Why it’s easy to be fooled without realising you’ve been deceived
The current wave of false teaching sweeping across churches all over the world is indeed alarming. It makes us wonder why church goers today are so easily deceived.
Jesus warns that deception will be a prominent feature in these tumultuous end times (Matthew 24:5). We are also told “not to believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
Believers, therefore, have to be wise—in fact, extremely vigilant and discerning—if they want to stand up against deception in these last days. Satan is like a roaring lion seeking to devour the weak and unwary (1 Peter 5:8).
Here are seven reasons why so many believers are easily deceived and fall for false teachings.
- Lack of knowledge and discernment
- Cherry picking
- Charisma and theatrics
- Glitz and glitter
- Safety in numbers
- Itching Ears
- Lack of open-mindedness
Let us delve into each in turn:
Lack of knowledge and discernment
Many believers hardly read their Bibles. Even if they do, they tend to focus on certain parts of the Bible and ignore the rest. Their ignorance concerning the truth may have serious consequences. Surely God’s people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6).
One of the hallmarks of a disciple is diligence in studying God’s word so that he is approved by Him—not put to shame on account of his lack of in-depth knowledge of scriptures.
“Study to show thyself approved to God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
Sometimes they are happy to feed on predigested food—someone else’s devotional thoughts. That in itself is not entirely wrong. But they need to progress beyond the spoon-feeding stage.
A baby bird swallows food masticated earlier by the mother. But when it grows up, it should be able to feed itself. So, too, we as believers should be able to feed ourselves spiritually. For we have the Spirit’s anointing within (John 16:13, 1 Corinthians 2: 12, 1 John 2:27).
Let’s aspire to be self-sufficient and advance towards maturity: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:12-14).
If we pick and choose from scripture what we think is good for us—and ignore those parts we deem are harsh, demanding and objectionable—we will be getting a distorted view of its intended message.
The story of the six blind men who felt different parts of an elephant is highly instructive. Each perceived the pachyderm differently. Its trunk was likened to a snake, leg to a tree trunk, tail to a rope, ear to a fan, tusk to a spear and body to a wall. Is it possible to appreciate what an elephant is like just by feeling one part of its body?
The four Gospels portray various facets of Jesus—as the King (in Matthew), as a servant (in Mark), as a perfect man (in Luke) and as the Creator, God incarnate (in John). Their accounts complement one another, giving us a composite picture of His nature and work.
Starting with a premise and then finding appropriate verses (eisegesis) to support our convictions is a shaky proposition. A more sensible approach is to study the whole Bible with the Holy Spirit’s help (exegesis) before forming our own views on a topic.
It is wise not to “cherry pick”. Tozer warns: “Heresy is not so much rejecting as selecting.” By examining the whole Bible, we do not dwell on half-truths or emphasise one truth at the expense of another equally fundamental truth (Acts 20:27).
Let us dwell on the whole counsel of God, not half-truths. Love and mercy are important attributes of God. So too are His justice and righteousness.
Charisma and theatrics
A false teacher may depend on his charisma and theatrics to keep the crowd in the palm of his hand. He may be eloquent, highly expressive and witty. But all these qualities cannot replace what is crucial—the validity of the message, which should be the primary consideration.
Paul emphasised the content of the message and the power of the Holy Spirit in his preaching rather than eloquence:
“And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you exceptJesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”(1 Corinthians 2: 1-5).
Glitz and glitter
On a much broader front, believers can be so mesmerised by the glitz and glitter in church— soothing music, rousing worship, captivating stage performances, cavernous theatre-like complex, luxurious awe-inspiring ambience—that they fail to distinguish between the form (externals, frills) and the substance (core values).
Now there is nothing wrong with having all the nice things in life—the music and ambience. But when sound doctrine is superceded by these external elements, then we have clearly put the cart before the horse.
Could it be that believers let their guard down and passively accept whatever is taught over the pulpit because such a setting makes them feel good about the church? Could it be that they readily assimilate its teachings on account of the good vibes they feel about the church?
Safety in numbers
Herd mentality exists not only in wildlife reserves and the financial markets but also in the spiritual realm.
If we just follow the majority, not questioning the validity of your beliefs, we may be following the crowd on the way to destruction. Sincerity is not enough. It can be very costly at the end of the road. Let us not be lulled by a sense of complacency that, since we are on the side of the majority, we are safe.
In a showdown with four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel, Elijah set out to prove that his God is the true and living God. No matter how hard the false prophets called upon their god to send fire to the altar, Baal did not show up. However, God vindicated Elijah by sending fire to consume the sacrifice at the altar, proving that one man and God make a majority.
If we are holding on to the truth and it seems the whole world is against us, take heart in this: Truth stands by itself. It has no need of endorsement from the majority or big names.
Many believers only want to hear messages that are sugar-coated, pleasant and soothing. Anything that’s harsh and painful is rejected. They would rather listen to comforting lies than harsh truths.
The apostle Paul charged young Timothy to preach sound doctrine because the time will come when people will no longer listen to sound teaching. They will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
The respected theologian A. W. Tozer says: “Much of our difficulty as seeking Christians stems from our unwillingness to take God as He is and adjust our lives accordingly. We insist on trying to modify Him and bring Him nearer to our own image.”
The trouble with many believers is that we prefer a God who is soft, loving and benevolent. Instinctively, we gravitate towards ministers who make God look like an indulgent celestial Santa Claus.
But thinking erroneously that He is always meek and mild may prove disastrous when believers are confronted by God the judge at the end of our life journey or when Christ returns.
The apostle Peter reaffirms the truth that believers will be judged: “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God (1 Peter 4:17)?”
Lack of open-mindedness
People, in general, tend to be biased by virtue of their upbringing—family or religious background and exposure to certain schools of thought. Those with parochial views may think they are right. But unless they hear out another viewpoint, they may remain stuck in error or dogmatism. “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17).
We need to be like the Bereans in our approach to understanding the truth. Like a parachute, our mind works only when it is open.
“And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth” (Acts17:11).
Being open-minded means having a non-judgmental attitude as we process the teaching material—being willing to listen or study the facts of the matter without any pre-conceived ideas or prejudices.
Certainly, it is implied we are not intimidated by any teacher, no matter how well-known, illustrious or respectable he or she may be. We cannot say to ourselves or others, “Coming from this great man of God, it must be right.” That is highly dangerous. That is not being open-minded. That is tantamount to prematurely forming our opinion before we have listened to and investigated the validity of the message.
Paul did not tell the Bereans: “Now listen to me and accept my teaching without any questioning.” In fact, he commended them for scrutinising his teachings against scripture. A faithful teacher worth his salt will not be offended when someone with a spirit of independent inquiry a la the Bereans probes him.
Open-mindedness is not synonymous with syncretism and compromise. It does not mean one accepts all kinds of teaching, no matter how wayward or erroneous they may be. That’s blind faith.
But the trouble is many believers prefer to honour the fallible words of man rather than the infallible and immutable Word of God. After all, some leaders are worshipped like demi-gods who can say or do no wrong. And any attempt to challenge their views is met with this all too familiar refrain from their adherents: “Touch not God’s anointed.”
What’s so dangerous about deception posed by false teaching?
I wonder how many believers are aware of the extent and seriousness of the problem posed by deception through false teaching.
What is worrying is that the eternal destiny of believers may be at stake because of destructive heresy (2 Peter 2:1).
You may ask me, “How this is possible?” Well, here are just two examples:
- If one believes that confession is redundant and live by it, one’s eternal security as a believer may be at stake. http://bit.ly/1rcYJzl
- If one believes that one’s future sins are automatically forgiven and live by it, one’s eternal security as a believer may also be at stake. http://bit.ly/1dXOjBB
“Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16).
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8).
“Faith is good only when it engages truth; when it is made to rest upon falsehood it can and often does lead to eternal tragedy.” – A. W. Tozer. http://bit.ly/1qGIyye
How to develop discernment and escape the clutches of destructive heresies
False grace exposed.
The basics about grace and hyper-grace
Hyper-grace teaches us that, after our one-time confession of sin at conversion, believers no longer need to confess our sins. We merely rest in the ‘imputed righteousness of Christ’. Is this true?
Are the future sins of Christians automatically forgiven (FSAF)?
A prominent leader embraces a doctrine that teaches that during His earthly ministry Jesus operated only as a man and not God. Did Jesus set aside His divinity when He came to earth?
When teachers like Bill Johnson exalt signs and wonders to the extent that doctrine, scholarship and the use of one’s sound mind are all downplayed and even the deity of Christ is denied, red flags go up.
Are we mesmerised by the miraculous that we are willing to depart from sound doctrine and whatever we hold dear in our faith?
Note: Dr Lim Poh Ann is a medical practitioner. He was the former editor of Asian Beacon magazine (Dec 2008 – Oct 2011). He can be reached at his Facebook page, www.facebook.com/AskDrLi
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