“Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (James 3:1)
Who is Trustworthy?
Who can we trust as our teachers in the Body of the Messiah? This question becomes quite pressing when we consider the conflicting doctrinal positions of those professing to be teachers. As there have been aberrant teachings arising out of Christianity, so also there are aberrant teachings that claim to be Messianic Jewish. Aberrations are rampant, from false prosperity teaching among Christians (the claim that all are called to live in opulent wealth) to the Galatian error among Messianic believers, teaching that all Christians are called to keep the same application of Torah as the Jews in the New Covenant. Some have lost hold of the centrality of Yeshua and speak more of Torah study than Yeshua study. Some have lost confidence in the deity of Yeshua. I am, of course, fully committed to study the Torah and to its right application in the New Covenant, but there is an imbalance among some.
The issue of error (imbalanced and false teaching) as it relates to the Messianic Movement is crucial because the devil will seek to derail the movement and make us become a flaky, side-eddy diverted movement. He is intently working toward this end.
Coach Bill McCartney, the former head of the great movement and organization, Promise Keepers, has now started an organization called Road to Jerusalem. The purpose of Road to Jerusalem is to mobilize the Church to partner with the Messianic Jews for the salvation of Israel.
Coach Bill and his team soon found themselves inundated with people who were part of aberrant movements. Some claimed that the true believers in the Church were the lost tribes of Israel. Others held to the Galatians’ error mentioned above. Coach McCartney asked me to share at their conferences on basic Messianic Jewish theology and the aberrations from the movement. I was glad to help; deception is a serious problem.
Avoiding Error: Choosing True Elder Teachers
How do we avoid being deceived by aberrant teachers, that is, teachers in deception?
In the Bible, a teacher is one of the five-fold ministers or ministries; this is generally the call of an ordained elder (Eph. 5:11). Elders are to be able to teach (I Timothy 3:3). The most important matter is that we choose elder-teachers whose character is proven. Titus describes the role in these terms,
“He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:9)
Generally, people in the West evaluate teachers on the basis of being able to make a good presentation. While this is a part of the needed gifting of a teacher, an elder-teacher is so much more. There are two primary characteristics of an elder-teacher: the character qualification and gift qualification. Character is always the most important in the Bible. As I noted in my little book, Dynamics of Spiritual Deception, the two most important sources of deception are the heart matters of pride and bitterness. They often go together.
Unforgiveness and unhealed hurt lead to bitterness. Elder-leaders must learn to find their healing in identification with their crucified Lord as the only antidote. The repentance of those who wronged us is not sufficient to provide healing. In addition, there must be true humility. This is so important, for when the heart is right the Holy Spirit will lead us into truth.
A True Elder-Teacher is Accountable and Submitted to other Elders
One key aspect of humility is proper and balanced submission to authority. Elder-teachers are not self-appointed. The Titus text we have referenced was written to Timothy who, as an apostle, was to appoint elders. The qualifications for eldership are given in both the Timothy and the Titus text. The ability to teach is only one of the qualifications. The character qualifications take up most of the chapter! A true elder-teacher does not only exercise authority, but is submitted to authority. His marriage and family are in basic good order. The meaning of his life is not in his status but in his relationships.
Study and Scholarship have an Important Place
In today’s world, the ability to refute error requires the skill-set for critical study and evaluation. Many errors occur when teachers do not take into account the whole teaching of the Scripture. False doctrine is usually built on a selective reading of the Bible. Texts that do not easily fit in are ignored. Those who teach the divine right of opulent living ignore the texts that teach modesty and the danger of riches. Those who teach a poverty mentality avoid the texts that teach prosperity. The totality of the texts in context gives us the right view point.
Some degree of scholarship is helpful because scholarship familiarizes us with cultural context and provides a more accurate understanding of the biblical text. While many teachers claim to know some Hebrew and Greek, many of these same teachers make serious mistakes when they seek to work in the original languages. It takes years to do this well, but there are language tools that can be used with much less training. When I believe that the Holy Spirit has revealed a more accurate meaning of a text (and I do deeply believe in depending on the Spirit for understanding), I then check to see if the new insight is supported by good Bible scholars. The fact that that the most significant aberrations from the Messianic Jewish movement have no significant scholarly support is extremely important. I do not know of one peer reviewed scholar who teaches that the New Covenant intends that Gentiles in general are called to keep the whole Torah. I do not know of any such scholars that believe the Bible teaches that true Christians are Ephraim (the Lost Tribes). On the other hand, there is great scholarly support for a basic Messianic Jewish understanding of the Bible.
In summary, ordained elder-teachers have biblical character qualifications, are accountable to authority, are healed from past wounds, and find their meaning in relationships rather than in ministry. They are able to teach and to refute error, and can incorporate a basic level of scholarship in order to stand as bulwarks against deception and imbalanced teaching.
Non-accountable, deceiving teachers can be found in both large ministries and also in little Bible studies that split off from a congregation. This sometimes happens when an articulate person but not a true elder gathers disciples unto himself and away from a truly accountable community. They appeal to what the Bible calls itching ears. Believers need to make sure that they are receiving teaching from qualified elder-teachers. If those who profess to follow Messiah Yeshua are careful to choose to only submit to qualified elder-teachers who are themselves submitted to authority, great error and deception will be avoided.