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Our Daily Bread

Narcissism & False Teachers

The label of "false teacher" is not something to take lightly. If we judge a church leader without solid scriptural evidence, we are guilty of slander and bearing false witness. Then we begin to teach the falsehood when we go about and try to get others on our side. A "false teacher" is a specific kind of person in Christendom, not just a church leader who makes honest mistakes when they teach. There is a major difference between ignorance and negligence when it comes to patterns of error. The false teacher is always one with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), which psychologists say most often goes undiagnosed and untreated. This is because the narcissist first has to admit s/he has a problem, and then be willing to be counseled and held accountable for their behavior. What the false teacher and the narcissist have in common is a grandiose self-image, the deliberate plan to exploit others for gain, and the clever ability to mislead people into sin by twisting the facts.

 

False Teachers: A Warning

Jesus admonishes us, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Matt. 7:15). That said, we must carefully discern true teachers that God appoints for the church from the false ones who intend to mislead it. The scriptures do not leave us uninformed about the nature of a false teacher. In his second letter, Simon Peter warned us about false teachers and described their narcissism in excruciating detail along with the punishments God will give them. The tell-tale characteristics of NPD (discussed in the next section, "Narcissists: A Warning") mentioned in the passage are in bold for this article:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive opinions. They will even deny the Master who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Even so, many will follow their licentious ways, and because of these teachers the way of truth will be maligned. And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words. Their condemnation, pronounced against them long ago, has not been idle, and their destruction is not asleep. . . . Bold and willful, they are not afraid to slander the glorious ones, whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not bring against them a slanderous judgment from the Lord. These people, however, are like irrational animals, mere creatures of instinct, born to be caught and killed. They slander what they do not understand, and when those creatures are destroyed, they also will be destroyed, suffering the penalty for doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their dissipation while they feast with you. They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. . . . These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm; for them the deepest darkness has been reserved. For they speak bombastic nonsense, and with licentious desires of the flesh they entice people who have just escaped from those who live in error (2 Pet. 2:1-3; 10b-18). 

The Lord also warns us, "See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matt. 10:16). We are like sheep because Jesus is the Good Shepherd who leads us to greener pastures but also takes care of us on the way to them (John 10:11-18). Not all evildoers are atheists or criminals who overtly deny God. Rather, many of them join our churches to escalate conflict and divide us with their religious or political agendas. All these false teachers look for ways to harm and abuse churchgoers, whether by finances, sex, emotions, or the physical body. This quote by the American philosopher Vernon Howard (1918–1992) typifies their mindset: "A truly strong person does not need the approval of others any more than a lion needs the approval of sheep." Yes, it is very much premeditated and intentional. This is why Jesus tells us to know the truth and apply it, but without letting ourselves give in to the same deceitful tactics as the false teachers. 

 

Narcissists: A Warning

The word "narcissism" derives from the ancient Greek myth of Narcissus. He frequently gazed at the reflection of his face in water, admiring himself obsessively. Coincidentally, Solomon wrote, "Just as water reflects the face, so one human heart reflects another" (Prov. 29:17). As Christians, we should generally avoid references to pagan myths and concepts; however, it is appropriate in this context because narcissism is dark, evil, and godless. NPD is not something that a person "suffers from," and therapy alone will not correct it. The narcissist must reach a breaking point when they face the consequences of their wrongdoing so they may begin the process of repentance. S/he is not suffering from paranoia, being "out of mind" as with other mental disorders. The narcissist must undergo a "change of mind," the literal meaning of the Greek word metanoia (G3341) translated as "repentance." Godly sorrow is when a person realizes they need God, admits they sinned, takes responsibility for it, and seeks accountability to prevent it from happening again. Paul of Tarsus  agreed: "For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death" (2 Cor. 7:10). Both false teachers and narcissists flat-out refuse to do any of these things. 

 

"Spiritual" narcissists invoke God, scripture, and/or doctrine to manipulate people. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5), the common narcissist has exaggerated senses of self-importance and entitlement. They:

 

  • Hypocritically expect morality from others but make excuses for themselves.
     

  • Intentionally provoke others to justified anger to then accuse them of abuse.
     

  • Constantly seek out lavish admiration and "fish" for compliments.
     

  • Demand recognition for basic tasks and/or volunteering.
     

  • Exaggerate their achievements and talents.
     

  • Preoccupy themselves with daydreams of success, power, beauty, or the ideal "soulmate."
     

  • Have an inflated sense of worth; therefore, can only be seen with other "elite" people.
     

  • Dominate conversations and degrade individuals they consider less than.
     

  • Expect special favors and unwavering compliance with their expectations.
     

  • Solicit frequent apologies and dismiss one's intentions while emphasizing their own.
     

  • Take advantage of people to get what they want, no matter the cost.
     

  • The inability or refusal to empathize with others' needs and feelings.
     

  • Envy others and believe that others envy them.
     

  • Behave arrogantly or haughtily, coming across as conceited, boastful and pretentious.
     

  • Demand the best of everything (e.g., house, car, clothes, or office).
     

  • Are deeply offended by the slightest hint of personal criticism.
     

  • Routinely in conflict in close relationships (e.g., family, friends, and romantic partners).
     

  • Burn bridges or estranged from their family members.
     

  • Have a complex history of broken relationships, keeping contact information to "hoover."
     

  • React with rage, contempt, or impatience when they do not get special treatment.
     

  • Are impulsive with their emotions and behavior.
     

  • Cannot deal with stress or adapt to change very well.
     

  • Feel depression and mood-swings when they fail to meet their own perfect goals.
     

  • Have deeply personal feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability, and humiliation.
     

  • Only see the value of something by its ability to manipulate or exploit people.

Prayer

Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the universe, deliver us from all false doctrine, heresy, and schism; from hardness of heart, and contempt of your Word and commandments. Amen.

Bibliography

The Book of Common Prayer. Huntington Beach, CA: Anglican Liturgy Press, 2019. p. 92. http://bcp2019.anglicanchurch.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/BCP2019.pdf.

Britannica, eds. "Narcissus." Encyclopædia Britannica. London, Britannica, 2019.  https://www.britannica.com/topic/Narcissus-Greek-mythology.

Caligor, Eve, Kenneth N. Levy, and Frank E. Yeomans. "Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Diagnostic and Clinical Challenges." American Journal of Psychiatry 172.5. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Assoc., 2015. pp. 415-22.

Chang, Larry, ed. Wisdom for the Soul: Five Millennia of Prescriptions for Spiritual Healing. Washington, DC: Gnososphia, 2006. p. 43.

Kacel, Elizabeth L., Nicole Ennis, and Deidre B. Pereira. "Narcissistic Personality Disorder in Clinical Health Psychology Practice: Case Studies of Comorbid Psychological Distress and Life-Limiting Illness." Behavioral Medicine 43.3. London: Taylor & Francis, 2017. pp. 156-64.

Mayo Clinic, eds. "Narcissistic Personality Disorder." Rochester, MN: Mayo Clinic, 2017.  https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/narcissistic-personality-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20366662.

Psychology Today, eds. "Narcissist Personality Disorder." Psychology Today. New York: Sussex, 2019. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/narcissistic-personality-disorder.

Strong, James. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: Updated and Expanded Edition. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007.