A thrilling testimony. A dynamic presentation. A story worth retelling.
A book bought, and promoted…by me.
And then the quiet comment posted to my book review blog this week: “I think you should read this re: this book: 2Peter2.blogspot.com.” And everything came tumbling down. Once again the church is stung by the moral failure of one of its ministers. And the Christian community hushes the details to prevent the shame from being aired before the world. But the minister goes forward unrepentant, polishes his website, perpetuates his bigger-than-life testimony, tells his stories to unsuspecting audiences, covers up his shame leaving a glut of casualties in his wake, a sexualized cult in the stead of a church.
In disbelief I scan the details. Then in deep dismay…giving way to shades of outrage. Had I not asked for lies I have believed to be exposed? I have asked this for others’ sake. But first my turn comes round. I had been so impressed, so encouraged, so excited to hear this man’s conversion story in person, and then to read his book. Here was God at work in miraculous ways, His Spirit capturing a heart, revealing His Son, catapulting a former Muslim into Christian ministry. What a testimony. And what a sham, with an ‘e’!
There is no knowing now which parts of his testimony really happened and which are fabricated to make a more sensational story. His ghostwriter* doesn’t even know, and has rescinded his endorsement of the book as factual. Church leaders scramble to clean up the slime…the ex-pastor, unrepentant, scrambles to find an ‘umbrella’ that will allow him to travel, speak and garner support without accountability… His website really does look pristine. Its young designer has been sucked into his cult and can’t quite see right-side-up yet…
These are the grisly discoveries of my week and they bring to mind hard questions…and important reminders….
How did this happen? How can we be kept from the ‘deceitfulness of sin’ that always takes its prey farther than he/she intended to go? Is restoration possible? Who can we trust? What other deceptions am I living under? And what safeguards are there to keep the believer from falling into the abyss of delusion?
I am reminded of multiple warnings in Scripture regarding deception…
—“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teaching of demons…” (I Tim.4:1)
—‘There will come times of difficulty’ when men love themselves, their money, and their pleasure more than they love God, when others will be easily led astray by them because in their sin-laden, weak-willed passion for learning they are unable to come to the knowledge of the truth.
—Paul warns Timothy that times are coming when people will wander off into myths, having no patience with truth–collecting teachers who will tell them instead just what they want to hear. (II Tim.4:3,4) Perhaps it is no coincidence that these ones who are doing the deceiving are themselves deceived (3:13).
–Peter predicts precisely the type of situation that has come to my attention this week: False teachers will arise among you “who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them…and many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed…they will exploit you with false words.” (II Peter 2:1-3)
—Jude says much the same thing in his short letter appealing to his readers to “contend for the faith”, the ‘once for all delivered’ faith. It’s not a new thing. Beware of the people creeping in unnoticed to ‘pervert the grace of our God into sensuality’, he says, the full description following
As I grapple with what I see and hear and reel with the tragedy of broken trust and the proliferation of loose ungrounded teaching in the Church of our day…I am reassured that God has not left his people without means of stability. He is after all the Head of the true church. He gives the Body the people and gifts that it needs to grow into maturity ‘so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.’ (Eph.4) I am planted in a local church for a reason. I need its gifts. It needs mine. This is the way God has designed it. And while the Internet is a potential purveyor of incredible amounts of falsehood, it also has given believers access to an unprecedented range of gifted people of God, present and past, as well as a worldwide ‘fellowship’ with other ‘contenders for the faith.’
But the bedrock of stability I am especially grateful for is the inspired and inerrant, unchanging and absolute Word of God. It has weathered the Enlightenment where men sought to water down its authority and relevance, and it will weather our postmodern times where truth is seen as a dispensable obstacle to personal fulfillment.
The Word of God is pre-eminently profitable for teaching, for reproving, for correcting, and for training in the right way. It is our most valuable piece of equipment as believers. (II Tim.3:16) No wonder it’s being so sidelined in our time. Have you noticed? Many modern day ‘prophets’ display a disturbing propensity to minimize the importance of the written Word of God in favor of more subjective messages from God via gifted persons or ‘aha’ moments. I listened incredulously this morning to a noted Christian ‘prophet’ actually scorn the concept of trying to read through the Bible in a year, or even pretend to get anything noteworthy from Leviticus–which is just ‘a camping memo’ with references to fruit thrown in! He mimicked God as saying: “I’ve never (even) done it!” (i.e. read through the Bible) The man had his audience in stitches. Granted, who can’t relate to the difficulty of reading through Leviticus? Does that mean it’s open to ridicule and not be read as part of the ‘All Scripture’ that is inspired by God for our benefit?! Are we really only reading to find those verses that jump off the page as ‘our inheritance’, to be swallowed hook, line and sinker as completely applying to us—irrespective of context or literal meaning? What has happened to ‘rightly dividing the Word of Truth’? (II Tim.2:15) No wonder the people of God are so ill prepared to recognize deception.
Some teach that the Bible is a ‘closed book’ that will kill you (spiritually) if you get too serious about it. Are we really in danger of stifling bondage and powerless intellectualism when we study the Bible for what it actually teaches?
Is ‘Sola Scriptura’ no longer a relevant rallying cry for the people of God? Are we really willing to trade it for: ‘sola experientia’ to feel sure we have the real deal?! There is a disturbing anti-scholastic bias in much teaching in the church of our time. The Bible has been associated with dead religion and marginalized in favor of experiential ‘truth’. But Paul seemed to think the Scriptures were quite adequate when he instructed Timothy:
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed” knowing that “from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (II Tim.3:14)
A false dichotomy has been drawn between the ‘lifeless’ Word and the powerful Spirit. Between ‘dead words’ and living revelation. God’s Word is powerful. And it is true with or without further revelation, and where it lacks ‘power’ in our lives we would do well to see if it’s our lack of believing that renders it so, not its lack of speaking. In fact the Word of God speaks of itself as: “quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and [is] a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Heb.4:12)
Is this beginning to sound like a ‘rant’? I love the Word of God. I hate to see deception creeping into the Church. I’m distressed to see whole assemblies being hijacked by ‘prophets’ such as the one I referenced at the start of this post simply because they claim authority that supersedes what is written in the Word of God, and because their constituents are inexperienced in handling the Word of God and eager to believe. I read a quote this week regarding the deceptive tragedy referenced earlier. The writer, an eye-witness, evaluating the progression of deception in this incident concluded:
“I used to think only a half-wit could fall into a cult. Now I know that any passionate person with a deep desire for growth, if they end up in the wrong place, can be a spiritual victim.”** (Dan Holmes)
He went on to underline that the ‘kids’ who ‘fell for’ this leader’s vice were “passionate, dedicated good Christians. They were loving, kind and generous kids. Generally, they could only be blamed for their naivety and their failure to compare what was taught against scripture.”**
We cannot afford to let the written Word of God be deemed second-rate revelation or boring and dry religious jargon… It is our ultimate source of truth, our protection from deception, our compass in a world of relative thought where so much ‘seems’ good. Prophets and teachers will come and go. The words of men will rise and fall, all our ‘heroes’ in the faith likewise. They are human and flawed. ‘But the Word of the Lord endures forever.’ (I Peter 1:25)
On a bit of a side note, this man’s observations of what it takes to get a cult-following are instructive. They include…
Exclusivity—we are the privileged few with ‘real faith’, the ‘real church’
Isolation—we don’t need ‘outside’ relationships
Prophetic leader—authority based on a superior experience: “I saw Jesus…”
Obedience—submit to me out of obedience to God
Shunning and shaming—to question the leader is to lose fellowship with group and God!
Compromise—wearing down one’s ‘religious spirit’ led to dramatic personal compromises
Great Worship and prayer sessions—inexplicably God seemed still to ‘show up’**
…Interesting indicators to be aware of.
I am so grateful to have the Word of God. II Peter has been on my plate this week. What a treasure trove of practical instruction and ‘heads-up’ warnings on how not to fall and how to spot false teachers. Peter knows he will be heading to Heaven himself shortly and he pens these words to remind the believers of their calling and the qualities that will keep them from falling and guarantee their rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of their Lord and Savior (II Peter 1). Then he reminds them of his own authority as an eyewitness of the Transfiguration of Jesus. If anyone had a claim to cult-producing authority it was Peter. He had seen the Savior in His glory. He had heard God’s voice from Heaven affirming His pleasure in His Son. He had been with Him on the mountain! But what does he say next?
“We have something MORE SURE, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place…” And he proceeds to describe the process by which Scripture was inspired by God (II Pet.1:20,21) as our stability in the face of “the error of lawless people” (3:17). He well knows the ignorant and unstable will twist the difficult to understand parts ‘to their own destruction’, but is confident that this advance warning will hold these believers in good stead!
Ahhh, I like that. And as he closes, so will I… “But grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” II Pet. 3:18
P.S. There’s one question I haven’t addressed. “Is restoration possible?” That one hangs in the balance. I will be praying. Will you join me?
As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the LORD is proven;
He is a shield to all who trust in Him.
“But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.” Is.66:2
[And what should I find in my Inbox this morning but an excellent article on the value of the Word in a believer’s life—If you’re not all ‘read out’ consider Diane Singer’s well written: “A Bright and Certain Light” at ColsonCenter.org]
**Quotations and notes taken from Dan Holmes website at 2Peter2.blogspot.com