Serving Christians Seeking to Live a Holy Life

Teachers in the Church

Leon L. Combs, Ph.D.
June 7, 1991

The question that prompted this article was "Should a local church allow a nonmember to teach a regular class as part of the regular church education program?" This is not a question explicitly addressed by Scripture, and it is not the only question in that category. There are many topics about which the Bible is explicitly silent. For example, nothing is explicitly stated about smoking cigarettes or drinking coffee. The concept of different denominations did not exist in the New Testament time, so when Scripture is searched for guidance pertaining to different denominations, nothing explicit is found. To determine the appropriateness of concepts on which the Bible is silent explicitly, the search must be for implicit guidance. Implicit guidance is sometimes a matter of interpretation, and thus has given the Church problems throughout the centuries.

Why should we question nonmembers teaching? The church must be concerned about every class being taught under its approval. If a class is part of the education program of the church, then every member should expect that the course content, and the teacher's abilities and doctrine, should be consistent with that of the church. Members should not have to be concerned about whether the course and the teacher are compatible with church doctrine. Members should, of course, listen to all instruction with a discerning ear (1John 4:1), but all taking a course should be able to assume that the course and the instructor have been approved by the church leadership. Seminaries have the same concern about appropriate teaching within its domain. All seminary teachers must sign a loyalty pledge to the seminary, and to the particular denomination of the seminary. What is the origin and Biblical reason for this pledge? The origin must be the same concern as the question of whether a teacher within the church must be a member.

Thus it seems that the original question should be broadened into:

"Who should teach in a local church?"

The Bible has a lot to say about teachers and teaching. The basic Greek word for to teach is "didaktikos". This word is used twice in the Bible:

1Tim 3:2 "given to hospitality, apt to teach"
2Tim 2:24 "gentle unto all (men), apt to teach"

The verse in 1Tim is related to the qualifications of an elder. The second verse is a portion of the characteristics of every servant of the Lord. The word "didaktos" is used in

John 6:45 "they shall be all taught of God"
1Cor 2:13 "not words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth"

The form "didasko" is used 98 times in the New Testament. Some examples are:

Other uses are in Acts 5:28, 5:42 11:26, 18:11, 21:21, 21:28, 28:31; Rom 2:21, 12:7; 1Cor 4:17, 11:14; Gal 1:12; Eph 4:21, Col 1:28, 2:7, 3:16; 2Thes 2:15; 1Tim 2:12, 4:11, 6:2; 2Tim 2:2; Tit 1:11; Heb 5:12, 8:11; 1John 2:27; and others. In Revelation there are two uses of this word in the context of actual churches. The first usage is to the church at Pergamum (Rev 2:14):

"But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication."

In this church there were some people teaching concepts far from the Truth. It is not known if these teachers were members, but this passage clearly warns that the church leadership must exert censorship on teachings within the church. It is very easy for false teaching to creep into a church. Often people are hesitant to say anything about someone's teaching because of a fear of being judgmental. But Christ taught Christians to judge:

John 7:24 "but judge with righteous judgment"

and to exercise discipline within the church:

Matt 18:15-17, 1Cor 5, Gal 6:1, 2Cor 2:7.

When Christ reprimanded the church for holding the doctrine of Balaam, He was unhappy with the church for having let such false teaching enter it. The church is also warned about false doctrines in the following:

2Cor 11:4 "For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully."

(The ending to the above is extreme sarcasm from Paul because the members are allowing false teaching within the church.)

2Cor 11:13 "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ."
1John 4:1 "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world."

The church is clearly in disobedience to God, and thus in sin, if it does not carefully and prayerfully consider the programs that it approves. Now consider the second teaching in Revelation which is to the church at Thyatira:

Rev 2:20 "Notwithstanding, I have a few things against thee, because thou allowest that woman, Jezebel, who calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols."

Here again is a person teaching false doctrines to the members, and the church was allowing it. Jesus said that He has a few things against them because they allowed the false teaching to proceed. Jezebel was a self-proclaimed prophetess, a false prophetess, that the people accepted to teach to their congregation.

From all the above, it is abundantly clear that the church must be very careful about who teaches what within its jurisdiction . Thus the church must establish some control over it's teaching programs. Every church member who comes forward and wants to teach, should not be allowed to do so just because he is a church member. Satan disguises himself as an angel of light, and his servants disguise themselves as servants of righteousness (2Cor 11:14,15) as Jezebel did. Since the member could actually be a servant of Satan, the church cannot let membership alone be a satisfactory criterion for teaching.

Our study of teaching is not complete for all that has been studied so far is the verb. But at this point, it seems obvious that the requirement of church membership should be a necessary, but not sufficient, requirement for teachers of regular programs within the church. At least with a member, we know what the person professes to believe when he joins the church.

The noun is "didaskalos" and is used 58 times in the New Testament. Some examples are : Mat 8:19, 9:11, 10:24, 12:38,; Mark 4:38, 5:35, 10:17; Luke 10:25, 12:13, 20:21; John 13:13, 20:16; Acts 13:1; Rom 2:20; 1Cor 12:28, 12:29; Eph 4:11, 2Tim 1:11, 4:3; Heb 5:12; James 3:1. It is variously translated as "Master", master, and teacher. One aspect of true teachers, that we can know with certainty, is that they are appointed by God. Teachers are the recipients of the gift of teaching as we read in 1Cor 12:28,29 and Eph 4:11.

It is often tempting to do so, but aspiring teachers should not be judged as to whether they are charismatic people in an earthly sense. The word charismatic is used often in the world, and can be a gift from Satan, or a purely human manifestation. There will come a time when the church will seek for itself people who teach false doctrines so that they can turn aside to their Adamic natures (2Tim 4:3-4). This will be the church apostate. Obviously the two churches mentioned above in Revelation also had let people come in and teach false doctrines. Thus this issue of having false teachers in the church is not just a matter for the "end times". However as the end times are approached, the church must be particularly alert for false teachers.

Paul often sent messages to local churches recommending someone who was coming so that the people would know that the person was a true servant of God. Examples are in Col 4:7, Col 4:10, Col 4:11, Philemon 10-19, 1Cor 16:10, and Rom 16:1-2. This seems to be the actual scriptural basis for the letters of transfer that are granted when members leave one congregation and join another church. This task should be considered very seriously. The messages also serve as a Biblical example of requiring letters of recommendation of people who are not members of our local church, but who come to teach or work in the church on special occasions.

One aspect of teaching that is very clear, has not been discussed yet. Scripture is absolutely clear that women are not to teach men, or to exercise spiritual authority over a man (1Tim 2:12). It is quite clear in Scripture that men and women are equal in the sight of the Lord, spiritually (Gal 3:28). It is also quite clear that men and women have very different ministries, or roles, within the Church, and the local church must not confuse spiritual equality with spiritual function. Women have an equal importance in the church with men, but different tasks to perform. Their teaching role includes other women and children. An excellent book on this subject is "The Role of Women in the Church" by Charles Ryrie, Moody Press.

So what has Scripture taught us so far about teachers?

  1. The church must be alert to the possibility of false teaching.
  2. Women are not to teach men.
There are sufficient warnings in Scripture about the dangers of false teaching, and how Christ is opposed to allowing such in the Church, that the local church must have some means of screening possible teachers. As stated above, it certainly seems that the local church should have a minimum requirement of church membership for teachers within a local church. Membership is also required as a minimum standard for seminary teachers. As also stated above, membership does not guarantee sound teaching, but at least a minimum is set. Above this minimum there should be a committee consisting of the Pastor and some deacons, who have the gifts of teaching and discernment, to examine each proposed teacher concerning his/her beliefs, and the subject matter to be taught. Such interviews should be done in great love and tenderness, but also in all vigilance, in fear of the Lord.

What can be said about what the committee should look for in an interview? In other words, why might there be people wanting to teach who are not called by God to teach? An answer to that question is given in Titus 1:11 which says:

"Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake."

The word translated lucre is "kerdos" which is used in Phil 1:21 and Phil 3:7 also and translated there as gain. So whatever is gain to a particular person would be the motive for false teaching. Gain could be financial, or it could be psychological. Some people are only teaching for money, and the church is usually more careful in screening people in this regard than in the psychological realm. Some people need to feel accepted and admired, and this could be their gain. Churches get letters from other churches regarding experiences with a crusade or revival leader, which is Biblically sound as discussed above. The church also usually inquires about spiritual aspects of the traveling leader. But what about the local person who wants to teach, member or non-member? Since pay is usually not offered for such services, the possible kerdos cannot be immediate financial gain.

No evidence exists in Scripture that Jezebel was financially rewarded, and it seems that her teaching was that of an apostate. The possibility of apostates wanting to teach in the church provides another possible reason for someone wanting to teach false doctrine. Apostates want to stay within the church to damage it like referred to in Rev 2:14 and 1:20. The apostate wants to destroy the church (Matt 24:10,11;John 6:66;Heb 3:12, 6:1-6; 2Peter 3:17; 1John 2:18-27).

It seems that a possible procedure an Educational Evaluation Committee could use for approving teachers can now be developed. The following are based upon Scripture as discussed above, and are areas of concern that must be properly considered before a person is approved as a teacher within the church of Christ:

  1. Membership. A teacher in the regular educational program of the church must be a member of the local congregation. This is not to exclude outside speakers for special programs.
  2. Financial Motivation. No teacher should be motivated by a love of money.
  3. Apostasy. The possibility always exists that an aspiring teacher could be an apostate. The doctrine of the teaching must be in harmony with the doctrine of the local church. The motive of the teacher must be to help build up the body of believers.
  4. Ignorance. Sometimes a Christian has no kerdos for wanting to teach, he may be sincerely wrong about some doctrine (2Peter 3:16). Questions from loving, knowledgeable members can reveal this problem.
  5. Psychological Kerdos. Is the person looking for acceptance, envy, admiration, etc, above what could be classified as normal? Everyone wants to be accepted, loved, and admired to some extent. The committee has to rely on wisdom to ask the proper questions, and discernment to know the spirit of the person. Since wisdom and discernment are gifts within the church, they need to be properly used in an interview with all prospective teachers.
  6. Women's Ministry. A woman is not allowed to teach a man within the regular program of the church.
Prayer, the proper use of spiritual gifts in the interviewing, and a loving attitude will minimize the risk of having Jesus speak to us as He did to the churches in Revelation, and of the committee hurting a Christian who sincerely is called to teach. The possibility of hurting a brother or sister is not sufficient reason to risk the anger of Christ upon the entire church.

Everyone who considers teaching should remember James 3:1,

"My brethren, be not many teachers, knowing that we shall receive the greater judgment."

Considering this admonition alone, our responsibility as teachers and keepers of the faith is enormous.


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