Discernment, False Teachers

Is She a False Teacher? 7 Steps to Figuring it Out on Your Own

false teacher 7 steps

“What are your thoughts about  _____?
Is she doctrinally sound? Is she a false teacher?”

That’s probably the number one question I’m asked by readers. It gives me so much joy each time I receive that question because it’s encouraging to hear from Christian women who don’t want to be led astray and want to worship Christ in spirit and in truth.

I’m delighted to answer readers’ questions about various teachers (You can find information about many of today’s best known evangelical personalities and ministries under my “Popular False Teachers” tab at the top of this page.) but, unfortunately, my answers often take a while. I’ve never heard of many of the teachers I’m asked about, and in order to give a fair and biblically accurate answer, I have to research each of them. The less famous they are, the less information there is out there about them, and the longer it takes. And that weighs on me because I know a lot of you, when you write to me about a certain teacher, need answers now.

It also weighs on me because I don’t want you to just take my word for things. I am a fallible, sinful human being. I get things wrong. I miss things. I make mistakes. Also, I’m not going to be around forever (well, not on this planet anyway!)

For these reasons, and because it’s an important spiritual skill to hone and teach others, I want you to be able to research these people for yourself. “Teach a (wo)man to fish…” and all that, you know. Here are the seven steps I take to discover whether or not a teacher is doctrinally sound.

1. Know your Bible

This. is. not. optional. Get a trustworthy translation (read: not The Message, The Voice, a Joyce Meyer Study Bible, etc.) and study it forwards, backwards, and upside down if you have to. Find, join, and faithfully attend (also not optional) a doctrinally sound church that will immerse you in the depths of God’s word through its preaching and teaching. Listen to good sermon podcasts or an audio Bible during the week. Memorize Scripture. Learn good hermeneutics. Every Christian should be doing these things by default anyway, and one by-product of knowing your Bible is that when you see or hear a statement by a teacher, you often won’t have to do a lick of research to determine whether or not you’re being taught biblical truth. The Scriptures will already be in your heart and mind for comparison.

2. Pray

One of the things I ask of God during my regular prayer time is that He would protect me from being deceived by false teachers, that He would continue to grow me in wisdom and discernment, and that He would develop the mind of Christ in me. It’s also a good idea to pray for wisdom and discernment, and for trustworthy information, before researching a teacher.

3. Know your criteria

One of the arguments I frequently hear when warning people away from a false teacher is “But every teacher makes mistakes!” (see #7 here) Of course every teacher makes mistakes in her teaching, and every teacher sins. A sin or a mistake doesn’t qualify someone as a false teacher. What you’re looking for is repentance and correction.

A trustworthy, biblical teacher teaches sound biblical doctrine and avoids known sin nearly without exception. When those exceptions occur and someone brings it to her attention, she listens, is teachable, repents, and corrects her error (Apollos is a great biblical example of this). False teachers, on the other hand, unrepentantly persist in sin or teaching false doctrine despite biblical correction. Often, they exhibit complete unteachability (as do their followers), deriding those biblically calling them to account as haters, divisive, slanderers, scoffers, jealous, etc.

When I research a teacher, I examine three fundamental areas of her life and teaching: a) Does she currently and unrepentantly preach to men? (Or, if the teacher is male: Does he allow women to preach to mixed audiences from his pulpit or in his stead? Is his wife co-pastor of the church?) b) Does she endorse and/or partner with known false teachers or ministries? c) Does the doctrine she teaches and practices line up with Scripture?

4. Criteria a: Women teaching men

This is a scriptural litmus test that can help give you a quick answer as to whether you should be following a certain teacher or not. The Bible tells us that women are not to preach to, teach the Bible to, or exercise authority over men in the gathered body of believers. Not in the four walls of a church, not on a simulcast, not at a Christian conference. Period. (Click here for more information.)

A preacher or teacher who unrepentantly disobeys this Scripture is no different from one who disobeys Scripture by viewing pornography, embezzling church funds, or teaching that homosexuality or abortion are OK. Scripture is Scripture. It’s all inspired by God the Holy Spirit. There aren’t any instructions to the church that it’s OK with God if you twist their context, brush them aside, or disobey them. If a female teacher currently and unrepentantly preaches to men or a male teacher allows women to do so in his church or ministry, that’s not a teacher you should be following.

Furthermore, women teaching men and women teaching false doctrine are highly correlated. I have researched scores of women teachers. Every single one of them who unrepentantly teaches men also teaches false doctrine in some other aspect of her theology (usually Word of Faith or New Apostolic Reformation). In other words, if a woman teaches men, you can just about take it to the bank that she also teaches false doctrine.

How to find out if the teacher is disobeying Scripture in this area?

Check YouTube and Vimeo for videos of the female teacher speaking at various events. Are men clearly present in the audience?

Consider the events the female teacher speaks at. Does she speak exclusively at events for women, or does she also speak at co-ed events?

Examine the speaking engagement calendar on the female teacher’s web site. Is she scheduled to speak at Anytown Baptist Church at 11:00 a.m. on a Sunday? She’s probably giving the sermon that morning.

For (male) preachers, check the sermon archives and the “meet our staff” sections of the church web site. Are women serving on staff as “pastors” or in positions of authority over men? Do the sermon archives feature female speakers who have preached to the whole congregation?

5. Criteria b: Partnering with false teachers

Scripture is abundantly clear that we are to have nothing to do with false teachers. Nothing. John tells us that even to greet them is to take part in their wicked works. To publicly praise, point people to, or partner with false teachers is even worse.

Finding out if the teacher you’re researching praises or partners with false teachers is another biblical litmus test that can help quickly determine whether you should be following her or not.

The easiest way to do this is with an internet search engine. Type the name of the teacher you’re researching into the search bar followed by the names of at least a few well known false teachers or ministries (for example: Jane Smith Joel Osteen). You may wish to try names like Joel Osteen, T.D. Jakes, Andy Stanley, Joyce Meyer, Beth Moore, Christine Caine, Hillsong, Bethel, IF: Gathering, Proverbs 31 Ministries, etc.

Examine the results. Are there a lot of connections between the teacher you’re researching and known false teachers? Does she frequently and favorably quote, comment on, or re-post false teachers on her social media pages? Does she make a habit of sharing the stage with or appearing alongside false teachers at conferences and other events? Do false teachers praise her, invite her to speak at their churches and conferences, or write endorsements of her materials?

Birds of a feather flock together. If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. Bad company corrupts good morals. It’s all true. A teacher who frequently, favorably, and unrepentantly associates herself with false teachers should be avoided.

6. Criteria c: Biblical doctrine

If a teacher has failed criteria a and/or b, that’s sufficient. You should not be receiving teaching from that person. Those two criteria will quickly weed out about 90% of false teachers out there today. However, “passing” both criteria a & b, while a fair indicator that you’re probably dealing with a doctrinally sound teacher, is not sufficient. A teacher can operate biblically in those two areas and still teach or practice unbiblical doctrine. You must examine the doctrine and practices of the teacher you’re considering following to see if they’re biblical, and that can take some time and energy.

Does the teacher have a statement of faith or “what I believe” section of her web site? Examine it. Are all of the tenets biblical and backed up with chapter and verse Scripture? Are the tenets specific, detailed, and clear cut as opposed to general and nebulous? A solid statement of faith can be helpful, but keep in mind that a significant number of churches and ministries have perfectly biblical statements of faith “on paper” yet do not faithfully adhere to to those principles in teaching and practice.

Ask doctrinally sound, trustworthy friends if they’re familiar with the teacher’s doctrine. There are also many theologically solid Facebook and Google+ groups you can join and ask your fellow members their impressions of various teachers. There are a lot of Christians out there who have read a lot of books and listened to a lot of teaching. They can be very helpful resources.

What do reputable, doctrinally sound teachers and ministries have to say about the teacher, her teachings, or the Scripture or doctrine in question? I regularly use and highly recommend the following sites:

Fighting for the Faith
Berean Research
CARM
Wretched
Got Questions
Grace to You
Sola Sisters*
Apprising Ministries*
*These sites are now dormant, but their archives can be helpful, especially if you’re looking for older information.

Read the person’s materials or listen to her teaching. Take notes. When the teacher makes an assertion, ask yourself, “Where, in context, does the Bible say that?” When the teacher cites a passage of Scripture, look it up and see if she’s using it in context. Does the teacher primarily use one reliable translation of the Bible when teaching, or does she skip around through various translations and paraphrases while teaching to make sure the verses use certain words that fit with the theme or idea she’s teaching? Does she engage in gimmickry or does she simply teach the Word? Is the centerpiece of her teaching a correctly exegeted passage of Scripture, or does her teaching revolve around a story, movie, prop, idea, theme, topic, or illustration that comes from outside of Scripture? Does she frequently allegorize Scripture? Does she make every Scripture about you, your hopes and dreams, your experiences? Does she spend more time correctly handling and teaching Scripture or telling stories, jokes, and illustrations? These are all things to watch and listen for. If a teacher consistently mishandles, misunderstands, or misapplies Scripture, she’s not a teacher you should be following.

7. Check the date

When you’re researching a teacher, check the date on the evidence you’re examining. Is it old or fairly current? We all grow and mature over the years in our walk with the Lord. Are you seeing red flags in the teacher’s older materials? Try to find out if she has repented and corrected those unbiblical teachings or behaviors. If so, and she’s currently teaching and behaving in a way that lines up with Scripture, forgive her. It is not fair or biblical to hold past sin against someone when she has repented and Christ has forgiven her. She, and her recent materials, should only be avoided if she is currently and unrepentantly teaching and/or practicing false doctrine.

Before receiving teaching from anyone, it’s important that we examine that teacher’s doctrine and practices in light of Scripture. God commends the Bereans for receiving Paul’s word with eagerness, yet examining the Scriptures to see if what he was teaching them lined up with the Bible. May we be as vigilant and noble as they in our quest to know Christ and His word.

39 thoughts on “Is She a False Teacher? 7 Steps to Figuring it Out on Your Own”

  1. Ann Graham Lotz teaches to men. You don’t list her under false teachers. Is there something different? (I am asking sincerely Michele – not trying to cause division. Thank you so much for your ministry – for your call in the wilderness. Your material helps me share with others. Let us continue to fix our eyes on Jesus – NiCole

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    1. Hi NiCole-

      You are such a sweetie! Please always feel free to ask any questions you may have :0)

      The false teachers tab at the top of my page is nowhere near exhaustive (there’s not enough bandwith in the world to list them all!). Those are just the people I’ve had time to get to. Anne Graham Lotz is on my ever-growing list of people to address. Aside from the fact that she teaches men (which, as I said in the article is enough to tell us to avoid her) she’s also into extra-biblical revelation and “prophecy”. She’s not someone I would recommend. Here and here are some examples of why.

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      1. I just thought it was highly ironic that the reason I even came upon this blog post is that it was reposted on FB….by a man…who evidently thought your Biblical instruction on this subject was insightful.

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      2. No worries, I get that question all the time. I think these resources will help answer your questions:

        Rock Your Role FAQs (#1 and #3)

        Jill in the Pulpit

        Also, take into consideration that this article is not biblical instruction, it’s written to Christian women, not men, and perhaps your friend already knew all of the things mentioned in the article (thus, he didn’t “learn” anything) and just passed it along thinking it might be helpful for his female Facebook friends.

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      3. Michelle Lesley is not teaching men, she is exposing false teachers like each and every christian is told to do.

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  2. These are excellent guidelines. I’m in some online groups where people ask about various teachers. Sometimes I wonder when they should start discerning for themselves instead of being spoonfed.

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  3. Reblogged this on The Outspoken TULIP and commented:
    For a while now, I’ve been praying that I’d discern popular evangelical teachers without running to others asking them to do my homework for me. When I read this blog post by Michelle Lesley this afternoon, my heart danced for joy to see these wonderful guidelines! I pray that you’ll also find this post helpful.

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  4. Reblogged this on Treasures by Kesha and commented:
    What a great blog on helping us women learn how to protect ourselves from false teachers, and not be guillible, weak women. We must study for oursleves, test all things against Scripture, and pray for wisdom and discernment.

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  5. Thank you very much for your great goal of helping women everywhere spot false teaching on their own. Your insights here are incredibly helpful, and your resources given exceptional!!! Continue doing what you’re doing. It’s benefiting many for Christs glory!! Luke

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  6. I appreciate the time and effort you put into your research, being a theologian, and willingness to share with others.
    What are your thoughts on women teaching men and women in a Sunday school settings on a book or topical study?
    Also Rosario champagne Butterfield the author of the unlikely convert does some speaking engagements at conferences where men and women are both in the audience. By the way, I highly recommend this book.

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    1. Hi Melissa-

      Thanks so much for your kind words :0)

      “What are your thoughts on women teaching men and women in a Sunday school settings on a book or topical study?”

      Women are not to instruct men in the Scriptures in the church. If it’s a book or a topical study on Scripture then women shouldn’t be teaching it to men. If it’s not on Scripture, why would a Sunday school class be studying it?

      I’ve heard a lot of great things about Rosaria Butterfield. I think it could possibly be appropriate for a woman to speak at a co-ed conference, or even a church, in some instances such as giving her testimony or giving an informational talk about a ministry she heads up or something like that, as long as she doesn’t veer off into biblical instruction. Unfortunately that can be a very narrow tightrope to walk, and I have witnessed many women “fall off” of it and begin what could only be characterized as preaching or instruction during their testimony or ministry report. I’ve addressed this question further in this article (#7). Even as awesome as Rosaria is, if she’s preaching to or instructing men in Scripture in the gathered body of believers (whether that’s in a church or a conference arena) – and I don’t’ know whether she does that or not, I’ve never heard her speak – then she’s violating Scripture.

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  7. With all of this being said, the majority of churches in my immediate area allow some form of this to occur. We haven’t found one yet-solid, sound church. It seems impossible to find a church right now. This criteria seems incredibly restrictive. We’re in a season of being out of church due to having a medically complex child and that we have witnessed so much of this falseness spread like wildfire everywhere we visit. Not to mention just weary of the whole institutionalized church setting. What does one do about not forsaking assembling? Very frustrated and isolated. We miss fellowship so much.

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    1. Hi Angela-

      I can only imagine how discouraging your situation must feel. Unfortunately, I have heard from many in similar circumstances. If I might offer you a few small things that I hope might help:

      1. Six Ways Not to Forsake the Assembly

      2. Paul Washer has a wonderful church search feature of doctrinally sound churches on his web site. Maybe there’s a church on it near you that you haven’t discovered yet.

      3. There aren’t any perfect churches out there. I have been in churches over the last several years that have had problems- women in improper positions of leadership, the women’s ministry using materials by Priscilla Shirer and other false teachers, pastors who have been afraid to rock the boat by exercising church discipline, etc.

      I am becoming more and more convinced that, in these last days, God is sending mature, discerning Christians into unhealthy churches in a “last ditch effort” to turn those churches around. We have to go in with the perspective that we’re going to roll up our sleeves, love the Bride, and get to work helping her. I would encourage you to consider whether or not that might be the opportunity God is giving your family. Is there a church near you that’s not so far gone that there’s still hope to turn it around? I can’t answer that, but perhaps you and your husband could pray about it and ask God to guide you and give you wisdom. I’m taking a moment to pray for you now :0)

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      1. I read the links you included and did the church search. Nothing. One church, about ten minutes from my home, however, it seems to be just like the one we used to attend (before moving). As I have matured in my faith, I strongly dislike the whole segregating by age for bible sudy. My 12 year old hates the whole youth group atmosphere. Feels just like an extension of the schools. It’s wild, because I use to serve in the youth group and have even gone on two international mission trips. I served in children’s ministry. I see things so differently now. Cliquish, entertainment driven, revolves around the schools(we homeschool), etc. If, we, by some miracle, make it on time, all together, due to a severe epilepsy, we’re worn out getting where we and our youngest need to be and pushing through seizures. Oftentimes, we leave more weary than when we came. We seem to be, unavoidably, in the homebound group right now. Our family continues to just gather together for study and worship for now.

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      2. I’m so sorry. I know it’s hard to be without the fellowship of other believers. Something just occurred to me, though. I don’t know if this would be a possibility for your family or not, but I’ve heard from several women in sort of the same situation you’re in- they’ve got a family member with a medical condition or disability that makes it difficult for them to get to a traditional church for services. I wonder if there are other Christian families in your area in that same boat that would enjoy worshiping, fellowshipping, and studying God’s word with your family at your house? Maybe it would solve your situation and theirs and be a source of encouragement as well? Just a thought :0)

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  8. What if a woman intends to only speak to women and makes it clear that is her desire, such as a women’s conference or meeting and a man shows up? May it be a father chaperoning his young adult daughter to a conference which requires long travel and an older woman is not available to accompany her or employee of the church who shows up to help with technical stuff. What should she then do continue with her intended teaching to the women or refuse to speak until the mem leave?

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  9. Hi, I read your article and I have a question. There are several references in the Bible as to how to recognize a false teacher but I don’t see those references in your article. I have in the past question whether someone was a false teacher so I turned to the Bible for my guideline.

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  10. I highly appreciate your blog. I think you are providing a helpful service. However, at the end of this blog, you said to “Check the Date” on a potential false teacher, and if that teacher has repented, then forgive her. I agree with that with regards to Christian FELLOWSHIP, but not in regards to her continuing to be held up as a teacher (LEADERSHIP). James 3:1 says, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” If a false teacher can “get back in the game” after just a retraction and time in the penalty box, how is that consistent with James?

    Could you give your biblical support for your viewpoint?

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    1. Paul (Acts 9:19b-22) Apollos (Acts 18:24-28) Peter (Luke 22:31-32, John 21:15-19) James 3:1 doesn’t say a false teacher can’t repent and teach sound doctrine. It says those who teach God’s word will be held to a higher standard by God for getting it right than those who aren’t teachers. Those who teach are supposed to know God’s word well enough to handle it correctly (2 Timothy 2:15).

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  11. What would be your advice to somebody who is having trouble discerning false teaching? I’ve found it quite difficult to distinguish between who is sound and who isn’t. I’ve been a little sceptical of Sarah Jakes Roberts, T.D. Jakes and Steven Furtick and was wondering what your thoughts were on these 3 individuals?

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    1. Hi Amber- My advice is in the article you’re commenting on.

      No one in the Jakes family is doctrinally sound. They are all Modalists (which means they have an unbiblical view of the Trinity which puts them outside the camp of Christianity), they all subscribe to Word of Faith (prosperity gospel) heresy, the women all rebel against Scripture by preaching to men, and T.D. not only encourages them to, but turns his pulpit over to other women “preachers” as well.

      Steven Furtick considers T.D. Jakes his mentor, so that should tell you something about his theology. He treats Scripture like Silly Putty, twisting it beyond all recognition. He regularly turns his pulpit over to, and associates with, false teachers and women “preachers.” Here’s a little more info. on him.

      I’d encourage you to stay far away from all of them. If you’d like to find some great, biblical teachers to listen to, click on the “Recommended Bible Teachers” tab at the top of this page.

      Hope this helps :0)

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  12. I am a new author. I’ve been teaching Women’s Bible studies for years. In my new book I have used two movie quotes because it fit with a story Since it is a narrative non-fiction book. However the majority of the book has much scripture. Is this wrong? Another question is – what if your teaching at a woman’s conference and there is a man running sound or standing in back? You are not intentionally teaching him. Just curious. Thank you. This article was well thought out. I was skeptical about Ann Voskamp but did not know for certain she was a false teacher.

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    1. Hi Nicki-

      Regarding your book (I’m assuming it’s a Bible study), there’s nothing wrong with using an occasional illustration to demonstrate or explain a biblical point. Pastors do that in their sermons. I do it myself in my writing. What I’m talking about in the article is teachers who basically use stories and personal life experience in place of the Bible. They might have a Bible verse or two sprinkled in here and there, but their teaching centers around stories and experiences, where a good teacher will have Scripture as the main focus of her teaching.

      For your second question, click here and see #2. Running sound, no problem. He’s not there to be taught the Bible. Standing in back- it would depend on what he’s there for. If he’s there to be taught the Bible, it doesn’t really matter if he’s standing in the back or sitting up front. That would be inappropriate.

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  13. I’ve been watching a pastor by the name of Michael Todd from Transformation Church. I’m having trouble discerning whether he is a false teacher or not and was wondering what advice you could give in practicing discernment.

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    1. Hi Amber- Were you able to test him against the criteria in this article (particularly whether he allows women to preach at his church, and whether he associates with known false teachers – those are the two easiest to find out)?

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  14. Thsnk you so muh for your rescourse! I have always been accused of being a Barean, and some of my slosest reiends highly subscribe to many of the Women on your False Teachers list. Makes me very sad.
    My question is weather or not I can send a link to your site to a man. He is a new convert; finding and listening to false teachers like Joyce Meyers on youtube. I would like to steer hime awy from these, and instruct him as to why. I think sending him your link falls under the o.k. to do area, but I’d like your input.
    Thank you so much for all the time you devote to your ministry here. I know how exhausting and time consuming it is!

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    1. Hi Lois- Yes, it would be absolutely fine to send him whichever links you like. He may find the “Recommended Bible Teachers” tab (in the blue menu bar at the top of this page) to be helpful. There are lots of great (male) pastors and teachers there that he would find edifying and encouraging. :0)

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