Summary: Are false teachers prevalent today? You bet! Just take a look at how Paul describes them.
They used to travel the country in multitudes, setting up camp in every village and clearing, peddling their wares. Their product was a concoction of anything from alcohol to spring water, and they claimed to be able to cure every illness known to man. No matter what the condition, these con artists claimed to be able to care for it. Their names may be forgotten, but snake oil peddlers carved for themselves a permanent place in American history. Operas and plays were written about them, books featured their antics, and they were sometimes credited with singlehandedly destroying the trade of the travelling salesman. But the practices of these sideshow charlatans mysteriously live on today.
We see the practices of the snake oil peddlers in many places today. They live under the banner of “paid programming” on our television sets, pandering everything from real estate investment strategies to wonder polishes for cars and furniture. The snake oil salesmen stupefy their audiences with whirlwind quick-fixes and enthusiastic testimonials. They discredit the credible, promote the impossible, and make the buyer who misses their opportunity appear foolish for passing up such an offer.
The sad fact is that these same tactics travel under the banner of Christianity as well. Well-dressed men and women claiming to be Bible teachers stand up and talk about a Gospel foreign to the Scriptures, binding spirits of poverty and releasing the power of wealth. They work the crowds into a frenzy while promising to lay hands on those who desire “the anointing.” They carry a Bible but rarely open or refer to it, all the while describing a God who does not even vaguely resemble the God of the Scriptures. And multiplied thousands of people watch them daily and weekly, sending in donations and trying to apply the principles espoused by these so-called teachers.
No doubt someone you or I know is under the influence of one of these modern-day snake oil peddlers. According to what the Scriptures teach, the product of these false teachers is more deadly than a cobra’s venom. The church would do well to examine the practices of these teachers and place them alongside the truths of God’s Word. When we see just how far from the truth they are, then we will be prepared to confront their heresy and reveal it to a world that needs to know the truth.
In the old days, if a snake oil peddler was discovered to be a hoax, it was nothing unusual for the folks in town to dip him in tar and cover him in feathers. The less fortunate ones were hanged. Christians have no mandate to do physical harm to those who promote lies, but they do have a responsibility to proclaim the truth and distance themselves from those guilty of such crimes. It is good to remember Paul’s words at this point: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8 (quickview) ).
Our study in Colossians deals with just such a problem at this point. In the opening verses of chapter two, Paul stresses his desire that the Christians in Colosse, Laodicea, and the other places where he has not been might be strengthened in their faith. He expresses his concern that they be united, certain of the key doctrines of the faith, and assured against the heretics regarding the person and work of Christ. As referenced earlier, Paul mentions again the mystery of God. A commentator has said that this mystery addresses the question, “What is God like?” with the answer, “You can see Him in Christ.” When we see the person and work of Christ, we know the mystery of God.