How we can prevent ourselves from being deceived
This was a really good question at the most recent Foundations Conference, which, in hindsight, might have been tackled better. Maybe that’s not surprising given the depth and range of possible opinions. So here are a few thoughts, based not on any deep theological insights, but on my own experience navigating round many near disasters over the last 40yrs loving the Lord.
We need to take personal responsibility here; a brief trawl of the internet will reveal a large number of people willing to give their own opinion on who is “in” and who is “out” creating virtual ‘blacklists’. If I rely on the opinion of another, however anointed or clever, then I will never be trained as expected by the writer of Hebrews who said “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb 5:14). Divine wisdom (James 3:17 which gives a few clues of its own) is needed too. Another danger of blacklists is that it’s very easy to be put on one, much harder to be removed. Ask one of those medieval ladies burnt as a witch for no other crime than upsetting her neighbour or more recently the owners of internet IP addresses blacklisted through the illegal actions of others.
I would like to start with the purpose of deception in the Church. To know the purpose of an enemy is surely helpful in recognising his tactics. Paul says, “For we are not ignorant of his (Satan’s) schemes”(2 Co 2:11).
Most early Christian heresies concerned the nature of Jesus and in doing so diminished the finished work of Calvary. I would urge the reader to take a brief look through some of those early distortions of the Gospel to see how each one lessens the power and importance of the cross. If I am correct, then a major purpose of any deception is to diminish and undermine the work of atonement and I would humbly suggest this is where we start in any attempt to judge between truth and error. The finished work of the cross stands supreme at the epicentre of the plan of redemption.
In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul distilled the Gospel by which we are saved (1Co 15:3-8). That Yeshua died for our sins according to the scriptures (ie not just that he died but how and why he did so), was resurrected and appeared to many. I also see this can be a solid basis for unity with any believer; issues such as speaking in tongues, healing etc are clearly secondary. However, the centuries have proved how easily Satan can get us distracted into fighting over secondary issues and neglecting the cross. I am sure that over-emphasising secondary issues is yet one more tactic of deception.
Most of us have heard how bank clerks are trained, not to recognise forgeries (or check against somebody’s ‘blacklist’), but to intimately know the real thing in order to instantly recognise a forgery. Of course, that makes perfect sense as the number of styles of forgery must be legion and ever increasing. So it is with deception; the best way to prepare is to thoroughly know the real thing. I believe this was apparent during recent controversies in the UK church whereby many have been confused because they didn’t have a deep understanding of the enormity of the essential transaction that took place at Calvary. In this respect I would say that the increasing interest in the Jewish roots of our faith can do nothing but help us to understand deeper and to cement these truths into our core beings.
So I propose that one test should be the cross: does the teaching I am hearing bring a deeper understanding of it or am I becoming less passionate?
Another might be: does this teaching bring unbelievers closer to submitting to Messiah and does it help believers to love Him and their fellow men more? This might seem obvious but actually a historical story might help show how we can loose sight of this one where a root of ‘human wisdom’ eclipsed the understanding of a genuine work of the Spirit.
During the “Great American Awakening of the 18th Century Jonathan Edwards was a catalyst who saw tens of thousands coming into the Kingdom. His meetings were varied but often were accompanied by some pretty weird manifestations, crying, falling laughing etc. He had opponents in the churches, not least of which was a clergyman called Charles Chauncy. Rev Chauncy, who had a deep suspicion of emotionalism, described Edwards’ meetings as ‘being filled with confusion, some screaming, some praying, others singing or lying on the floor’. He warned of ‘roarings, trembling and the strangest of bodily effects’ which ‘proved the work could not be of God’.
The origin of these manifestations of course wasn’t the point. The point was that history proves thousands submitted to Yeshua, the Church had increase and many other parts of the world benefited. My humble suggestion is that the test is not the presence or not of odd manifestations but of fruit.
We are so grateful that we also have scripture to help us navigate. It’s not just a case of knowing scripture but the right use of scripture that is emphasised by Paul in 2Tim 2:15. Scripture is our plumb line and nothing that contradicts it should ever get our approval. Of course, this can sometimes get a bit tricky once we’ve moved away from the basics of 1Co 15:3-8 as we can run into a host of issues around translation. The only issue I would like to raise is the occasional objection to something because it isn’t seen in the Bible and therefore not “Biblical”. I’m not convinced this is ‘handling the word correctly’ (otherwise I’d never get on an aeroplane) and I’ll illustrate with a personal example.
I have read that it isn’t “Biblical” to fall over backwards under the power of Holy Spirit because the only scriptural examples are of people falling forwards. To some this might seem ludicrous but I honour the people who believe this even though I think they are misguided. My experience is otherwise; I’m not given to physically ‘sensing’ the presence of Holy Spirit as some might be but remember clearly, involuntarily loosing the power to stand and falling down backwards in a meeting in which no-one touched me. If that was Satanic then he made a bit of a mistake because I got up healthier, happier and more in love with my Jesus than ever. I might add that I was so full of joy that I couldn’t stop laughing either which apparently is another “No, no”. In no way did I look for this experience and would not advocate doing so, but if the Lord chooses to heal me deeper in that way again I won’t resist!
Can I add a plea from the heart? When we come across those Christian teachers, preachers, authors or ministries who advocate and teach material with which we personally disagree, can we speak of them respectfully, as we would wish to be spoken about, rather than engage in what so often sounds like character assassination. We are called not to uniformity or conformity but to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Although I can’t understand why, I’ve come to realise that God works with and through people with whom I disagree over some issues, and even people I plain don’t like! They may well be saying the same about me!