Satan first appears in the Bible as a snake--so appropriate! He is cunning, slick, and seeks to slither his way into all things so he can bring about destruction. The Church of Jesus Christ is not exempt from his attacks. In fact, it is his greatest enemy. Satan has always sought to destroy Christ's church. He raises up many attacks that come from outside the walls of a church, but his most dangerous work has always come from within.
One of the most frequent warnings given in the New Testament deals with Satan's attack from within the church. The New Testament writers warn believers that false teachers are coming; they will rise up from within. They were already present in the 1st Century, following the birth of the Church, and Satan has continued to employ this method of attack in every century, culture, and generation of church history. His false teachers are tailored to fit into their specific culture. They have the right look and the right speech. They even say some of the right things. Many of them are not changing the gospel altogether, but offering a perverted and polluted version of it--a near-truth that masquerades as the blinding and transforming light of gospel truth. Their message does little to transform, but rather inoculates the hearers to truth and keeps them in bondage. Here is a list of some of the most dangerous false teachers the Church needs to be on guard against.
Who Are They?
The Swindler. This teacher is a charlatan who is only in ministry for the money; for what they can gain. They will teach and say whatever--true or false--if it will cause their hearers to give them money. Because money and material is what they are after, they will spend much of their time teaching and preaching about those topics. They make promises concerning God's favor and blessing that are in no way biblical.
The Heretic. The teacher who espouses doctrine that is contradictory to the Bible. They dismiss truths that the Christian Church has held to since its' inception. These teachers celebrate the false, advertise it, and claim demonic works as signs of the Holy Spirit's activity. You will find these teachers constantly chasing signs, wonders, and experiences. Additionally, many heretics change who Jesus is. They reduce Him to a mere human, teach that He is a created being, or in some way, change the truth concerning His humanity and/or divinity.
The Jerk. There is probably a better title to give this teacher, but simply put, this one is an accurate description. They domineer over, abuse, and manipulate their congregations and fellow leaders. They view leadership as a way to take advantage of people and have power. They dismiss people's opinions and concerns, want everything done their way, and act as if they are more important than other believers. They don't invite others to follow Jesus alongside them, they shout orders and try to motivate God's people using fear.
The Prophet. This teacher always has some sort of new and fresh revelation that comes from outside of Scripture--usually originating from a personal dream or vision. They'll teach that the Bible is good, but twist Scriptures so people will feel compelled to listen to their own words like they are as important as the written Word of God. Maybe they just want to feel important, but no weakness or motivation changes what is going on. Satan is deceiving them so they will deceive others. They handle the Word of God in a careless way. In a sense, they are adding to and taking away from it. And they do all this in a way that makes them appear very spiritual and sensitive to the Holy Spirit.
The Divider. This teacher wants everyone to choose sides. You are either with them or against them. They promote factions and divisions rather than unity. They refuse to see that others disagreeing with them is sometimes a good thing--something that God often uses to guide His messengers. They love drama, gossip, and usually don't know when to stop talking. In their eyes, everyone but themselves should be considered a false teacher. You can often find them complaining about the people in their congregations and criticizing other churches and pastors that are different than them.
The Tickler of Ears. This teacher is like a scared child in the pulpit--and they don't belong there. They may be nice people, and don't necessarily teach heresy, but they should not be in a pulpit preaching the Word of God. It's like they are still in high school and are overly concerned about popularity and what others will think of them. Because of this fear, they are afraid to teach about, proclaim, or address any of the hard truths that are in the Scriptures. They try to soften the Bible and are extremely vague when talking about issues that the Bible talks about with clarity. They don't want people to think they are mean. This kind of teacher is a man-pleaser rather than a God-pleaser. They have many excuses why they act like this. "That's not my style. It's just not in my personality to talk about those things." The sad truth is, this is most American churches. Scared little boys who are standing in pulpits that are meant for men of God.
The Speculator. This teacher is a skeptic. They elevate things that aren't all that important to an unhealthy position. They are constantly talking and writing about issues that are not clearly defined or addressed in Scripture. In recent years, we have seen this concerning end times and the return of Jesus, biblical number codes, and hidden books of the Bible. They speculate on topics that don't matter and ignore what really does.
Leading the Charge?
When considering Satan's warring against the Church, we often make a mistake in understanding who he uses to lead the charge against the gospel. False teachers are his greatest ambassadors and God expects us to be able to discern who they are and to stay away from their teaching.
God can use all things for His glory and our good, and false teachers are no different. He can use them to purify and refine His church--to separate the true from the false. The false teachers draw away and remove those who are only concerned with themselves and this present life from the true Church of Jesus Christ.
While it is true that no Bible teacher is perfect or has a complete understanding of truth, God has provided His Church with men and women who are gifted to teach and lead His people. As for the false ones, avoid them at all costs.