity preacher. And it appears that he lives the prosperity lifestyle: a $1.4 million dollar home, a $350,000 Bentley, and a $1 million dollar annual salary according to this article in the AJC.
Right around the time I first heard about this I happened to be reading in 2 Peter chapter 2 about False Teachers. In the first three verses Peter says this:
But there were also false prophets in Israel, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will cleverly teach destructive heresies and even deny the Master who bought them. In this way, they will bring sudden destruction on themselves. Many will follow their evil teaching and shameful immorality. And because of these teachers, the way of truth will be slandered. In their greed they will make up clever lies to get hold of your money. But God condemned them long ago, and their destruction will not be delayed. 2 Peter 2:1-3 (NLT)
Now I’m not saying that Bishop Long is guilty. That is for the court to decide and ultimately between him and God. What hit me while reading this chapter is the unique connection between “NEED” and “WANT”. When a preacher decides his desire (WANT) for wealth and power are more important than his responsibility (NEED) to preach the truth, then he will justify this WANT to himself first by whatever means possible, then begin preaching it to his congregation. But it is our responsibility to recognize these false teachers by their teaching. The Bible is full of these warnings (Acts 20; Galatians 3 & 4; 1 Timothy 1, 4, 6; Jude 1). Jesus said this in Matthew chapter 7:
“Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” Matthew 7:15-20 (NLT)
I must admit that I used to wonder why so much was written about this subject of false teachers and false doctrine. I was under the naive impression that there must be some sort of checks and balances in place in the church that would prevent this type of thing from happening. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
But how do we know if we are hearing false teaching? First of all, read through all of the references above (and there are others) to hear from Jesus, Paul, Peter, Jude, etc. on how to recognize it. But there is a another way that is simple…but not easy. If you go to church week after week and hear only those things you WANT to hear and nothing you NEED to hear, odds are you are under the influence of a false teacher. And I’m pretty sure if your pastor drives a Bentley, that’s a pretty strong sign as well.
Final point: Discerning between our NEED’s and WANT’s is something that can be applied to virtually every aspect of our lives, not just who we choose as our spiritual guides. The starting point is the Word of God. To truly know what we need, we must first believe He is who He says He is and go from there. I wish I could say I am able to do this 100% of the time, but that would be a “false” statement. But thank God I am a work-in-progress, and most days, moving in the right direction.
Do you know anyone who matches the biblical description of a false teacher/prophet? How did you handle it? How do you discern between false doctrine and biblical doctrine?