By Rick Becker 26 October 2017
You probably have friends and family caught up in New Apostolic Reformation churches like Bethel, and you have found it extremely difficult to persuade them they are being deceived. You may have been accused of having a critical spirit, of being divisive, judgemental, or of being a heresy hunter when warning them of the false doctrines in this movement. Why is it so difficult for those caught up in the New Apostolic Reformation, word of faith, and prosperity gospel movements (NAR & CO) to break free?
These movements have characteristics similar to cults, making it almost equally difficult to come out from their grip and deception. There are reasons why it is so difficult for people to escape from these movements and churches that teach false doctrine. Firstly, we will look at some secondary reasons, and then note the two primary reasons why people struggle to break free from this deception.
- A new priesthood has been established within the NAR & Co. When the likes of Patricia King, Kris Vallotton, or Bill Johnson claim to have a revelation for the body of Christ, a new strategy, etc, who are you to question when God does not speak to you on such an intimate basis? Like any cult leader, they claim to have special knowledge, immediately placing them on a level that is admired by their followers. Leaders claim to have taken trips to heaven, talked with angels, and received new downloads and impartations from an open heaven. Their so-called ability to receive new revelation has elevated them above their followers, in clear contradiction to 1 John 2:27: “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.” There is no difference between the manipulative priests and Popes of the Roman Catholic Church and this new breed of apostles, prophets, and pastors. They interpret scripture on our behalf, and through eisegesis twist the scriptures to promote their false doctrines. They are rarely challenged by their followers, and point two reveals why.
2. Submission induced through an unhealthy fear keeps followers in their place. Questioning a particular teaching or any form of critical reasoning is frowned upon by the leaders and treated as a mutiny of sorts. Those who obey and submit are duly rewarded with positions in the ministry, mentioned by name, and are allowed in the inner circle. Those who ask legitimate questions concerning doctrine or practices are immediately dealt with. Usually, they will be accused of several things: having a rebellious spirit, acting out of personal hurts that they have not dealt with, or not being in tune with the Holy Spirit and in doing so grieving him. Some unfortunate souls will even receive threats in the form of “prophetic words.” Finally, they will probably be threatened with the go-to verse for all manipulative false teachers: “Touch not my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm!” (Psalm 105:15). This verse does not mean it’s wrong to question a leader regarding their teachings. This verse meant that it would have been wrong for David to kill King Saul. David had the opportunity but spared Saul (2 Sam 24:10-11) and cut off a piece of Saul’s robe.
Contrary to scripture, the leaders have ulterior motives and rule from their position at the top of their hierarchical structure. Instead, leaders should: “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3).
3. Pride prevents many from admitting their whole house has been built on the wrong foundation. It’s embarrassing to admit much of what you have believed, practiced, and taught has been based on a lie. The longer a person has been in these movements the harder it is to break free.
4. People have invested heavily in their churches. Time and money have been spent, and if they leave, all those spent resources would have been a waste. What if they are about to receive that long awaited breakthrough? After tithing faithfully for 15 years, God may be about to catapult their business to the level of success they have always dreamed of. Their leader has been given a prophetic word that this is “a season of suddenlies” and “major shifts” – they don’t want to lose out! Perhaps they are on the verge of being offered a leadership position, finally giving them the recognition they deserve.
5. Friendships are in jeopardy, despite a questionable leader and unsound doctrine, friendships are formed that can be as close as or even supersede family ties and provide a means of emotional support. Perhaps the thing that they stand to lose the most are their friendships, and that is what makes breaking away so painful. The thought of losing these friendships and the support they offer is often too much to bear for many, and so they remain, convincing themselves not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. But there is no baby in the waters of the NAR & Co – a little leaven leavens the whole lump.
6. Many are simply too lazy to study the word for themselves, preferring to accept the flawed interpretations of their favorite celebrity teacher. A Beth Moore or John Bevere bible study is far less work than digging into the word for yourself. In this digital age, there are thousands of free resources from commentaries and lexicons that enable us to understand the word in context. Unfortunately, many followers come to the point where they trust their leaders to such an extent that they never question what they are taught. Those who do concede that there are some questionable teachings, simply shrug off any concerns and assure you that they “eat the meat and spit out the bones.” This is not a biblical text – instead, we are commanded to mark and avoid those who pervert the gospel.
7. It’s all they know. Many are graciously saved by God despite being in these churches. However, expository preaching and working through actual chapters in context is foreign to them. Topical preaching, motivational messages, and storytelling are the order of the day. Followers cannot discern the twisting of scripture through the narcigesis and eisegesis employed by their leaders. Years of indoctrination have taken their toll. Attempting to reason or discuss scripture with those caught up in these movements is often futile. Those who are believers remain in a state of spiritual infancy: “About this, we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:11-14).
There are two main reasons why people stay in the NAR & Co even after being confronted with the truth:
1. Many are false converts, so don’t expect them to see the light when they are firmly entrenched in the kingdom of darkness and loving it. When Jesus said my sheep hear my voice he did not mean he will give you a new revelation during your quiet time; he meant true believers will hear and obey his voice. His voice is clear, his voice has spoken, it’s called scripture. These false converts need the true gospel to repent and believe before they can be able to discern the errors of the NAR & Co: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Don’t think for a second that many caught up in these movements are not passionate or sincere, but they are sincerely wrong. Passion, crowds, testimonies, and even signs and wonders do not guarantee that God is involved. Ultimately, God knows who is his, and what may fool men, never fools God: “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).
2. Many are simply feeding their passions and are getting exactly what they desire – ear tickling messages. It’s not so much a question of them being deceived by a teacher, but rather them finding a teacher who is as deceived as they are. We are quick to blame false teachers who are leading many astray, but these verses give us the reason many are deceived: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
Note the following:
• The people will not want sound doctrine.
• The people already have itching ears.
• The people are the ones accumulating false teachers.
• The people are merely catering to their own carnal passions.
• The people are not interested in the truth.
The prophets of the old testament also had to contend with false prophets and a people who preferred satisfying their passions rather than obeying God:
“An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction; my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes?” (Jeremiah 5: 30-31).
“For they are a rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear the instruction of the Lord; who say to the seers, “Do not see,” and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions, leave the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 30: 9-11).
Don’t be fooled by those in these movements, who by outward appearances seem to be devoted to God and his kingdom. They seem so passionate and determined to make a difference in this world; they are bold, unashamed, and eager to spread their message. Dig a little deeper, however, and you will find that ultimately they are the ones who are exalted. It’s a man-centered gospel. You will leave a legacy, you will usher in God’s kingdom, you will do greater things, and you will be a world changer…God needs YOU.
Pray for those you know who are caught up in these movements. God has graciously saved people in these churches, and that same grace will lead them out. If you have an opportunity, speak the truth in love, keeping in mind that you were probably deceived by these movements to some degree in the past. The journey of those who have left these movements would have been painful. The scars remain, but ultimately we have to be faithful to God and his word.
“And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh” (Jude 1: 22-23).