by Andrew Selley (Founder of FOR SA, & Leading Apostle in Four12 global partnership of churches) 
& Advocate Nadene Badenhorst (Legal Counsel, FOR SA)

In Part 1 and Part 2 of a 3-part series, we explained why religion (and especially the Church) cannot be regulated or even “self-regulated” as recently proposed by the CRL Rights Commission, and presented alternative, and constitutionally permissible, solutions to the problem of “rogue pastors”.

In this final article (Part 3) we discuss, from a Scriptural point of view, how the Church should be responding to this problem.

The responsibility of the Church

The problem of false prophets and false teachers claiming to speak in the name of the Lord, is not new. Throughout the Bible (Old and New Testament), we see examples of such and therefore, we should not be surprised to find that they are active also in our own day and in our own communities.

The Bible warns against “false prophets” and “false teachers” in Scriptures such as 2 Peter 1:1-3 – “But there were also false prophets in Israel, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will cleverly teach destructive heresies … Many will follow their evil teaching and shameful immorality. Because of these teachers, the way of truth will be slandered. In their greed, they will make up clever lies to get hold of your money. But God condemned them long ago, and their destruction will not be delayed.”

Likewise, in 2 Timothy 4:1-4, Paul warns Timothy against such “false teachers” and tells him to also not be surprised when they attract a large following – “I solemnly urge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who will someday judge the living and the dead when he appears to set up His Kingdom: Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favourable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching. For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths.“

A responsibility to judge

How did the early Church respond to these charlatans? And how should we, the Church of Jesus Christ, respond today?

One of the most misused verses in the Bible is Matthew 7:1 – “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged”. When regard is had to Scriptures such as 1 Corinthians 5:12 however, the context of “not judging” becomes clear. There the apostle Paul says “[i]t isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those outside; but as the Scriptures say, ‘You must remove the evil person from among you.” In other words, as believers, we may not judge unbelievers, but we do have a responsibility to judge (i.e. test against the Word of God) those who call themselves believers.

The responsibility of the Church to judge other believers (particularly those claiming to be ministers of the Lord) is confirmed also by Jesus Himself. In Revelations 2:2, He commends the Church of Ephesus as follows – “I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.”

Surely, if the early Church tested and discerned those claiming to speak for the Lord (and were commended for doing so), we should follow their example and do the same!

The responsibility to test and discern, is one that belongs not only to those who are leaders in the Church, but is the responsibility of every believer. As pastors however, we must make every effort to ensure that those under our care, know the Word of God and are able to discern between good and bad doctrine, what is of God and what is not. We do this by “good teaching” (as Paul encouraged Timothy to do, in 2 Timothy 4:1-4 above), but also by encouraging those under our care to study and know the Word of God for themselves!

A responsibility to expose and name

Scripturally and following the example of the early apostles further, we believe the Church not only has a responsibility to judge (‘test’), but also to expose error and specifically name the teachers who have been judged against the Word of God and found wanting.

So, for example, we see the apostle Paul exposing Demas (2 Timothy 4:10); Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Timothy 1:18-20); Hymenaeus and Philetus (2 Timothy 2:15-18); and Alexander the coppersmith (2 Timothy 4:14-15). Paul even rebuked Peter publicly, because of his belief in an unscriptural practice (Galatians 2:11-14). Other examples include John’s naming of Diotrephes (3 John 9-11); and Peter, John and Jude all exposing the error of Balaam (2 Peter 2:15, Revelation 2:14 and Jude 1:1).

Again, if the early Church felt the need to specifically name persons whose teaching or example was dangerous to believers, surely as church leaders (having a responsibility to love and protect those under our care) we should have a similar response to the false prophets, teachers and apostles of our day!

As such, local church leaders are encouraged to speak out against and mark these “rogue pastors”. Let us, as faithful followers of The Way:

  • Judge every message (doctrine) and every messenger (teacher, prophet, etc) against the Word of God (1 John 4:1; Revelations 2:2; Revelations 2:14-15);
  • Point out the offense to those in sin or error, and warn / correct them (Matthew 18:15);
  • Rebuke them (Titus 1:13);
  • Mark (i.e. name and expose the error of) those whose teaching and conduct go against the Word of God (Romans 16:17); and
  • Separate / withdraw from those who persist in their sin / error (2 Corinthians 6:17; 2 Thessalonians 3:6).

*FOR SA is a non-profit Christian organisation, working to protect and promote religious freedom and autonomy in South Africa. To join the organisation (at no cost) and/or to sign up to its newsletter, visit www.forsa.org.za Also follow us on Facebook @FreedomOfReligionSA for regular updates on religious freedom and related issues locally and worldwide.