New Testament passage for Wed., Nov. 28, 2012: II Peter 2:1-22
But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. II Peter 2:1 (NIV)
It is downright amazing to see how many weird and wacky doctrines are floating around in our world today. And even more amazing is the gullibility of thousands of followers who flock to these false teachers. They appear at first to be the best of people -- doing much good and helping hurting people. But, their ultimate end is not good. In some cases, it is destruction.
Jesus gave us a warning. In Matthew 7:15, He says, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves." Paul echoes this thought in Acts 20:29 when he says that after his departure "savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock." These wolves come FROM WITHOUT but dress up to look like they are FROM WITHIN. They show up INSIDE the church, but their message and objectives are FOREIGN to the true mission of Jesus.
This may sound a bit dramatic, but a little history will help illustrate this truth. Jim Jones was one of the most tragic figures of modern time. As a young man in 1951, he actually began as a communist party member, but found that no one would listen to him until he decided to "infiltrate the church." After years of social and cultural work building his own small empire (the People's Temple in San Francisco), he led many of his followers in what was one of the largest mass suicides of history in Jonestown, Guyana. Most accounts say that 1,212 people (303 of them children) "drank the Kool-Aid" that day -- November 18, 1978.
We could name others such as David Koresh (of the Branch Dividian group in Waco, Texas) or Marshall Applewhite (led the Heaven's Gate group that produced 39 suicides in Californina on March 26, 1997). Today there is an individual living in Miami, Florida named Jose Luis Jesus de Miranda who claims to be both Jesus and the Antichrist! But, here's the shock: his church, Growing in Grace International Ministry, claims thousands of members in over 30 countries! The list of such leaders goes on and on. It is surprisingly long. They include strange teachings and stranger practices.
Jose Luis Jesus de Miranda
Jesus said concerning the times we live in, "Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many." (Matt. 24:11) He went further, "For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect." (Matt. 24:24) This is a spiritual battle that demands that we have firm foundations of faith to defend against the flood of deception taking place.
The illustrations listed above are certainly dramatic. On a less intense level, we can consider the strange case of Bible teacher Harold Camping. Last year, Mr. Camping claimed to have discovered a secret code from within Scripture that enabled him to accurately predict the exact date of Christ's Second Coming. He announced that on May 21, 2011, the end would come. I happened to be in New York City a week or so before this date and I was amazed at the people manning subway booths passing out literature supporting Mr. Camping's claims! They were everywhere. Billboards, signs -- leaflets. We now know that many followers emptied their bank accounts and gave away their possessions awaiting the Rapture. Needless to say, Mr. Camping, good intentioned as he might have been, was deceived. He was a false prophet.
How do we guard against such tragic deception? On an even lesser scale, there are so many voices speaking in our day, how do we know which ones are legitimate and which ones are false?
Here is a simple formula. It is a start in discerning good direction. When assessing a ministry or a teacher, you should ask three basic questions:
1. How do they view the Bible? Liberalism takes a low view of the Bible. For liberalism, the Bible is nothing more than man's words about God. If we want to stay in the path of truth, we need to stay within the bounds of Scripture. The Bible is the inspired, authoritative Word of God. We submit to Scripture, not as just a starting point, but as our guide and rule.
2. How do they view Jesus? Is He God or is He just good? Was He just another excellent teacher or was He the only begotten Son of the Father? This is crucial. Christianity without a high view of Jesus is nothing more than another morality play.
3. What is the answer to man's basic problem? We are inundated today with "self-help formulas". Much teaching takes place today that does not require God's redemptive action in Christ. It's just better ideas about living a dream life. Jesus said, "You must be born again." (John 3:7) This is not just a one-time emotional experience. This is an understanding of our need for redemption in Christ. Man is not Lord -- Jesus is Lord!
These three are the basis for seeing clearly in our day: THE BIBLE, JESUS, and REDEMPTION. If you stay clear on these, you will be better able to spot the counterfeit. And Jesus promises to be with us. If we trust Him today, He will guide us and protect us. In the midst of a messed up world, we can be secure in Him.
One last word, most false teachings come loaded with pressure. There is an agenda and therefore there is pressure to DO SOMETHING quickly. James 3:18 says, "the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." False teachers and false prophets will pressure you to accept their agenda. Just stay close to Jesus and to friends in the faith that you can trust.