There shall be false teachers among you…And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you2 Peter 2:1,3
Once a Christian realizes there may be false teachers in his Church, and certainly among the whole body of Christ, a Christian must remain vigilant to withdraw from them and warn the brethren. This is not to say that the pastor you are under is a false teacher. However, there are easy signs that a teacher is false, and an obvious indication is that they will try to make merchandise of you and God’s word.
Making merchandise of God’s word is to sell his word or any teachings from it. This is done at universities, stores, online, or even in Churches. It is an expected evil that the world takes God’s word and makes a profit off of it, but when so-called Christians do the same, there is cause for concern. These are simple indicatives for detecting false teachers that can be seen by example in God’s word.
In the eighth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, Simon the magician (who claimed to have believed in the gospel) offered money to Peter the Apostle in order to receive the Holy Ghost from Peter. Simon’s goal was to make it so that whoever he laid hands on (after they pay him) would receive the Holy Ghost. Peter rebukes him and says, “Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.” Would not the Christians agree that that which they have learned by the Holy Spirit should not afterward be sold for profit? What do you think Simon’s ambition was? Was it pure? We use money to buy all kinds of things in this life, but that is because the world values money for goods. God does not put value in purchase, he puts value in sacrifice. Furthermore, the Holy Ghost cannot be bought, only given. God’s gifts cannot be bought, for they are given freely to us by his grace, although we do not deserve it.
Also, if you can recall the false prophets of the Old Testament and how they made a profit by their false words. Imagine if the Apostle Paul had sold his Epistles, or Peter, or James, or John, or Jude. Imagine if Matthew, Mark, or Luke had sold the gospels? Paul himself was a builder of tents, and sought not to be burdensome and grievous to any man. This he showed by example, that those who have been given wisdom and understanding by God must give it back without profit. Jesus did say, “Freely ye have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). The Bible says, “Buy the truth and sell it not” (Proverbs 23:23).
That is not to say that the pastors should not be taken care of, because the congregation should take care of the pastor. But the congregation taking care of the pastor is not the same as the pastor taking advantage of the congregation. Paul also built tents. If he could find time in all his travels, writings, and speaking to build with his hands and sell his wares then there should not exist the idea of a man making his living off of the “ministry.” This is a sickening truth, that many pastors are simply career pastors, who “preach” and “teach” for a price. There is a Church in the Chesapeake, VA area called “Grace Baptist Temple.” This Church describes themselves as the “Most exciting Church in Hampton roads.” On their website they have put a price on Church membership by saying that a member must “tithe” regularly. Why? A member of the body of Christ is one after receiving Christ as their Savior, yet this church in Chesapeake puts a price even on being a member of the body of Christ. This is a simple example, for that pastor has used the people to earn his living as a pastor.
Another real life example is in the ministry of one Dr. Jeff Owens. His own website proclaims his accomplishments of creating financial success in every Church he has led, ensuring the number of people increase in every Church he has led, and runs his own college where Christian students can learn preaching, law, and counseling for a set price per course. The prices range from $150-300 per course. I will hazard a guess that the Dr. here has never read Proverbs 23:23. His own website boasts of his “successful” ministry, about “revivals” he has performed, numbers of souls he has affected, and numbers of sermons he has preached. It is as if he needs to keep track of them, even though God has made a record for every man. His biography records the price of the buildings he has built (one he priced at $2 million), and the awards he has won. Why do I tell you this? It is because the Christians are being fooled by the likes of this man. The Christians should not focus on emulating Jeff Owens, they should focus on giving glory to Christ. Where is the glory for the Lord in the boasts made about this man? These boasts are made by Jeff Owens on his own website! His ministry is in money, as even his biography on his college’s website talks more about money and stature than anything else.
Here is a portion of a John Wycliffe sermon from the 1300’s that describes plainly 700 years ago what we continue to experience today: “If [you] find novelty in their false habits, and they get a living as evil as other common men, who should wonder of them that they might not be false prophets? All will find that their signs they show other men, that they should shout their holiness over other Christian men. But, Lord, why should they do thus? Since holiness should be privy (within), and they might live a holy life without such signs. Certainly there seems no cause except it be hypocrisy, that they show to the people their holiness as the pharisees do, and so to be told of more, and to make it easier to collect goods, and it is to this end they do these, for otherwise their signs are for nought” (Wycliffe, J. Sermon VIII: Attendite a falsis prophetis. Select English Works of John Wycliffe. Oxford).
Wycliffe later describes how that these false prophets cause the Christians to praise them instead of God, and that these false prophets are wolves in sheeps’ clothing. Is this not reminiscent of the men who purport to be so holy today? They seek praise and goods for themselves, and get great gain for their work. Their name is spread abroad by their much advertising it and shouting it above the holiness of other Christians. As Wycliffe said, holiness is within, and it matters not what accomplishments they seem to have had, what is their ambition? Sure Judas looked good following Christ, Simon looked good following Peter, but what was the end goal of these people?
We need to be vigilant against these pastors. Paul said rebuke the unfruitful works of darkness, have no fellowship with them but withdraw thyself, and mark them which cause division. I think it’s time Christians start marking, rebuking, and withdrawing from these wicked men and women.
Continue stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
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