How You Can Identify False Teachers Or Pastors In A Church?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

Is it possible to spot a false teacher or pastor? What should believers look for in their church leadership?

The Growth of Wolves

Wolves, in their own environment, bring balance to nature, but when there’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and he’s behind the pulpit, it’s bad news because he’s only interested in fleecing the flock and then devouring the sheep. Of course, not all TV preachers are bad. Many are sound like Dr. Charles Stanley. I trust his teaching because I’ve heard him for many years. He’s proven to be true in his teachings, but many are not, and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. Trust takes time. We can’t know instantly about anyone, so in time, it becomes apparent who is and who isn’t teaching the truth. The Apostle Paul warned that “in the last days there will come times of difficulty” (2 Tim 3:10, and that many will have “the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people” (2 Tim 3:5). Satan’s got his own ministers who appear as an angel of light, but if we know the Word of God well enough, we can identify those who “oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith” (2 Tim 3:8). Sometimes they try to add works to salvation, and they are very clever at deception, so Paul warned the Galatians about “false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery” (Gal 2:4). The Apostle Peter saw it in his day, writing that “false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Pet 2:1).Wolf in sheep's clothing or black sheep?

Contending for the Faith

Jude wanted to write about our common salvation in Christ alone, writing that he was “eager to write to you about our common salvation” (Jud 1:3a), however, even in his day, he “found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3b). Why? Because “certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4). There were so many who were sneaking another gospel into the church that Jude changed the content of his letter. If moved from one of sharing the joy of our salvation, to warning the church about these false teachers, but in God’s sovereignty, even these were “designated for…condemnation,” so God was not surprised. We might be, but God never is. That’s because God has never learned anything. He already knows everything, and He is trying to warn us about false doctrines being snuck into the church. The apostles would not have spent so much time writing on this subject if God did not think we needed to know. We must contend for the faith…and the faith once delivered. And not the faith that’s new or continuing to be delivered. We have a surer and more certain Word from God already in the Scriptures (Heb 1:1-2; 1 Pet 1:19).

$eed$ of Faith

Does God want to extend our borders and make us prosper? I believe He does, but not everyone can handle wealth because it may end up handling them. God knows just how much money we can be trusted with, and if we’re not faithful in little now, He’s not going to entrust us with more tomorrow, but one thing God does not do is bargain. Some ministries beg you to send in your “seeds of faith,” and promise that God will make someone be blessed and escape their financial crisis, however this makes out God to be a quid pro quo God. That is, if you do this for God, He will do that for you, but that is not how God works. God does want us to prosper and be in good health. That’s what the Apostle John wrote about, saying, “I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul” (3 John 3:2), but what kind of prosperity was John talking about? It was that he “rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 3:3-4). His greatest joy was not their financial gain or even their health, but that they were “walking in the truth.” A person who walks in the truth will prosper, but it won’t always mean financial prosperity. God is not interested in our prosperity. He is interested in our holiness.

Identifying False Teachers

If the preaching and teaching of the Word is not expository, verse by verse, or if it is not focused primarily on the Person and the work of Jesus Christ, it is not Christocentric. That means, it is not Christ focused, and remember, Jesus said the Holy Spirit will testify of Him (John 15:26), and so God’s teachers should testify of Christ too. God’s will is that Jesus Christ is known through the Word of God and that He is glorified. It is also God’s will that a child of God will grow from the milk of the Word to the meat of the Word, as well as grow in holiness. Those who walk by the light of God’s Word will stumble less frequently. And, the light exposes the dark works of those who are bringing in doctrinal errors. Paul wrote that “the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” (1 Tim 4:1). I believe the “later times” have arrived. To know the truth of God’s Word is to be better equipped to know false teachings when you hear them. The Spirit of God and the Word of God will work together to warn the child of God that somethings not right. If its new teaching, it’s not from God; if it’s from God, it’s not new. It’s about as simple as that.


If you know of some other ways we can identify a false teacher, pastor, or even a self-proclaimed prophet, let us know in the comment section. This problem is bad; it is growing worse; and it will get even worse in the near future. The child of God, abiding in the Word of God, can be led by the Spirit of God, to know the truth of God. The more you read the Word of God, the more you read between the lines of false teachers, and the easier it is to spot a wolf in sheep’s clothing. You’ll know the truth so well that you can spot a counterfeit, even a hundred yards away!

Here is some related reading for you: What Does The Bible Say About False Prophets?

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible: English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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