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.

by Watchman

first published 05/06/2008

Vase of flowersSome 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
  • each person then assumed that all the other flowers were of the same ilk
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.
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.

Watchman, 11/06/2012

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Truthteller (Guest) 05/06/2008 22:24
I agree, provided it is not done in a nasty spirit. But I do think that being tough and uncompromising is more than fine; it is mandatory. We ought not be mealy-mouthed.
Truthteller (Guest) 05/06/2008 22:28
In my own preaching I lambast erroneous practice and teaching. I don't name names, not because I am scared to but it's God's job to deal with the person; it's mine to point out the practice. Too many criticisms are personal and come from personal rancour and envy. It's not my job to police other ministers. It IS my job to look after the flock.
Editor 06/06/2008 08:53
A plea: Please stay with the topic.

The article is about discernment. And that is the main issue. It is unavoidable when discusssing "mass movements" that names will be connected, because it is "names" that are involved. If "internationally known Christian leader" says or does something then it is inevitable and unavoidable that his "name" is attached to it in any subsequent discussion.

Too often meaningful debate is stifled because someone doesn't like what is being said, but rather than address the issue, respondents either (a) demean the person or reputation of the initial writer or (b) criticise the fact that they have raised the issue and are being "critical". (Dare I suggest that this could be one or two of the main reasons why some folk wish to remain anonymouse on discussion lists i.e. out of fear.)

No doubt Martin Luther and all those who were burned at the stake faced the same dynamic......
Peter Carr (Guest) 06/06/2008 10:01
(Trying to stay on topic)

"It IS my job to look after the flock."

In doing so you presumably spend part of your time speaking in public, and in doing so leave yourself open to the possibility that you will be misunderstood. That you will stir negative thoughts and feelings. That you may open yourself to unwanted criticism.

If so you are following in many respects in the footsteps of Jesus, who had His fair share of critics, judges and those who were all too ready and happy to condemn Him.

Jesus said to His followers, as the persecuted Him, so they will persecute us also.

As the article is about discernment, then that leaves us with the responsibility of discerning what God is saying through us and to accept the consequences of being a follower of Jesus!
Truthteller (Guest) 06/06/2008 11:24
I think all the posts so far have been on topic. Discernment of error produces a responsibility to speak out. My point is that we should speak out against practice and not get into tagging people as imposters. God looks on the heart and can tell if someone is sincere but deluded. I don't agree that "naming names" is essential. The surest way to guarantee people will listen to a dubious teacher is to tell them not to. First thing they will do is go on his website and search for his books.
All publicity is fuel on the fire...
Truthteller (Guest) 06/06/2008 11:29
Peter, I agree. It comes with the territory. Sadly, people often hear what they think you said or meant, not what you actually said or meant.
Truthteller (Guest) 06/06/2008 11:36
Sorry to be blitzing the board like this but I feel this is a vital point. I think many of the "big names" in ministry start out small and humble with the right heart. However, at some point they get so big and successful that the ministry becomes a business and both the clamour for the new and sensational, along with the imagined need to keep up with other big ministries, leads these once sincere people into ever more dubious realms. And, of course, the ever-increasing financial costs that come with being a "big name".
Peter Carr (Guest) 06/06/2008 11:38
But doesn't boil down to what you said previously?

"Yet we all have our own orthodoxy when it comes to interpreting that Truth. Probably no two of us believe exactly the same; we all have filters and personal concepts."
Truthteller (Guest) 06/06/2008 11:51
It is everyone's responsibility to walk as close to God as we can. This is the best way to be discerning. Stay humble and stick close to the Lord. Would you agree?
Peter Carr (Guest) 06/06/2008 13:13
Yes, and let people know your true identity in the interest of transparency and friendliness in Jesus name!
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