And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. – Matthew 24:11
There’s that many again, twice in this sentence. Many false prophets will infiltrate the church, gaining a hearing among professing disciples. And many of those professing disciples will be conned, persuaded, fall under the spell of the false teachers.
We’ve been listening in for only a little while as Jesus prepares his followers for the future that will lead up to the end of the age. And already, for the second time we hear Jesus warning of the peril of false teachers within the church. “False teachers are not only the first problem in the church; they are the central problem in the church.” – Bruner
Is the following an overstatement? The Church’s chief opposition comes from within and not from without.
How does false teaching gain traction? To alter the metaphor, what are the conditions in which it can spring up? What do you think?
Let me rattle off a few possible answers:
- The desire for novelty is all too human.
- One generation wants to set themselves apart from the previous generation. One way to assert independence from your parents is to divert (perhaps just ever so slightly) from their faith.
- British accents make any ideology easier to swallow. I’m kinda kidding, but not totally. Let me explain: Without hardly noticing it, we can exist in a prolonged state of low-grade embarrassment over our rube-ish upbringing, our admittedly provincial outlook, the straightforward and simple interpretations handed down to us . . . we suppose we might very well be bumpkins. Also we know there’s a lot of smart and busy people who’ve done a whole lot more reading than we. So with our unease about our background, we’re primed to have our heads turned by a voice that’s urbane, sophisticated, deeply conversant with the issues and, saliently, outside our orbit. “Continental,” as they used to say.
- Celebrity adulation isn’t simply an American phenomenon: we just churn out more celebrities than anyone else! But the situation of Christian celebrity is bad for discernment. Sorry to be a scold, but modern evangelicalism is heavily driven by celebrity. If Tim Keller or Al Mohler or John Piper or John MacArthur or __________ __________ writes/says something, there is a wide, unchecked bias to wholeheartedly agree. I suppose the presence of simple bias to regard as true isn’t the problem – if only to save time it’s fine to learn to trust a teacher over time. It’s the unchecked part where we go wrong. “Trust but verify.”
- Without being sure about it, I’ll wonder out loud if the simple proliferation of, and accessibility to, teaching in the name of Christ is problematic. If there’s always a sermon or podcast or blog (!) or spiritual book to attend to, there might be less of a draw to the source material for all those, i.e, holy scriptures. Even as the scriptures are incessantly discussed, even as the issues of the day are talked about in reference to the scripture, actual encounters with the actual scripture grow more infrequent. Eventually, exposure to scripture happens mainly via proof texts and talking points. Then in the void of real exposure to the bible, false emphases pop up everywhere. The hard or overtly supernatural elements of scripture are downplayed…ignored. We become vulnerable – not so much to secular truth claims – but to the secular mood. Scary stuff, that.
Brothers and sisters, it’s a clunky and fusty line, but here goes: Be a Berean!
Acts 17:11 – Now these [Berean] Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things [taught by Paul and Silas] were so. That is, “if they supported what he said.”