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Truth, error and deception
On being asked by his disciples regarding the signs of the last days, the first thing Jesus said - before going on to speak of momentous happenings - was: "Take heed that no man deceive you." (Matt 24:4)
The closer we get to the Messiah's return, the more we can expect deception to become both pervasive and increasingly difficult to discern.
first published 05/06/2008
Some years ago, during a Christian leaders' conference, the speaker for one particular session covered the topic of discerning truth from falsehood.
To illustrate a particular point he asked those in the room to turn around and, from where they were seated, tell him whether the flowers in the vase at the back corner of the room were real or artificial. His audience dutifully complied and, after a brief pause whilst each person formed an opinion, a 'babel' of mixed opinions broke out in the room. "I think they're real!" "No, they're not!" "Yes they are!"
"Hold it " counselled the speaker, "I have made my point. "
The truth of the matter, as the speaker went on to outline, was that the vase contained some flowers that were real; but these were mixed in with others that were completely artificial.
And in the varied responses of the conference delegates, two things were apparent -
- each person came to an opinion based on a judgement of the particular flower on which his eyes first fell
So part of the lesson, which the speaker very aptly illustrated, was that we are all prone to focus on what is a small element of a bigger picture or situation and then, having come to a view, extrapolate our initial opinion and argue from the particular to the general on the assumption that the whole scene is homogenous - the same throughout.
- each person then assumed that all the other flowers were of the same ilk
It is the same mistake as assuming that just because we know that one person in a church is a converted Christian to then judge that everyone in the building is also a believer (very seldom the case).
A Deadly Mixture
However the other very important point was, and is, that one of the biggest dangers Christians face is when (some) truth is mixed in with error. Outright error when it is presented is usually obvious as such and should not, for mature biblical Christians, be so very difficult to spot. But when it is both disguised and masquerades as the real thing, and also mixed in with the authentic, then the danger is immense.
But it is not just in the recent Lakeland phenomenon that this dynamic might - with a stress on 'might' - be at work. It doesn't stop there: neither has the probem just begun there, but rather a long time ago. The juicy apple in the beautiful garden would not have appeared to Eve as being deadly.
Some of the stories emanating from Lakeland are amazing. However witch doctors can achieve similar results. (Compare Moses' experience with the sorcerers and magicians in Egypt who "also did the same things by their secret arts." Exod 7:11 )
There has been a flush of recent Christian church-growth programmes and writings which have been embraced enthusiastically by evangelical churches, and which contain significant elements of what is secular business methods and/or new age philosophies and doctrines. [ It will be interesting - if that's the word - to see the mutual effect on the man and the organisation regarding Rick Warren's close involvement with Tony Blair's newly-launched Faith Foundation. A ship in the water is OK: water in the ship brings disaster. And Warren's attempts to bring the church to the unbelieving world and other faiths seem to have produced the effect of bringing the world - including its thinking, practices, beliefs and other faiths - into the church.]
So, what is the Christian to do regarding discernment?
The well-known maxim teaches that you can't judge a book by it's cover. Many however, judge a book by the credibility and reputation of its author.
But a shockwave broke into the evangelical world when, some years ago, Rev. Dr. John Stott went public with his alternative thoughts on the traditional view of Hell. And more recently, Steve Chalke's writings described God as being guilty of "cosmic child abuse" (in relation to Jesus' sacrificial atonement).
So just as the discerning believer should not accept a writing merely on the basis of the reputation of its author, neither should a programme be welcomed with open arms just because it is successful; any more than signs and wonders should invariably be attributed to the work of God.
Some have commented that the highly-successful Alpha course with its material and teaching is very (deceptively?) light on the matters of sin and its consequences i.e. that the danger is of propagating a cross-less Christianity of easy believism which will tend to produce light-weight Christians won over by the attractions of a new (Christian) lifestyle rather than brought to repentance and a new life in Christ.
The only reliable test of what is true and what is false is the absolute and infallible word of God applied to our hearts by the Spirit of God. And believers should not merely rely on the opinions of others - no matter how esteemed they are - but look to the Lord of all heaven and earth who gives wisdom, and generously, to those who ask of Him. Dr. Luke commended the Bereans for testing all that they heard from Paul; and John advises that we test the spirits.
Beloved, that's what we are told to do.