“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” Mt 7:15
“I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!” Acts 20:29-31
A few weeks ago I helped some friends look through a DVD that offered a series of conspiracy theories to explain everything that has gone wrong with the US since forever. You know the sort of thing; what was interesting is to consider WHY believers – succumb to such rubbish.
The experience of conversion / being outsiders. To be a Christian, at least one who is committed to living by the standards of the kingdom of God and not merely the fashions of today, is to live with opposition. You aren’t picking the easy path, but are seeking to live to a different drummer. So the usual social inhibitions that stop the absorption of strange ideas aren’t in place. This is amplified for those who have a significant conversion experience; they are taught to reject much of what they had believed – where do they stop?
Inadequate teaching and application of discernment. Whilst we probably have learnt to reject the beliefs of the world that are obvious non-biblical, where the material is less obviously sub biblical, it’s easy to start to take it seriously when it deserves no such respect. The starting point must be a degree of scepticism; Paul instructs us to ‘test everything’ – an attitude that is hard work, but will reap benefits.
The attraction of hidden knowledge. One of the joys of being a Christian is the fact that we’ve discovered a secret that the rest of the world hasn’t. The right response to this is to want to share the truth with those around us. However given that we have discovered one truth that everyone else rejects, we can both want to repeat the experience by looking for similar knowledge, and become more willing to believe other such claims to hidden knowledge.
Poor quality control by pastors. The Roman Catholic Church used to have the Index of banned books, but this went horribly wrong because it targeted scientific arguments that proved to be true. Yet the reaction of Protestantism in allowing total freedom of speech by its theologians has given us theologies that are wholly heretical, such as non-realist theology, as well as any number of other rejections of what Jesus and the bible clearly teach. In an ideal world, we would enable all Christians to learn to discern for themselves, and that should be the target. In the interim however, and given that some of us are more trusting than we should be, pastors need to be on the look out for the wolves and be willing to warn against them.
Lack of good teaching in the controversial areas. One of the favourite play grounds is the apocalyptic, not least because pastors fails to preach about it EVER. Instead their sheep go looking for teaching and find the junk that’s out there. But the same is in effect true on the gay issue; many in the church have never heard a sermon on the topic and so have succumbed to the world’s beliefs.
No accountability. Rome does do this well; if a miracle is claimed, it will be studied by experts in the field and only recognised as a miracle if it really is. By contrast given the absence of central structures in Protestantism, it is almost inevitable that we won’t achieve a similar level of challenge proofing. What however we can all do is look at material that makes specific predictions and then check back and see if they come true. For example Kenneth Copeland makes some truly remarkable claims in this ‘prophecy’ from 1995. (They do get kudos for having it available on line to be checked). One trick is to look out for specific predictions, then use an electronic calendar to remind you to go back and look at it when it’s fulfilment should have occurred…
The desire to see good things. The flow of deception by preachers for ever announcing that ‘revival is just around the corner’ is almost unending – and we fall for it because we desperately want to believe it’s true.
Too lazy to make the effort. It’s a hassle to think – it’s far more fun to go with the flow and enjoy the moment. Everyone ends up with a pleasant feel good glow; the fact that it’s based on untruth doesn’t matter, does it? After all, being a Christian is about being nice to everyone…
What’s at stake here is the credibility of the gospel to the non-Christians around us who are on the broad road that will lead them to Hell. If they can conclude that the church is full of deceivers then that gives them an excuse to ignore the call of Jesus to repent and therefore have life. If we don’t do all we can to remove such excuses, it’s evidence that we don’t really love them.