By Rick Becker 8 March 2018
Scripture warns us that in the last days some will depart from the faith, and be deceived by evil spirits and teachings of demons. Those who teach false doctrines are not on the fringes of christianity, they are in the center in the form of the Evangelical Industrial Complex. Bethel, Hillsong and other NAR “churches” have infested the visible church like gangrene. Those who are saved from this deception, try to warn their friends and family still caught up in the quagmire of celebrity teachers and false doctrines. When we warn them of the precarious position they are in, they usually resort to arguments we are all familiar with. This post deals with some of those questions.
Do you know them personally ?
It is not necessary to know figures such as Brian Houston or Bill Johnson personally to test their teachings. Those of us who come out of these churches know what it takes to work your way up the hierarchical structure in order to “get to know them personally.” Have they taken the time to get to know the people whose faith has been shipwrecked due to their teachings? Do they care that their sponsored posts reach millions of naive and biblically illiterate people? Not content with shepherding their own congregations, these hirelings spread their doctrines with impunity. They are not contributing to the body of Christ, but building their own empire.
Their teachings are in print, on social media, in the public domain and therefore open to public scrutiny. It is their teachings we examine and compare to the word of God – as instructed in scripture. If the apostle Paul’s teachings were compared to scripture, why give modern day apostles a pass?
“Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so”
“ Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” 1 John 4:1-2
Have you approached them directly ?
Many will cite Matthew 18:15-18 as justification of a direct and private approach to dealing with false teachers: “ “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
In context, the issue is between two believers in a congregation. False teachers are not “your brother” – they are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Their messages are public, and their sin is against the whole body of Christ. There is no need to bring any witnesses to the table when it comes to false teachers, their own witness in the form of their teachings, condemn them. This passage is instructive regarding church discipline, not how to deal with false teachers. Incidentally, this is the same passage many use to justify the teaching of binding and loosing Satan. Once again, that is an unbiblical concept as the text is dealing with church discipline among believers, not spiritual warfare.
If you are fortunate enough to be one of those rare cases where a celebrity prophet or apostle takes time to meet a concerned stranger, use your opportunity wisely. Attempting to reach them via social media and email is usually a fruitless endeavour. Most of these well known leaders have a team that manage their correspondence; the chances that you will actually get a direct reply from the teacher concerned is highly unlikely. Many of these ministries have a culture of ignoring any outsiders who ask questions – legitimate questions. They refuse to entertain what they deem as attacks on their ministry.
Why don’t you just pray for them ?
Jesus didn’t pray for the pharisees, he rebuked them openly. When Peter compromised the truth of the gospel, Paul didn’t cover up the issue and offer a silent prayer for Peter: “ But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned” Galatians 2:11
We don’t ignore false teachings in the body of Christ. When Paul wrote to Timothy warning him of those who have departed from the faith due to false teachings, he instructed Timothy to point out the errors : “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed”
Paul is clear regarding those who bring a different gospel: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!”
Why do you have to mention names ?
Because of this:
“holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme” 1 Timothy 1 :19-20
“You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.” 2 Timothy 1:15
“For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica” 2 Timothy 4:10
“Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message.”
2 Timothy 4:14-15
“But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.” 2 Timothy 2: 16-18
False teachers are like Hymanaeus and Philetus, they swerve from the truth by misinterpreting the word of God and teaching false doctrine. By naming those who teach false doctrine, people can be on their guard against them and stop contributing to their empires. We mark and avoid those who teach a different doctrine (Romans 16:17)
Their ministry has fruits !
By “fruits” most defenders of false teachers often mean that the teacher they are defending engages in charitable works, has a large following, operates in signs and wonders, and lives an exemplary life. There is however a “fruit” that is never mentioned, as we will see shortly. Let us firstly look at the points that these defenders of false teachers may raise:
a) Charitable works – John and Lisa Bevere’s ministry helps rescue human trafficking victims, Heidi Baker builds orphanages in Mozambique, Christine Caine founded an anti-human trafficking organization dedicated to abolishing injustice in the 21st century. These are commendable social justice works, but are not necessarily fruits that point to a sound ministry or even true believers. There are cults and other religions engaged in social justice projects; that does not mean their works are evidence of sound doctrine.
b) Large following – We are living in the time when “people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” 2 Timothy 4:3 Ear ticklers have large followings: if numbers alone are a “good fruit” then Islam must be the right religion. Thousands of Facebook and Twitter followers, book sales, sold out conferences, prosperity and being a sought after speaker are not an indication that someone is a true servant of God.
c) Signs and wonders – Right after Jesus tells us we will recognize false prophets by their fruits, he said this: “ “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” Matthew 7:21-23
Many justify Bethel church on the basis of their “signs and wonders.” Firstly, most of their signs are fake. Glory clouds, gold dust and kundalini manifestations do not qualify as biblical signs. Secondly, the odd person who may have received true physical healing at Bethel, is a result of God’s sovereign grace and will; it is not a fruit that justifies Bethel’s ministry.
“For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.” Mark 13:22
d) Lives an exemplary life – While we can judge by outward appearances, things are not always what they seem. Many revered leaders in the visible church were found to have feet of clay when they fell from their positions due to extra marital affairs, financial irregularities or other moral failings that disqualified them from the ministry. For years these leaders were thought to have had good fruits, yet the real (evil) gift they had was in covering up their sin.
What about teachers who are not involved in sin that disqualifies them from ministry? Do their moral fruits ensure that they qualify to be teachers of God’s word?
There must be moral and spiritual good fruits in the lives of teachers, as scripture details their qualifications (1 Timothy 3; 1 Peter 5:1-4) But there is more, good character alone does not qualify someone to teach in the church.
Paul instructed Timothy as follows: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
1 Timothy 4:16
The passage in Paul’s letter to Titus lists the qualifications for elders:
“This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you – if anyone is above reproach,
the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”
Notice that among the qualifications (which may surely be described as good fruit) Paul includes the ability to teach sound doctrine. Paul goes a step further; not only is teaching sound doctrine a good fruit, rebuking those who contradict it is also a good fruit!
Further on in Matthew, Jesus shed more light on this topic of bad fruit when he confronted the false teachers of his day: ““Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
So while a false teacher may cover their moral failures or greed, their teachings cannot be hidden, and are a sure way to test whether they are indeed false teachers. False teachers use words to deceive. If we judge their words by comparing what they teach to scripture, we will know their fruits are bad.
“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”
2 Peter 2:1-3
Their teachings have helped me !
How have they helped? Have they taught you to identify in the sufferings of Christ?Have they taught you to die to self? Have they taught you to consider all things rubbish compared to the knowledge of Christ? Have they taught you to relinquish your ambitions and surrender to God’s calling? Have they taught you to be content in all things? Have they taught you to carry the burdens of others and forgive your enemies? False teachers are masters at disguising their destructive heresies. They will use biblical terminology and quote scripture. They will make you feel good about yourself and the amazing destiny that God has in store for you. They may have taught you some biblical truth, but even a broken clock is right twice a day. Fruit does not grow overnight, and It can take years before false teachings begin destroying the life of an individual.
Who are you to judge ?
Most defenders of false teachers will quote the words of Jesus “don’t judge” but ignore the context: “ “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:1-5
In other words, hypocritical or self righteous judgement is a sin. Very often when we judge others, we are guilty of the same sin or even worse. What has this verse got to do with exposing false doctrines and those who teach them – absolutely nothing! Jesus exercised righteous judgement by calling out sin and rebuking false teachers. The epistles are replete with examples of judging sin, church discipline, and exposing false doctrine. The person accusing you of exercising discernment is in fact judging you!
“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
You are sowing division in the body of Christ !
There certainly are people who create division in the church: “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions” Romans 16:17
Who are these people? Are they the one’s calling for discernment to be exercised in the church? Are they the ones who warn others of false teachers who are leading many astray? The verse continues: “to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.“ Romans 16:17-18
Those who cause divisions are people who have departed from sound doctrine. The celebrity apostles and prophets of the New Apostolic Reformation would have you believe that it’s those who call for discernment and expose their false teachings that are causing division. They would have you believe that it’s those with a “religious spirit” that refuse to participate in their meetings, purchase their materials, or accept their latest revelation that are causing division. The truth is that false teachers are the ones causing division,and need to be marked and avoided. Teaching “different doctrines” is the cause of division:
“If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain” 1 Timothy 6:3-5
Unity in the body of Christ is not when: John Bevere tours with Bethel music, Lou Engle and friends fill a stadium, Todd White partners with Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn teaches at Bethel, Kris Vallotton meets with the Pope. That is called false unity in the visible church!
You cannot separate true unity from maturity, and fullness in Christ. Those who are united in truth, will be the ones who reject the false doctrines of Benny Hinn, John Bevere, Beth Moore, Todd White, Kenneth Copeland, Bethel, Hillsong and other word of faith, prosperity and NAR teachers.
“until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 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.”
What have you done for the Lord ?
Red herring alert! That question has nothing to do with examining the doctrine of their favourite teacher. They are asking that question based on the assumption that their teacher has actually “done something for the Lord.” We have pointed out that the good fruits they take pride in, are really not good fruits at all. Leave your works in the hands of God: let Him be the judge, and let Him have the glory. Respond by explaining what God has done for you, and how the truth has set you free. Remind them that boasting is sin. False teachers love to boast: they quote statistics and project a successful ministry. Paul was the opposite: “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” 2 Corinthians 11:30
So you think your theology is perfect
No, not one of us will enter heaven and find out we had perfect theology. While there are non essentials of the faith we can agree to disagree over, there are essentials of the faith that cannot be compromised – such as believing in the bodily resurrection of Christ. However, there are also teachings classified as non essentials, that are harmful, and can lead to greater deception, bondage, and ultimately destruction. For example, a teaching on “hearing the voice of God” may seem harmless, but when that teaching goes outside of how God speaks in scripture, there is a problem. It is common in New Apostolic Reformation circles for God to speak through the reading on your odometer, a movie, a double yolk egg, a road runner, popcorn and other bizarre sources. Doing a course on “inner healing” hardly seems to be an issue that is essential to the faith, but do some research on the devastating effects a Bethel Sozo course has had on individuals. Many other teachings such as: generational curses, the prosperity gospel, tithing, word of faith and kingdom now theology have caused unnecessary damage and confusion in the church.
We should not brand all teachers who teach some form of false doctrine as heretics and apostates. Some are, others are perhaps misguided in areas, not qualified to teach due to the fact that they are unable to “rightly divide the word of God.” It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the two. Let God be the judge of their salvation, and let us compare their teachings to the word of God. When speaking to those who follow false teachers, focus on the actual teachings, and not the teacher concerned. If they are open to reason, then you have an opportunity to present truth. Pray for those caught up in deception, and if the opportunity arises, this should be our response: “correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”
2 Timothy 2:25-26
“Test all things; hold fast what is good”
1 Thessalonians 5:21