What does a false teacher in the church look like?
Some of them are easy to spot. Health-and-wealth, prosperity preachers hardly require any effort at all. Those who ignore or sneeringly distort the Bible also are fairly obvious.
But what if they look like me? What if they attend church regularly, read the Bible, encourage their children to participate in Sunday School and Wednesday evening services, lead family devotions, pray, support missionaries, volunteer? What if, by most visible accounts, they are healthy Christians?
The problem is: that isn’t the whole picture.
When disability entered our family I realized that most people, including most pastors, did not understand this life. I was no longer part of the normal group — the average church member.
The Search for Answers
It touched every area of my life, including my understanding of who God is. I looked for this issue in the Bible and thought hard about it. But I didn’t just read the Bible, I scoured memoirs, scholarly journals, testimonials, history, academic textbooks.
I responded to the strong temptation to look for somebody else — somebody with experience with disability — to provide the theological answers to the questions I had about the Bible and disability. Some of those voices made sense to me.
One such voice was a well-known blind theologian dealing directly at some of the hardest passages in the New Testament. His writing was clear and organized. He was seriously engaging the Bible. He knew and understood the history of the church on this topic. His argumentation was tight, and his experience with the subject was relevant. His emotional appeals gelled with his rationale. He was no prosperity charlatan trying to get rich off his followers. It was a serious look at God’s word and its impact on his life as a man living with blindness.
And he was wrong.
Needing a Rock
I was drawn in — almost. Unspoken, but hovering over his entire argument was the assumption that we have the authority to judge God’s word. He wrote like God himself is on trial. In this case, he used his own experience as a man living with a disability to confidently make assertions that are not supported by the Bible.
I saw others drawn in, not specifically to this man’s argument, but to the assumption that disability offers a special insight into God and his word that is superior to what God actually gave us.
I found less careful writers on this subject who made absurd assertions about biblical passages. They did so in peer-reviewed journals without actually explaining how they came to their conclusions. Disability was being used as a weapon against God’s word. And there was a certain attraction to it. I was on the verge of swallowing it whole and becoming a false teacher like that myself.
But in all that literature, I was unable to find a firm rock upon which to stand.
How Love Won
When confronted with emotionally exhausting and challenging issues like disability, even the most theologically solid leaders in the church may be tempted to explain God away, to make him other than who he is.
Younger pastors should realize that God will bring issues into your churches of which you have no experience and of which there are few resources from a God-centered perspective. Disability is one of those issues. What families like mine need from you, more than anything, is that you remember Jesus alone is the source of your hope. The greatest help you can provide is to keep us in the Bible and show us your own affections for God and his word, even when the passages are hard to understand. Show us your passion to submit to God’s revelation gladly.
When you are saturated in the Bible, that subtle, non-biblical voice someone like me may inadvertently bring into your church will be felt. When felt, you can move up next to it, seek to understand it, and respond to it in loving ways, with wisdom that God will provide. Your God-centered leadership can guide such a false-teacher-in-training away from that which would kill him and others. Maybe you’ll have to endure some harsh and unkind words in response. Or maybe God will use your firm, gentle, courageous engagement to turn a false teacher into a passionate lover of God and his word.
That is what God gave me in my leaders. Even as I was reading an argument about God and disability that was carefully crafted, intelligent, coherent, and strongly appealing to my sinful desire to be wiser than God and his word, it was the writer’s lack of affection for God and his word that gave me serious pause. My pastors did not talk like this about God or his word. They gave me a different example, a better way.
No pastor can specifically prepare every member for every circumstance he or she will face. But every God-centered, Bible-saturated, Spirit-filled pastor can show what affection for God and his word looks like. In fact, you must, if you really care about your people.
More on disability from Desiring God:
Works of God Conference on Disability (six messages)
Disability and the Sovereign Goodness of God (ebook from John Piper)
Michael S. Beates, Disability and the Gospel: How God Uses Our Brokenness to Display His Grace (Crossway, 2012)