Christ had tough words for false teachers who lead others astray: It would be better if a millstone were tied around their necks and they were "drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matthew 18:6).
So, it behooves us to think carefully about who are true teachers and who are false teachers. Since I prefer to think positively, let us explore who are those religious leaders, both lay and professional, who can be trusted to teach what God intended from the holy Scriptures.
From the Christian perspective, teachers of God's word whom God honors are those who attract people to Christianity. After hearing those teachers and preachers, people want to hear more. They are excited about exploring more about what they are to believe about God and what God would have them do.
The message of true teachers helps people know how to live in the world but not with the world's standards and values. The writer of 2 Peter faced the challenge of having to counter the false teachers of his day who claimed that people were free to sin as they liked for God would forgive them. The Scriptures teach that God's people are called to be holy, distinct, separate from all immoral, unethical, corrupt, deceitful and devilish ways.
True teachers function at least half of the time as other-directed people, that is, people who ask not how they can benefit but consider what difference their actions make in the lives of others. People who enter into the ministry in order to be taken care of handsomely are doomed to failure.
True teachers do not profess to be perfect, but they sincerely try to practice what they preach or teach. They are people of integrity, honesty, trustworthiness. They are humble and willing to admit when they are wrong.
They realize they do not have the last word about a particular passage of Scripture, especially when it comes to applying this passage to everyday life. That is especially true when it comes to controversial passages of biblical topics.
True teachers never cater to parishioners of wealth, influence or prestige. So they never practice telling people primarily what people want to hear. What true teachers say does not result in divisiveness, but in reconciliation, unity and love.
False teaching plays a role in my practice of family therapy. From time to time, spouses browbeat their mates with erroneous interpretations from the Bible, resulting in the mate feeling shame, guilt and mental anguish.
Sometimes false teachers who have access to television can cause great confusion for viewers who are unsure about what they believe.
Once, while serving as the chaplain on the oncology unit of a large medical center, I visited a patient who said to me, "Chaplain, sit down and talk with me. I have not got much longer to live, and that television evangelist the other day got me all confused. I need to know when I die will I go to heaven or to hell."
Not all television speakers are false, but the one that this cancer patient had listened to would have easily fallen in that category. This patient died two weeks after I talked with her, and she had the blessed assurance that when she died she was going straight to heaven and not to hell. Thanks be to God for his grace, which always proves sufficient for our every need.
Gene Norris is a Presbyterian minister.