Claiming to be a Christian does not make one a Christian. Few would disagree with this simple statement, though more seem to be inching (or flat out running) away from even this once obvious truth as our culture doubles down on an approach reality defined by emotion, subjectivity, and pet causes over objective truth and consistent standards.
In our current emotion- and agenda-driven landscape, it’s easy to understand why we have all manner of false converts chasing after all manner of false teachers. Different groups have different “felt needs”. Different people have different pet causes, different favorite issues, and different distinctive itches that they want scratched.
The particular cause, issue, or itch isn’t the point here. The point is our propensity to elevate causes, issues, or other desires to a place of imbalanced obsession (aka “idolatry”).
When we make a thing The Thing, while setting aside the things that the Word of God clearly promotes as essentials, we set ourselves up to fall head over heels for bad teaching and teachers who will tickle our ears and feed us what we desperately want to hear over, above, and often in place of the things we need to hear that don’t fit with our preferred narrative.
We all have to guard against this. It’s all too easy for any of us to be lured into a ditch or off the rails by those who might play to our personal fears, hopes, and desires in a particularly effective way.
With this in mind we should be quick to recognize that not only are there many false converts roaming the countryside sniffing at the heels of their favorite false prophets or teachers, but there are many true, supernaturally saved New Creatures in Christ who are, at this moment, following after false teachers of some kind. And we should want to help them as we would want to be helped if we were in their shoes.
We’re all works in progress.
We can all be fooled.
So what do we do about it?
How do we know the difference between a sound teacher and an unsound teacher?
How do we spot the sort of teacher that Scripture warns against again and again?
Well, the answer is contained within the question: We look to Scripture to see what our Lord has said about these things.
How does His Word define good teachers and bad?
What are the biblical qualifications and specific points of reference where the selection of Christ-centered (and avoidance of self-centered) teachers is concerned?
While this is not intended to be a comprehensive examination of these questions, one thing that is very clear in the Word of God is that teachers who know Him well will reflect His character.
The same God who dwells within a teacher will conform their character to His.
Gradually and over time, to be sure, but it will happen, and it will have happened sufficiently to be a very detectible reality in those we ought to embrace as solid, sound teachers and leaders.
The longer they know Him, the more they will learn about His character, and the better they know Him, the more they will reflect His character, all by His grace, all for His glory, and all to the benefit of His people.
Character is core.
Character is key.
To claim to know Christ well – well enough to teach and lead His people – while consistently acting in a manner contrary to His personal character as revealed in His Word should constitute a big, giant, flaming, neon-lit red flag for discerning Christians.
That said, not all red flags – even the giant, flaming, neon-lit ones – are dealbreakers. The point is that, generally speaking, they need to be taken very seriously.
One can rightly know many things about Christ and His creation in the academic sense without having His Spirit living within them. This should not be a controversial statement.
A teacher may have amazing insight into aspects of creation and even the Creator, but knowing things about God or creation is not nearly enough to warrant identification as a sound Christian leader or teacher. Revering and striving to exhibit the personal character of Christ is an essential characteristic of sound biblical teachers. This essential manifestation of Christ-centeredness cannot be dismissed or minimized in deference to a particular teacher’s positions, accomplishments, or conformity with the aforementioned pet causes and desires that we’re often tempted to make The Thing above all things.
While perfection is hardly the standard here and even the best of good teachers will have weaknesses, struggles, and deficiencies, the positive trajectory of their character will be plain and a certain overall level of maturity will have been verifiably attained. Spirit-filled, Christ-centered leaders and teachers will demonstrate emulation of Christ’s character in a manner that will be evident upon examination.
This is why, again and again, character is made a centerpiece for assessing those who might (or might not be) qualified to lead or teach within the church.
Scripture warns again and again, often in stark, downright terrifying terms, concerning the reality of false converts and their susceptibility to false teachers. Jesus directly addressed false prophets and false converts in this familiar passage from Matthew:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:15-23)
Knowing what Jesus has said is not the same as loving Christ as Lord.
Knowing what Scripture says is not the same as loving the truth of God.
Doing things in Jesus’ name is not the same as truly loving (and therefore lovingly emulating) Jesus.
To be sure, Scripture is the standard by which we are to test all things – including our opinions, feelings, traditions, and deeply held beliefs. The Word of God is our perfect, sufficient standard for pursuing every good work in God’s creation (2 Timothy 3:16-17), and that certainly includes the good work of choosing wise, biblically sound teachers.
The notion of personal character as an essential in this context seems to be yet another way of reinforcing the oft dismissed or bypassed reality of God’s Law and God’s Word as reflections of His personal nature. His Word and His Law flow from Him personally. To rightly understand His Law and His Word requires and is built upon a right understanding and appreciation of His character. If we truly love Him, we will want to learn about Him, and the more we learn about Him, the more we will love Him.
His character is the centerpiece in this.
His character is the hub of the wheel.
His person – His personal character – is both the subject and object of our every pursuit.
True law is a reflection of the personal nature of the one true God.
True love is a reflection of the personal nature of the one true God.
So it is that cold, arrogant, dry academic approaches to God’s creation are inherently incompatible (or at least at odds) with the character of God, and therefore not a mark of biblically sound teachers.
Consider the following passage from 1 Timothy 3:1-13:
“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.”
Consider also Titus 1:5-9:
“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— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”
He must be above reproach.
He must not be arrogant.
He must be self controlled.
He must not be quick tempered.
Character, character, character…it permeates these guidelines for selecting sound church leadership.
Which is why many opponents of biblical church leadership tend to both dismiss and openly operate in direct violation of these standards.
The bar is set very high here. Impossibly high when approached apart from the grace of God.
Yet these are the standards that He has given us.
He has provided them for our benefit.
He has shared them with us out of true and perfect love.
Which brings us to another of the attributes reflected in the standards He has set for His people – standards that we ought to hold front and center when assessing any who would assume the role of Christian teacher or leader:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
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Stupid Elephant Tricks – The Other Progressive Party’s War on Christianity takes a painful but much needed look at how Christ-less “conservatism” has captivated Christians and co-opted them into helping march the culture ever deeper into darkness:
The Beginning of Knowledge: Christ as Truth in Apologetics is an approachable, easy to read introduction to Christ-centered apologetics:
Apathetic Christianity: The Zombie Religion of American Churchianity explores the tragic true horror story of all-American dead religion masquerading as Christianity:
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There Is No “God-Given Right” To Worship False Gods is a compilation of some of the most provocative Fire Breathing Christian articles on the subject of America’s embrace of a satanic approach to religious liberty:
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