If there is one point of naïveté within the modern church that astounds me to no end, it is the lack of recognition that false prophets and false brothers not only exist, but abound. The existence of false teachers and professors is a major theme throughout the Bible, especially in the New Testament, many of the parables which Jesus told directly relate to the existence of false converts (good/bad soil, good/bad fish, wise/foolish wedding attendants, wheat/tares) and his express statement concerning the end of the age is that, “Many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:11-12).
Jesus gives no hint as to how many “many” is, but it’s clearly more than one or two, it’s not just Joel Osteen and Ergun Caner. Paul says that people will accumulate teachers to themselves to scratch their itching lusts (2 Timothy 4:3), and it is more than clear that in many churches today, there is at least one lead false prophet per congregation. Four of seven churches in Revelation 2-3 are teeming with false teachers.
This was not unexpected by God, it is not even against his plan, for he promises for his predestined saints to use all things for good; not that all things are good, but that God has the power to use what is evil for good (Romans 8:28, Genesis 50:20). Paul warned his beloved flock at Ephesus, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears” (Acts 20:29-31). If we wonder the veracity towards which Paul prophesied these things, within only a few years Paul had no friends in Ephesus (2 Timothy 1:15). Jesus said likewise, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15).
Beloved, Paul said that in order to have our powers of discernment honed, we must be using them constantly (Hebrews 5:14). In my own geographical community I regularly witness to “christians” who sit weekly under the teaching of such wolves. It is an unbelievably sad thing to be the first to share Christ with someone who has sat in a church their entire lives. This past Sunday I witnessed to a group of students who go to a local mega-church who believed that they must confess their sins to a man in order to be forgiven (this is not even a distinctive of their apostate mega-church, but strange heresies creep in where truth is absent). The lost person this weekend who was nearest to some semblance of truth was actually a back-slidden Catholic who recognized that most of the doctrines he grew up with in the Roman cult had no basis in the Bible. A recent study by Answers in Genesis shows that growing up in a modern evangelical church has a discernable detriment to the soul compared to those who never attended Sunday School; these things ought not be. But by denying the possibility of false brothers, the church has opened the door for every manner of false teaching, rotten fruit, and inane babble from the pulpit to appease these carnal and condemned members who spread like gangrene in their unregenerate state.
So what ought be done with these pseudodelphia, these false brothers? Should we search them out and cast them away? Jesus shares a parable of weeds amongst the wheat, he declares that the weeds were purposefully spread by the enemy (compare Galatians 2:4), and that the church ought not tear up the weeds for fear of damaging the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30). These false brothers have snuck in; they often have a form of godliness, so that by seeking them out, the true believers may be damaged. Jesus says that he knows the wheat from the weeds, and that he has appointed a day in which to separate them, and that day is not today. However, he says nothing of tolerating them and leaving them to the fire to come; rather letting scripture interpret scripture, there is a definite call for rebuke, silencing, and correction, striving for conversion of the false (Titus 1:10-16), snatching them in pity from the flames (Jude 22-23). To Timothy Paul writes, in light of false prophets and brothers, that he “ought to always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).
The Christian seeks to be pious within his own congregation in order not to offend, but he cannot be so naïve to think that this plague has not affected even his own flock. Within my own experience I have only encountered two blatantly false converts preaching different gospels. Do not, dear brother, if you are reading this, assume this is you unless I have personally confronted you; both of these men know my opinion of their unregeneracy. One of these began writing poetry “given to him from God” which was both full of heresy and also quite awful; in confrontation he became divisive and fled from truth, and is currently studying witch-craft under Andrew Wommack. The other has been a constant sower of discord and strange doctrine, calling other religions brothers, and claiming that God is the God of all. Within other churches I have found those who doubt and even deny the deity of Christ, who deny Christ as the only way to Heaven, who embellish their conversion stories, who utterly disregard the poor and perishing in their communities, and who exalt the creature above the Creator, et al; I would exhaust my imagination before I could name all of their errors.
Why would God allow these weeds to tarnish his church? Paul gives the reason in his Epistle to the damaged church at Corinth, “there must be factions (kjv/koine-heresies) among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized” (1 Corinthians 11:19). Paul blatantly states that the false are allowed in with the true in order that the true may shine all the brighter.
So beloved, the first thing I pray that you have seen is that there is such thing as a false brother and a false prophet, and that unfortunately neither of these are rare. Their terrible teachings will upset the faith of whole families (Titus 1:11), the love of many will grow cold (Matthew 24:12), and even suffering and death (1 Peter 4:19) will result for those who stand the gap opposing lawlessness and preaching truth (Ezekiel 22:22-31). Worst of all, the name of God is blasphemed among the nations because those who bear his name teach shameful and licentious things (Romans 2:24, Titus 1:16).
Secondly, beloved, I implore you that you would not just assume that you are not one of these false converts, but that you would test yourself to see if you are in the faith, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, knowing that if you are a true Christian, Jesus Christ is alive in you. The Bible contains several good tests, I would encourage you to take the long one in 1 John 1-5, or the shorter ones in 2 Peter 1:5-10 and Galatians 5:16-24. Only if you are bearing fruit will you be assured that you will never fall. Whatever you do, do not look at those around you as tests for your salvation, for they may be utterly against Christ and walking in darkness; test yourself against biblical standards, trusting in Christ, striving in sanctification for perfection, setting your affections on Heaven, fleeing from sin and unrighteousness.
Third, these false brothers exist, but unless their sin is blatantly manifest in ways that make the pagans blush, you are not to cast them out of your church (1 Corinthians 5:1,9-13). But they also must be silenced as to their heresies; Paul calls for a firm rebuke and a desire to see them converted (Titus 1:11,13). Dear Christian, I must leave it to your own conscience as to how this should be done, it seems that this is the duty of the senior pastor and his undershepherds, though this also may refer to every lay member, every priest of the Most High God; your own conscience must judge.
For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (1 Peter 4:17-18)
In all of this, know that apostasy and false teachers will increase as the end of the age comes closer than it has ever been. Christ calls you to follow him and love the brothers, to test the spirits, to hold fast to good and abhor evil, and to persevere to the end. Love those who hate you, pray for those who persecute you, emulate Christ that while you were against him, he loved you and gave himself for you. Call all to repentance, rejoice when lost sheep return, weep when goats fall into the hands of the Living God, and in all things give glory to the One who is the Faithful and True Witness, who was dead, but yet lives forevermore. His purposes will be accomplished perfectly, so trust wholly in him, knowing that he is working all things for good to those who love him and are called according to his purpose.