We have been trained by our culture to distinguish knowledge from personhood. In the era of “big data,” knowledge is something one harvests. Personhood is something entirely different. Hiding behind shifty Facebook profiles and anonymous blog comments, one’s personal identity may exist separately from one’s work.
The Bible allows no such dichotomy. Knowledge is intimately connected with who we are. We see this in the Apostle Peter’s denunciation of false teachers in 2 Peter 2:1–2. He details the failings of false teachers in a flood of characterizations, but one catches our eye: the “sensuality” of many who blaspheme God’s truth.
The connection is unsettling. It indicates that falsehood is linked with bad character. Harmful ideas do not develop in a vacuum. They form in a strange and twisted alchemy of unbelief, passion, and immorality. These three components of sensualized false teachers each deserve contemplation. These figures import “destructive heresies,” having no love for God and His truth. They creep into the body “secretly,” drawing a crowd by their clever and seductive teachings. They love immorality, and they both teach it and lead others to practice it.
False teachers are the anti-elders. The elders of God’s church are to love the truth, to exhort the church to follow it, and to live a life of holiness (1 Tim. 3:1–7; Titus 1:5–9). False teachers may look much like true elders. They may speak with authority borne of education, charm people with their winsomeness, and make a less-truthful, less ethically rigorous brand of Christianity sound appealing. But in reality, they are nothing like true elders. They twist the truth. They lead people away from it. They hate holiness. They are anti-leaders and help create an anti-church, one that bears the name of the Son of God but knows nothing of Him.
Perhaps we feel weird using the term false teacher. Maybe it makes us feel like a perspiring zealot, a buffoonish figure in the age of airbrushed mono-culture. But this is biblical vocabulary. This is, in fact, a biblical promise: false teachers are not only a first-century phenomenon. They will come. They have not died out. They will “secretly” steal into our churches. Their god is not God. It is sensuality.
Alert Christians must wake up to the truth of these alarming words. Christianity requires vigilance, not merely warmheartedness. Peter’s warning sounds strange. But in an age when we’re hearing that Christians can be gay, that transgenderism is just another lifestyle choice, and that watching raunch-culture movies are no big deal, we need to let it wash over us once more. Teachers are all around us. They do not merely communicate facts and ideas. They persuade, leading us into either truth or falsehood. In the church, there are either elders or anti-elders. One group worships the Lord; the other worships the body.